Chapter 1: Dick's version
A Batman fanfic by Raberba girl
Summary: A "Dick & Damian as Court of Owls assassins" AU. Trapped in the soul-crushing life of an assassin, Dick does his best to take care of his little brother. He tries hard not to think about the way Damian's eyes sometimes don't match his expressions, or why the targets Dick can't bring himself to kill always end up dead anyway.
A/N: I'M REALLY NEW TO THIS FANDOM, sorry for any mistakes...! More notes at the end of the fic.
For once, they didn't underestimate either of us.
There are a lot of things these days that I don't think about, and the implant is one of them. ...Though sometimes I'm kind of forced to think about it, like when I find my neck and fingers streaked with blood because I've been scratching at it again. As if my stupid fingers think I can scratch it right out of my flesh. And maybe I can, certainly thought about it a few times, but even if I was depressed enough to let my head get blown off, there'd be no one left to look after Damian.
Kid thinks he doesn't need looking after, and he doesn't, not in the ordinary way. But things are not ordinary anymore - we were never ordinary even before the Owls got us - and just because he has more life experience than most adults doesn't mean there's nothing left to protect him from. He's ten-- Well, eleven, now. He vowed to never take a human life again, and I'll do anything to make sure he never has to break that vow.
"Dami~ What's the mission for today?"
He starts awake on the couch, then looks disgusted with himself. Mellow as he's gotten, sleeping is the one thing I can't get him to do, and he always acts like it's a betrayal whenever his exhausted body gives out on him. "Mmrggh." He reaches for his cold mug of coffee. I pick it up before he can grasp it, and in its place set down a mug of the fresh, steaming brew I just made. He nods at me in thanks as he sips at it. "Mission...."
"Recon, right?" They always give him recon missions because of how young he still is.
"Recon...." He clears his throat and looks more alert. "Recon, right." Brisk now, he taps a few buttons and calls up a file on the computer that's never more than a foot away from him these days, the computer he fell asleep in front of a couple of hours before. I would have let him sleep longer, but I do need enough time to get his mission done before mine, otherwise there are...consequences. He says he usually catches up on sleep while I'm out, anyway, and I believe him because...otherwise I'd have to think.
"There, I've sent it. You want me to go over it with you first, or you just gonna read it on the way?"
"I've got a little time." I spend every spare minute I can with him these days, because I can't take that for granted anymore. I flop down on the couch and wrap my arms around him and rest my chin on his head, basking in the contact with the one precious thing I have left. He makes his usual obligatory grumbles but doesn't dislodge me, and I watch as he gives instructions and points to things on the screen. I really am listening, which distracts me just enough that tears don't form in my eyes. Just enough attention to treasure this moment; not enough to let the fear in.
"You got all that, Grayson?"
"Check in with me before you start yours."
"I always do. Say, I have to go shopping again this afternoon - you feel more like pancakes or muffins tomorrow?"
"Pancakes it is." I always do the shopping, even though he's the one with far more time on his hands. Since I always do his missions for him, he keeps busy busy busy on that computer of his instead. I know better than to ask what he's always working on, or to look too closely at the screen. "Welp, I guess I'm off." I plant a quick kiss on the top of his head.
"Grayson," he growls, but, again, doesn't make any move to push me away. Of course he has his little tough guy act to keep up, but I know he needs comfort and reassurance as much as I do.
"Love ya. See you later." It hurts to let go of him, to wonder as I always do if it'll be the last time I ever see him. I don't know why I always took him for granted before, our lives were just as dangerous before the Owls, but for some reason, these days it's never far from my mind how closely the two of us walk the edge of the pit of death.
"Don't die, Grayson," he mumbles absently, eyes still on the computer screen.
Before the Owls, I'd seen a lot of blood and smashed a lot of bones and even indirectly caused some deaths, but I'd never broken the absolute rule. I'd never killed a human being with my own hands until they took me. I killed that night to save Damian's life, and though I will never regret doing what I had to do to keep Damian alive, I'm still haunted by the memory of that murder. I feel like the act really did stain my soul, like it's slowly eating me up from the inside. If I was...if I was him...the true Dark Knight, I'd have done the impossible and figured out how to save them both, but I'm only me. I had to make a choice between Damian Wayne and a criminal stranger, and I chose my brother.
Maybe that made me unfit to ever fight alongside the Knight again, even if I somehow escape this hell someday, but I still tried for a while to live up to what he taught me. The implants mean that I can't disobey directly, I accept their missions and defeat the targets, but I still refused to kill at first.
The physical punishments were bad enough, but it was the threat of losing Damian that broke me. Suffering for so long, over and over and over again, then watching him suffer...then not seeing him at all.... In the end, I agreed to finish my missions properly.
Except I couldn't bring myself to do it. Without Damian tied down with a gun to his head right in front of me, I couldn't make my hands take another life. I tried cheating for a while...lured a couple of guys to fall to their deaths, left a few more subdued where their worst enemies could find them.... The problem was, it was too messy. Not all the targets died, and even some of the ones who did still got me into trouble.
"I'm tired of hearing you scream, Grayson."
"And always cleaning you up. You bleed too much, I don't have time for this."
"I just...I can't do it, Damian...I can't...I can't...!"
One night, when my target was sprawled barely conscious at my feet, and I held a blade poised over his heart, and kept trying and trying to force my arms to drive that blade down and end it...a single, well-placed bullet made the decision for me.
From then on, it's been happening every night. Just one bullet every time. I've never caught a glimpse of the mysterious sniper; he - or she - never interferes with my battles; there's never been a bullet for me, only my targets. Every night. The Owls never say a word about it, and there are no more punishments or threats. My supposedly improved performances are acknowledged as if they think I'm the one who started shooting all my targets in the head.
The sniper in the shadows is another thing I never think about.
After the second time it happened, Damian gave me a gun. He knows it's not my weapon of choice, but he still pressed it on me.
"Just for my peace of mind." He did that thing he's been doing a lot these days, stretching his mouth in an obviously fake smile, making his voice soft and childish as if he thinks it will tug on my heartstrings. (It does. Even though his eyes have no warmth in them, the fact that he even tries to charm me works all by itself.) "Please, Grayson. I worry."
"I can take care of myself without a gun, kiddo. I've been doing it for ages, I'll be fine."
"You don't ever have to use it if you don't want to. Just...carry it. That's all I'm asking."
"...Aw. You know I can't resist those puppy eyes, Dami."
"These are puppy eyes?"
"Hah. You definitely need to practice more before they'll work on anyone but me, but yeah."
I spend most of the day doing recon, exchanging texts with Damian whenever I get a chance. Chat with him some more while I shop. Bring home bags of groceries, put them all away myself because he never lifts a finger to help. That's fine with both of us - he's got his mysterious never-ending computer work; I need to keep busy. I need to keep my brain occupied, stuffed full of every mundane thing I can cram into it, so it'll drown out all the things I don't think about. "...and you should have seen how many kids that lady had! She had two babies crammed into that child seat thing on the front, I don't even know how they fit, maybe that's why they kept shrieking; another kid playing a video game in the cart, she was, like, half-buried in groceries; at least three other kids hanging on the outside of the cart or grabbing food off the shelves and yelling...!"
"Heheh, reminded me of some of our own shopping trips-- er, back at the manor."
"Ooohhh, Dami, I think it's actually gonna turn out pretty good this time! It's not burned, and there isn't a ton of oil on the bottom like there was last time."
"Smells good, Grayson."
Sometimes he'll talk to me for real, when he sees I need it. Most of the time he just humors me, which is fine. The sound of my own voice helps drown out my thoughts, and he never complains about my rambling. "Aaaaand I made garlic bread, too! I tried one, they actually taste like garlic this time. Sort of. How many pieces for you, Dami?"
"Hey, let's watch How to Train Your Dragon while we eat!"
I pile spaghetti and garlic bread and salad onto plates, take them and a couple of glasses of water to the coffee table. Gently push Damian's legs out of the way so I'll have room to sit down. As I get the movie started, Damian sets the laptop aside and stretches, rubs at his eyes, then slumps wearily. As soon as I'm ready to settle, I hand him his plate and put my arm around him, using only my other hand to eat. He leans against me, heavy and warm and precious.
I have lots of commentary on the movie. Damian chuckles at all the right places, but that doesn't really mean anything. I have the volume turned up high enough that I won't be able to hear the clacking of a keyboard, if one happens to be in use. I never once look down at Damian, so I won't notice if he's working on his computer again instead of watching the movie.
I wake up with a gasp, feeling sick. I hate sleeping as much as Damian does. My...?
Blood on my fingers again, damn it; I stumble to the bathroom, peer into the mirror and hiss in aggravation. It's smeared all over my neck, I need a towel....
Blood on my hands. He didn't scream when I killed him; that agonized, gurgling sound was so much worse...I've heard sounds like that before, but never caused them...maybe I did and just don't remember, only remember this time because...because.... Oh, God, I saw the life leaving his eyes....
Damian is so calm as he props me up. I think I'm...missing a few minutes; the blood on my neck is turning brown....
I feel numb as I sit there, dizzy. Damian's voice is mild as he cleans up my neck and treats the scratches I gouged deep into my own flesh. "...quite commendable, the taste bore some semblance to actual Italian food this time."
I failed, let the thoughts in, they froze me. I can't find my voice, so Damian's rambling for me. Tears of gratitude sting my eyes.
"I think the garlic bread does need more work, but with practice, I'm sure you'll master that one in time, or at least make it edible."
I finally manage to speak, though my voice is weak. "You ate...all three of yours...'n' some of mine...."
"Yes, well, perhaps 'edible' was the wrong word. 'Acceptable.' To a connoisseur, I mean; I, personally, don't care what I eat as long as it has enough nutrients to keep me functioning."
My neck is bandaged now, the blood gently scrubbed from my fingers. I stare at my own hand. There's still blood on it, just...not the kind you can see. There will always be blood on it. "Damian...."
"Wasn't there another movie you've been wanting to show me?"
"....Yeah. Yeah, I...here, help me up, will you?"
In those early weeks, I did manage to hack the implant, but it took longer than I'd expected, and it kept changing. I couldn't keep up with it, didn't even have a hope of freeing Damian from his. If I'd...kept at it, maybe I'd have...if I hadn't given up....
Damian refuses to sleep (sometimes showers are a struggle, too), but he's okay with the rest. Eats everything I put in front of him without a word of complaint, submits to me combing his hair every day and preparing his outfits for him, as if he's three years old and I'm his mother (a normal three-year-old and a normal mother, I mean, not what he experienced in actuality), dutifully spars with me for the exercise, the few times I can tear him away from his laptop.... He's even okay with hugs now. Before, I had to steal cuddles and put up with his struggling and whining even though I knew he secretly liked it, but nowadays, he's usually passive when I touch him. Sometimes he even snuggles back.
He smiles at me more often now, compliments me, encourages me. Makes me feel wanted and needed. Sure, he's married to the computer and often responds only in grunts and monosyllables, but when I'm...really having a hard time...when the Thoughts are buzzing and it's so hard to keep them out and the distractions don't work and the training doesn't work and I'm short of breath and pacing and bursting with anxiety and on the verge of stabbing something, maybe myself.... It's like he knows exactly when to come to me and say in that small, childish voice, "Grayson, I need a hug."
He's just a kid, after all. Captured just like me, held prisoner by an organization that doesn't see us as people, cut off from our...from our father. From any help other than each other. I'm so glad he's let his guard down enough around me that he'll accept comfort now without me having to fight for it, and...I really like it, too, just holding him like this. Reassuring myself that we're both still alive, still together. Feeling my heartbeat slow back to normal, my breathing ease. "You okay, Dami?" I whisper.
"I get sad sometimes," he whispers back, and I know he means scared, too.
With our arms wrapped around each other, his face buried in my shoulder and mine hidden in his hair, I can't see his eyes. I made that mistake once, but never again. It's his softness and neediness I need now, not the calm calculation of a boy who knows exactly what he's doing.
I used to draw out combat sometimes just for the fun of it, the adrenaline rush and the sheer joy of leaping, bounding, flying, the exhilaration of countering every move and knowing how good I am. The fun of taunting and joking in the middle of a fight, of seeing the exasperation or incredulity or fury of an opponent thrown off balance by words alone.
Nowadays, I just...stall, basically. The longer it takes to defeat my target, the longer I can put off the end, when they die because of me.
.....I've only killed a single person in my life. That's a scar on my soul I'll never heal from, but...it still hasn't been joined by any others. I never kill my targets, but they always end up dead, anyway.
One bullet, every night, as if I'm stalked by some sort of dark guardian angel.
I never even glance up to look for him anymore.
It's not so much sleeping itself that I hate, but the part that comes before. Lying there in the dark, wide awake whether my eyes are closed or not, the Thoughts pressing closer than ever. I can't do it, so I just work and ramble and watch and take care of Damian until my body falls asleep on its own, wherever I happen to be. An hour here, three hours there; rarely more than that at a time.
I'm lying on the couch, trying to watch TV, and I can't understand why tears are leaking out of my eyes. It's some cooking show I put on to try to help me make better stuff for Damian, nothing in the least emotional, I don't feel anything at all, but tears are pouring and pouring out of me and I have no idea why. At first I try to just ignore it and keep watching, but now my chest is heaving, it's hard to breathe because of the hoarse sobs choking their way out of my throat, what is wrong with me?! What is wrong with me...?
Damian lays down on top of me without a word, like a cat curling up on a convenient warm body, and I clutch at him. I try to speak, but the sobs are getting in the way; dang it, I didn't mean to get snot in his hair, "Sorry...! S-Sorry, Dami...sorry...!"
"Shut up," he murmurs.
I feel like a child, crying myself to sleep with Damian in my arms like a teddy bear, but I'm too exhausted to be embarrassed.
I wish they'd let us partner up more. I don't mind Damian going on missions as long as I'm there with him, and for some reason, we've never gotten in trouble for leaving our targets alive at the end of joint assignments. (Don't think about it....) It feels a little like old times again, the two of us prowling the rooftops at night, beating up bad guys, falling into familiar banter, grabbing pizza or ice cream or whatever from a 24-hour place on the way home. The Owls disapprove because they say I bring down Damian's efficiency too much (as if he even has efficiency stats, since his only missions are recon...don't think about it...), but even they have to admit that there are certain types of assignments where we work better together than apart.
"Getting slow in your old age, Talon?"
"I'm not even thirty yet, twerp."
Words slung back and forth alongside the blows; at our opponents, at each other. Just the sound of his voice gives me strength, the way it's so scornful and bored on the surface, yet bubbling underneath with how much he loves every minute of this. I can do anything with Damian at my side. ...Except kill, but I know I won't have to tonight. We'll beat 'em up, tie 'em up, leave 'em, and never have to think about them again.
"Nice one, Junior!" (He has a cool alias, but I like how fake-mad he gets when I call him Junior in the field.) "I'll make an acrobat of you yet."
His response is lost in a roar of pain from his opponent. There's a lot of blood, but I don't have the attention to spare to look, and the fact that the guy's still yelling means he's still alive. I've got my hands full with my own target, who's-- pulling out a gun--
Something sharp thuds into the guy's forearm, knocking the gun out of his hand, and he howls in pain. 'Thanks, Damian!' I plow into him, rear my arm back to punch him--
The guy goes still, and I stare down at his corpse in shock. "No...." The one night there weren't supposed to be any bodies...the one night I wouldn't need my guardian--
He had a second gun, clenched in his other hand. I realize that when a pressure in my abdomen eases, and I look down to see how close I came to having my guts shot out. The sniper saved my life. The sniper--
There's a slicing sound, the kind a sword makes when it cuts through flesh and bone. Damian's opponent is silent now. There's the sound of rustling, then sheathing. I can't bring myself to look as footsteps approach, and I try instead to stand up, to stagger away from the man I was ordered to kill.
"Talon," Damian says quietly. There is no trace of horror or regret in his voice.
I finally force myself to look at him - he's drenched in blood. I'm terrified at first, until he reassures me that it isn't his. "D...Damian...." I reach for him, not even knowing myself what I intended, maybe I meant to wipe his gloves off, but I'm clutching them instead, covering the red wetness because I can't stand to see my baby brother's hands soaked with blood. That should have been my job, not his. I should have died, I should have killed before I let Damian break his vow. "I...I'm sorry...we'll...w-we'll get this, we'll, don't worry, I...!" My legs are too weak to hold me; I collapse to my knees before him, pathetic. I hate myself, how much I've failed him, when I'm the one person in the world who's supposed to take care of him.
He rests his forehead against mine and whispers, "Let's go home."
It's the last straw. He's only eleven years old, but I'm the one who's the child here, wrapping my arms around him, burying my face in his chest, sobbing my heart out. He holds me tight, strokes my hair, murmurs things that aren't true but that I want desperately to believe.... "It's not your fault, Dick."
Later, back in our quarters, my hands are shaking so much that Damian's finished showering by the time I manage to get undressed. 'Guardian angel. Covered with blood. A bullet every night. There's no way they'd waste their best man on recon missions.'
I take my turn but then just stand there uselessly until the water turns cold, until I'm not bothering to stand anymore, until Damian comes in and turns off the faucet and helps me out and towels me off like a mother with her three-year-old. He heats up some leftovers as I slowly get dressed, and sits me on the couch and starts How to Train Your Dragon and pushes a plate into my hands. Lets me rest my head in his lap after I've managed to eat a few mouthfuls. Says to me, in the long silence after the credits have finished rolling, "It's difficult. Their system is tough and I don't have enough time.... I have to cover both my missions and yours - don't you dare apologize, I don't want blood on your hands any more than you do - and re-hack my tracker every single day without them noticing, and look after you and get all the research done and make plans and realize why they suck and try to make new plans that suck at least a little bit less...there's just not enough time to do all that and coordinate both implants long enough for us to escape."
He leans closer. "But I'm not giving up, Grayson. I will never give up. I will get us out of here, I swear to you."
My eyes are blurred with tears again. I was never the one taking care of him...all this time, my little brother was taking care of me. I knew it, but I didn't want to believe it. Didn't want to think about all the things I'm so helpless to fix. I want to tell Damian how sorry I am, how grateful I am, or maybe just how much I love him, but I fall asleep in his arms before I manage to speak.
A/N: I want to do a parallel fic from Damian's perspective, but I'm not sure if/when I'll ever get around to writing it.
The friend who pulled me into this fandom told me about a cool-sounding fic with this premise, but she couldn't remember what it was called, and I couldn't find it on my own. (I found plenty of assassin AUs, but none that matched the "Dick tries to protect Damian from having to kill again, while Dami tries to protect Dick from having to kill at all" description.) After she drew some sketches about it (she can't post them yet, but hopefully she will someday), I got inspired to write my own version. I've been wanting to write Batman fanfiction for a while...I don't know nearly enough about the fandom yet to feel comfortable doing so (IT'S HUGE...and OCD makes it difficult for me to read comics quickly...), but the Batfamily's so dang cute I felt like writing them, anyway.
Chapter 2: Damian's version
Guardian Angel (Damian's version)
A Batman fanfic by Raberba girl
I hacked my implant the first week I was here, but unfortunately, they were expecting that.
It's such a complex design, I would be impressed if I wasn't so frustrated. I could escape, even with Grayson in tow, if I could focus all my attention on this project, but they are careful to keep me very, very busy. I'm given at least one mission every twenty-four hours, and I'm certain they saddle me with busywork when they don't have any actual assignments suited to my caliber. That in itself would be a full plate, but of course I have quite a lot of other work to do as well.
I realized early on that I have to plan for the long term. Patience is difficult, but I've learned to keep calm when I waste so much precious time just on daily maintenance, and to wring encouragement out of every small step of actual progress I manage to take. We are not escaping anytime soon, but as long as I continue steadily and carefully, we will someday.
I just hope that my partner survives that long.
Grayson is falling apart. Loss of perspective, dissociative episodes, panic attacks.... I hadn't expected that of him, and I made mistakes at first that worsened his condition, but now I know how to handle him. He's damaged now, something broke inside him that night when he was forced to take a human life. He needs things from me that he never used to. There are some lines I still won't cross, and it's frustrating whenever he hits a particularly low point and drags me away from my work, but he's my partner and it's my duty to support him. Also...I don't like seeing him in such pain. Although humiliating, it's not actually difficult to satisfy his need for physical contact or pretend I need taking care of in order to boost his shattered sense of worth, so letting myself be hugged is the least I can do.
And it is convenient that he always has food available, and that he takes some of the research off my hands. It's not enough of a help to make up for the burden he's being, but he's not completely useless, either. Besides, I'd take care of him even if he was, since I know he'd do the same for me.
"Dami~ What's the mission for today?"
Dammit, I fell asleep again...didn't even finish today's hack before my tracker reset; I'll have to start all over again before I can even leave the apartment, I HATE this. "Mmrggh." My brain's still foggy. I need coffee, am outraged for half a second when Grayson pulls it away from me, then grateful when he offers me a fresh mug in its place. Mission...he's not talking about any Owl missions, though he pretends to think he is; he means the recon I keep giving him. Most of what I've learned about our captors, and a lot of the information I've gotten for my various escape plans, has been thanks to him. "Recon, right."
I have a whole file full of assignments queued up for him; I call up the highest priority one and send it to his wrist computer. "You want me to go over it with you first, or you just gonna read it on the way?"
He's in a clingy, needy mood, because he always is these days. "I've got a little time." Here he comes, enveloping me with his body like a really, really heavy blanket. In some ways, it does feel kind of nice, even though it's also annoying and restrictive. I know he needs the contact, so I don't resist as I lay out the instructions. "You got all that, Grayson?"
I can't quite tell whether he's actually listening, or just taking comfort from the sound of my voice. "Check in with me before you start yours."
"I always do." He was listening. "Love ya. See you later." He lets go reluctantly and drags himself to his feet.
I worry for him when he's out of my sight. I'm not always sure if I've made myself a solid enough anchor for him, whether he's still willing to keep going for my sake or has fallen far enough that he'll let the darkness take him. "Don't die, Grayson."
Once he's gone, I get to work cracking the tracker in my implant, but I can't alter it yet. First I have to finish my busywork mission, which is recon for the Owls. I draw it out as long as possible, trying to get the timing right. I have to finish up around late afternoon, do my real mission for the day, tell the tracker I've retreated to the Hiding Spot, head home in actuality, get there before Grayson, and make it look like I've been napping and lounging around for hours.
I usually have to do my missions during the daytime, since Grayson tends to do his at night. I try to get as much real work done during recon as I can, though progress is agonizingly slow when I have to be sneaky and concentrate on so many things at once. It's almost a relief to send in my report and then go in search of my target. He is easy enough to find and eliminate; I'm done after a grand total of twenty-two minutes, 96% of which was travel time.
I used to relish fighting.... All my teachers have trained me to be efficient, so I never play with my opponents the way Grayson likes to, but I did still enjoy the art of battle and the satisfaction that came from employing successful tactics and moves.
Now, it's just work, and every second that passes is a second that I am not on my way to join my partner. I don't have time to find the best path to victory or to appreciate the artistry, and I deliberately stopped thinking of them as people. Now it's just simple butchery, whatever gets the job done quickest. I could do my own missions in my sleep; it's Grayson's that truly need my attention.
A gun is easiest and often the only feasible weapon, but the problem at first was that Grayson never carried one. I knew the Owls would start asking questions if they noticed that all of his targets were killed by a weapon he didn't even have, so I had to convince him to at least keep a gun on his person. It won't hold up to inspection if the Owls ever get truly suspicious, but I've done my work well, and they haven't yet thought to run a deep analysis on that aspect of Grayson's missions.
I make it home in time. Grayson arrives soon after with groceries, and the sound of his constant, inane chatter is soothing. He starts cooking - he's a terrible chef and it's demeaning for someone of his adoptive heritage to engage in common housework, but I know such tasks are now essential for his mental wellbeing. Besides, the smell of hot food being prepared makes my stomach growl.... Grayson's culinary skills need a lot of work, but I don't complain. My body is happy enough with the fruits of his labor, and the fact that he keeps me adequately fed means there's one less thing for me to worry about.
I fell asleep again. Not for long, the movie's credits are still rolling, but Grayson is gone and I feel a stab of panic. I don't have time to prepare properly; I simply jam on my boots, grab a gun, and run, praying I reach him in time.
There he is, still fighting, thank God. It's at the tail end, his opponent is dragging and my heartbeat hasn't quite slowed to a normal pace, but I made it in time.
This is the moment. His opponent can't get up; Grayson himself just stands there, waiting. He doesn't even try anymore, since he knows he doesn't have to. I aim and fire, the target goes still, and Grayson slowly sheathes his weapon.
I don't feel anything at all. I used to, back in the beginning. I'd grown too accustomed to the life of a technical pacifist; my first kills on the Owls' orders troubled me in a way my childhood killings had not. However, my stone core soon returned - what I just did was nothing more than finishing a job and protecting my brother, whose heart, damaged as it is, is still soft and full of light. Keeping that light safe is what I focus on, always.
I make it home before he does and am hard at work on the computer by the time he drags himself in. He doesn't look at me or speak to me before his shower, but afterward, he lies down on the floor where I'm working and hugs me tightly, pressing his face against my back, careful not to block my access to the keyboard. He doesn't make a sound, but I feel tears seeping through my shirt for a while before he finally falls asleep.
I drifted off again for about ten or fifteen minutes around sunrise. I'm alone, but I hear something in the bathroom....
He's having another episode. He sits on the closed toilet lid, slumped so low that the tips of his hair brush his knees, blood drying on his neck and hands as he whimpers softly.
Tending to him physically is easy enough. It's his blank eyes and agonized expression that make my chest tighten with worry, but fortunately, it doesn't take long for him to come back to me. I talk stupidly about whatever safe topics I can think of, hoping that the sound of my voice guides him back from the memories that have ensnared his mind. It's a relief when he starts to respond, shakily at first, then slightly stronger. His eyes are clear again when he looks at me and says my name, but he's still weighed down with pain and grief.
"Wasn't there another movie you've been wanting to show me?" I try.
"....Yeah. Yeah, I...here, help me up, will you?"
I designed the Hiding Spot to mask my true whereabouts. It's one of the few times my size has been an advantage - only small robots or another child could follow me down into the hole, and I've booby-trapped it as well.
I had to keep replacing the traps at first when the Owls' robots were persistent, but they've since given up. My hacked tracker convinces them that I curl up to hide there when I'm not on the clock, and all they can find when I'm gone are harmless things a child might bring to comfort himself when he's alone. Since they can't find any evidence that I'm using the Hiding Spot for secret communications or electronic work or anything other than a place of quiet refuge, they have no idea that it's just a decoy - it frees me up to attend my brother's missions undetected.
There is no way Grayson doesn't know.
The lengths he'll go to not see, to keep his back turned, to laugh or talk loudly or turn up the volume in order not to hear....
At first it troubled me that he was so uncharacteristically oblivious, but I know now that he denies the truth deliberately. There are certain questions he never asks, and he cheerfully accepts the most blatant of my lies.
I still keep a silencer on my gun so that when we're walking away from a successful joint mission, and he's chattering happily about whatever treat we're going to buy on the way home, and I'm dropping behind and taking aim at the targets we've left tied up behind us, he has no reason to turn around until I've finished the job and resumed my place at his side.
I've been staring at a computer screen for five hours straight, which wouldn't mean much if it wasn't also coming after two-and-a-half missions and 51 solid hours of no sleep. Grayson's hands touch my shoulders, shifting me a little. I don't resist because he doesn't try to pull me away from the computer, and it feels...pleasant as he gently works at my hair with a comb. He hums under his breath, taking his time to tease out the tangles, until he can run the comb through the full length of my hair without hindrance.
...51 hours. It's finally hitting me.
He doesn't say a word, just holds me. I slump against him like a sleepy baby, I'd hate it if I wasn't so tired.
"Jus'...fifteen minutes, Grayson...fifteen. Wake me up."
"Twenty," he murmurs.
He lets me sleep for thirty minutes. I yell at him a lot for that, but to tell the truth, I don't actually mind too much.
"Yet you understand why we are puzzled, Xu'ffasch. Your average time for solo assassination missions is 29 minutes from start to completion, and 30 seconds for actual target engagement. Your average time for joint assignments with the Talon in question is 166 minutes total, 54 minutes for target engagement. Why on earth should we see any advantage in pairing up the two of you when he is the cause of such an abysmal drop in performance on your part?"
The Owl addressing me is masked and cloaked, but I'm still fairly certain that he's a man named Darrell Wilcox. The ones on either side of him are Christine Maranya and George O'dell. I'm not as positive about the small one skulking in the background, but I'd make a good guess that he or she is from the Kress family. I'm not yet sure what use it is to be able to identify them, but it can't hurt to be armed with as much knowledge as I can get. "You assume that I have the same priorities on joint assignments that I do when working alone."
"I'm eleven. I get bored. My former partner livens things up a bit, makes me enjoy the work again."
"There is no place for carelessness in this organization, Ibn al Xu'ffasch."
"Just because I like to play with the toys sometimes doesn't mean I don't take the job seriously. Everyone you want me to eliminate ends up dead, period."
"...We're watching you, Xu'ffasch. Get too careless, and access to your pet Talon isn't the only privilege you'll be losing."
"Save the threats for when I actually slip up - which will be never, since I'm the best man you've got."
"You don't know that. We have many agents, all of them far older and more experienced than you."
"I am the Son of the Bat. I am the best man you've got."
"...That will be all, Xu'ffasch."
It takes me too long to realize that the noises in the background aren't the usual sounds of Grayson training anymore. The thumps are erratic, his vocalizations desperate. I hurry into the equipment room to find him striking the wall instead of the punching bag, a knife gripped the wrong way in his other hand, his face rigid and his eyes dangerously blank.
"Grayson." I remember to adopt my 'child in need of big brother' persona, since that's the only thing he responds to these days. "Grayson, I need a hug."
After a moment, his eyes move jerkily to me, and his face slowly softens from that mad look to something warm and relieved. His arms encircle me, holding me close. I wait, feeling him calm down, a little curious about why something as simple as physical contact can have such a deep effect on him. Relaxed now, his voice sounds normal again when he whispers, "You okay, Dami?"
'I'm the one who should be asking you that.' But pretending he's doing a good job as my protector is all part of it. I have to say something to make him feel needed, to give him a reason to be strong. "I get sad sometimes," is the best I can come up with.
He starts rocking slightly, and I have to repress a sigh at being treated like a frightened four-year-old. "I know. I get sad, too. I'm here for you, Damian."
"You get angry...sometimes you're hard to reach...."
He squeezes me tighter. "I'm sorry. Sometimes it's.... I'm sorry. I promise I'll never leave you."
The man takes a flying leap over my head. Such a stupid move - it's the easiest thing in the world to hook the tip of my sword into his chest and split the skin down to his waist. The harder part is doing so without actually killing him. His blood rains down on me; my sword catches on his belt and rips out of my hands; he collapses in a heap and shrieks in pain. I'm down to just my fists and the gun in my belt, but the gun is for later.
It's times like these that I remember why I was annoyed with Father's philosophy at first.... Fighting is so much more difficult and time-consuming when your goal is to incapacitate rather than kill. I've since come to recognize that being successful despite the extra challenge is a strength, not a weakness, but elements of it are still exasperating.
Like when I've used up all my throwing knives before the fight is over, and don't have any left to stop Grayson's opponent from shooting him.
No matter. Improvisation is an essential part of combat. None of my knives are in reach, but something sufficiently small and sharp is, so I can continue to keep up my 'I'm not the one who shoots all your targets' ruse to Grayson. I grab a shard of jagged metal off the ground and hurl it.
It embeds itself in the man's forearm, knocking the gun out of his hand. He screams in pain, but in the second when Grayson is leaping at him...I see it. Another gun, in his other hand. He swings it up, in one more second it's going to fire, I don't think Grayson even noticed it--
Screw it. I just hope that either Grayson's denial is strong enough to hold up to such direct evidence, or that being inescapably confronted with the truth won't break him.
No point in continuing to toy with my own opponent now. I retrieve my sword and cut off his head, then glance over to check on my partner.
Damn.... Grayson is frozen, possibly traumatized. I take my time wiping the blood off my sword, but Grayson hasn't pulled himself together by the time I sheathe it. I approach cautiously, hoping I didn't make a mistake, wondering if I should have saved at least one killing for when his back was turned after all. "Talon...."
His eyes, when he finally turns to me, are full of anguish. His mouth drops open in horror, and I remember what I look like at the moment. "Don't worry, it's not mine."
"Damian...." His hands are shaking as they reach for mine. I know he probably needs me to hug him, but I'm not sure if I should when I'm covered with my latest victim's blood. "I...I'm sorry...we'll...w-we'll get this, we'll, don't worry, I...!"
He no longer even has the strength to keep up the dependable big brother act, and I worry that he's broken beyond repair now. I have to get him home...get us both cleaned up, do my best to revive him. I can't lose him, not after how hard I've worked to keep the last flame in his heart alight.
He clings to me despite the blood, sobbing. I do the best I can, using all the tactics he usually uses on me - if he thinks they're comforting to others, it stands to reason that he himself finds them comforting. I even resort to his nickname, the one used by everyone else who loves him. "It's not your fault, Dick," I try, hoping it's the right thing to say. When at last he grows quiet, I help him to his feet and let him lean on me as we make our way home.
Once there, I wash off the blood as quickly as I can and am glad when, subdued as Grayson is, he at least has enough presence of mind to take care of himself. But then the water is still running half an hour later, so maybe he's not doing as well as I thought....
Sure enough, I find him curled up on the floor of the bath, and he's unresisting but unresponsive when I haul him up and wrap a towel around his shivering shoulders and use another to dry his hair. Even children aren't this docile.... "Grayson." He doesn't bother looking up, but his eyes aren't blank, either...they look pained and lost, which is almost worse. I don't know what to do other than more of the things he usually does for me: food, rest, movie. I can't think of anything else. I work on the computer and support his weight and try to ignore the growing worry that my partner, my brother, has suffered a blow he can't recover from.
No. Richard Grayson Wayne is stronger than that. He helped me survive my worst experiences, and now I will make sure he survives this one. "Grayson, listen to me. You can't give up. I'll always be here for you, so don't give up. Just hang on until.... Just, please, keep trusting me." He shifts, and I'm relieved that he seems to be listening now. "It's difficult. Their system is tough and I don't have enough time.... I have to cover both my missions and yours--" For the first time, I explain everything openly, but then worry that I'm just making it worse. I shouldn't focus on how hopeless our situation seems. "But I'm not giving up, Grayson. I will never give up. I will get us out of here, I swear to you."
He says nothing, but his hand on mine tightens. He's asleep soon afterward, and I let him rest as I continue to work, even when my leg starts to go numb from his weight.
He sleeps for hours, longer than he ever has during our captivity. When he finally does wake up, I'm startled and cautiously relieved by the huge smile on his face. "Dami~ Good morning, kiddo!"
"Grayson...how are you doing?"
"Whoo, is it really almost nine?! Regular Sleeping Beauty I am, hah." He jumps to his feet and stretches enthusiastically, then whirls and fires another sunshine-filled smile at me. "What'cha want for breakfast?"
"Anything's fine." So are we back to the 'Let's pretend Damian's not the most ruthless killer in the Court of Owls' show, or no...?
"Breakfast tacos it is! Coming right up~" He patters around the kitchen, whistling, and I try to get back to work, but my eyes are bleary and it's hard to concentrate. I'm exhausted, but I have to keep going...have to push through....
The plate of only slightly singed tacos he eventually produces gives me an extra boost of energy, but it wears off too soon. The third time I nod off, I'm outraged to find Grayson easing the computer away from my hands and trying to press me down on the couch. "Give me the--!"
"Just for a little while, Damian," he says softly. "You've already been working all night. You can go at it twice as hard when you've had a little time to recharge."
"........At least let me...give you today's recon...."
He sighs. "Don't bother. I know it's just been to keep me out of your hair. I'm sorry for putting that extra burden on you, Damian."
Ah. "No...it's recon for me, not them."
A gleam sparks in his eyes. "Really?"
I smile. "Really. It helps me out."
"Well, a little. I haven't actually found a use for most of the info yet, but I will. It really is stuff I would have looked up myself if I had time."
He exhales and looks relieved. I give him the assignment, then finally let myself relax against the couch pillows. He leans down to murmur a goodbye, and rests his cheek against my hair for a long time. Finally he whispers, "Well...guess I'll see you tonight, guardian angel."
It's hard to talk when I'm so close to falling asleep, but I manage it. "Better me than you...."
"No. No, it's not. I...I'll never be able to live with myself for making you.... I'm sorry--" He takes a deep breath. His voice is steadier when he speaks again. "But I promise I'll do everything I can to help from now on. I can't...do the actual killing...I've tried, and I can't...but anything else, just name it. I'll help with the hacks, your real missions, anything. I won't weigh you down anymore."
"Never did...Grayson...." I hate wasting time, but part of me does feel relieved to let myself rest. A bigger part of me is relieved that my oldest brother is finally back, and I don't have to do this alone anymore.
Chapter 3: Wounded Birds - Part 1
(rough draft; sequel to Guardian Angel)
A Batman fanfic by Raberba girl
A/N: I tried to write this one in third person, but it refused to work, so I had to resort to first person perspective again.
Part 1 (Dick)
A loud bang jerks me awake in a panic, and I don't relax much when I see what caused the noise.
I fell asleep at the kitchen table.... There's a crick in my neck now, but I barely notice it. All my attention is on Damian, who apparently hurled the closest expandable object across the room and is now stalking back and forth, swearing as he grips his own hair in both fists.
"Damian?" I start toward him in concern, but pause when he jabs a finger at his laptop. I change direction to look at the screen, where I find a new joint mission for us.
I flinch at the violent clatter of Damian sweeping his arm across a work table, knocking everything on it to the floor. "Damian." I move to intercept him and take his face in both my hands. He glares up at me, his features twisted with emotion, unshed tears glistening in his eyes. "Hey," I say, as gently as I can. "It's okay, Dami. This is good news."
"How?" he hisses. "How?"
He would have realized it himself by now if he wasn't so sleep-deprived. "Damian, nothing can kill him, not even us. This'll be the first contact we've had since our abduction. He'll figure out what's going on, Damian."
He draws in a shaky breath and then, to my surprise, wraps his arms around my neck and clings to me. I think this is the first genuine 'comfort me' gesture he's initiated since we've been here. "It'll be okay, Dami," I whisper as I hug him back. "He'll save us. That's his job. He'll save us."
I have to be careful with this recon: good enough that I don't seem out of the ordinary to the Owls, but just sloppy enough for him to notice and hopefully recognize me.
I'm in the crowd during his press conference. I'm close to his table that night when he takes three beautiful women to dinner. He's so good at not letting on that I don't know for sure until the next day, when I see the two new 'bodyguards' he's acquired.
Jason Todd and Cassandra Cain. They're in suits, sunglasses, and wigs, but I'd recognize my siblings anywhere.
We were unmasked soon after our capture, and once the true identities of Nightwing and Robin are known, it's pretty obvious who Batman is.
Damian and I have gained a lot of their trust during our time here (well, Damian has, anyway), but the Owls know better than to ever trust us completely. We've had free-ish rein during most of our missions, but this one will be different. The Court of Owls knows how crucial this assignment is as a test of our loyalty.
They will be watching us.
Some things never change.... It seems we can still plan things together without ever being in contact.
Bruce Wayne and his highest-profile son, Tim Drake, host a public event together. They eat out afterward, shadowed by their two new bodyguards. Then they meander on the streets, heading in the direction of a nearby theater.
They pass through a dark, deserted street to get there.
They know that's where we'll strike. We know that's where they plan to catch us.
Of course the fight has to be real, and of course that jerk Jay is enjoying it. Damian soon takes him off my hands, but then that leaves me with Cass, which is both worse and better.... She knows exactly how much to pull her punches, but she's also a better fighter than Jay - better than anyone in the world, probably - and as careful as she is with me, getting beat up by her still hurts.
She makes embarrassingly short work of me, leaving me dangling upside-down from a street lamp so she can go rescue Jay, whom Damian's just knocked unconscious. Bruce and Tim in their civvies can't help with the battle too much and are stuck pretending to dither, but Tim's fingers are flying on his wrist computer. Damian's throwing a fit in Cass's hold like he always does the rare times he gets bested in a fight.
I've been working to get myself free of the grappling rope Cass strung me up in, but I have to pause when Bruce comes right up to me. "Dick," he says softly, recognizing me despite the mask, laying a hand against my cheek. My first instinct is to close my eyes and relax at his touch, but...I can't. I feel like I'm safe now, but I'm not, I'm not, that thing is still in my neck and they're watching and if I don't do this right, they'll blow me up and Bruce will get hurt, too. "Dick, please--"
"Talon to base," I say into my comm, "mission failed; aborting." I can't tear my eyes away from Bruce's. His widen as I speak.
There's no response in my ear, which is odd; then my whole body goes rigid when I hear Damian's panicked scream. "NO!!" I want to protect him from whatever's terrifying him so much, but now here he is--
"Mission complete, mission--!
"I TOLD you, it's done, we're en route--
"--OR THERE WILL BE CONSEQUENCES.
I feel dazed. I don't remember getting free of the rope, much less making it to this car. I thought Damian was raging at someone on his comm, but right now he's silent except for his heavy breathing as he drives; maybe I imagined his shouting.
I can't look at him, I can't look at him, I'm shaking, I don't want to see Bruce's blood on him. "Did you kill him?" I whisper. That's all I can see now - the swirl of Damian's cloak behind Bruce; the bloodied sword tip bursting through the white dress shirt; the shock on Bruce's face....
"If Batman ever let a single stab wound kill him, I'd be ashamed to call him my father," Damian grinds out through clenched teeth.
I bury my face in my hands and rock back and forth, desperately trying to stay present, to not disappear into another dissociative episode right on the heels of the last one. "He's alive...he's alive...he's alive...."
"They were going to kill you, Grayson," Damian chokes out. "You're...expendable enough...to them...."
Now I'm crying, gross uncontrolled sobs because I am a complete wreck and the smallest thing can set me off these days. Everything is always my fault. If I didn't suck so much at my job, if I'd tried to make myself useful instead just doing the bare minimum.... They were going to set off my implant because they didn't mind sacrificing me in order to hurt Bruce. If I'd given them more reason to hesitate, maybe my little brother wouldn't have been forced to drive a sword through the one person who could rescue us.
I gulp in air and stab at the radio, finding pop songs and oldies to sing along to, trying to drown out the memories of Bruce's blood. After a while, Damian starts singing along with the choruses in a voice that sounds thin and broken.
When we get home, he rips off his blood-stained uniform, hurling each article of clothing across the room, then marches in his underwear to the bathroom. I don't know if he meant to shower or if he intended from the start to stab a pair of daggers into his reflection. In any case, I drag him away from the shattered mirror and wrap a blanket around him and pull him onto the couch with me.
He cries for a long time, tight sobs muffled by my shoulder, until at last he falls asleep in my arms. In all the months we've been here, Damian has never once cried before now. He's never slept for so long at a time, and he's never been this long away from his computer.
It feels wrong that his weakness seems to give me strength, but I feel better, calmer, as I hold my sleeping partner and watch over him. I have to be strong for him. He's done so much, taken on such heavy burdens, I'm surprised he didn't crack sooner. I hate myself for being such a weight around his neck, but even though he's been dragging us both along in this race, I'm determined to do what I can for him. Despite everything, he's still my little brother.
When I wake up, Damian is showered and dressed in shorts and a tank top, sprawled on the ground next to a half-eaten bowl of cereal as he listlessly flips through channels on TV.
"...You said you wouldn't give up, Damian."
There's a pause. His hand with the remote in it slowly sags to the floor, and he closes his eyes.
"Okay, look, I haven't showered since before last night's mission and I'm gross. By the time I get out of the bathroom, your tracker's gonna be hacked and my mission brief will be ready and waiting, got it?"
"What's the point of anything," he says tonelessly.
"...Okay, and then after today's recon, you're also going to give me your mission brief, and I'm going to tie you up so we can claim I stole your assignment, then I'll do my best but still probably botch the assassination and they'll punish me and then we'll start it all over again the next day, okay? You won't have to hurt anyone ever again."
"I killed him."
My breath hitches. Damn it, he triggered me deliberately. "N-N-Nope, Batman, he's Batman, can't kill the Bat, no sirree! C-Crazier men than you have t-tried, and...l-look where......it got............" I can't breathe.
Damian comes over and looks at me and says, still in that dead voice, "You belong in a mental hospital. I belong in jail. Both of us should be in graves. The whole world would be better off if we die."
I'm curled in on myself and crying, hating him, feeling my heart bleed for him, hating myself.... I just...want to....
Lost some time again. I have no idea how long; I'm still on the floor, Damian's sitting unmoving at the table with his head buried in his arms, the TV's playing softly in the background.
I sit up shakily and take deep, slow breaths. Then I get up and make my way over to my brother and rest my hands on his shoulders. "Damian."
Without looking up, he reaches for a fork and drags it close and presses the tines hard against his forehead. I wrestle the fork out of his hand and seize his shoulders and crouch down, forcing him to face me. "Damian."
He gazes at me, his expression blank, blood welling from his head.
I'm losing him. ...Just like he was losing me. He had to figure out how to pull me back from the brink, had to make himself my reason to keep going. Now I have to make myself his. "Damian, you know I can't survive this without you."
He blinks. I feel weak with relief when I see a spark of life ignite in his eyes. His shoulders straighten. "...What would you do without me, Grayson?"
I smile. "Just stumble around pathetically in the dark, I guess."
"Right." He pulls free and marches back to the couch, switching off the TV and stabbing at his computer keyboard with more violence than necessary. "Go shower, you stink. Then make me a real breakfast."
"Aye aye, boss."
Halfway through my shower, two Owl henchmen come bursting in. They drag me wet and naked (and cold, geez) into the living room, where Damian's standing between two more thugs, his expression closed and his laptop nowhere in sight. "We've been summoned," he informs me brusquely.
My heart rate picks up. They probably wouldn't have sent the escort unless we were in trouble. Still, my voice is steady as I say, "Mind if I get dressed first, fellas?" They let me put on the basics of my uniform; Damian takes the opportunity to change out of his sleepwear and throw on a cloak.
We're marched out of the apartment. I'm surprised when Damian takes hold of my hand, until I realize he's tapping in code against my palm: "Distraction." Although he managed to hide the laptop, he's probably got a microcomputer hidden up his sleeve and needs time to undo whatever he's done to his implant. Can't risk the Owls looking too closely during this change in routine.
I lift my arms and pretend to stretch. "Whooooo, what a night! Couldn't sleep well, still all hyped up; look, I bet you guys've never seen this trick!" I take a running leap up to the light fixture just ahead, trying to give off more of a 'childish idiot' vibe than 'attempting escape' - I just want them to be distracted, not on high alert. "Aaahhh!" As I'd figured, my weight causes the light fixture to give way, and I go crashing to the floor, executing a failed backflip on the way down. "Ohhhh, I'm out of practice.... No, no, wait, let me try again!"
I keep the goons chasing me around the hallway until Damian signals that he's finished. I let them catch me, then regret it.... A fist cracks across my face. They're ticked off and not shy about taking out their annoyance on me.
"Enough," Damian says in his Bow Before Me voice. "I will keep my partner under control. Talon, heel."
"Heel? Did you just order me to heel?" I'm laughing as I obey, because I can't actually tell whether he's joking or not.
We're brought before the Court, and it's clear that this is a trial of sorts rather than an ordinary meeting.
"It has come to our attention that Bruce Wayne survived the attempt on his life last night."
I close my eyes briefly, trying not to let my relief show.
"We will not tolerate failure." The man's voice is full of venom, and now I'm afraid again, this time for Damian's and my sakes. "We expected better of you, Ibn al Xu'ffasch."
"You underestimated him," Damian says flatly. "I told you to let me handle the prep. Even the best assassin in the world can't take down Bruce Wayne when forced to stick to your idiotic plans."
"We know Wayne best," I try, wondering if I'm making a mistake by daring to speak up. "The only people who have a hope of ending him for good are ones who were in his innermost circle."
They all look at me coldly. "Your counsel is worthless, Talon. Your abysmal performance on this mission once again hindered our best agent." He raises his voice. "Xu'ffasch, we've indulged you long enough. It's clear that this 'partnership' of yours is detrimental to the Court's goals."
My breath starts coming short.
"This farce ends now. Xu'ffasch, you will be expected from now on to perform at your peak potential. No more partners - you've proven time and again that you work best alone. Regarding your recent failure, you were warned what would happen the next time you allowed your judgment to be clouded. The two of you will be reassigned to separate quarters, effective immediately, and all communication is forbidden--"
I'm being dumped on the floor somewhere. Afternoon sunlight shines into an unfamiliar apartment. The door slams behind me, and I lie in the silence for several minutes before I finally put enough of my brain back together to realize I lost time again.
Damian is nowhere in sight.
................They took me away from Damian. They took...me....
It's nighttime. The microwave clock glows 9:09. My body aches, I must have been lying here for hours...it feels like minutes. It's getting worse, I've lost so much time in just one day, they took Damian, they took Damian....
10:22, I'm shivering against a chair with no memory of the last hour or of crawling across the floor. "Pull yourself together, Grayson, Damian is fine." Talking to myself out loud helps a little, especially if I avoid triggers.
I drag myself to my feet. "Man, I'm starving, wonder what there is to eat around here, hope there's some ramen, really don't feel like cooking, maybe I can order a pizza once I figure out what the address is here so they can deliver it, ha ha ha ha ha...." I force myself to inspect the apartment. There's nothing in the fridge, but there's canned food in the cabinets. I grab some soup and pour it into a bowl, singing the advertising jingle for the soup brand. As it's heating up in the microwave, I peer out the windows and determine that I'm halfway across town from where they had us living before.
I miss him so much. I miss him so much. The tears burst out and I wrap my arms around myself, trying to stop my broken heart from tumbling out of my chest. At least I'm not dissociating again, so I let myself cry. "Dami...Dami, come back...."
I find myself talking for both of us. "'Pull yourself together, Grayson. We've got more important things to worry about.' Sorry, Dami; it's just, when your one reason for living vanishes into thin air, you tend to have a little meltdown or two. I didn't even get to say goodbye. 'No goodbyes, Grayson. You think I won't be able to find you again, that this Court of Fools can keep us apart for long?' Sorry for doubting you, Damian, my mistake, I know you'll find a way out of this. You're the best, Damian...."
I talk until I finally feel strong enough to drag myself over to the microwave and get my soup. It's gone cool by now, but I eat it anyway, one spoonful at a time. "Miss you, Dami...love you, Dami...I'll wait for you, Damian...."
To be continued....
Chapter 4: Wounded Birds - Part 2
Wounded Birds , a Batman fanfic by Raberba girl [rough draft]
Part 2 (Damian)
I hate feeling like a child, and I hate feeling guilty. I wasn't expecting both of those emotions to come welling up simply as a result of seeing my father's face.
Targets. Objects. Heart of stone.
...I can banish those feelings and reclaim my combat efficiency, but I can't be an ice-cold killer and a victim seeking escape at the same time. I'll have to rely on Grayson to get Father to rescue us. Ruined as my partner has been by captivity, I know this is one of the few things he'll still be good at.
Despite my attempt at dehumanizing, a wisp of pride manages to escape during the battle - my father's training techniques are superior; his disciples put up a much better fight than my usual targets. I'm actually getting a workout this ti--
TOO GOOD A FIGHT, WHAT IS THIS, SHE HAS TO BE A META, IT'S NOT FAIR, UNHAND ME AT ONCE AND LET ME SHOW YOU WHAT IT MEANS TO TRULY BE THE SON OF--
The voice on my comm jolts me back to my senses. "Are you clear, Xu'ffasch?"
I'm not supposed to win this battle. We're just stalling long enough for Father to figure out--
"Stand by for detonation. If Wayne survives, finish him and then withdraw."
What detonation? We didn't bring any explosives with us--
No. We always have explosives with us, embedded in our bodies. In Grayson's body. He's so close to Father, they're really going to do it this time, they'll kill him, they'll kill them both, no, no, "NO!!"
Whatever Cain reads in my body convinces her to release me, and I lunge toward my brother and father, desperate to get close enough in time to save them. The Court sees Grayson as expendable, but I'm their best agent, surely they won't risk my safety even to achieve the mission objective.
...If I finish the mission, they'll no longer have a reason to sacrifice Grayson. If I fail for no valid reason, my disloyalty will be revealed and they'll set off both our implants. I have no choice.
It is fortunate that Father's not wearing his jacket; it makes it easier to aim. I'm fairly sure I missed all his vital organs, but it's out of my hands now, and I need to shift my attention to my brother and our captors. "Mission complete, mission complete!" I shout into my comm so they'll belay the kill command. "Talon!"
He's gone completely limp, his eyes wide and blank. No, no, no, no, of all times to have an episode--!
Yet how could he not, after what he's just witnessed?
"Mission complete, sitrep LATER! I'm busy!!"
I slice my partner free, ignoring Drake's desperate shouting behind me as he tries to keep Father alive. I hope Cain's grasped the situation, because this will all be for naught if she tries to capture us again. "Grayson." He doesn't respond to 'Talon' when he's in this state. "Grayson, get up. On your feet. Run."
He obeys like an automaton, and I have to drag him by the hand so he'll keep going in the right direction. Our vehicle's too far away from here; I have to steal one. I hiss in frustration when my hands refuse to stay steady, but eventually I manage to hotwire the car and shove Grayson into the passenger seat. This whole thing was a disaster, a failure on all counts...maybe I should drive this car over a cliff and put an end to everyone's misery....
I exhale, trying to get both my thoughts and my body under control. My heart still feels like steel and fire, so it...concerns me that I'm trembling. I can't afford to become weak like Grayson. "As I said, our mission succeeded. Bruce Wayne is dead, Talon and myself are intact, and we're now returning to our quarters."
"Talon contributed nothing of value to the mission and even required rescue. You should have gotten clear so we could dispose of him."
It's the last straw. "You keep your hands OFF my partner, do you hear me?! I have done everything you've asked, I've proven my worth again and again, I DEMAND respect in return! Talon is MY business and MY responsibility! Don't dare tell me what to do with him or I will kill you!!!"
"...We will discuss this later, Ibn al Xu'ffasch."
The comm goes silent. I become aware of police sirens behind me, then realize it's because of how fast I'm flying down the road. I elude them and then force myself to slow down near the speed limit.
They threatened my brother. I shouldn't have lost my temper, it's bad enough that they know Grayson is my weak point without me demonstrating just how badly they can hurt me through him. I just...the thought of losing him, especially for such a stupid reason, makes my blood boil and my heart quake....
"Did you kill him?"
He's finally back. His voice sounds weak. "If Batman ever let a single stab wound kill him, I'd be ashamed to call him my father." I know it's myself I'm trying to convince.
Grayson visibly struggles, chanting to himself like a child fighting nightmares. It hurts to see my once strong, fearless older brother in such pitiful shape.
"They were going to kill you, Grayson. You're...expendable enough...to them...." Apparently that was the wrong thing to say, because he breaks down in response. I can't stand the sound of his weeping, but before I can think of a way to get him to shut up, he does it himself with the radio. I know now that things like singing or inanely rambling are tactics he uses to keep himself sane, so I let him sing. His voice gradually strengthens as he calms down and blocks out the thoughts and memories that so distress him.
I don't know most of these songs, but Grayson is not the only one plagued by unpleasant thoughts. It's not difficult for me to pick up on the choruses and make my own attempt at mental self-preservation.
When we return to the apartment I'd hoped to never see again, I'm overwhelmed by the reminders of my failure. I'm swathed in my enemies' clothes, splattered with my father's blood. Even as I rip away the evidence of my captivity, it doesn't change how hopeless and useless I am. I can't even save myself, much less my brother; I hurt Father...possibly killed him. He couldn't save us, and if he can't, no one can, and I'm supposed to be better than this but I'm not, what good is my lineage and my resolve and all my training if I can't accomplish a single goal...?!
I unthinkingly headed to the bathroom as usual, but am distracted by a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror. The sight of my own face enrages me. There's a knife lying by the bathroom sink and another in my hand that I don't remember grasping. I plunge both of them into the mirror, wanting the real me to disappear as well and wipe out all my failures and all my pain.
Of course Grayson steps in to catch me now that I'm the one who's starting to fall apart.... For the first time since we've been here, I understand the comfort of being held and sheltered. I hate myself for breaking, but at the same time...it's such a relief to be allowed to be weak for a while.
I feel stiff when I wake up, and realize that it's because I've spent hours in the same position, tangled up with Grayson on the couch.
Hours. I haven't slept that long since....
I feel gritty-eyed and sluggish as I drag myself free from my sleeping brother's embrace. The fog doesn't clear much as I stand there stupidly wondering what to do. Most of my instincts are leaning toward the computer, the rest are leaning toward the shower I never took last night....
.........What's the use. I can work on the implants all I want, but we'll never be free of them. I can learn everything there is to know about the Court, but it won't matter. I'll never be permitted to stop killing. I'll never be able to save my brother. I've worked so hard, but after all this time I have nothing to show for it...and...Father might be dead. My fault. Everything's my fault, and I want to curl back up with Grayson and go to sleep again and never wake up.
Light glinting sharply on the floor.... I ought to at least clean up the mirror first. Even if I do drink poison and die in my sleep, Grayson will still be around to need the bathroom at some point, and it's better if there aren't jagged shards all over the place to threaten his safety. Or give him ideas.
I take my time cleaning up. I'm still so tired...getting hours of sleep after months of deprivation doesn't seem to agree with me. While I'm in here and mostly naked anyway, I might as well shower. I take thirty minutes instead of my usual four, and only shut the water off when I find myself wondering how much shampoo I'd have to swallow to kill myself.
I'm hungry, and I'm too tired for anything but cereal. The taste of corn syrup is vile, I don't know how Grayson can eat this garbage with such relish, but at least each spoonful that makes it to my mouth is more proof that I'm still alive. ...I have to stay alive, for his sake if nothing else. Even if I'm a failure and my life has no point, it would be wrong to subject Grayson to the trauma of finding my dead body. He's already traumatized enough, no thanks to me.
I need something to distract me away from the nagging feeling that I should be on the computer. Everything on TV is mindless drivel, but it gets the job done. Watching imbeciles getting so engrossed in pointless contests, films with no artistic value whatsoever, talk shows about stupid people with stupid, shallow problems...watching the futility of their lives makes me forget the futility of my own for a little while. The one program that generates any genuine interest in me is one that features working dogs, but it ends eleven minutes later and I'm back to wading through tripe.
Grayson slowly awakens. A corner of my mind pays attention to each rustle and soft vocalization. ...I'm glad that he's alive, and that he's still here with me. He's damaged and I've failed him, but I still take pleasure in his company. I hope I die before he does so that I won't be alone.
"You said you wouldn't give up, Damian."
...Don't push me, Grayson. I've got nothing left.
"Okay, look, I haven't showered since before last night's mission and I'm gross. By the time I get out of the bathroom, your tracker's gonna be hacked and my mission brief will be ready and waiting, got it?"
He thinks nothing has changed...that we're just going to keep on trying, that there's still any use in fighting our fate....
He hears the hopelessness in my voice. "...Okay, and then after today's recon, you're also going to give me your mission brief, and I'm going to tie you up so we can claim I stole your assignment...." He's Grayson, so he tries, but we both know there's nothing he can do to help me that he hasn't done already.
He won't accept it, though. He still believes in me, still thinks I can save him. He's in denial again about how broken we both are. "I killed him."
I don't know if it's true or not, but in any case, it triggers a panic attack. I feel almost vengeful as I watch him suffer - maybe now he'll start feeling the way I'm feeling. I feel like I've fallen into a deep, dark pit, and, selfishly, I want to drag him down with me. ...I don't want to be alone in the darkness.
At first he writhes, but then he goes still and quiet and vacant, hiding from the pain in some faraway place in his mind. I'm still so tired, but I finally crawl over to him and touch his face. Of course there's no response. "Grayson...."
Only now do I feel regret. It was cruel of me to hurt him when there was no need. Just because I've been swallowed by darkness doesn't mean I should have taken out my anger on him. "Grayson, I'm sorry. Wake up. It's all right, Father's alive. I'm sorry. You didn't do anything wrong, everything will be all right, Father's on his way to rescue us."
He's too far gone, none of my words reach him...or maybe it's that he can sense how false they are. Tears sting my eyes, and I slap his face lightly. "Grayson, please. Please, I'm...I'm scared, I need you."
Still nothing. I broke him, I hate myself, I hate this, why can't I do anything other than hurt the people I love?!
I try to take out my feelings on the training equipment, but all that happens is that I get tired again. All the anger and self-hatred inside me is now dull, but still heavy. I hate this, I really do want to kill myself, if I didn't have to worry about Grayson then I could just climb out the window and let myself fall....
He finally comes back to himself, groaning a little. I hear him but don't bother to look up. After a while, he shuffles close to me and sets his hands on my shoulders. "Damian."
I'm as broken as he is...dark thoughts whispering to me, telling me things that never crossed my mind before our capture.... I want to pierce through to my brain and physically pry out the darkness that's poisoning me.
Stupid, of course; they're not tangible, I can't reach them like that, it won't help at all to tear my head open with a fork - though it suddenly occurs to me that I don't feel any pain even though I know I'm bleeding. That's probably...not healthy....
Grayson drags the fork out of my hand and grabs my shoulders and I don't want to look at him because I know he's trying to catch my attention, chase me down, bring me back to myself. I don't want to try again. I'm tired.
"Damian, you know I can't survive this without you."
...Damn it, he knew exactly what to say.
"Don't go off and leave me all by myself."
I can't give up. I swore to him I wouldn't, and it's...important that I don't. I have to keep fighting until my last breath; weariness and discouragement is no excuse to quit.
I knew that already. I'm the son of Batman and Talia al Ghul, how could I have forgotten that? I'm better than this, my father expects better than this, my brother deserves better than this. I was stupid to let myself fall apart. "...What would you do without me, Grayson?"
His smile gives life to my soul, like a drink of cool water in the desert. "Just stumble around pathetically in the dark, I guess."
"Right." I have to protect that smile, for both his sake and mine. It's time to get back to work.
To be continued....
A/N: BTW THERE WAS A STUPID TYPO IN THE FIRST CHAPTER, it should have been that Damian threw the nearest expendable thing across the room, not the nearest "expandable" thing. *facepalm* I'll fix it someday....
Also, there are some lines I have to change in the first chapter now that I've drafted the second.
This chapter was sleepy. X'D Not...exactly hard to write, but it was slow and I had to keep stopping to rewrite paragraphs before I could get them to sound right. I hope the next chapter is easier and faster.... (And actually advances the plot.)
Chapter 5: Wounded Birds - Part 3
Wounded Birds , a Batman fanfic by Raberba girl [rough draft]
Part 3 (Damian)
I'm terrified. Not for myself, but for Grayson, because there's no good reason they would drag us before the Court like prisoners. I can handle myself, but I refuse to let my brother be tortured again.
"It has come to our attention that Bruce Wayne survived the attempt on his life last night."
Good news overall. Bad news for the short term.
"We will not tolerate failure. We expected better of you, Ibn al Xu'ffasch."
My mind hums with tension as I run through every response and countermeasure I can think of. I have to be ready for anything. At the moment, I need to convince them that my performance isn't slipping, that it was someone else's fault (other than Grayson's) that the mission failed. "You underestimated him. I told you to let me handle the prep."
Grayson speaks up in a voice that's too hesitant, obviously (to me, anyway; I hope it's not so obvious to the Owls) trying to keep us within Father's reach. Perhaps fortunately, they dismiss him without even bothering to consider one way or the other.
"Xu'ffasch, we've indulged you long enough. It's clear that this 'partnership' of yours is detrimental to the Court's goals."
No...no, they can't--
"You were warned what would happen the next time you allowed your judgment to be clouded. The two of you will be reassigned to separate quarters, effective immediately, and all communication between the two of you is forbidden without our express permission."
Rage floods my body. "NO! No, you can't do this! Richard Grayson is MINE!"
The voice thunders, "Both of you belong to us. Take them away."
I slaughter the first three men who attempt to lay hands on me, but then I'm distracted by the sight of my partner being dragged from the room. He's resisting sluggishly, but he's in the grip of another episode and simply moving on autopilot; he doesn't have the consciousness or reflexes to fight for real.
It takes six more men and a tranquilizer to take me down. Even when my limbs stop working, I curse the Court until the darkness clouding my mind is complete.
I'm in pain when I wake up - they were not gentle when they carried me here.
'Here' turns out to be a cold new apartment, halfway across the city from our old quarters and God knows how far away from my brother.
Two mission briefs are waiting for me. My first impulse is to ignore them, but then I decide to send a message. I complete the first assignment in record time and then track down two Talons to kill. The Court of Owls does not own me, and even when they punish me, I have the power to punish them back.
My second mission isn't an assassination; it takes me two hours to complete, and by the time I'm done, I've also hacked my tracker for the day. I make it think that I'm heading to the Hiding Spot, then set to work searching for Grayson instead.
Maybe they know what I'm doing, or simply anticipated my moves beforehand, because I'm inundated with missions. A third one comes in that evening; there are two more waiting for me when I wake up in the morning, then a long-term assignment, then yet another two the next day. Both of them are busywork, though...they're running out of ways to keep me occupied.
Still, between the missions and my own work and creating clues to send into the void of the Internet for Drake to find if he happens to look in the right places at the right times, it takes me four days to find Grayson. I'm starving and grimy and my apartment's a mess, he really did look after me more than I thought he did....
His apartment's even worse. Dirty clothes are strewn all over the floor (along with streaks of green paint, for some reason); the place is littered with insect-infested pizza boxes and ramen cups; his laptop is sitting in a sticky patch next to a fallen bottle of soda. He himself, barely clothed and even grimier than I am, is huddled between the end of the sofa and the wall, his eyes vacant as he buries bloody fingertips into the awful wound he's scratched into his own neck.
"Grayson!" I'm afraid to touch him, but I have to get him to stop hurting himself. His eyes snap to life sooner than I expected.
"Damian." He throws his arms around me and hugs me so tight I can hardly breathe (a small mercy, since our combined unwashed odor is strong). His hair is soft and greasy as it presses against my cheek. I don't mind that I can't move. I close my eyes and relax a little for the first time in four days.
He doesn't cry, just trembles for a long time as he holds me. At last, when he seems to have recovered a little, I pull back and get to my feet and haul him to his. "You're a mess, and you're still bleeding, you idiot. Get to the bathroom."
I look through his cabinets as he bathes, but he hasn't bought any medical supplies; all I can find is the standard first aid kit that must have already been here when he was assigned to this place. It will have to do. When he gets out of the tub, I try to tug him down so I can start bandaging the wound, but he smiles and takes the gauze out of my hands. "I can handle this. You take your turn; I'm okay now."
I've been focused for so long on finding my brother and resenting all the Court's interruptions, I forgot how nice it feels to be clean. Grayson's done a decent enough job, and after I've inspected the bandage on his neck, he tugs me to the couch and start combing my hair. That feels nice, too. For a little while, it's just like old times, the TV playing and Grayson cheerfully rambling and the two of us looking after each other and just being together....
"I missed you so much, Dami~" He kisses the side of my head.
I look at the clock and sigh - it's nearly 10:00 p.m., I've got yet another mission waiting and I've fallen behind on my work. "Grayson...."
"Geez, I'm starving! I-- Er, got nothing in the fridge, but hey, I'll have a pizza delivered and then tomorrow I'll go grocery shopping, okay?"
...He thinks we can just go back to living together like nothing happened. "Grayson, listen--"
"WHAT KIND OF PIZZA DO YOU WANT, kiddo? Supreme? You like supreme, right?" He's already dialing a number. "I like it, too, it's got so many good bits and this place I found makes the best crust, you'll love it...!"
He's in denial again. "Grayson, please."
"OH HEY RICARDO HI, it's Dick! What's up, man? Yeah, the usual, but two of them this time, because I've got company tonight~!"
This is going to be difficult.
I give him another hour or so, letting him snuggle with me as we watch a movie and eat dinner. Finally, close to midnight, when he's half-asleep with his arms around me, I whisper to him as I start to get up. "I'll see you soon, Grayson. Please be strong."
His grip on me tightens. "Don't leave."
"I have to. But now that I know where you are, I'll come back, I promise."
Without a word, he sits up and produces a pair of handcuffs and links our wrists together. His face and voice hold no expression as he wraps his free arm back around me, this time in restraint. "Stay."
"...." He knows perfectly well that I was trained to escape handcuffs long before I met Batman. "Grayson."
He hides his face against me. "I'll die if you leave me."
"You won't." I still wait until he falls asleep, even though it takes three hours. When, at last, it's safe for me to slip the cuffs, he stirs and mumbles my name, but I stroke his hair and murmur to him until he goes quiet again. I set a robin's feather into his hand as a promise, and then I leave. I have work to do, but I will come back.
It's 36 hours before I'm able to get away long enough to see him again. I find him curled up in bed, and he doesn't respond to me for at least thirty minutes - I can't even tell whether he's having an episode or just too hurt to let me in.
I came more prepared this time. I still don't really know how to cook, but I can make sandwiches. I bring a plate of them to his room and tear off a small piece and push it against his mouth, and after a moment, he eats it. I try another. He lays his hand over mine for a while, then he sits up and we lean against each other and finish the sandwiches together.
It's a very long silence, and he's the one who finally breaks it. "This is killing me, Damian."
"I've only done one mission in the past week."
"...Oh." I knew something was wrong. I've been doing my best to find his mission briefs and stay on top of our trackers, but I know some assignments have slipped past me, and he never showed up even to the ones I found and completed for him. I don't know how long we can get away with this when he won't even go through the motions.
"Even if I don't die of...I dunno...heartbreak, or whatever this is.... They'll kill me. What's the use of a Talon who can't even get out of bed, much less get any missions done?"
I slam the empty plate on the bedside table and jump up, whirling to face him. "Get up. We're going to spar."
I strike him across the face. "Get up!"
He curls up, burying his face in a pillow so that his words are muffled. "Don't hit me, Damian." There are tears in his voice.
I am seriously alarmed now. "Grayson!" No response. "Grayson, get up! You can't do this!" He's not just broken, he's crumbling. Unless Batman comes swinging through the window in the next few minutes, there might not be much of a Richard Grayson left for Father to rescue. "GRAYSON GET UP."
"...Play with me. We're just going to play." I drag him out of bed and push a couple of escrima sticks into his hands and finally coax him into sparring with me. It's like sparring with a five-year-old at first (an ordinary five-year-old, not a properly trained one), but gradually he warms up until his attacks become actual attacks. He's still pathetically weak if I was trying to beat him for real, but at the moment, I'm just relieved to see him at least being able to hold his own against an intoxicated mugger. I'll worry about getting him back up to actual Talon level later. "That's it. Hah. You going to let your 'baby brother' get away with that, Grayson?"
"Heh...I'm gonna take you down a few notches, amateur...."
Afterward, he seems far more exhausted than he should be from a simple practice session, but at least he's not crying in bed anymore. He lies quietly on the couch until I bring over two mugs of tea - I know it's nowhere near as good as Pennyworth's, but brewing tea was one of the few domestic things I learned how to do before we were taken. Grayson sips at the tea and keeps the fingers of his left hand curled into my shirt. "Damian...don't go."
"I'll come back soon."
"Pieces of me die whenever you leave."
I don't know what to say. I feel a little like crying with frustration. "...Grayson." I touch his face so he'll pay attention. "I can't. If I stay here with you, we'll be punished again. You saw how badly they can hurt us, even without bruises or blood."
His breathing grows unsteady for a moment, and then his eyes go blank.
"Grayson...! Dick, stop that! Hey...hey, I meant to tell you, I saw a cat the other day - she was so beautiful, ink-black with a really fluffy tail, she was shy at first but I was patient and she warmed up to me...." I babble at him until he comes back five minutes later.
"You're still here," he breathes.
"Don't check out every time I say something you don't like."
He slowly gets to his feet and trudges across the room, absently dragging his palm across every piece of furniture he passes. He pauses by the window and gazes out, arms wrapped tightly around himself. His eyes finally meet mine. "Damian...I'm sick." He points to his head. "In here."
"...I've never been like this before. I've been depressed, but...not like this. Never this bad.... I need help. I'm going crazy, really crazy, Damian."
I stand up. I try to speak clearly, without any judgmental tone. "Grayson...I need help, too."
A dry sob escapes him, and he claps a hand over his mouth. After a moment, I go over to hug him. He wraps his arms around me and whispers fiercely, "Where is he?"
"We need him. We NEED him-- But no, he's always put everyone else before his own sons, hasn't he. Why should things be any different this time...!"
Now I want to cry, because it feels too true. "Please."
He hears the tears in my voice and tightens his hold. "Dami."
He kneels down and grips my arms so that I look into his eyes. "We'll survive."
I draw in a deep breath. Not long ago, I would have been putting on an act to get him to be strong for me, but now it's not an act anymore. "We are the sons of Batman."
"We'll get through this."
"We are heirs to the greatest legacy in the world."
"He'll come for us. And you'll come back to me. And I'll still be here when you do."
"I've sacrificed everything to protect you, Grayson. Don't waste it."
"You know I'd do anything for you, Damian."
"Screw the Owls."
He laughs a little. "Yeah. Jerks."
I feel stronger. He looks stronger. I leave him curled up in front of another movie with a bowl of ice cream, and I head out to do my mission for the evening.
I hate it when the targets are minors. Even though they're usually older than me, they still seem like children. At least this mission is an abduction rather than a killing....
The girl cowers as I fight her bodyguards, though she's not a complete waste of space - at one point, she hurls a pot at me, and later a pair of gardening shears (misses both times, but I commend her efforts). One guard is unconscious, I'm about to drive my sword through the heart of the other--
Something clangs hard against my weapon, knocking it out of my hand.
A sound escapes my throat, something between a gasp and a shout, though even I don't know what I meant to say before gas is sprayed in my face. I see a flash of black, hear the whisking sounds of capes. I'm coughing, my lungs burn and I'm too dizzy to identify the dark figures surrounding me. I don't remember falling, but suddenly realize I'm on the floor. I feel hands on me, but the first tug triggers a fresh wave of dizziness that leaves me too incapacitated to think. "Got it," says a voice that I think is Drake's, but that's all I have time to process before I lose consciousness.
To be continued....
A/N: My friend Medli45 (breezy-cheezy) gave me permission to share her sketches of this story! I might remove them whenever she's able to post them herself, but here they are for now~! (The first one is what inspired this story in the first place; the second is a wing AU she drew when I started sending her chapters.)
Chapter 6: Wounded Birds - Part 4
Wounded Birds , a Batman fanfic by Raberba girl [rough draft]
Part 4 (Damian)
What happened...? Something happened.... Something--
That sound. What is that sound? It's important, and it's familiar.
BATS. It's the sound of bats squeaking and rustling-- This is the Batcave, I'm home, they found me-- What took them so lo--!
I can't move. I don't think I have many clothes on, which might be why a blanket's been thrown over me; underneath, restraints have me pinned to the surgical table I'm lying on. "WHY AM I TIED DOWN?!" A warm weight on my chest abruptly vanishes - Alfred, startled into fleeing. Alfred, my cat, I really am back...!
"Whoa-- Hey, kid, calm down; it's just a precaution." It's Todd, flipping his book facedown with one hand as he pats me in an insufferably condescending way with the other. He raises his voice to call across the cave. "Bruuuuuce, he's awake."
"I know." Father is approaching, with Drake hurrying to catch up.
"Get me out of this!"
"Damian, last time we saw you, you were trying to kill us all," Drake points out.
Todd adds with a smirk, "Nice job on your dad."
"The implant?" I demand.
Drake nods toward the Batcomputer, where they were likely analyzing the wretched thing. "I disabled it when we captured you. We extracted it about half an hour ago."
The force of my relief surprises me - my head drops back against the table, and the breath leaves my lungs in a deep exhale. Now that I'm paying attention, I can sense the bandage on my neck.
Father tugs aside the blanket, and my bare skin bunches into gooseflesh at the touch of cool air. He reaches for the restraints, but then pauses. "You're not going to attack us if we let you up, are you?"
"No! Get me out!" As soon as I'm free, I haul myself off the table. I'm surprised at how weak I feel, and grateful when Drake takes hold of my shoulder to steady me. Then I feel something warm and heavy press against my legs, and I sink to the floor after all. "Titus." I'm nearly crying as he licks my face and paws at me, I have hide my eyes in his fur. "Titus, I missed you...."
When I have myself under control again, I start climbing to my feet. Father grasps my arm near the shoulder and hauls me upright as if I weigh nothing. A warm robe descends over my shoulders, and a familiar voice says, "Here we are, sir."
I look up into one of the faces I missed most. "Pennyworth."
He returns the embrace, his arms encircling me as one hand rests on my hair. "It is certainly good to see you again, Master Damian."
"Of course it's Alfred who gets the hug," Todd chuckles.
I take a step back and look around, feeling shaky with an emotion that takes me a while to identify because I haven't felt it in so long: happiness. I still have one arm around Pennyworth and my other hand resting on Titus's head; only one thing...is....
The happiness fades. "Where's Grayson?"
The last thing I wanted in response to that question is silence.
"Where is Grayson?" I don't like the looks on their faces, they shouldn't look like that, surely they couldn't be stupid enough, cruel enough, to have--!
"Damian," Father says, "we don't know where Dick is. We saw the opportunity to catch you, so we seized it. We're getting Dick next."
"Where is he?" Drake asks softly.
I can't believe this. "YOU LEFT GRAYSON IN THAT HELLHOLE WITHOUT ME?!?!"
I throw off the robe, march over to the uniform storage unit, and yank out the first Robin costume that comes to hand.
"Damian, just stop for a minute and listen. We are going back for Dick, but you have to sit down first and tell us--"
"There's no time." These pants don't fit anymore...! I want to scream and hit them, but that would be singularly unsatisfying. I have to squirm back out of them (they're even harder to peel off than they were to pull on), hurl them away, and smash a random box instead. "Where's my Talon outfit?!"
"Master Damian, if I may suggest...." Pennyworth's calm voice soothes my panic a little. He shows me the compartments where larger sizes of my Robin uniform are stored - apparently he anticipated my physical growth long before I was captured by the Court of Owls. Even in the midst of my terror for Grayson, I'm distracted a little by admiration for Pennyworth's unerring dependability.
"Damian, we'll go after him together. Calm down and come over to the computer for a minute...."
I tune out their voices, focusing instead on getting dressed and integrating the few useful items from my Talon getup into my Robin arsenal. ...It feels...strange to be Robin again. Good, but strange. I don't feel like the same person I was before.
I check my sword and then re-sheathe it - my real sword, not the ones I had to make do with as a Talon. I'm ready now. Father's still babbling, so I interrupt. "Follow me if you want, I don't care, but I need to get my brother back, and I'm leaving now." My cloak swirls in a satisfying way as I turn and stalk toward the vehicles. It's shorter and lighter than my Owl cloak - I missed being Robin.
"Wait up, kid." Todd jogs to my side and matches my pace. He's not trying to stop me, he'll follow my lead, and he might even be mildly useful.
I pause for just a second when I realize that my motorcycle is not with the others, and neither is Nightwing's. I don't have time for outrage, and Todd will probably throw a fit if I steal his bike right in front of his eyes, so I swing myself onto Red Robin's instead.
"Find another way to keep up!" I shout to Drake over my shoulder, then start the engine and take off. Red Hood is on my heels; a few minutes later, the Batmobile glides up beside us.
Father's voice comes through the comm in my uniform. "We need a plan."
"I have a plan: retrieve Grayson and slaughter any Owls who get in our way."
"No killing, Robin."
It takes a great effort to resist the urge to smash my bike into the Batmobile and drive a sword through the windshield. "I WILL SPILL AS MUCH BLOOD AS IS NEEDED TO GET GRAYSON BACK."
Father bursts out of the car and tackles me before I can draw my sword. I did manage to trigger a gauntlet blade, but it fails to penetrate Batman's suit, and then we hit the ground. There's a struggle; I manage to get in one good punch and one lackluster one before Batman subdues me. I still kick and writhe and scream, furious that he's interfering with my mission. "Let me GO!"
"Your judgment's been compromised. Give us the information, then go back to the cave; Red Robin and Red Hood and I will bring Nightwing home."
"NO! NO! LET ME GO! GRAYSON! I NEED TO GET GRAYSON! LET ME GO!!! I'LL KILL YOU...!"
I'm hoarse, and even though I'm still trying to shout, my voice is not cooperating well. My body is shifting as someone pulls me away from Batman; I struggle, but I feel weak. It's Red Robin who's holding me now as he and Red Hood argue with Batman. Did I...did I lose a minute or two...?
I tear off both our masks and hold Drake's head tight with both hands so I can growl into his face, "Get out of my way."
He says, quietly and calmly, "We are not in your way. We're with you, Robin, and we're going to get Nightwing back." He sets his hand over mine. "Let us help you."
"Don't worry, kid," Red Hood speaks up. "If they hold you back, I'll shoot whoever you ask me to."
"No, you won't," Batman growls.
"Yes, I will, because that's my job," Red Hood snaps, then hisses something I can't hear that makes Batman turn his head aside and not respond.
My grip on Drake loosens. Even if Batman stops me, Red Hood is on my side.... He'll do what needs to be done.
"It's all right, Robin." Drake tugs my hands down. He picks up our masks, puts his back on, and holds mine out to me. "Our chances are better together than if you just charge in alone."
"You don't know the Owls like I do." I jump to my feet and turn to Father. I have to make him understand. "You don't even know him anymore. After what they did to him - what they made him do, you understand? He's not your precious, perfect Nightwing anymore."
"It doesn't matter. We're still bringing him home," Father says.
"That's not the point! I'm saying he's damaged, he's sick, you have to understand that! If you treat him the same as before and you hurt him, I'll never forgive you!"
"Tell us, then." Red Robin sets a hand on my shoulder. "What did they do to him? How bad is it?"
"It's bad. He has episodes - if you push him too far, he goes away in his mind and he won't come back until he thinks it's safe. Not when it is safe, but when he thinks it's safe. You'll see him and he'll smile and laugh, but don't you dare let that fool you because the smallest thing can set him off again and you have to be careful! If you're cruel to him, he can't take it anymore! Don't make him be strong, because he's not-- he's-- he's surviving. He's not living anymore, he's just surviving, you see?!"
"...I understand," Father says quietly.
I'm surprised to hear in his voice that he really does. "So...so, then, we have to go!"
"Give me your sword first."
Rage flares up. I rip the sword out of its sheath and lunge at Father with it, I try to kill him, and I only stop when Red Robin shouts at me that the longer we fight here, the longer we'll take to find Grayson. As I'm standing there, torn between two desperate urges, Batman jerks the sword out of my hands and throws it into the Batmobile.
Then he seizes my face in his hand and studies me closely. He frowns. "Robin...you didn't escape unscathed, either, did you."
Panic wells up in me. He's right, but if he thinks I'm unfit and forces me to stay home, I'm going to lose my mind. I need to be on the rescue mission. ...The only way he'll allow me to do that now is if I pretend to be a good boy and play by his rules. "Father, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I won't kill anyone, I promise. Please. You can keep my sword, you can take all my weapons if you want. Just...just let me come. I'm all right."
All three of them exchange looks. I'm terrified they'll decide to make me stay behind, but at last, Father nods. "Red Robin, take the bike. Robin, get in the Batmobile."
I seethe at the loss of control, but I'm doing this for Grayson. This is just like with the Owls, I have to put on a performance and make sacrifices in order to protect Grayson. I get in the car and am glad when we finally start moving again.
"Where are we going, Robin?"
I tell him the address of Grayson's apartment, but then there's nothing left for me to do until we get there. I can almost feel myself starting to go mad, so...I sing under my breath. Choruses and snatches of lyrics that stuck in my memory, Grayson's songs that he would sing to keep himself from going crazy, too. As quiet as I try to be, I'm sure Father still notices, but he says nothing.
As soon as the car starts slowing near our destination, I leap out and rush to Grayson's quarters. I burst through the door--
The place is empty. It's not simply a lack of Grayson's presence; it's clean - trash gone, surfaces scrubbed, personal effects removed. Ready for a new occupant.
They took my brother away.
My stomach lurches; I drop to my knees and cough twice; the second cough brings vomit with it. Tears and snot come leaking out of my face, I'm sobbing by the time Red Robin kneels down beside me and sets a hand on my back. "Robin...."
"He's gone...he's gone, they took him, he's gone...!" My hand is shaking as I wipe my mouth. While I was safe at home, so happy to find myself free and surrounded by family, armed men were bursting into this room. Grabbing my brother, frightening him, hurting him; dragging him away, crushing him. Killing him while he was all alone and wondering where I was, why I didn't come to save him. I didn't come in time...I wasn't here when he needed me-- "This is all YOUR FAULT!!" I fling myself at Father and strike my fists against him. He stumbles a little, but doesn't fight back. "You took me away from him! He needed me! He needed me to protect him but I wasn't here and they killed him, you took me but you left him behind! You left him here! I hate you! He's dead and it's your fault!!"
Red Hood drags me back. "Kid. Kid, hey, hey, Robin, calm down. Calm down, tell me why you think he's dead."
"Because he's NOT HERE!" As I stand there screaming explanations at him, Batman and Red Robin comb the place for clues. Strangely, I do calm down somewhat as I speak, until I'm sitting exhausted on the couch with Red Hood's arm around me as he comes up with yet another reason why my assumption could be wrong. "...or they could've just figured we were coming and moved him to a different location. They know he still makes a good hostage." He jostles my shoulder encouragingly. "And, hey, even if he is just a dead body now, we can always chuck him into a Lazarus pit - problem solved."
"I do not appreciate your endless resurrection jokes," I growl, but I do feel a little better. Maybe I was too quick to jump to conclusions.... Grayson's death is a real possibility, but there are a number of reasons why the Court might choose to continue keeping him alive. Either way, I need to start tracking him down immediately, and there's a flash drive hidden in my own Talon quarters that will expedite the process.
I stand up. "Red Robin, I'm taking your bike again."
To be continued....
A/N: For some reason, I started writing this chapter almost as if it was dragon perspective. *sweatdrop* Had to start over again from scratch.
Bonus scene (because I can't think where to fit it in the main story) - Batman and the boys break into some kind of Owl control room.
When I catch up, it puts me on guard to find all three of them standing motionless. Then I notice what has so captured their attention: a wall of screens, all playing recordings of either Grayson being tortured or me ending lives.
I can't bear to look at the ones of Grayson, and the ones of me...look a lot worse than I remember. I can't tolerate those, either; they make me sick.
Red Robin turns to me, his expression horrified. Red Hood, I can tell more from his body language than his masked face, looks at me more sympathetically. Batman is still watching the screens, and doesn't move when I step up beside him. "...Guess you won't want me calling myself Robin anymore," I venture, wondering if I should just pull off the badge on my chest right this moment.
"How many people did you kill?" he asks tightly.
"Why? Does my punishment depend on what the number is? Because I lost count, anyw--"
He seizes me, and I'm frightened until I realize that the crushing hold is an embrace, and that what he's whispering furiously into my hair are curses against the Court.
"Father...I'm sorry...I didn't want to, but I--"
He kneels so that his fierce gaze is almost level with my face. "I want to break the people who did this to you, Robin."
I can't answer, because suddenly I'm on the verge of tears.
Chapter 7: Wounded Birds - Part 5
Wounded Birds , a Batman fanfic by Raberba girl [rough draft]
Part 5 (Dick)
I know something's wrong when I wait for the bullet and it never comes.
He's never once failed me, but now my target is lying unconscious at my feet, clearly defeated, and I've been waiting for five minutes now and even backing away, step by desperate step - yet no bullet comes. There's no dark guardian angel in the shadows ready to end this man's life and protect me from the Court.
I know there's no way I'll be able to finish the mission myself, so I rush back home. Maybe...maybe he's just running late. He'll show up, and he'll...see my target, and he'll...get it done and then come dragging himself into my apartment, ready to be comforted....
I'm still alone at three in the morning when the Owls come for me, and I know why they've come, and I'm terrified because I don't know what happened to Damian. Did he get hurt? Is he sick? Where is he?!
They bind me to a chair and pump me with truth serum, but it's not as horrible an ordeal as usual because the only questions they ask me are ones I can answer truthfully.
"Have you been in contact with Damian Wayne?"
(Not for the past twenty-ish hours, nope.)
"Why didn't you finish your assignment?"
"Have you tampered with your or his implant in any way?"
(Hah, nope. The state I'm in, I couldn't hack a children's video game, much less the little hellbot in my neck....)
"Do you know the whereabouts of Damian Wayne?"
(No, oh God, I don't, please God, please let him be okay...!
...Maybe he found a way to escape without me. Good. That's good, I just...I just wish I knew for sure, because I can bear all the rest if I just new for sure that he's safe....)
The cell they shut me up in afterward isn't too bad. At least it's quiet. But then after a while, I have no idea if I've been in here a few hours or a few days, they barge in and take me to a room with drains in the floor and stand me in front of a terrified captive and put a gun into my hand.
"Finish him, Talon. The Court so orders you."
I drop the gun and close my eyes and wait.
"If you don't want Damian Wayne to suffer, kill this man."
The speakers explode with a child's screams. Maybe months ago, when I was stronger, things might have been different, but now I'm broken. I only have to endure my little brother's cries of pain for two seconds before I blink and find myself back in my cell.
Whether Damian suffers or not isn't up to me anymore...now my brain takes care of the decisions for me.
Still, it's agony to think that they've got my brother trapped in another cell somewhere, that he's being tortured because I'm too sick to even try to make the choices that will save him. I have a string of episodes, at first I keep finding my own blood on my hands, then at one point I open my eyes to find myself in a straitjacket. When a human being, finally, finally enters my cell again, after I feel like I've been trapped in my own madness for an eternity, I beg him to tell me if Damian is safe.
They drag me away and dump me at the feet of three Owls, who gaze down at me like I'm a particularly disgusting insect.
"Please...please, just tell me if Damian's all right. Please, I'll do anything.... If I could kill, I would, but I can't, I'll do anything else, just tell me what happened to Damian...!"
They confer with each other in low voices, and I strain to get free of the straitjacket. I could do it...at least, I used to be able to do it...if no one's watching me, but it would be idiotic to escape the restraints right in front of my captors. Right now, all I can do is struggle fruitlessly just to take the edge off my desperation.
At last, they look at me and say what I'd most hoped and least expected to hear from their cruel lips: "Damian Wayne has escaped. He is no longer under our control, and is most likely back with his family."
I burst into tears. There's a tinge of horror at the realization that I've been abandoned, but most of it is overwhelming relief and joy. Damian is free. I don't have to agonize over his safety anymore. He's free. I can die peacefully, knowing that he's safe.
I must have lost a minute or two, because I'm startled to find myself being unbound. They haul me to my feet and lead me to a table with food on it, which I start devouring without permission. They don't stop me, though; all they do is set a bag on the table and wait.
"Enough," one of them finally says, and someone holds me down while the rest of the food is taken away. I wait, head hanging, not caring what happens to me anymore. One of the Owls impatiently seizes my hair and shoves me forward, so that my upper body sprawls over the tabletop. "What an animal.... Open the bag, Grayson."
I don't...know how to respond for a minute, it feels so strange to hear them call me by my real name.
Someone strikes the back of my head, prompting me to reach for the bag and unzip it. I'm shocked and bewildered and wary, and a little tearful, to see the blue gleam of my Nightwing insignia inside. The bag contains the uniform I was wearing when I was captured, as well as a set of civilian clothes. "What...what is...? I don't understand."
"You're free, Richard Grayson. We're releasing you from our service. Go where you will, and do what you will - we no longer concern ourselves with you."
I think I'm...I must be dreaming. Still, I pick up the bag and step toward the door, and keep going, expecting at any minute to either wake up or get shot or tackled or...just...something bad will happen any second now....
But it doesn't. I'm halfway down an alley when I see my first glimpse of...people. Real people, ordinary people, not Owls or targets, just ordinary citizens of Gotham, going about their business on the city streets just a few steps away.
My legs buckle and I slump against the dirty brick wall beside me. When I come back from the episode, it's to find a man hauling my bag over his shoulder as his buddy rifles through my pockets. When our eyes meet, he punches me. I catch myself with my hands before my face hits the pavement, feeling too confused and unreal to stop these small-time, ordinary criminals from robbing me.
The one with the bag swears, holding up my Nightwing uniform. "What is this?!"
"Costume," I say automatically. Apparently the Never-Reveal-Our-Secret-Identities training is hammered so deeply into my brain that it's survived even months of captivity and mental illness. "Just coming home from a party, that suit was a big hit with the girls...."
The mugger crouching beside me laughs as he looks at all my bruises. "Must've been a rough party."
"Yeah." I smile, hoping that my face still remembers how to be charming. "Worth it, though."
They leave with all my stuff, but I can't bring myself to care one way or the other. I have to figure out A) whether I'm hallucinating or not, and B) if this is real, why on God's green earth would the Court of Owls just let me go?!?!
It takes me a lot longer than it would have if my mind wasn't so fried, but at last, I realize why: they're expecting me to go home. The implant is still embedded in my body, tracking my location and capable of blowing my head off and hurting anyone within a few feet of me. If I go home, if I make any contact with my family, the Owls will know when and where to strike.
I can't go home. I can't ever see the people I love again. I shouldn't even be near any people at all.
I draw in a deep breath, and exhale slowly. It's all right. It just means I have to die. I don't have the will to actively kill myself, so what I need to do is leave town on foot, and stay away from people, and wait until I'm dead. "I love you, Damian," I murmur aloud. The words give me enough strength that I can finally get to my feet and start walking.
It's so peaceful out here. I wasn't expecting to be happy, out here in the middle of nowhere waiting for death, but to be honest, I kind of am.
There's nothing to do, but there are no missions, either. No assignments, no blood, no pain. I wander the countryside past the city limits of Gotham, listening to the wind in the tall grass, watching the animals that occasionally wander across my line of sight. Sometimes I come across woody patches, where I like to sit under trees and watch the play of sunlight through their leaves. One night, I even have company, a stray dog who licks my hands and curls up with me to sleep, though he's gone in the morning.
After a few days, I'm too tired from lack of food to keep walking, so I lie on the grass in the shade of a tree and watch ants busily passing by.
I haven't had a single episode the whole time I've been out here.
I thought I was too weak to move, that I was finally dying, but when the Owls come for me, I find that terror gives me strength enough to leap to my feet and run.
Of course they catch me. I scream, completely panicked, then furious that they would wreck my peace and deny me even the death I'd chosen. Then they shackle my hands, and the terror returns, and then I blink and I'm somewhere else.
We're underground, some kind of sublevel in a building. I'm encased in a bomb vest. A ranting Owl is standing before me as his thugs tie me to some sort of mechanical equipment.
"...yet you can't even do that much! You are the most useless excuse for a human being I have ever encountered in my life, I can't even remember a time when we were so...."
He keeps going on and on, and the gist of it is that I was right: they had hoped I would be their Trojan Horse. Now that they really do have no more use for me, they're going to get their revenge. They could have just shot me, but they're too angry at me for that - now they're killing two birds with one stone, using me to blow up a building full of their enemies.
"Goodbye, Richard Grayson."
They're gone. I concentrate hard on the sound of my own breathing, trying not to lose myself in another episode. I have to stop this bomb - I don't care what happens to me, but I refuse to be the cause of yet more deaths.
The vest I'm wearing contains the timer and the initial bomb; there are other explosives set around me, and what's even worse is that the equipment I'm tied to is one of the building's power centers. It's enclosed in a locked chain-link cage, though hopefully that won't be too much of a problem, since I see boxes of tools stacked in one corner.
First things first. Getting free of the ropes takes me a lot longer than it should, but eventually I manage it. Finally I can see how long I have left: 37 minutes. I'm able to disconnect the secondary explosives from the bomb on my chest, but the rest of it is a problem. I can't disable the power center without hacking into it, which I don't have time for. I'm too uncertain about the wiring on the vest, I don't trust myself to defuse it correctly, and it'd be difficult anyway with the vest still strapped to me - I can't take it off before defusing it, and I don't think I can defuse it while I'm still wearing it.
I need to escape the building and run far enough away that no one but me will be caught in the explosion. I'm running out of time, especially since I'm so weak from starvation that I'm not even sure I'll be able to break out of the cage.
I drag the tools over to the perimeter and start trying to wrench a hole in the links. I'm so weak, it was stupid to try to starve myself to death.... I missed my chance. I should have killed myself quickly, but I didn't. I can't even see to work anymore because I'm crying, because it's my fault that these people are about to die.
To be continued....
A/N: I couldn't find a way to include it anywhere, but the sounds of Damian being hurt were recordings from early in their captivity.
Chapter 8: Wounded Birds - Part 6
Wounded Birds , a Batman fanfic by Raberba girl [rough draft]
Part 6 (Bruce)
I am better at controlling it, but my frustration is just as great as Damian's when we realize that the Court must have silenced Dick's tracker.
No matter. We'll simply find him the hard way.
Yet despite combing every inch of Gotham, when we do finally find a trace of Dick many days later, it's due to the tracker, which is back online. There are even more days of delay as Tim and Damian fight the team of programmers whose sole purpose is to repel anyone who might try to tap into or alter the device that holds Dick Grayson captive, but at last my sons come out ahead. We know where Dick is, and we'll reach him in three minutes. God help any Owls who stand in our way.
We hurry through the building's underground maintenance level, looking for the power center where Dick's signal has come to rest. Robin suddenly shouts and rushes ahead - my own heartbeat quickens when I glimpse the human figure slumped by a damaged portion of the cage.
Dick slowly raises his head. Robin flings himself at the cage and fiercely grasps at his brother through the links. "Dami-- Robin..." Dick murmurs.
I'm horrified and outraged at the sight of my eldest son. Damian, though showing signs of previous injuries, insufficient nutrition, and probable post-traumatic stress, was still energetic and in relatively good health at the time of his rescue. Dick looks haggard and beaten, with a particularly alarming patch on the side of his neck that's covered with both old scars and dried blood.
"We're getting you out, Grays--! What is that, a bomb?!"
"Rob--" Dick suddenly tenses. "Robin, get out of here!"
"Hold on just a minute, we'll--"
"GET AWAY FROM ME! GET AWAY FROM ME, ROBIN!" Dick turns to me desperately. "GET HIM AWAY FROM ME!!"
"Robin," I order.
He looks furious and anguished, but he can see as well as I can that Dick is frantic to protect him and will hinder our efforts if we don't remove the source of his panic. Robin swears explosively and retreats; only then does Dick quiet down and slump back against the cage.
He'd made a hole before his strength gave out, which takes me three seconds to enlarge enough for the rest of us to enter. Red Hood immediately starts defusing the bomb vest as Red Robin works on the implant, leaving me with nothing to do but hold Dick and simmer with fury and fear about how weak he is.
"Batman," Dick whispers as he trembles in my arms, "I d-didn't protect Robin...I let him, he did all my...my assignments, because I couldn't...it's my fault they hurt him--"
"Be quiet. You're distracting them." While that's true, the real reason I need Dick to stop talking is because I can't stand hearing him blame himself. He obeys, and after a minute, his body grows heavy as he calms down and relaxes.
There are four more minutes left on the timer when Red Robin and Red Hood say, within seconds of each other, "Got it."
"Let's get this off of you," Red Hood adds. Then, when there's no response, "Dickie, lift up your arms."
I realize suddenly that Dick's quiet stillness isn't because he's calm - it's that he's not conscious. His eyes are open, but he otherwise seems like he's asleep. "Help me," I order.
The three of us get him out of the vest and then try to revive him, but he's completely unresponsive to all our efforts. We'll have to get him out of here and tend to him at home, so once we've dragged him out of the cage, I put him over my shoulder and stand up.
Robin rushes to meet us when he hears our footsteps. "Put him down."
"Robin, we have to get out of here--"
"Put him down." Once we've set Dick on the floor and propped him up against the wall, Robin moves close and starts speaking in a gentle, almost conversational tone. "Sorry I took so long, but I'm here now. I promised I'd save you in the end, didn't I? Even brought the rest of the family, thought you'd appreciate that. We'll be home soon, and Penny One can make you some hot chocolate. How long as it been since we've had real hot chocolate, huh...?"
It's strange to see Damian acting so competently tender.... It's clear that he's done this many times before. Within a few minutes, almost like the breaking of a spell, Dick blinks and focuses on the boy. "Robin." They cling to each other, but then a moment later, Dick reaches up to that scarred, bloody patch on his neck. "The tracker...and the bomb--"
"It's all right, Grayson. The tracker's dead, and so's the bomb vest."
Dick drops his head back against the wall and exhales.
"You're safe," Robin assures him. "Come on, let's go home."
"Mm...I'm too tired...to get up...been starving...."
I give him some protein blocks to eat, which seem to revive him enough that he's able to stand. Robin firmly tucks Dick's arm inside his own. They take two steps, and Dick distractedly raises his free arm to reach for his neck.
"Someone take his other hand," Robin orders, and Red Robin complies. Dick tugs a little as we move forward, but his brothers keep hold of his hands. We make it about ten more steps before Dick drifts to a stop, his eyes blank again. "Just pull," Robin instructs. "He'll follow."
Damian tried to warn us, but I didn't truly believe it until now, as I see with my own eyes how damaged Dick is. How long has he been like this? What did they do to him to hurt him so badly? How long has Damian been taking care of him, that he's now so familiar with every nuance of Dick's condition? "The Owls will pay for this."
"Yeah," Red Hood mutters. "Seeing Golden Boy like this is creepy."
Dick falls asleep during the drive home, and obeys silently when we arrive at the cave and help him out of the car. The first real sign of life he shows is when I try to lead him to the medbay and he suddenly balks. "Dick, we're not going to hurt you."
"Mm hm...." His eyes are fixed on the surgical table, and I wish that I'd thought to remove the restraints from it first. They were a necessary precaution with Damian, but I didn't plan to use them on Dick.
"It's just an exam. And the implant - it's disabled, but we need to remove it. You'll be asleep the whole time, you won't feel a thing."
My heart sinks as I wonder if I'll have to traumatize him further by using force. I try to be as unobtrusive as possible as I pull out a tranquilizer and prepare to administer it, but Dick's been too well trained to be caught by surprise.
"No!" He jerks away and stares at me in a panic, straining against the hold I've still got on his arm. The tranquilizer gun in my other hand is now clearly visible.
"Dick, I'm not trying to hurt you. It's just to put you to sleep for a little while, so it won't hurt when we do the surgery."
"I know...I k-know, I know...!"
Knowledge is not the same as instinct, and right now, he can't control the latter. He starts to sob as I force him close to the table, and stiffens when Tim steps up behind him and sets a mask over his mouth and nose, holding it firmly in place. I hope that breathing in the anesthesia will be easier to bear than being injected, but his eyes locked on mine are still panicked and desperate.
When he's weak enough for us to pull him onto the table, Damian leans over his head and whispers to him in the same soothing tone he did before. Whether it's in response to the comfort or the medication or both, Dick slowly relaxes, his eyes close, and at last he's asleep.
Ordinarily, I would join Tim to analyze the implant after its removal, but I'm too concerned about Dick to leave him yet. I have records of every medical evaluation that's ever performed on my people, and I feel a pressing need to compare Dick's current physical condition with his previous file.
I knew...I knew they'd hurt him, but it still makes me sick with fury to see the evidence of what they did to my son, not to mention how badly they broke his mind....
"You need to put a better bandage on his neck," Damian speaks up.
"This one's too flimsy, he'll tear it up the second he starts scratching. It needs to be bigger and sturdier, so we'll have time to catch him before he reaches skin."
"Does he...self-harm often...?"
"He's obsessed with the tracker - you saw what he did even after Drake shut it down. He tries to leave it alone when he's in his right mind, but he blanks out a lot; that's usually when he tries to tear it out of his neck. You need a better bandage."
When there's nothing left to physically do for Dick, I pause to set a hand on his hair. I want so badly to fix him, to make him well again in both body and soul, but there's nothing more I can do. Keeping vigil by his bedside makes me feel helpless and angry, so I leave him in Alfred's care and join the others at the computer, where Tim is still working on the implant and Damian is monitoring various city feeds and Jason is exchanging messages with Orphan and Arsenal.
An hour later, after Jason has left and I'm preparing to go out on patrol myself, Dick awakens with a horrible cry. Damian dashes to his side, and by the time I catch up, Dick is slumped between Alfred and Damian, starting to probe at the bandage on his neck before Damian takes hold of his fingers and pulls them away. "It's gone, Grayson. You're free. We don't belong to the Owls anymore."
"It's...in my neck...."
"No. It's gone, Grayson, we took it out. It's gone."
Alfred snatches up a bowl and holds it just in time for Dick to vomit into it. Damian rubs his brother's back and hands him a cloth to wipe his mouth with afterward. "I'm sorry," Dick mumbles.
"Quite all right, Master Dick."
Dick lifts his head and meets my eyes. "Bruce...."
"It's all right, Dick."
He struggles to get to his feet, hugs Alfred for a long moment, then shakily steps toward me. "Bruce, I told you...I don't remember if I told you...I killed a man. In cold blood, he couldn't fight back, I--"
"It's all right." I try to push him to sit back down.
"No...no, Bruce, listen...."
"Just rest. You're home now. Rest, I'll see you in the morning."
He won't let go of my shoulders. "I was strong at first. I tried-- Even when they hurt Damian...I'm so messed up, I swear I would have died before I let them break me, but they took Damian and I didn't...I couldn't...!"
I don't want to hear this. "Dick." I shake him a little, trying to make him listen. "It's over. You did well. You need to rest now. Be quiet and rest."
He's fighting tears, and the only reason I'm able to walk away is because he's trying so hard to keep from crying that he can't keep clinging to me. "Alfred, Damian, look after him."
"I want to go with you," Damian protests.
"No. You need to rest, too."
"I'm fine! I went with you to get Grayson--!"
"I allowed you to come on the rescue mission because I knew how important it was to you, but you are not ready to return to duty yet. Stay put."
Damian opens his mouth to continue arguing, but stops when Dick reaches out to grasp his sleeve. "Damian...don't leave me...."
"You don't need me anymore, you've got a whole army of Bats to protect you now," Damian grumbles, but settles back against Dick's side.
I storm out of the cave with a vengeance. I have some Owls to hunt.
To be continued....
A/N: That "team of programmers" is the same that was making Damian's life miserable when he was being held captive; if not for them, he would have gotten free of the implant much, much sooner.
The next chapter might be the last, depending on how long it is! (Though I think I'll probably have to split it in half by the time I'm done.) I also have to OCD over it before I can post it, which is never good news....
Chapter 9: Wounded Birds - Part 7
Wounded Birds , a Batman fanfic by Raberba girl [rough draft]
Part 7 (Dick)
A/N: DANG IT, I knew I should have put an author's note on the previous chapter! It's just vaguely assumed that Bruce gets vengeance on the Court of Owls; these last two chapters are just a recovery montage.
These scenes are not necessarily in chronological order.
I'm free, and I'm home, but I'm still so broken and sick that I might as well still be the Owls' slave.
Bruce can't stand to be around me. He never looks me in the eye, and he's avoiding me. The only time he stays put is when he's working at the Batcomputer, but even then, we don't talk. What I want to do is climb into his lap like I'm five years old and be hugged by my daddy so he'll make me feel safe, but that's out of the question, so I usually just sit beside him with a book or a tablet or a cup of coffee instead. I sit on the floor instead of a chair because I want to feel like he's bigger than me, that if anything wants to hurt me, it'll have to get through the unstoppable force of nature that is Batman first.
Damian pretends like he's totally fine and that he's back to the way he was before our capture, but I know that's not true. There are many reasons why I know, but the most obvious is that neither of us can bear to sleep alone anymore. At first, he kept making it look accidental...staying up so late playing video games in my room that he'd fall asleep; claiming he was just trying to comfort me after a nightmare or keep watch with me in case any enemies come crashing through the windows.... But by now, he's given up making excuses. It's the new routine that he and Titus and sometimes the cat will come climbing into bed with me when it's time to sleep, or we'll curl up together in the Batcave, or crash Tim's room for a sleepover.... Sometimes we'll even steal Bruce's room while he's out on patrol. Anything, as long as we don't have to sleep alone.
I've taken to wandering the halls. The quiet, majestic manor is so different than those small apartments and dark streets I was imprisoned in, such a soothingly familiar environment from my childhood.... I like to just walk, and walk, looking out the windows as I go, brushing my palm across the walls to keep myself grounded, holding on to Damian with my other hand and basking in the sound of his voice. "...but it'll be soon, because I've been training and I know I'm ready. When Father comes back, I'll show him and I will convince him - don't worry, though, I'll make sure there's someone to stay with you...." The hall is bright with midmorning sunlight. The Wayne estate grounds outside are so beautiful. Before, I rarely took the time to appreciate them, but now, their fresh greenery and the beautiful colors of the gardens give me peace, just like the countryside did when I was waiting to die. "...reeeeaaaaallly tempted to shoot him, but I didn't, Bruce underestimates my self-control when...."
...That's not Damian's voice. I turn my head and am confused to see that it's Jason's hand I'm holding. Late afternoon shadows stretch across the hall. "Where's...? Where did Damian go?"
Jason raises an eyebrow. "Dude, his shift was hours ago."
He lets go of my hand with obvious relief, but then frowns at me. "You okay, Dick?"
"I...I was walking with Damian...he was telling me he's going to go out on patrol soon."
"...Right. Little suck-up - if he's ready for patrol, I don't know why he doesn't just tell Bruce where to shove it and do patrol."
He's hiding something from me. "Jason...you came and...and relieved Damian." I'm angry at myself for making them treat me like a helpless child. "Right, because someone has to babysit Dick at all times, can't expect Damian to always do it, he's got his real life back, so now we all have to take turns watching the headcase because he's too out of it to even notice when people leave...!"
"Dick...don't worry about it. We get it. We don't hold it against you--"
I can tell from his face that he's still hiding something. "What?! What aren't you telling me?!"
He sighs. Then he says quietly, "It was Tim I relieved. His shift was after Damian's."
Something inside me crumples. I cover my face so Jason won't see me cry, but then it doesn't matter because I'm too weak to keep standing. Stupid, helpless baby sobbing on the floor, no wonder they can't leave me alone....
But he doesn't say anything, just sits down beside me. Part of me wants to hide from him, but a bigger part of me needs to be comforted by another human being. He stiffens uncomfortably when I lean close to cry on his shoulder, but he doesn't stop me. After a while, he pats my back and says awkward shushing things until I have to laugh. "Okay...thanks, I know I've bugged you enough."
"Don't worry about it, Dick."
Oops...came out to the gardens for a while, I must have fallen asleep here under the sunflowers.... It's really hot now.
I open my eyes to find my sister sitting beside me, gazing wonderingly at a butterfly that's come to rest on her finger. I smile and sit up. "Cass."
She smiles back at me as the butterfly flits away. "Dick."
"Glad to see you again."
"Mm. Happy. You are safe."
"Sorry about...you know...attacking you back then...."
She cocks her head.
"So...you're taking a shift now, huh?"
"Dick is safe."
"More like Dick is broken...."
She sets her palm over my heart. "Will heal."
A tear slips down my face.
Without moving her hand from my heart, she brings her other one over to join it, and rests her forehead against mine. She begins to hum quietly. She hums for a long time, and I can almost feel my soul slowly stop bleeding.
Blood on my hands again.... No, not his blood, mine. Blood on my neck. Damian's pulling my hands away and dragging me over to the sink to clean me up again. "There's a tracker...a tracker in my neck--"
"There's not. We took it out, Dick; it's gone. Why do you keep doing this to yourself?!"
His voice sounds panicked. "Dick, it's Tim. I'm Tim!"
I stare at him. Oh. Right...I recognize him now. And Damian doesn't call me 'Dick.'
"You know," he complains as he presses a paper towel to my neck and gropes with his other hand to pull ointment and bandages out of the cabinet, "all these 'Tim is the forgettable one' jokes are getting old."
"No...that's not it." This bathroom is so big. Everything's fancy, made for beauty as well as function. I'm not in an apartment, I'm at the manor. "It's...I forget I'm home. I forget...it's not just me and Damian anymore."
"Well...it's not just you and Damian anymore. We're all here, Dick, whenever you need us, whatever you need us for."
"Yeah." I smile at him. "Yeah, I know. I love you, Tim."
He smiles back. "Love you, too."
Sometimes the darkness suffocates me, and I need to be in the sunlight; other times, I need to bury myself in the most protected part of the mansion, where it's safe. I spend a lot of time in the Batcave, often sleeping there. That's what I'm doing on the first night Robin's allowed back on regular patrol, when he comes rushing alone into the cave and throws himself into my arms and bursts into tears.
"Damian, what happened?! Are you all right? ...Whose blood is this?"
"I didn't mean to," he sobs, "I d-didn't...mean to...!"
He finally calms down enough to tell me what happened, and my heart hurts for him. He's crossed the line so many times, he can't cleanly transition between 'Show no mercy' and 'Do not kill' as if it's a light switch.
"It's okay, Dami," I whisper to him. "It'll be okay. He was a murderer himself, wasn't he? He got what was coming to him. It was wrong, you made a mistake, but he deserved it. You'll do better next time. You'll--"
I can hear the roar of the Batmobile through the tunnel. It screeches to a halt and Batman comes storming out of it, straight toward us. "DAMIAN WAYNE, COME HERE RIGHT--!"
Damian clenches his arms around my chest, and a wave of fury surges through me. I leap up and shove my brother behind me and flare up to meet Bruce. "NO. No, do not come near him! Don't you dare blame him for this! You can't coddle me and forgive me for doubling the blood on my brother's hands and let me get away with murdering an innocent man, then turn around and beat down Damian for one mistake! He killed a monster, and he's sorry! He just spent MONTHS being enslaved, being told he and his brother would die if he didn't kill everyone he was ordered to, then you expect him to suddenly reverse his reflexes and go back to normal?! Don't you dare! After you LEFT US with the Owls, you have NO RIGHT to judge us!!"
Bruce doesn't say a word during the whole tirade. When I pause for breath, he turns and stalks away.
"That's right! LEAVE! You're so good at that! You really do hate me, don't you! You can't stand to be near me, can't even stand to look at me, I'm so sorry I'm not your perfect son anymore, kind of hard to stay pristine when you're being ripped apart every day, wondering why your father hasn't bothered to come looking for you yet...!" The words (and the tears) keep spilling out of me even though Bruce is gone by now, until Damian finally pulls me to sit down with him and pet Titus.
"...Sorry. I meant to stick up for you, not...word-vomit all my daddy issues...."
"I don't think I should be Robin anymore."
I hug him tightly. "You are Robin. You just need...some time to adjust, but you're Robin. You rejected killing once, you can do it again."
"Spar with me, Damian."
His smile is fragile. "Okay."
Whatever I'm leaning on is warm, but really hard. I crack open my eyes and straighten up, a little dizzily. "...Clark?"
He was talking to Bruce, but now he turns to smile at me. Superman himself came to sit on the floor and keep me company while I napped. "Hi, Dick."
I'm so happy to see him. He's always been my hero, and his smile now is so warm and encouraging. "What's...what's up?"
His smile turns sympathetic, and he pats my arm. "I just got back a few days ago - I heard what happened and wanted to come see you. Dick, I'm so sorry I wasn't here. If I'd known, I'd have rushed back to Earth in a heartbeat."
"I know. I know you would have, Clark. It's okay."
"You're a tough cookie."
"Not...not as much as I thought, but...I survived, at any rate."
"We're all thankful." His mouth quirks in another grin. "I like your shirt."
Heh. Superman-themed shirts have always been my favorite loungewear. "Me, too. I even had one when I was a Talon."
"Is that so?"
"Yeah." I lean close to whisper playfully, "And Damian has some Batman shirts, but don't tell Bruce."
"Wouldn't dream of it."
Because I spend so much time in the Batcave, and because that means seeing a lot of the family's action secondhand, now I know how stressful Alfred's nights are.
"Send me the blueprints, and let me know when Red Robin responds."
"Sending them now, sir."
I sit next to Alfred and pick at the tray of snacks nearby and chat with him in spare moments. Sometimes I'm even useful.
"Master Dick, perhaps you might contact Miss Gordon while I go fetch that manuscript?"
"Sure, Alfred." Maybe this is how I can contribute now. I still don't have the heart to go out on patrol and be a liability to the team, even if I did physically pass muster (which I don't...even now, there's something wrong with my reflexes and focus). But if I can be an extra set of hands in the cave...support the team from the sidelines, take some of the burden off Alfred...they'll think I'll still be worth keeping, right?
Except the battles are hard to watch, especially when Damian is involved. He's so little...he's grown over the past year, but he's still so little, and it's too stressful for me to sit here and helplessly watch people beating him, hurting him, trying to kill him. The first time he gets the worst of it in a fight, I start screaming, and Alfred has to yank the comm away from me so I won't distract everyone on the line. Then I start having episodes every time Damian encounters any opponent at all, so they can't even trust me with anything unless Alfred is supervising. Worse than useless...!
It's the first time in a long time that all seven of us are home at the same time to eat a meal together. Alfred's delighted. Jason and Tim and Damian helped him cook; Cass and I set the table. It feels like Thanksgiving or something, we're all laughing and chatting together until right before we all sit down to eat. That's when Bruce mumbles something about how he has a lot of work to do and will just take a plate down to the cave.
"No." My chest hurts. "No, I'll leave. You stay, Bruce."
"What? No, I--"
I slam down a fistful of silverware. "Just stop, Bruce! They were looking forward to this, don't let me ruin it! I'll leave, I'll leave, you stay and be with your family for once!"
"Dick," Tim points out, "you're family, too--"
"He can't stand me anymore! Don't think I haven't noticed you walking out of every room I set foot into, Bruce. I'm sorry for making you feel guilty, or whatever it is that makes you hate me so much now, but don't let that cut you off from the rest of the family. I won't get in your way."
"Come to think of it," Jason says suddenly "you have been avoiding him."
"All of us have to eat together!" Damian demands childishly.
Bruce looks uncomfortable. "I'm not avoiding you. I really do have some important things to--"
"Master Bruce," Alfred says in a tone I've rarely heard from him, "this gathering is important."
"All right. All right, I'll stay. The work can wait."
"Don't force yourself," I snarl. I start to storm out of the room, but Cass gets in my way.
She's too upset to speak aloud, but I think I understand her gestures. "This pain in here, you leave, it grows. Stay. Love, we, you. Stay." She moves to Bruce. "This pain in here, you leave, it grows. Him, hurt. You, hurt. Together. Heal."
"Don't let the Court of Owls take more from us than they already have," Tim says quietly.
Bruce and I both sit down, stiff and silent. Everyone starts to eat, but the laughter and conversation from earlier is gone. It's like we're having a funeral meal. Then I blink and realize that everyone's staring at me, and Damian is pulling hard to get my hand away from my neck. Even now that I've finally convinced myself that the implant's gone, my body still sees 'scratch hole in neck' as its default coping mechanism. "Dammit."
"Stay," Cass says quickly, reading in my body that I'm intending to escape to my room and hide. "No shame."
Which makes me want to melt into the floor even more.
"It's cool," Jason mutters. "Don't worry about it."
I slam my hands on the table. "Right. Right, no worries, Dick's a wreck, it's all fine, none of us cares that we've got a lunatic wandering around Wayne Manor when he should be locked up in Arkham, we don't care that Nightwing's gone and his empty husk is wasting space while everyone's out saving the city--"
"That's enough, Dick," Bruce thunders.
I leap to my feet and thrust my arm through everything on the table within reach as I scream, "I'm crazy! They ruined me! That's why you hate me! I hate myself, I hate being so useless, I hate--!"
He's marching around the table and suddenly I'm terrified, but I stumble as I back away and just barely catch myself on the edge of the table before I fall, he's going to hit me--
He doesn't hit me. His grip, though tight and full of emotion, isn't painful, and his face is so close to mine that I can see tears brimming in his eyes. "I do not hate you. I could never hate you, Dick." We stare at each other. Then he says softly, "And I did not bring you into this household to be useful, Dick. I brought you here to protect you and give you a better life. Saving Gotham is my mission, and as long as you're safe and healthy and hopefully happy, that's all I need you to be. ...The reason it's so hard for me to look at you now is because I see how badly I failed to protect my son, whom I love. It's myself I hate, Dick. Not you."
I sort of...curl into him. And he hugs me tight, and...I feel better. I wish he hugged us more often. When we finally sit back down, Tim leans over to pat my back and Cass smiles brilliantly, Jason makes an 'it's all good' gesture, and Alfred remarks in satisfaction. Damian brings his plate around and pushes a chair next to Bruce's so he can cuddle with his dad. Bruce lets him.
Although the heavy atmosphere has finally lifted, attempts at conversation are still awkward. Tim finally gets out a notebook, draws a bunch of lines on it, and passes it around to Damian. "You're the youngest, so you can have the first guess."
Damian stares at the notebook. "What is this?"
"What is--? It's Hangman!"
"Far too abstract, Drake. I could draw a better hanged man in my sleep."
"It's a game, Damian."
"You don't know what Hangman is?!" Jason exclaims.
"Don't know what Hangman is," Cass pipes up cheerfully.
"All right, look, the point of the game is to figure out what the phrase is, and you can only guess one letter at a time...."
It's fun, watching them all get so into it. Bruce and I both stay pretty quiet until the third round, when I finally have enough motivation to guess a letter. "B."
Tim smiles at me. "Yup! There's one B." He writes it in.
Bruce suddenly speaks up with his first contribution to the game: "'The day our lost Robins came home.'"
"Wha--?! There are barely any letters filled in, how'd you guess?!"
To be concluded....
Chapter 10: Wounded Birds - Part 8
Wounded Birds , a Batman fanfic by Raberba girl [rough draft]
Part 8 (Dick)
I wake up screaming at five in the morning because someone's dragging me out of bed, they've come back for me, they're going to kill me--!
He's screaming, too. Not an Owl; it's Damian, panicking in my grip almost as much as I'm panicking in his.
"What?! What is it?!" Now we're clinging to each other. He's still in full costume, covered with sweat and mud and blood and singe marks from the night's patrol, his boots staining my sheets as Titus dithers nearby.
"G...Grayson...." Now he's crying.
"I'm here. I'm here, buddy."
Bruce comes in, also in full costume, prompting Damian to sniff hard and pull back and try to scrub the tears off his face.
"What happened?!" I demand.
"I don't know. He just--"
"You're okay?" Damian snarls at me. "Nothing happened to you while I was gone??"
"No, Dami," I say gently. "I'm fine. I've been asleep."
He's silent for a long time, moving only to caress the dog when Titus rests his head on Damian's thigh.
Bruce is studying us both, looking troubled. "What made you think Dick was in danger?"
"N...Nothing! Nothing, of course he's fine!!" Damian throws himself off my bed and storms out of the room as violently as he entered it, hurling pieces of his uniform as he goes.
Bruce stays behind a moment to set a hand on my hair and peer at me some more.
"I'm fine. Go comfort him."
"I'm just trying to understand what the trigger was."
"Might not have been anything in particular. Sometimes the panic just...happens."
He sighs deeply and leaves. I can't get back to sleep, so I go hunt down some cereal, watch the news for a while, then hear Alfred in the kitchen and help him make some real breakfast. I have nothing better to do, so I trail after him to the master bedroom. Bruce looks exhausted as he sleeps; Damian and Titus are curled up beside him.
Alfred opens the curtains, waking Titus and prompting a groan from Bruce. Damian doesn't stir. "Go away, Alfred," Bruce moans.
"May I remind you, Master Bruce, you have an 8:00 meeting with Mr. Fox this morning."
"You can go back to sleep afterward," I suggest, stealing a banana from his tray.
When Bruce finally manages to drag himself out of bed, Titus jumps up and follows him, pauses when the bathroom door gets shut in his face, then goes to Alfred, making his 'Please let me out to pee' expression. Damian whimpers a little in his sleep - he'll be upset to wake up later and find himself alone. I settle beside him, and he relaxes in my arms.
Alfred stifles a yawn as he picks up the breakfast tray. "Is there anything you require, Master Dick?"
"I'm fine, Alfie. Let poor Titus out and then get some sleep. I've got Damian."
"Very well, then."
I try not to look at Damian's art. These days, he draws a lot of grotesque owls ripping bloody chunks out of robins. He draws brains exploding in the wake of bullets. He draws dead Nightwings, and Talons with his own face.
He knows how much they bother me, so since I'm here in his room, playing a game on my tablet while he lies with his head pillowed on Titus and his legs flopped across my waist, he's drawing a picture of me performing a stylized midair pirouette. One of his 'Polite Company' pictures, which he piles on top of his real art.
Not that we lesser beings can ever keep anything hidden from the master of this house for long.
Bruce comes into the room with a sketchbook in his hand. "Damian, we need to talk."
"You invaded my privacy."
"...I...I've set up an appointment.... For you, too, Dick. She has excellent credentials--"
Damian sits up. "You can't be serious."
"Damian, how can I not get you two help, after what you've been through?"
"For the same reason we've never had professional therapy before! Anyone who digs deeply enough to be of any use will find out the family secret."
"It's...a risk I'll have to take. A risk I now regret not taking with Jason. I did make reasonably sure she can be discreet--"
"We've survived worse than the Owls! We'll be fine!"
"You're in worse shape than I've ever seen you, both of you. And, for all your experience, you'd never been subjected to any ordeal for such an extensive period of time before."
Lost a few minutes. My head is in Damian's lap as he absently curls locks of my hair around his fingers; he and Bruce are speaking quietly now instead of yelling. "...wish I could tune you out so thoroughly, that's all I'm saying."
Bruce's voice is gentle. "Dick?"
"Can you hear me?"
"Depends on what you say."
He chuckles softly and sets a hand on my shoulder. "I didn't mean to upset you. I just...."
I close my eyes and just be. Damian's hands, Bruce's hand. People I love. Don't leave me.
Bruce's voice is a whisper now. "I hate seeing you so hurt. I hate not knowing what to do about it."
"Some things you can't fix, Bruce. Like Gotham. And me."
"You are not like Gotham."
"Gotham eats your birds...crunches them up, swallows them...."
"You're not Robin anymore," Damian says harshly. "You're Nightwing. You always rise from the ashes."
I sit up, and I get to my feet, and I walk out to the balcony so I can feel sunlight on my skin.
Bruce trails after me. It's so strange seeing him hesitant. "So you'll go? To meet with her tomorrow?"
I can't even picture myself sitting in a clean, bright office, talking to some total stranger about my usual life, much less about the new shadows that are lodged in my soul. "I'd rather talk to you."
"Well...all right." He gestures toward a set of chairs on the side of the balcony. "Then talk to me."
It's his turn to babysit me. We're in the cave, because it's one of those times when I need thick layers of rock and Batman-level security systems between me and the outside world. Jason's doing mission research on his laptop as I lean against him and realize that I stopped playing my video game at some point. My dead character is drifting in a void, above a menu asking me if I want to load a saved file or quit.
"How did it feel...when you realized he wasn't coming...?"
Jason goes very still. After a long time, he says, "You know how it feels."
Yeah. Now I do. "How did you get over it?"
He exhales deeply. "I have different answers for that on different days."
"Hmm...maybe I'll start running around with a red hood and some guns."
"Dick." He pushes me upright and looks me in the eyes. "You are not me. Nothing could ever turn you into a Red Hood."
...That's what Damian says. That I have a special light in my heart they all admire. Sometimes I think it's dead, though. "What do I turn into, then...when they push me so far I can't come back...?"
"Did they really, though?"
"Come on, Dick. I know you went through hell, but you got off easy compared to me."
I think of that little boy, captured and tortured so far from home; I think of how much he suffered with no brother to look after him or protect him or comfort him. I think of the little boy who woke up in a coffin underground, who clawed his way to freedom with his bare hands. A little boy whose father didn't even know to look for him. A little boy who endured the darkest moments of his life alone.
I'm sobbing and clinging to Jay. He's swearing as he tries to pry me off, I know it was a long time ago, that he's not a little boy anymore, but I can't help it. He's right. If he could come back, anyone can come back. I can. I'm damaged, but I'm not dead. I still have people who love me. Just because I may never get my old life back doesn't mean I can't build a new one.
I'm startled out of an episode by the sensation of a dog's tongue swiping at my face.
"Aaaand boom! Instant wake-up call."
I blink up at my brothers in confusion. Tim and Damian are looking fascinated; Jason, with a proud expression, is holding the leash of a beautiful Rottweiler, who's now looking back and forth between him and me a little anxiously.
"Awesome job, Dora!" Jason coos, feeding her a treat from his pocket. "Good job! Good girl, Sanadora!"
"She's mine," Jason explains. "She...helps me, but I've been training her to see if...you know, she can help you sometimes, too. She's a fast learner."
Tim gives Jason a keen look as Damian and I stroke Sanadora. "I never knew you had a pet," Tim remarks. "Is she a therapy dog?"
"No," Jason says, but he sounds defensive and a blush is creeping up his neck.
"Jason. Dick's a basketcase and you went through even more trauma than he did. It's okay if you have a therapy dog." Jay shuffles his feet and doesn't answer.
"Hey~ sweet girl," I croon. "Hey there~ beautiful. Are you a good girl? Are you a good girl who finds broken boys and puts the pieces back together?"
"Yeah," Jason murmurs, "pretty much."
I'm not on patrol, so my suit is plain black with no identifying marks. Tim's keeping an eye on me as I taste the night for the first time in weeks. As I learn how to fly again.
"Nice," he remarks when I land on the rooftop beside him.
"More like, 'not terrible.' I used to be able to--"
"This isn't then. It's now. And you didn't fall off the roof or lose your mind in midair, so I'd say that's a win."
"Not exactly a confidence booster...."
"Raise the bar in increments, Nightwing. You'll reach whatever goal you set, but you can't skip the steps in between."
I already know all this. I shouldn't be forcing him to lecture me as if I'm a child. "I'll race you to Wayne Tower."
Halfway there, a woman's scream rises up from an alley; both Red Robin and I stop dead. I peer over the edge of the rooftop and see four thugs menacing a terrified couple.
I don't know if I'm ready yet or not. It doesn't matter. Innocent people are in trouble, innocent people are frightened, innocent people are about to be in pain, and I'm already instinctively diving to save them.
"It's the Bat--!"
Punching, leaping, kicking. This is so easy I could do it in my sleep. Draw it out, stall, delay the moment when I'll have to let Guardian Angel--
No angel. No Owls. I'm-- This isn't a mission, I'm stopping a crime, these monsters were hurting people for no reason, I don't have to hold back--! No, no killing, I'm not supposed to--
Why can't I hit anyone? Because Tim's blocking my arms. I'm.... This isn't like when I usually lose time, usually things are suddenly different and my body feels heavy like I'm waking up...but this is...I remember fighting...remember, sort of, Tim shouting me, dragging me away, pushing me against the wall...my body's so tense, resisting him, trying to keep fighting.
"...would think it'd be a no-brainer, but some people just don't have any common sense. Seriously, walking through an alley at night in Gotham...."
Tim's rambling in that same tone everyone uses when they're trying to coax me back to myself. But I...I remember fighting.... My angel, where's my...Damian.... Patrol, not a mission....
"...and my arms are getting kinda tired, but it's okay, I'll last longer than you do...."
Thugs on the ground. Two motionless, one twitching and mewling in pain, another one trying to crawl away.
"...please. Please, Nightwing. ...Robin. Robin, come back."
"I've been here," I murmur, but like magic, the sound of...my old name, and the sound of my own voice, seems to break the spell. I exhale and sag against the wall; Red Robin sighs in relief and cautiously steps back, shaking out his arms.
"Are you all right?"
"...Did I kill them?"
He says in a low voice, "I haven't had a chance to check yet."
I turn around and I walk. I don't know what to do or where to go, all I know is that I need to keep moving. Walk....
"Cool mask, dude."
"Hey, you one of those vigilantes?!"
"Ooohh, you look like Nightwing. Costume's different, but the butt's spot-on. Can I take a selfie with you?"
Red Robin catches up and extracts me from the little group of gawkers I've started accumulating. "Rooftop," he hisses in my ear. "Get off the street!"
I break into a run alongside him and fire my grappling hook. The sense of sailing upward is so delicious that I nearly forget to land once I reach the top. I crash and roll into a painful sprawl, then just lie there in the moonlight, wishing I could keep going up and up and up, and never come back down.
"Nightwing! Are you okay?"
"Is there...blood on my gloves...? It's too dark, I can't tell...."
"Dick," he hisses, and pries off both our masks. "Dick. Are you all right? I need to know. You're not acting normal."
"Normal, Timmy. What's normal for me now?"
"Come on. We're going home."
No. I realize suddenly that I don't want to go home, because I want to keep flying. I'll be good, just let me keep flying...! "I'm okay! I'm okay, Tim. I'm just.... Did I kill anyone?"
He exhales deeply. "No. One was...in really bad shape, though. I called an ambulance. What happened? You wouldn't stop, even when they were down."
"When Robin was like this, he did kill someone. We're not even supposed to be on patrol. If we come across anything else, I'll handle it - you stay on the roof, okay?"
"Okay," I lie.
Off we go again, slower at first, until I get my bearings. I love this feeling of soaring through the air...I may have been rescued from the Owls, but I haven't been free until this night.
Gunshots erupt from a nearby store.
People screaming...frightened, maybe hurt....
"Nightwing, come BACK!"
One of the storefront windows has already been shot out; I dash through it, angling my body so as not to get sliced by jagged glass. The shoppers who didn't manage to flee in time are cowering on the floor as thugs swing their guns around and laugh. Their leader's threatening a clerk, who's starting to empty the cash register.
I kick weapons out of hands and dodge bullets. I track every civilian in the room so as to hopefully avoid catching them in the crossfire. I smile when I see openings for quips, though I can't think of any actual quips to say. I punch faces and show off a bit with my acrobatics, and punch more faces, I'm not smiling anymore, why do you bring guns to a place where people just want to go about their lives in peace, why do you have to spread fear and pain, why? I'm hitting, and hitting, and Red Robin's got me pinned to the wall again.
"...was too early, should have figured, we've had more than enough for one night, Nightwing. Robin. Robin?"
"Mnh." It doesn't work this time; my body's still straining to get free. My mind feels like it's floating, up there.
"It'd be better for us to be out of here before the cops show up, but don't worry, I can still get us out of trouble, it'd just be a lot easier if I didn't have to knock you out or-- Nightwing? Are you trying to say something?"
My lips are moving, but I can't get enough air to force the words out.
"Dick," he tries, quietly enough that hopefully no one will overhear. The traumatized shoppers who haven't run yet are looking at me fearfully, keeping their distance. "Damian."
That does it.
"Damian," Tim says again in relief, easing back. "Damian's probably worried about you. Let's get you home, so he won't have to come fish you out of jail."
"Come on. Back door. Roof."
Roof...get to the roof....
I don't know how long I crouch on a nearby rooftop, staring at the stars, trying to piece myself back together. At last, Tim lays his arms around me, and I start to feel more like myself. "Tighter," I murmur. He hugs me hard, and I hug him back, feeling like I'm being squeezed properly back into my own body. "Mm. I'm okay now."
"I wanna go home, Dick," he murmurs.
It makes me smile to hear him pulling Damian's 'please big brother take care of me' trick. "Yeah. Okay. I guess we'd better."
Sanadora's tongue on my face. I jump a little, my arms closing instinctively around her--
Dinner. Bruce and Damian are having a lively, amiable argument as Alfred contributes snarky comments. The dog is half in my lap so she can reach me. "Good girl," I croon, "good girl, Sana." She licks me again and hops off my lap and claims her reward from Jay.
Damian turns to me and demands that I back him up about whatever he's trying to prove to Bruce. I smile as I speak, because Sanadora called me back to myself so quickly that Jason was the only one who noticed me leave in the first place.
I'm watching a Charlie Chaplin film. I don't realize that I've stuffed myself into the farthest corner of the couch until Bruce sits down on the other side and I realize how much space he's taking up compared to me. I uncurl and try to sit normally.
"I always liked this movie," Bruce remarks.
We watch in silence for a while. I edge closer until I'm leaning against him, wondering if he'll get uncomfortable and leave. Instead, he puts an arm around me, and I relax, feeling...like a kid with his dad. I haven't felt like that in a really long time.
After a while, Bruce murmurs, "I wish I could promise that I'll never let anyone hurt you again, but I can't."
"...I destroyed the Court, but...it didn't help. I keep feeling like I need to do something, but there's nothing left to do. There's nothing left to fix that's in my power to fix."
He so rarely opens up like this. "Just keep doing what you've been doing. Being there for us, listening to us. This is enough...Dad."
He stiffens for a moment in surprise. Then, slowly, he relaxes. I drift off to sleep, and when I wake up almost an hour later, he's still there.
o.o.o.o.o Years Later o.o.o.o.o
It's sickening. Children held captive and abused, locked away from the sun, living every moment of their lives in fear. Batman took down the criminals, the police cracked open the basement, workers are gently freeing children and lifting them out, but the damage has been done. These small, fragile lives have been scarred forever.
One little girl with blank eyes doesn't move or say a word as a woman speaks coaxingly to her and tries to tug her off the bed she'd been chained to. My heart aches, because that child's eyes used to be my own.
"Officer." I smile as I approach. "I can sit with her a while. There are others who need your help."
"Nightwing." She gives me a dubious look, then nods and moves on to a crying little boy.
I sit down on the bed, angling my body to shield the girl from the rest of the noisy, crowded room, but trying not to box her in, either. "Hello, sweetheart. My name is Nightwing. Funny story how I got that name: you see, I was talking to Superman one time - he's a friend of my family, it's pretty cool - and he told me about this legend they had back on Krypton...."
I talk for as long as it takes, until I finally see life start to dawn in the girl's eyes. She shrinks back fearfully.
I smile and don't move. "Hi there. Welcome back."
She eyes the commotion beyond us, looking frightened.
"Batman and the police found you guys. I know we were late, I am so, so sorry about that. But you're safe now, and those bad people are never going to hurt you again." I hold out my hand. "Are you hungry? Or thirsty? They've got some snacks and water out there, if you want any."
She's curled tightly into herself, watching me.
"I know it hurts. I know how scary it is. It might be scary for a long time, but you know what? It's not always going to be this way. Things are better now, and you'll get used to that, little step by little step. It's okay if you're still scared for a while. There are people who care about you, and they'll let you hide until you're ready to come out."
Her lips move. "...Thirsty."
"You want some water? Do you want to come with me to get some, or do you want me bring it to you?"
She seizes my arm in a death grip and stares at me, terrified.
"Don't worry, I won't leave until you're safe. Can you stand up?"
She stares at the broken chains and at the chafe marks on her wrists and ankles for a long time.
"Do you want me to carry you?" She whimpers when I get too close, so I have to back away again and flag down someone to fetch us a bottle of water. The little girl is too weak to break the seal on the cap, so I open it for her. She swallows a couple of mouthfuls but then collapses in on herself, sobbing, the bottle dropping from her hands. I hesitantly touch her back, and she seems to be okay with that, but she tenses when I start to rub soothingly. So I just sit there with my hand resting on her back, until her sobs finally die down to sniffles. "Honey?"
She goes limp. After a minute, I gently sit her up, and sigh when I see her blank expression. "Come on, darling. I've got you. Come this way...." She's like a zombie, shuffling after me as I lead her by the hand. A man puts a blanket around her shoulders and sits her down with some of the other children. I stay with her, holding her hand, until her eyes come back to life. She looks around in confusion, then settles on me.
"Hi again. I'm happy to see you back! Listen...I have to go soon, but these good people will still be here, okay? They gave you this blanket, and the water, and these cheese crackers here. You can eat them whenever you want, okay? Do you want me to open them for you?"
A harried woman stops beside us. "Nightwing, we're ready for this group."
"All right." As we move toward a van, two of the other children in the group cling to me, and another keeps asking me if I'm Batman.
"No, I'm Batman's friend. We worked together to find you guys tonight."
"You and Batman beat them?! Batman punched them in the face?! Batman blew them up?!"
"Yes, yes, and sort of."
They're so reluctant to let go of me that I'm tempted to get in the van with them, but we're going to have to separate at some point, and I have more work to do tonight. I've delayed enough as it is, especially since I'm planning to escort the vans safely to their destinations. Besides, I'm not the only one who wants these children to be safe and well-cared for. "It'll be okay. Maybe you'll see me around sometime, flying through the night with Batman...!"
I manage to disentangle myself from all but one. The little girl continues to hold onto me, though she's having another episode.
"Move, Nightwing, we need to close the door."
"Look at her face. We need to wait."
So we do, and I talk about whatever comes to mind, and finally her eyes come to life again. She looks at me pleadingly.
"Don't worry - you're a very strong and brave young lady. All of you are. You are going to live, and one day you'll remember what it's like to be happy again. Maybe you'll even want to help other girls and boys so that they can be safe and happy, too."
The little girl looks at me. She doesn't smile, but her hand squeezes mine, and then she lets go. "You'll heal," I tell her.
I know, because I did.
A/N: That ending...did not follow the script in my head.
Once again borrowing from Medli - in her Batfam daemon AU ( http://breezy-cheezy.tumblr.com/post/163440793583/last-doodle-batch-for-like18-months-haha-im ), Jason's daemon is a Rottweiler named Sanadora, which means "healer." In this fic, I'd originally written his therapy dog as just a random dog with an uninspired name, but then it occurred to me to ask Medli's permission to borrow Sana for the role. The idea of Jason having a therapy dog in the first place was inspired by this post: http://breezy-cheezy.tumblr.com/post/163184064813/inkydandy-sometimes-i-feel-like-jason-just-needs
And here are a couple more of her sketches from this fic. ^^
Chapter 11: "Guardian Angel" art gallery
I really dislike the site I was using to host pictures, so I found an alternative. While I'm at it, I figured I could collect all the art for this story together in one place so it's easier to find.
I will remove this gallery if/when Medli is able to post the art herself, unless people leave comments. (Please do, I know she would love to hear feedback on her work!) If that is the case, I will leave this "chapter" up and replace the images with links to wherever Medli posts them.
The sketches that inspired this fic:
Super-cool wing AU:
A reunion that she drew before I wrote the actual reunion: