The first time Damian hears “circus kid” is the last time that person speaks for the next week.
Dick isn’t bothered.
Rather, he’s bothered by Damian’s violent reaction. He’s not bothered by the term. If Damian had taken the time, he might’ve seen the small smile, proud and cocky, grace his brother’s lips, even though the words were clearly used as an insult. But all Damian seemed to see, most of the time, was red.
Unfortunately the camera catches the whole incident, which Dick has to cover up before it hits TV, or worse, Bruce finds out. One newly-rich camera lady, one seriously threatened reporter with a semi-crushed larynx, and one long talk over tea later, Dick comes to a conclusion when Damian says something shocking.
“Damian, why did you do that?” Dick tries his hardest to keep the accusation from his tone. Even, steady, like he’s just asking.
“He had no right to say that!” Damian nearly screams, fired up. The waitress and the woman behind the counter don’t even look over, wrapped up in their conversation. They have witnessed many a Bruce and sons battle, though never one involving Batman-related things, of course. Dick continues the tradition with Damian.
“To say what? That I’m a circus boy?” Dick asks, surprised. But this isn’t the shocking thing that Damian says.
“To call you circus kid like- like! Like you’re not a part of the family!”
Dick tries to hold back laughter, but Damian takes it as it is, crossing his arms defensively and kicking Dick’s side of the bench moodily.
“Being a circus kid doesn’t make me less a part of the family, Damian. It’s just where I came from.”
“And the way he said it was condescending!” Damian adds in retaliation. It’s still not the shocking thing.
Dick sighs, admitting, “A little. But that doesn’t warrant a move I don’t even do on people who actually deserve it.”
“He sounded like my mother.” Though this is not the shocking thing, still, it’s spoken as almost a whisper.
Dick really does laugh this time. “Sure, okay, but she’s also still not wrong.”
“She said you weren’t-!” He doesn’t finish the sentence, though he’s standing again now. Dick waits this out, and his hopes come to fruition. Damian sits after a while, visibly blushing. Dick leans his head on his hands in a cute gesture made for winning the hearts of the opposite sex, and occasionally the same sex as well. Today it’s winning Damian’s heart, though in a very, VERY different way.
“Said I wasn’t what?” He finally pushes, at just the right moment, when Damian needs the push. Too soon, he’ll back off and never finish. Too late, he’ll be too embarrassed to finish, thinking about the consequences too long.
“Of the cowl.” Comes the mumble.
Dick shakes his head. “Eh, don’t worry about that. I can’t say too much I cared for it anyhow.”
“It’s just they all act like… like…”
Yeah. Now they’re going to get to the heart of the problem. Patience is a virtue Dick highly prizes in his correspondence with Damian. If Robin feels rushed, he’ll never speak, and calm and cool always wins over fire. Bruce doesn’t seem to understand that about Damian, but it’s something Dick has always been good at- getting people to talk. Bruce is too much like Damian to even see the similarities. The best way to get Damian to talk is the same way he would get Bruce to talk, and vice versa.
“They act like you’re not even my brother.”
This is the something shocking. Perhaps Damian even knows it, because he’s slipping under the table little by little, like he’s trying to disappear.
“Damian, at least I get it now, but… look, you can’t. You just can’t.” Dick weathers the irritated scowl that’s shot back at him.” What if Bruce found out about what you just did? And you put our identities in danger, too.”
Damian kicks the bench again. He looks out the window defiantly.
Dick sighs. “It’s not about ability. Everyone knows you could kill that guy with your pinky finger.” Damian tries not to smirk. Dick knows that he means to, though, and gives Damian a smile. Not that he thinks it’s great that Damian can actually kill, obviously. It’s about ability, and he needs to recognise Damian’s talents before he can chastise. Otherwise the kid will flip it around, thinking Dick thinks he’s physically incapable. Always seeking to prove himself. “And it’s not even about just cause, or maintaining your identity, or- any of that. Even with what he said- how he said it, whatever. The point is…Just remember I’m not ashamed of where I came from. I’m proud.”
The second time Damian hears "circus kid" he steals himself. His fists clench, his brow furrows, but only Bruce notices. His father lays his hand on his youngest's shoulder and leans down, smiling as if sharing a funny secret, always maintaining cover up.
They are at a party for charity, with the Gotham elite, them included, dining and dancing as if they were all friends. The woman who dared say this is standing in a circle of the snootiest party goers, making fun of half the people in the room. When she spots Richard she makes a gross remark. “There's Bruce Wayne's ward, the circus kid." Emphasis on the circus and the kid.
"What's the matter?" It's the Batman voice that he uses, too, his fathers real voice. Perhaps he thinks Damian has spotted some danger. But the only danger lays in his own fists.
"Nothing." Damian lies automatically. He knows that his father won't stop worrying and he knows that he may not even stop prying, but somehow he feels hesitant to share this sentiment with him. Luckily his father grunts and leans back up, trying to ignore Damian's poor mood.
He likes to be called that. Damian tells himself viciously. He's proud of his days in the circus. He goes back there sometimes for performances, even. He doesn't care.
But they care. Comes the snide answer of his own mind. They're not saying it like Richard would say it. They're not saying that it's amazing or cute. They're saying it like it's something below them, as if they couldn't enjoy a show Richard put on. As if someone like Richard doesn't belong in their tight circle (they're right, he's sure, because many of these are the court of owls, Damian is well aware). As if someone like Richard doesn't belong at this party. It makes Damian sick. It makes him want to punch someone. But he steals himself.
When Richard joins the group, getting the attention of one of the members, the woman makes extra effort to speak with him. Dick kisses her hand (unworthy!) and she has the audacity to pretend like she's charmed by him (Sickening whore!) and smiles. Damian's anger twists in his chest and he looks like he could kill. Bruce once again notices. This time when he lays his hand on Damian's shoulder he grips a little.
"I know." He whispers. "And he knows, too. Try to ignore them."
"How!?" Damian says between clenched teeth.
"You just turn away and engage yourself in conversation or in food, Damian. Not everyone here does things the way I do them. Not everyone agrees that a child who was raised in the circus, or on the Gotham city streets, should be here. I think it's good for them to see how well behaved Dick is, though. He's always kind, even when others haven't been kind to him."
"Why should he be?!"
"You didn't answer the question!"
"Because it's who he is. Just as he was with you, too, Damian." Bruce knows Damian needs this reminder- that he has a prejudice perhaps greater than this woman. "And because he knows that this opinion doesn't mean he isn't part of the family. Our family."
Damian looks at him briefly surprised. His father doesn’t usually refer to this as his family, or to Richard as his son, even though it’s clear to Damian that it is, and that he is. Then he turns his attention to his father’s conversation, immediately dazzling everyone in the vicinity with his know-how and confidence. Richard joins them later on.
The third time Damian hears circus kid, it's in the first positive context he's had. It's actually at the circus, which Richard drags him to one day to meet everyone and to see him preform. Damian scoffs "As if I don't see you preform on a near daily basis, Greyson." But in truth he's curious. What about this world make Dick proud, while others scorn and ridicule him?
When he arrives, everyone comes out to greet him. "Dick!" "It's Dick Grayson!" Are the calls and cheers all around, and he's even lifted into the air. When he's put down, Damian is introduced.
"This is Damian Wayne."
There's a brief chorus of "Oh, a new one" “Right, Mr. Wayne is adopting a whole zoo- not that I mind it" and the like, some of which Damian has heard repetitiously by the elite. Their tone is entirely different. Amused and proud, rather than annoyed and chastising. Sincere even if the tone was first sarcastic, as opposed to the sarcasm hidden in the supposedly sincere comments high-class people have given. Damian knows the difference.
Dick leans in to Damian's ear and says, "Little do they know..." jokingly. It’s always been Richards way of telling Damian he hasn't forgotten who the blood son is, but somehow Damian doesn't need it from Richard anymore. Richard is his brother, blood be damned.
When everything dies down, one of them asks if Damian is a circus kid like Dick. She's slim and dressed in a unitard, makeup pink and gold and surreally glamorous when not seen from this close up. Damian pauses, then suddenly nods.
He's not sure why. It just seems like what he wants to be. Richard tries to hide his surprise and everyone demands Damian take the stage.
"What can you do?"
Yes, the ropes will be easy. And it's what Richard did, too.
They offer the net and he says he doesn't need it. They offer a partner, and he claims Dick. No one is surprised by this, of course. Even if they were asked, everyone would have picked Dick. They start on opposite ends. Damian poises to begin, but Dick holds a hand up. He waits and sees the ring master enter. "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, a new dynamic duo! A flying sensation! Bruce Wayne's very own circus kids-” Circus… kids… “Damian Wayne and Richard Grayson- the flying GRAYSONS!"
They soar out, together. They swing and fly and twirl and preform feats only they could perform, and Richard tops it all off with his signature move. The one Tim Drake recognised him by. The one… well, Damian vows then and there to learn it. When it's done, they receive an applause the same as if the house was full. They come down from their flight and land in front of their audience.
"Hurray for the circus kids!" Circus… kids.
"Just like your brother!" Says the woman with gold make-up with a winning smile.
"Yeah." Damian says with a shadow of a gin. "Just like my brother." Richard beams at him.
From then on when Damian hears someone say Richard is a circus kid, he smiles, looks directly in the eye of the accuser, and says in the sweetest, most childish, and kindest Dick- like voice, "Yeah, he is. Isn't it great!?”
Bruce thinks it’s hilarious, and he doesn’t need to laugh for Damian to know it. Dick just ruffles his hair while he knows Damian can’t retaliate. Damian often…. forgets…. to scold him for it later. He just forgets, that’s all.