Dick hates seeing that worried look on Alfred’s face every time he returns home from patrol injured, limping and bleeding. He hates the guilt of knowing it’s his fault that Alfred looks so much greyer, so much older every time he gathers his medical tools to patch Dick up yet again.
It’s unfortunately become a daily routine. Dick still hasn’t gotten used to the restriction of the cowl and armour, the heaviness of the cape. He fights clumsy. He makes mistakes. But nobody said becoming Batman would be easy.
Tonight he has a bad cut on his forearm, where a perp got in a lucky stab through a chink in the armour plating. That’ll need stitches. He pushed his knee too hard, still recovering from that sprain on the weekend, and it hurts worse than ever. That he’ll do his best to hide; it’ll get better on its own, no need to make Alfred worry any more than he has to.
Alfred must be feeling particularly vindictive tonight—he tsks frequently and makes sure to cause as much painful stinging as possible as he disinfects the gash on Dick’s arm. He has just finished threading the needle when a screeching erupts from the baby monitor he carries with him everywhere.
Damian is awake.
Dick looks up at Alfred with wide eyes, stricken with concern. “Alfred—“
“No need to worry, Master Dick. He’s been crying on and off for over an hour. There’s nothing wrong; I expect he is just missing his mother.”
“I know, but… I just want to— I need to check on him. Make sure.” He can’t bear to sit here another second knowing Damian is screaming upstairs, not after the kind of night he had.
“I do hope this isn’t simply an attempt to escape these stitches,” says Alfred, eyebrow raised. Dick doesn’t blame him for being suspicious, not after all the excuses Bruce has come up with in the past to shrug away medical treatment.
“It’s not, I promise. You can finish them upstairs. Please, Alfred.”
The crying only grows louder, becoming angry, desperate wails.
Alfred sighs, giving in, and puts down the needle. “Very well.”
He wraps Dick’s arm in a bandage for now. It is soaked through by the time the elevator takes them all the way up from the bunker to the penthouse, but that doesn’t bother Dick, and neither does the shooting pain up his arm when he lifts the wailing baby out of the crib.
Damian is heavy for a ten-month-old, and he fusses and squirms violently as Dick shifts his hold to cradle Damian in his right arm so Alfred can stitch up his left. Damian’s one goal in life seems to be making everything as difficult as possible, and right now Dick is having an incredibly difficult time staying still enough for stitches while holding onto the flailing baby.
But eventually, after screaming Dick’s ear off and battering him with tiny fists, Damian tires himself out. His cries falter into hiccuping whimpers and then nothing but steady, quiet breathing as he falls asleep snuggled against Dick’s chest, drooling a damp spot on his shirt. Dick nuzzles against the soft, dark hair on top of Damian’s head and it isn’t long before the warm scent of milk and baby shampoo has him nodding off a bit, too.
He’s nudged awake by Alfred when his stitches are done. The older man takes the slumbering baby from Dick’s arms so he can settle him back into his crib and shoos Dick off to bed.
Dick is reluctant to let go. He almost wishes Damian would start fussing again, just so he would have an excuse to hold him.
Damian was delivered to them two weeks ago by a silent, nameless agent working for Talia. They weren’t given much time to prepare—she sent Dick a message mere hours before that asking for help, which means when he spoke to her Damian was surely already on his way to Gotham. They never actually had a choice in the matter.
Not that Dick would ever refuse a plea for help, even from her. He remembers how worried she had looked on the computer screen, face sharpened by fear. He had wondered what on earth could have made Talia al Ghul that frightened… and then she asked him to protect her infant son.
“I cannot divulge the matter to you in detail,” she told him back then. “All I can say is that unrest is brewing within the League of Assassins and a new enemy threatens our organization from the outside. Several of our best agents have already been killed and there are few here I can trust. There is no question that my son will be targeted by many. I need you to take care of him until the danger has passed—it may be months before that happens, but I will return for him, no matter what it takes.”
“Talia, if the situation’s that bad, we can help—“
She cut him off with a dismissive wave of her hand. “That will not be necessary. Our League can solve its own problems, it has been around far longer than yours. My only request for you is to keep Damian safe. Well?”
“I can put him under the protection of the Justice League,” Dick said after giving it some thought. “He’ll be safest that way. We can find a secure place to hide him, even keep him on the Watchtower—“
“No. He must stay with you, in Gotham. There is no other option. You are the only one I will trust to protect Damian.”
That was certainly a surprise to hear. Considering there’s no love lost between them, the fact that she had chosen to trust Dick told him that she really didn’t have anyone else to turn to.
“I— I don’t have time to take care of a baby, Talia,” he said shortly. “I’m a little busy lately, in case you haven’t heard.”
“Yes, I’m aware; you are trying to fill your mentor’s role as protector of Gotham. An admirable effort. If my Beloved was alive I would be entrusting Damian to his care. Regrettably, he is not… and I must ask you instead.” At those words, the sadness she had been holding back seemed to threaten to overwhelm her. She glanced down, her composure crumbling with grief, but she was quick to mask it again. Lifting her chin, she gave Dick a tight-lipped smile. “He isn’t only my son, Richard. Have you not yet realized who his father is?”
Dick had his suspicions since she first brought up the child, but… it was too weighty an assumption to make. He hadn’t wanted to think about the possibility of Bruce having a son without ever knowing, without ever having gotten the chance to meet him. Or about Bruce having known and kept it a secret from the rest of them. But— he wouldn’t. Bruce wouldn’t have hidden it, if he knew.
Once Damian arrived, Dick did a DNA test in the bunker’s lab to be certain. Not that there was any doubt—he knew Damian was Bruce’s son the first time he held him and looked into his eyes.
And, as guilty as he felt for it, he cursed Bruce for leaving this child without a father.
Dick’s not always so good with the baby. More often than he’d like to admit, he leaves Alfred to deal with the screaming, inconsolable, red-faced little monster and heads down to the basement bunker just to get some sleep. The only bed down there is a stiff, narrow medical cot but it’s heaven to close his eyes in peace and quiet.
This isn’t the best time in his life to be responsible for a baby. Between patrolling as Batman and helping Lucius as much as he can with Bruce's company—which isn’t much at all, he tries his best to dodge those calls—and keeping a tight leash on Hush now that he’s posing as Bruce, Dick barely has time to sleep and shower. A few times Alfred has caught him snoozing at the breakfast table. Once Damian had thrown a handful of mashed banana at the back of Dick’s head from his highchair, and Dick hadn’t even stirred until Alfred came and gently shook him awake.
Alfred is a lifesaver. Dick knows he wouldn’t have survived this long with the baby if it wasn’t for him. There is no one else Dick can really rely on—it’s just the two of them left.
Tim is gone, stormed out of Gotham chasing a desperate lead on Bruce that’s already led him far away, to where even Oracle can’t track him down. Searching for him would take time Dick can’t spare, it would take him away from Gotham when the city needs him most. As much as he worries, he has to trust Tim to be able to take care of himself.
Tim hasn’t met Damian, he doesn’t even know he exists. Dick hopes every day that Tim will call home, just to check in, but he is still waiting. He waits for Cass to phone, too. Like Tim, she left Gotham, but she did it silently, in the middle of night after giving her Batgirl costume to Stephanie. Didn’t even say goodbye.
Dick thinks he’s done an incredibly shitty job of keeping the family together.
He still has Barbara, who drops in whenever she has the time. Damian enjoys playing with her glasses, and enjoys sitting on her lap and being wheeled around even more.
He has his friends. Donna stayed over at the penthouse a couple nights the week before to coach Dick in all her baby tips, and it was great. Spending time with her always helps him put things into perspective, it feels like taking a deep breath of fresh air. And the best part was when she accompanied him on patrol and they got to fight crime together for the first time in what seemed like forever.
But Donna has her own life, she couldn’t stay forever. None of Dick’s friends can stay for longer than a quick visit. It’s probably for the best—Damian doesn’t much like people who aren’t Dick or Alfred, he’ll cry as long as a stranger is in the room. He barely likes the two of them most of the time… but every day he’s getting a little better.
Damian likes the sunrise. So does Dick.
He tries his hardest to be home from patrol in time to hold Damian by the big windows in the penthouse, so they can watch the sun rise over the city. It’s the best view in all of Gotham, except maybe the roof of Wayne Tower. Damian is still a bit young to be carrying up on top of skyscrapers, though. Dick will give him a few more months.
They watch the sky lighten into rosy dawn until Dick is yawning and so tired he’s nearly dead on his feet. It’s a nice end to his day, taking his mind off the horrors he dealt with on patrol.
It should be the beginning of Damian’s day, but he doesn’t sleep much at night. His sleeping schedule is screwed up from what they think is the timezone difference between Gotham and wherever he was before, and it’s been hell to correct. Damian isn’t having any of it.
Dick likes Damian’s schedule matching his own, because it means when he heads off to bed after sunrise he gets to take Damian with him. The baby loves napping sprawled against Dick’s chest, and he’s a magic charm against nightmares. Dick only has ever pleasant dreams with Damian near his heart.
It’s cozy for about an hour, before Damian wakes up and starts fussing from hunger or needing his diaper changed. Half-asleep, Dick whines for Alfred until he takes Damian away to deal with.
The bonding time is nice, but so is sleep. And after spending all night running around Gotham in a heavy suit and cape, Dick needs sleep so badly he could cry. Around lunchtime he’ll wake up and he and Damian will watch some of those baby TV shows Damian adores. It’s their routine.
It’s odd; even after Damian has left the room and Dick is left to sleep alone, he doesn’t have any nightmares. Like having Damian around even for a little while is enough to chase them away for the rest of the morning.
Luckily for everyone involved, Damian is in a good mood the day Clark and Diana meet him for the first time. He doesn’t start bawling and biting when Clark picks him up, which is a blessing. If he did he would just hurt his teeth.
“Hey there, little guy,” says Clark, lifting Damian up in the air playfully and smiling at the child who might have been his godson, in a sense, if things had gone differently. “Nice to finally meet you.”
Clark’s smile is bright and warm, but his eyes are full of sadness when he glances over at Dick and Diana. The same sadness that they’re reflecting back at him, the shared grief they’ve all been carrying for weeks.
There are reasons Clark and Diana haven’t been able to visit until now. Because they’ve been busy with the Justice League, cleaning up after the last crisis that shook the planet. Because crime never sleeps—and Bruce’s words never seemed truer than they have lately, now that he’s gone—and they’ve hardly had a free moment, any scheduled visits postponed over and over by new disasters, until now.
But also because— it’s hard. It’s difficult. Dick knows. He knows how much they miss Bruce, and he knows how hard it’s been to look at Damian and see hints of Bruce in his face.
Then the sorrow of the moment dissipates when Damian reaches out and grabs Clark’s nose, to the man’s surprise. Damian has been doing it constantly since Dick played ‘got-your-nose’ with him—he didn’t like Dick taking his nose, but he discovered that he enjoyed taking Dick’s, and Alfred’s, and anyone else’s he gets his tiny hands on.
Clark chuckles. “That’s quite a grip you’ve got there. You’re going to grow up to be as strong as your dad one day, aren’t you?”
Damian replies to that with a burp and a vaguely offended frown. He keeps frowning as Clark hands him over to Diana.
“Hello, Damian,” she says softly, studying his face. Her eyes go wide in shock, and she turns Damian around to face them. “Great Hera, he doesn’t just have Bruce’s eyes, he also has Bruce’s scowl.”
It’s true. The scrunched-up scowl on his face is pure Batman, no question. Quite a bit pudgier, but…
Diana laughs. And then they’re all bursting out into peals of laughter, all except Damian who continues glaring at them and looks even more offended than before. Clark turns his head and surreptitiously dabs at his eyes with his sleeve, and Dick finds himself needing to do the same.
Both Clark and Diana visit regularly after that, always bringing some gift for Damian, like a toy or piece of baby clothing—gifts that always bear their respective logos. It’s like a competition, like they’re trying to out-merch each other. Damian has very discerning taste and won’t touch most of the toys they bring—except for the stuffed Krypto toy, after he rips the cape off—but he looks very cute in the Wonder Woman hat and mitten set, even if he’ll surely outgrow them by the time winter rolls around.
Damian can’t stay cooped up in the penthouse all the time, so most afternoons Dick takes him out for a quick lap of Robinson Park in his stroller to get some sun and fresh air.
The media has been dogging Dick incessantly, desperate for comments since his adopted father Bruce Wayne began amping up his charity spending to such an exorbitant degree. And since Damian needs to be kept a secret to avoid the attention of nosy reporters and evil enemy ninjas, they can’t leave the tower from the front door. Instead they’re forced to take what Dick considers the back exits, secret tunnels spanning from the basement bunker to outside access points just far enough away that nobody connects Batman to Wayne Tower. Real pain to navigate a stroller through, unfortunately.
Dick wears sunglasses and a baggy sweater with the hood up, hoping that no one recognizes him and hoping he doesn’t look as suspicious as he knows he does. At least that means nobody bothers him or Damian.
Damian likes the park for one reason, and that reason is the animals. His eyes go wide, entranced, at the pigeons being fed breadcrumbs by the benches and the ducks quacking beside the ponds. He makes grabby hands and needy sounds at every dog that passes them on the path. If Damian had his way, they would be taking every animal back home to the penthouse with them. They can’t, of course, and that’s why every day he gets more and more excited as he realizes it’s time to go to the park.
On this particular day, Dick brings a baggie of bird seed and parks Damian’s stroller next to a bench so they can get up close with the pigeons. He’s been trying for weeks to get Damian to laugh, but Damian is a stubborn, serious kid. Not easily impressed.
Dick thought this would do the trick, but while Damian is delighted and entertained by the birds pecking at the ground in front of them, clapping his hands and babbling happily, there’s nothing that can be called a laugh.
Dick sighs and tosses the last of the seeds on the ground. “One day, baby D. One day I’m gonna make you laugh, just wait. I refuse to accept that you inherited your dad’s sense of humour.”
“Richard Grayson,” a familiar voice says, making Dick’s head jerk up. His stomach drops to his feet. “How odd, running into you like this…”
He would rather there be a supervillain in front of him; some old vengeful enemy, an assassin, anyone but Vicki Vale.
Dick doesn’t try to hide the disappointment in his voice. “Oh. Hi, Vicki. What brings you here?”
“Taking my coffee break, thought I’d leave the office and get some fresh air.” Without asking, she sits down next to him on the bench, entirely too close and the glint in her eyes too sharp.
“You’re awfully far from the Gazette for a coffee break.”
“It’s awfully warm and cloudy to be wearing that big sweater and those sunglasses,” Vicki counters without missing a beat. “Almost like you’re hiding from someone.”
“Can you blame me,” he says flatly.
“Of course not.” Her phone beeps, she pulls it out of her pocket and types rapidly as she talks. “And as a matter of fact, I’m not going to ask you any questions about Bruce’s wild new spending plans.”
“No. I’m much more interested in this baby you have with you today.” Vicki reaches over and bops Damian on the nose. He lets out an angry noise, like a tt, frowning. “Something you’d like to tell me about, Grayson? Have I stumbled onto the scandal of the year?”
“I’m watching him for a friend,” Dick lies effortlessly, meeting her gaze without flinching.
“Who is this friend?” she probes.
“You understand that’s none of your business.” Dick stands, getting Damian’s stroller ready to leave. “I think we’ve entertained you long enough, Vicki. He’s making the face that means he needs a diaper change.”
Actually, Damian has gone back to smiling at the pigeons hopping about and pecking up the last of the bird seed, but Dick turns the stroller so Vicki won’t notice. Dick has learned that babies are natural emergency escape buttons from any social situation, and right now is the perfect time to take advantage of that.
“Not even going to tell me the kid’s name,” Vicki mutters just loud enough for Dick to hear, shaking her head. As he walks away she calls after him, “I know when I’m being lied to, Richard.”
After that Dick has to really go all-out with the disguises. He busts out the fake noses and wigs, hats and glasses. Damian likes petting his fake beards and moustaches when he wears them. Dick takes them to different parks at different times with different strollers, but there are still a few too many close calls with Vicki.
She is determined, he’ll give her that. But he and Damian are one step ahead.
At half-past noon Dick rolls out of bed and drags his feet to the kitchen, towards the beckoning smell of brewing coffee. He stops abruptly in the hallway, groggy and shocked and certain that he is still dreaming, because he thinks he just heard laughter, a baby’s laughter.
It’s not a dream. Damian is sitting in his high chair, a smeared mess of what might have been oatmeal in front of him, giggling. Alfred is pouring coffee into Dick’s favourite mug. Dick glances back and forth between them with enough alarm to make Alfred raise an eyebrow.
"Is everything all right, Master Dick? You look unsettled. I do hope this isn’t one of those scenarios where you’ve woken up in an altered universe, today was shaping up to be such a pleasant day."
Dick shakes his head slowly, staring at Damian. “How— He was laughing,” he says in disbelief. “I heard him. He was actually laughing.”
"Yes, young Damian is always in quite a cheerful mood before lunchtime.” Alfred hands Dick the mug of coffee. “Nothing unusual."
"Alfred, I’ve been trying to make him laugh for— for weeks,” Dick complains, raking a hand through his sleep-rumpled hair in frustration. “This is the first time I’ve ever heard him laugh. I was starting to worry he inherited some humour-suppressing Bat-gene from Bruce. How did you do it? How did you make him laugh? I’ve been trying everything.”
“I’ve merely been speaking to him, Master Dick. Speaking to children his age is important for their development, as I am sure I’ve told you.”
“Speaking to him about what?”
“Oh, this and that. Often when I run out of topics I recite to him selections of Shakespeare’s works. I had just finished my favourite scene from Much Ado About Nothing when you walked in.”
"You’ve been reciting Shakespeare to him every morning?”
Alfred nods. “Indeed, and he seems to enjoy it greatly. Young Master Damian has fine taste. How nice to finally have someone in the family who appreciates art.”
“I’ve used up every funny trick in my book, and I grew up surrounded by clowns.” Dick sinks down into a kitchen chair and sighs, disheartened. He’s made every silly face physically possible, he’s juggled, done funny voices, even stuck drinking straws up his nostrils, which never failed to make Lian giggle. “None of it’s even gotten a smile out of him. And you made him laugh with Shakespeare.”
“If I had to guess as to why he doesn’t laugh around you,” says Alfred, laying a hand on Dick’s shoulder. “I would say it’s because he is far too focused on watching everything you do. He adores you.”
Dick doesn’t quite buy it, and he sulks at his coffee and cereal. He waits for Alfred to turn his back, for the older man to head to the sink and start washing dishes, and then he spins around in his chair and makes his most ridiculous, contorted face at Damian, his tongue sticking out and waggling and everything.
Damian just wrinkles his nose. Dick used to read that reaction as an unimpressed one, Damian expressing his displeasure. But now he wonders if Damian is actually trying to copy him.
Dick is glad to be living in the penthouse instead of the manor—he doesn’t even want to imagine how much work it would take to baby-proof that big old house. The penthouse is smaller, more open and modern. Less stairs, less valuables to break. Fewer little nooks and hiding places for Damian to squeeze into the second Dick turns his back.
Even so, Damian manages to find ways to disappear. He crawls and scoots around fast, and every day he’s getting more and more confident walking without holding onto furniture.
One afternoon Dick takes his eyes off Damian for seconds to pour himself some more coffee, and the sly little demon is gone, the colourful blocks he was playing with left abandoned on the floor. Five increasingly frantic minutes of searching later Dick finds the boy hiding behind the curtains in his bedroom, probably his favourite room to sneak into. Dick can’t count the number of times he’s found Damian in his closet even though he was certain he closed the doors. Once Damian was happily dragging around a cape Dick had left carelessly wadded up on the closet floor after a particularly exhausting night.
With a smug grin, Dick yanks open the drapes to reveal Damian’s hiding place. He expects Damian to scowl at being found, to grunt in anger and scamper off to hide again before Dick to catch him—that’s the game they fall into, most days—but Damian is transfixed. His hands are pressed against the glass and he stares down fearlessly at the seemingly endless drop.
It’s in that moment, that utter lack of fear in Damian’s face, when it hits Dick exactly what he’s in for. Damian is only going to get better at walking, and running, and getting himself into scrapes or worse. Things are just going to get harder from here on out.
He bends down and picks up the little troublemaker. “Good thing you’ve got me looking out for you, huh?” he says. Damian grabs his nose. Almost a yes.
Dick takes a sip from his champagne glass—actually ginger ale, he’s taken a page from Bruce’s book tonight—and peers around the edge of the pillar he’s taking refuge behind. This corner of the ballroom is quiet, nobody notices or bothers him, but it doesn’t change the fact that he doesn’t want to be there.
But he has no choice in the matter. The art museum charity ball is a big deal. Bruce Wayne can’t miss the party after he already promised such a large donation, and Hush can’t be allowed to attend such a high-profile event without proper supervision.
Dick catches Katana’s eye through the crowd and gives a small nod. The rest of his Hush task force is tied up with missions and business of their own, the two of them were the only available tonight. They’ve been switching positions; one close enough to “Bruce” to monitor every word he says, the other circling the outskirts as backup just in case… anything. They aren’t taking any chances.
Sighing, Dick downs the rest of his drink—faintly wishing it was something stronger—and gets ready to take his turn out in the clutches of the crowd.
Seconds after he steps out of his hiding place he gets roped into conversation with an acquaintance of Bruce’s, a designer that’s been hounding him to model some new fashion line or another since he was a teenager. He manages to make his escape by tilting his empty glass with a wink and slipping off towards the bar.
Dick’s just finished ordering a refill when a hand clasps his shoulder. He doesn’t need to turn around to know who it is.
Tommy Elliot waves over the nearest bartender, with all the pompous airiness of the man he’s masquerading as. “Two glasses of your finest, most expensive scotch for me and my chum here.”
Dick shrugs off his hand. “Don’t call me that,” he mutters darkly, glancing around them. There’s nobody nearby listening in. He doesn’t have to put up with the act right now.
“I could call you son,” says Tommy, his smile tight and threatening, eyes cold. For a moment he looks nothing like Bruce, and it’s a relief. “But I’m afraid that would leave a bad taste in my mouth.”
Dick tries his best to not let Tommy Elliot get a rise out of him, but— the man is infuriating enough that he has considered staging Bruce Wayne’s death just so they won’t need him anymore. So they can stick him in a cell somewhere deep underground and lose the key, and Dick won’t ever have to be taunted by Bruce’s face and Hush’s words again.
Their drinks arrive. Dick ignores the glass Tommy ordered for him and sticks to his ginger ale.
“How’s my real son doing?” Tommy asks, taking a sip of his drink. “The little bastard one.”
“He isn’t yours,” Dick hisses, bristling at Hush even daring to speak of Damian.
He shouldn’t even know about Bruce’s son. Dick would certainly sleep easier if he didn’t. But weeks ago he somehow managed to sneak away from his chaperones and use his authority as Bruce to get access to the penthouse. Dick found him standing over Damian’s crib.
Dick was ready to kill Hush. He thinks he might have—he was so close, pushed to that tipping point with Hush’s neck in his blood-splattered hands, but, in that moment, Damian started crying, snapping him back to his senses.
After that they had to come up with an excuse for Bruce Wayne’s bruised face and broken fingers—another rock climbing accident—and they beefed up the security in the penthouse and around Hush, but it wasn’t enough to put Dick at ease.
“He isn’t your son, either, although you do like pretending otherwise, don’t you?” Tommy smirks and raises an eyebrow at Dick’s scowl. “Did I strike a nerve? It’s pathetic, how you’re so desperate to replace him. Dressing up in his clothes, adopting snot-nosed little boys.” He tsks. “Pathetic.”
Dick shakes his head and laughs quietly over the rim of his glass. “I’m the pathetic one? Try looking in a mirror.”
“When I get free,” Hush says conversationally, “I’m going to kill the brat first—it will be easy, like crushing an insect. I’ll make sure you get the chance to cry over his body before I kill you, too.”
“You’ll never get that chance, Elliot,” Dick threatens right back, leaning in close and lowering his voice into a cold, knife-sharp growl, the kind that makes criminals piss themselves when he’s in costume. “You even speak of him again, I’ll beat you so hard they have to wire your mouth shut. You’ll be drinking your meals through a straw. Do I make myself clear?”
Dick turns and leaves rather than wait for an answer—he doesn’t need to see Hush’s cold smirk a second longer. Once he’s cooled off he calls Alfred for an early pick-up. Tommy’s attitude tonight has him worried, it’s not a good idea to let ‘Bruce’ mingle with the other high-society types much longer.
Everything goes smoothly, they get Hush locked back up until his next appearance, but Dick can’t rest easy after that conversation. He wakes up several times that night and has to check the surveillance on the computer to be sure Hush is still secure in the cell before he can fall back asleep.
It’s tough being a Batman without a Robin. It’s lonely and demanding and it’s risky not having someone watching his back. Too many injuries, too many situations where he gets in over his head. Not a patrol goes by where he doesn’t wish he had Tim by his side.
Sometimes he teams up with Stephanie, now the new Batgirl, and they work well together but it isn’t the same as having a partner. She has her own missions, her own cases and enemies and base. She has her own partnership with Barbara.
Dick doesn’t know exactly when he starts calling Damian his little Robin, but he’s sure it’s well before Steph buys the boy a set of Robin-themed pyjamas complete with a tiny cape. She babysits now and then and she’s determined to become Damian’s favourite, even though Damian is mostly interested in cutting his new teeth on her fingers.
She managed to wrestle him into the pyjamas, only suffering one bite, just in time for Dick to walk through the door. “He’s really part of the family now,” Steph told him, holding up Damian and beaming.
Damian quickly grows attached to those pyjamas, to Steph’s glee and Dick and Alfred’s dismay because some nights Damian refuses to sleep unless he’s wearing them. Some days he refuses to stop shouting unless he’s wearing them. He doesn’t care whether they’re in the laundry, he wants them now.
But Damian does look adorable in the Robin colours, it’s undeniable.
He’s wearing those pyjamas tonight as Dick says goodbye before heading out to patrol.
“Hey there, little Robin.” He smiles as he picks up Damian, and presses a kiss against his cheek. Damian’s hand grabs the fabric of Dick’s shirt, clinging. “Bet you wish you could come with me on patrol, huh? Yeah, me too. It gets lonely out there without company. Too bad you’re benched until you’re twenty-five.”
Or more like forever. Dick doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to let Damian put on a uniform, if he has Damian that long. He kisses the top of the baby’s head and lowers him into his playpen.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon.” Dick is just turning to leave when—
It’s quiet, but clear. The closest Damian has come to a real word. He babbles often, but…
Dick looks back and sees the boy standing at the edge of the playpen, holding onto it for support and reaching one hand up towards Dick demandingly. He whimpers in frustration but he doesn’t say it again.
Dick really can’t stay—he leans down to kiss Damian on the forehead once more and then slips out of the room. It was just a sound, he tells himself. Just more of the usual baby babbling, it doesn’t mean anything. Damian doesn’t even know what he’s saying, it’s all just noise.
Dick’s been reading and rereading the same blurry line of text onscreen for the past five minutes without realizing it, snapping out of his exhausted daze when the elevator chimes and Alfred steps out with a tray of post-patrol snacks.
It’s been a long, rough night; one of the worst so far. He aches all over. His eyes are dry and burning, what he wouldn’t give to shut them for just a few minutes. He feels utterly drained and defeated and he knows he looks like utter shit, like something chewed to the bones by Gotham and spat back out. He doesn’t even bother smiling or straightening his slouch to hide it from Alfred. He couldn't, even if he tried.
“Any injuries that need tending tonight, Master Dick?” asks Alfred, setting down the tray.
“No, just a couple bruises.” Dick picks up a sandwich off the plate, taking a bite and chewing mechanically. He barely tastes it.
Alfred frowns in suspicion. That’s a lie both of them have heard from Bruce a thousand times before.
Dick shakes his head, swallowing. “Not bothering me anymore. Think it’s about healed up now.” He is telling the truth. It’s been a tough night, but not a bloody one. His spirit’s suffered a lot more than his body.
Looking Dick up and down once more with sharp eyes, searching for a twinge of pain or a spot of blood and finding nothing, Alfred relents. “Very well.”
With a disapproving click of his tongue, Alfred picks up the cape and cowl from where they’re lying on the floor, along with the utility belt, the gloves… all the discarded parts of the uniform Dick stripped off wearily, uncaringly, and left in a sad, rumpled trail leading away from the Batmobile.
Dick glances over his shoulder, watching Alfred fold up the cape neatly. He opens his mouth, then closes it and looks away. He lets out a long sigh. Finally he gathers up the guts to say it, even if he can’t face Alfred when he does.
“Alfie, I know it sounds really bad, but… Do you ever hate him, for dying?”
The pause before Alfred answers seems to stretch forever. “I assume you’re speaking of Master Bruce.”
Dick drops his head into his hands, letting himself slouch even lower in the chair. “I can’t— He left behind so much for us to deal with, sometimes it all seems impossible to handle at once. His company, an entire city… His son.” He bites his lip, already regretting even opening his mouth. “I mean, I love Damian, but—“
Alfred pats him on the shoulder, gently and sympathetically. “I understand.”
Dick still can’t look him in the eye. “I— I miss him. It was too soon for him to die, none of us were ready. I don’t think I can do this. He should still be here.” Bruce should be here to be a father to his son. Damian deserves that.
The most important reason they fight is to let more children grow up with their parents. And now, because Bruce gave up so much for that goal, gave up everything, Damian is never going to meet his dad. It’s not fair. A cruel joke of fate.
“I miss him…” Dick says again, hardly more than a sigh.
“As do I,” Alfred replies. “I don’t believe you truly hate him. You’re simply overwhelmed. It is a lot to juggle, even for as fine a juggler as yourself. When faced with so much, it is perfectly natural to be uncertain and frightened. Even for Batman.” Dick manages to lift his head and sees Alfred smiling down at him. That smile lasts a second, and then Alfred is back to his usual strict, no-nonsense self. “You must get some rest, Master Dick. No arguments. I am certain everything will look different in the morning.”
The baby monitor starts crying and Alfred has to leave for the penthouse to deal with a fussing Damian. Dick promises he’ll head up to bed once he’s finished shutting down the bunker for the night, but as soon as the elevator doors close he boots up the computer and makes a call.
“Dick, I'm sorry but that analysis is still running. I won’t have any usable results narrowed down for another couple hours.”
“I’m not calling about work, Babs,” Dick says. That gets Barbara to glance over, an eyebrow raised. Her fingers slow on the keyboard but don’t stop. There’s an awkward pause, and then Dick shakes his head, reaching for the button to end the call. “You’re busy. I’ll call back later, it’s not important—“
“You aren’t going anywhere.” She stops typing and spins her chair to face the camera, looking at him sternly over the top of her glasses. “Number one mistake Bruce always made was bottling things up, I’m not letting you do that. Spill.”
“It’s… about Damian,” Dick admits, and it already feels like a weight off his chest. “Talia never told me how long she was leaving Damian with us, but— It’s been two months already. She’s only contacted me once since Damian was dropped off, and that was weeks ago. What if something’s happened to her, and she never comes back for him? Am I— Am I supposed to raise Damian? Am I supposed to be his dad?”
“And worse,” Barbara says understandingly, “what if she does come back, and you have to give Damian up?”
The tears well up in Dick’s eyes so quickly that he can’t even try to stop them. They blur his vision and he wipes them away with the heel of his hand before they can fall.
“I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” he says defeatedly. “I don’t know anymore. I can’t be his father—I don’t know how, and— and that’s supposed to be Bruce.”
But at the same time he can’t not feel like Damian’s dad, not with the amount of time they’ve spent together, how deeply they’ve bonded, how much Damian depends on him. Not with how much Damian loves him and he loves Damian.
Everything since Bruce’s death has been such a blur. Dick has been so busy and exhausted just trying to make it day-to-day, too caught up with putting out fires as they happen, that he never had a chance to look ahead. It never hit him that this—that Damian—is permanent, and it scares him.
“Just keep being there for Damian. You’re wonderful with him, he needs you. And don’t worry—no matter what happens, she isn’t going to be able to keep him away from us after this. None of us will let her. He’s part of our family, too.” The expression of fierce, righteous determination on Barbara’s face is frankly inspiring. And a little frightening. Dick loves it. “Do you want me to try contacting Talia? I might be able to find her and get a connection through. I’ll let her know exactly how things are going to be from now on.”
“No. It’s too risky for her.” The last thing he wants to do is compromise her somehow and put her in danger. Then again, the idea of letting an angry Oracle loose on Talia is tempting. “But thanks, Babs. You always know how to make me feel better.”
“You should get some sleep,” she tells him. An alarm starts beeping shrilly from her end, some alert on her computer. She ignores it. “Seriously, go to bed. In the afternoon I’ll come over with the results of the analysis and we can go through it, see if we can’t solve this case together. Or at least get a solid lead to follow through on.”
“Barbara, you don’t have—“
“I’ll be there at one,” she insists. Dick gives her a tired smile.
The alert is still beeping, it sounds important. Barbara starts to turn towards it, about to end the call, and then she stops. She looks back at Dick once more.
“You know, Dick… I’ve always thought you’d make a great dad.”
The next night after patrol there’s no Alfred waiting in the bunker to nag Dick about stitches and food and sleep, and it worries Dick, just a bit. He takes the elevator up to the penthouse and finds Alfred safe and sound and asleep, oddly enough, in one of the armchairs in front of the fireplace, a book open on his lap.
Dick isn’t the only one exhausted with heaped-on responsibilities in the wake of Bruce’s death. Alfred does most of the work taking care of Damian—who’s teething now—and keeping Hush in line and wrangling issues over at WE on top of his normal tasks, and it’s a mystery to Dick how he holds up so well when half the time Dick feels like crumpling under the pressure. The old man’s made of iron.
Alfred does so much, so when Dick hears whimpering through the static of the baby monitor on the end table he decides to turn the device off and let Alfred rest. He finds a blanket and drapes it over Alfred as gently as possible, using every ounce of his stealth training to do it without waking the man up, then he silently sneaks off to Damian’s bedroom.
Damian is standing, clutching at the bars of his crib and whining in pain. Poor guy’s not taking the teething too well. His eyes are red and brimming with tears—they go wide when he sees Dick and he lets out a loud, needy sob.
“Sshhh,” Dick hushes, closing the door behind him in case Damian starts wailing. “Hey, baby D. I’m here, no need to cry.”
He picks up Damian and sits them both down in the nearby rocking chair, hugging the clingy, whiny baby against his chest and humming a lullaby in the hope of soothing him. It’s a song from Dick’s own childhood, from his mother. He doesn’t remember the words, or if there ever were words, but he remembers the melody—he still hears it in his dreams. Maybe someday he’ll try to think of his own lyrics to go along with it, about bats and birds and knights and heroes.
The song helps, and after a few minutes of rocking Damian starts dozing off. His little face is still scrunched up in pain but at least he’s quiet and asleep, for now. Carefully, carefully, he stands up and lays Damian down in the crib.
It’s no use. As soon as Dick lets go of Damian he’s whimpering again and squirming to stand up.
“Dah,” he demands tearfully, pulling himself to his feet with the support of the side of the crib and grasping a hand towards Dick. “Dah.”
Dick freezes. “No,” he blurts out in quiet panic, automatically taking a step back. “No, Damian. I’m not.”
“Dah…” Damian says piteously. He’s about to start crying. His face starts turning the splotchy red that means he’s really going to scream.
Silently berating himself, Dick rushes forward. “I’m so sorry,” he soothes Damian, reaching down and hugging him. He kisses the top of the baby’s soft hair and presses their foreheads together, murmuring, “Shh, please don’t cry. It’s okay, I’m not going anywhere. I’m sorry.”
There’s a snuffly sound beside Dick’s ear and then tiny arms wrap around his neck tightly. Dick almost laughs through tears because god, Damian’s such a possessive little guy. He makes it so clear that Dick isn’t ever allowed to leave without his permission.
“I’m sorry, Damian,” Dick says softly. “I— You just make me miss Bruce so badly, sometimes. All the time. Whenever I look at you.” Another little snuffle, and Damian’s starting to dig into Dick’s neck with his sharp baby fingernails. “He’s your dad. He’s supposed to be here, but he can’t. And it— it feels like I’m stealing something from him. He would’ve loved you so much, Damian. I mean— he would have no idea how to take care of you, and be terrified to hold you at first… He’d probably go through a worse crisis than I’m having right now, but he would love you so much.”
Damian mercifully eases up enough so Dick can pry his neck free from the boy’s grasp. There’s a damp spot in Damian’s hair where a few of Dick’s tears were soaked up.
“After Bruce took me in, he said he wasn’t going to try to be my father. But he was wrong—he was like my father, in all the important ways. I was lucky to have him.” He really was. He wishes he spent more time telling Bruce that. Sometimes the bad times overshadow the good, but there was a lot of good. “And now I get to pass that on. You need me, like I needed him back then. I’m still not sure if I can be exactly what you need in a father figure, but I promise I’ll always be there for you.” He owes it to both of them—Damian and Bruce.
He plants a loud, smacking kiss against Damian’s cheek that earns him an outraged spluttering noise and a smack on the nose with a small hand. Dick grins. “I love you, Damian. I always will.”
Eventually Dick manages to coax Damian into lying down and closing his eyes, but he doesn’t dare leave the room. He drags the rocking chair over to the crib so he can sit beside the drowsy baby, slipping his hand through a gap in the bars and stroking Damian’s dark hair softly until the boy is fast asleep.
“Hey, baby D. You know what?” Dick whispers. “We’re going to be okay, the both of us. I think we’re gonna be just fine.”
The mission is only going to take four days at most. A quick jaunt off-world with the Justice League, nothing especially dangerous. But there won’t be any communication with Earth, and it’ll be the longest Dick has been apart from Damian so far.
Neither of them are taking it very well. Damian is just being a lot louder about it.
He screams, like he knows. It’s impossible—there’s no way he could understand, he’s just a baby—but somehow he must sense something is wrong because he starts screaming at exactly one hour before Dick is due to leave and he won’t stop.
Dick carries the wailing baby around and around the penthouse, bouncing his against his hip and chattering at him with the Crocky hand puppet he adores, but Damian doesn’t drop a single decibel. He hasn’t cried this inconsolably since the first couple weeks, back when he still missed his mom.
The screaming only gets louder, nearly at glass-shattering levels, when Stephanie walks through the door. She’s staying at the penthouse to help Alfred watch the baby while Dick is gone. Damian isn’t happy to see her.
“Whoa, that’s some serious separation anxiety.” Steph winces, slinging her backpack onto the floor and clamping her hands over her ears. She has to yell to be heard over Damian. “Maybe you should think of a costume change,” she tells Dick.
Dick blinks, confused. “Excuse me?”
“Ditch the bat theme. Get a new uniform with a little pouch to carry Damian around in and call yourself Kangaroo-man. Then we’ll never have this problem.”
He laughs, and it eases that worried knot he didn’t realize he was carrying in his chest. “Thanks for the idea. I’ll think about it when I get back. Until then, he’s all yours to deal with.”
“We’re going to take this chance to bond, aren’t we, Dami? Just watch, we’re going to have a great time without you and be best buds by the time you get back.” She lifts up Damian’s hand to make him wave bye-bye while he continues to scream bloody murder, his face scrunched up and bright red.
Dick waves back, trying to smile. He only makes it to the doorway before he turns and looks back. Damian stops crying and just stares at him with raw, betrayed eyes. Dick stares back.
“Everything okay?” Steph asks Dick.
“I just—“ He reaches out and takes Damian from her arms. “One more minute. I can wait one more.”
Dick returns to the penthouse three and a half days later, tired and still a bit oddly carsick from the intergalactic travel and impatient to see Damian—he spent his entire ride up in the elevator jittery and willing it to move faster.
“Welcome back!” Steph greets him with a grin when he walks in. She has a band-aid on her chin that Dick really hopes is from something that happened on patrol, not Damian. “Great timing, too. I wanted to get in a quick workout before the sun goes down, stretch out the hamstring that’s been giving me trouble.” She slaps him on the shoulder as she passes him on her way to the elevator. “Damian’s in his playpen. Alfred’s running some errands—he said to tell you to stick around, because he’s planned your favourite meal as a special welcome-home dinner. Also, you may see a bunch of digital purchases on your credit card bill. But it was all for Damian. His education. I’m worried he won’t be able to watch that kind of show out in some ancient, middle-of-nowhere mountaintop ninja castle, or wherever the al Ghuls live.”
“Was it Pokémon?” he asks on a hunch.
“No. Mostly Digimon. And Sailor Moon.”
Damian is busy moving around wooden blocks, a job he always takes very seriously, and doesn’t look over as Dick walks up to the playpen, not even when Dick calls his name.
But as soon as Dick is in range he gets a block flung at him. It misses. The next one hits his foot.
“Hey! Hey, would you cut that out, Damian?” Dick steps over the barrier of the playpen and takes a third block out of Damian’s hands before it can be thrown at his face. “That’s not nice. Come on, I finally get home and this is how you welcome me back? Didn’t you miss me?”
Damian lets out a sound like a tt, scooting around on his bum to turn his back to Dick. Ignoring him.
So that’s how it is, Dick thinks. The silent treatment. Damian’s still feeling betrayed over Dick leaving. Incredible—the kid’s not even potty-trained yet but he is capable of holding a grudge.
Dick knows exactly how to get back into Damian’s good graces. He wrestles the grumpy, squirming baby into his high chair and pours them each a bowl of the ultra-sugary, ultra-unhealthy, ultra-delicious cereal that Dick has to hide at the back of the pantry so Alfred doesn’t throw it out. Damian loves it as much as Dick does, and it’s the one treat guaranteed to get a smile out of him no matter what. This is no exception.
Tiny handfuls of the cereal get thrown at Dick, but Damian is smiling and seems to have forgiven him, so it’s probably just for fun. He has gotten good at throwing things—earlier than all the books said he would, how lucky for them—and it’s pointless to try stopping him.
Dick just sits there and opens his mouth wide at the next chucked handful, catching a piece of cereal in his mouth. That only seems to egg Damian on.
When Alfred gets home they get a very stern, displeased lecture about not spoiling their dinner with sweets. And not making such a mess on the kitchen floor.
“Who are you?” growls Dick. He has the masked and hooded ninja pressed against the wall, trapped in a wicked painful head-and-arm lock that the guy won’t be getting out of without dislocating a few important joints. “You think I wouldn’t notice you tailing me across half the city? You might want to tell me who you work for while you still have enough teeth.”
The answer is quiet through teeth gritted in pain and heavy with an accent that’s tough for Dick to place. “My mistress entrusted me to deliver a package to you. For— For the child.”
A bit embarrassed, Dick loosens his grip and lets the ninja slip free. Turns out he was wrong on two counts. This isn’t an enemy. And she isn’t a guy, either. An agent of Talia’s, it would seem.
It would seem.
She pulls out a small bundle from the bag slung across her back and holds it out towards Dick. He doesn’t make any move to take it.
“Sorry, I make it a rule not to accept gifts from strangers.”
“I was instructed by my mistress to tell you that the last time the two of you spoke, the child had just cut his third tooth.” She says it like something memorized and recited word-for-word. It most certainly is. Talia’s hand-picked agents are nothing if not perfect. “And that you were wearing a truly horrid shirt with a Flash symbol.”
That shirt isn’t horrid. Wally gave it to him a few years ago and it only has two holes in it. But, whatever. Dick tries to recall the day Talia last called him, the only time she’s called him since Damian arrived in Gotham, and it all seems to check out. And there’s no doubt those words came from Talia—he can hear her voice behind them.
Message finished, the ninja holds out the package to Dick wordlessly. He accepts it this time.
“What is it?” he asks, but she doesn’t answer. Done talking, apparently. He isn’t bothered—ninjas are never a talkative bunch.
Slowly and wary of tricks, he unwraps the bundle, and when he sees what’s inside he smiles.
“Well, how about that.”
Damian recognizes the stuffed tiger toy immediately. The moment he sees it he’s scrambling up on his feet, reaching up for it and making grabbing motions and demanding grunts until Dick kneels down and hands it to him. The boy wraps his arms tightly around the stuffed animal’s neck, nuzzling worn fur that carries the scent of flowers and warm spices that Dick is certain must be Talia’s perfume.
The tiger smells like Talia, like her home, and Damian loves it. He still remembers his mother. Dick can’t be anything but glad to see Damian so happy.
Dick had run an analysis of the stuffed animal and the letter in the bunker’s lab, just to be completely safe. There is nothing dangerous sewn into the toy, it hasn’t been exposed to any harmful substances, and the handwriting on the letter is definitely Talia’s.
He knows he’s meant to read the letter to Damian, so he waits until after sunrise when Damian’s almost ready to go to bed, when the boy’s calmest and most willing to sit still. Dick sits down cross-legged on the floor, pulling Damian onto his lap. Sleepy, Damian snuggles in comfortably, gently chewing on the head of the stuffed tiger that he hasn’t let go of once so far.
Dick unfolds the letter.
“My dearest, adored Damian,” he reads aloud. “This letter is a poor substitute for being with you as a mother should, and for that I apologize. There is nothing I wish for more than to be able to celebrate your first birthday with you. Happy birthday, my love. The stuffed animal I leave with you is not your present, it already belongs to you. It is the first toy you ever received from me; I hope you remember. It had been misplaced before you had to leave, and found in the laundry soon after. Until now it has been a piece of you that I cling to in your absence, but I know you need it far more than I do.”
Glancing down, Dick chuckles at how fond Damian is of the toy, if the amount of drool he’s slobbering over it is anything to go by. The kid practically has a menagerie of stuffed animals but it’s already clear that this one means more to him than all the others combined.
“The greatest presents I can give you are your freedom, your childhood, and your life. I cannot express what it means to me to know you are far away from all this strife and unrest, just as I cannot express how difficult every day is with you being so far away from me. I left you with those I knew would place as much importance to your happiness and safety as I do, and I trust them to continue doing so.”
Dick smiles wryly. Nice words, but why does it somehow feel like Talia is taking a jab at him?
“I do not know how much longer until the danger will pass, it may be quite some time. My worst fear is that by the time we are finally together again, you won’t remember me. Know that you are in my heart, and that I am thinking of you every day. I will not rest until the moment we are reunited.
“All my love, your mother.”
Damian’s eyelids are drooping shut as he loses the battle with sleep. Dick gently tugs the stuffed animal away from Damian's grasp--not an easy feat, as even fast asleep, Damian has an iron grip on its tail--and lowers him into his crib. The tiger and Talia's letter are carefully placed on the bedside table.
Dick kisses the boy's forehead and murmurs, “Happy birthday, Damian.”
“Are you certain you wish to take him with you, Master Dick?” asks Alfred as he buckles Damian into the carrier car seat. “We wouldn’t want him to interfere with your work.”
“Nah, it’s just monitor duty. Should be a quiet, boring shift.” Dick’s been feeling bad about hoisting off so many of his shifts on others because of Gotham emergencies—he hasn’t done monitor duty in months—that he’s determined not to miss this double shift. He trusts Steph to keep things under control in Gotham for a night. “To be honest, I could use something to keep me occupied. Besides, I want to show Damian what the Earth looks like from way up there. And the sunrise. Should be a real meaningful Lion King-type moment.”
“Very well. I’ve packed everything you need in his diaper bag, be sure to call if there are any problems. I have also packed dinner and snacks for the both of you.”
“Alfred, you know there’s a cafeteria on the—“ Dick stops dead at the look Alfred gives him. “I mean, thanks so much. I think Damian’s mask is slipping again.”
“Oh, dear. If only he would stop trying to tug it off.” Alfred kneels down and straightens the soft, black bandit mask tied around Damian’s head. Blue eyes glare at both Alfred and Dick through the holes in the mask. “There, it’s fixed for now. You may have to keep an eye on it, however.”
All the heroes are in uniform on the Watchtower. Damian needs a costume, too, so they’ve dressed him in his Robin pyjamas and a mask, and Alfred’s sewn a little hood onto the pyjamas for extra secrecy.
Dick can already tell there is going to be a lot of cooing over Damian from the other heroes.
“You ready to go, little Robin?” asks Dick, picking up Damian’s carrier by the handle. He activates the transporter signal. “Up, up, and away!”
Damian is crying as they materialize on the Watchtower teleporter pad, something Dick expected. Teleporting is a weird, unpleasantly prickly sensation that definitely takes some getting used to.
Dick suddenly realizes how ridiculous he must look—Batman standing there with a diaper bag that matches his utility belt, holding a carrier with a screaming baby Robin while Vixen and two Green Lanterns stare from the other side of the atrium.
He forces a smile and an awkward wave in their direction before turning on his heel towards the main computer hub where he’ll be spending his shift. He doesn’t make it halfway up the steps before he’s nearly knocked off his feet by a blue-and-blonde blur—Supergirl.
“Hi, Kara. What brings you up to the Watchtower?”
“I fought a gross goo monster in a garbage dump outside Metropolis. Came here to give a report and a slime sample and take a long, long shower,” she says breezily, much more interested in the baby he’s carrying. She hovers so close to Damian that he tries to grab her nose—she manages to duck backwards in time to dodge it. “That’s Batman’s baby, right? Bruce’s?”
“Clark told you, right?”
“Yes. And Batgirl told me she babysits sometimes. Is it true he bit her so hard she needed stitches?”
“She was exaggerating.” At least he sincerely hopes so.
“Well, if you ever need a babysitter…” She shrugs. “Batgirl told me the money’s really good. And I’ve got no reason to be scared of his teeth.”
Dick smiles. “I’ll be sure to give you a call if I’m in a pinch,” he says over his shoulder as he starts walking up the stairs again.
“By the way, do you know what’ll get out these slime stains?” asks Kara, floating along with him and spreading her green-splotched cape. “Everyone keeps giving me different advice.”
“No idea. But if nothing works then swing by the penthouse—Alfred’s the expert at making those disappear.”
Dick sets up Damian’s carrier on the computer chair next to him. The baby’s yawning and bleary-eyed and looking like he could be ready for a nap soon, hopefully one that lasts a good chunk of Dick’s shift.
But Dick isn’t so lucky. Damian’s asleep for ten minutes, tops, and then he’s wide awake again and demanding attention. He doesn’t want food, or a diaper change, or a toy. Just Dick’s undivided attention, attention that needs to be focused on monitoring a rescue mission in the Atlantic.
It’s lucky for him that Kory shows up, probably drawn over by the sound of the baby’s wailing, while he’s frantically trying to juggle overseeing the mission and calming down a fussy Damian and finding someone to deal with a cracking dam in Canada that’s about to burst. She floats up behind him, and there's the click of Damian being unbuckled from his carrier, and then Kory is murmuring something in Tamaranean—Dick can’t make out the words, but the rhythm is soothing like a nursery rhyme. When the crisis is past and Dick can finally turn away from the computer screens with a deep breath of relief, he sees Kory floating cross-legged in the air, bouncing a happy Damian in her lap.
“He likes you,” Dick remarks. Damian is clinging to her like he never wants to let go. He’s cuddling. Probably because her skin is so warm, much more so than a human’s. Dick used to find it very comforting, back when they were together, and Damian seems to agree.
“I can tell.” She holds him out at arms length, watching with fond amusement at the way he pouts and wags his fists until she draws him closer again. He tightens his hands possessively around locks of her long hair. “What a demanding little child. You must be spoiling him terribly.”
“I don’t spoil him,” Dick protests, crossing his arms defensively. “I just… I do what it takes to make it through the day without a temper tantrum from him. He gets those from his father.”
"And what does he get from you?"
"I’m not—“ he begins to reply, automatically. Then he stops. And he searches Damian’s face, thinking about it. “I don’t know yet."
Something good, he hopes.
Kory smiles and leans down to whisper in Damian’s ear.
“What’d you just tell him?” Dick asks, raising an eyebrow. Kory just shakes her head and gives a smug, tight-lipped smile. Dick laughs. “C’mon, I know it was about me. You’re setting a terrible example for the kid, you know. Damian, keeping secrets is bad.”
But Damian is busy sucking his thumb, not particularly listening.
“I was telling him that if he is even a small part like you, he’ll grow up to be a very good man,” says Kory. Dick can’t help but blush, flattered—she always has a way of making him feel like a flustered teenager.
The computers are quiet after that. There's not a single alert for the rest of Dick’s shift, and he and Kory have a fun time sitting on the floor watching Damian create vigorously scribbled masterpieces with the crayons and construction paper Alfred packed for him. Dick thinks maybe he should do monitor duty more often.
“You can say it, baby D. Dick. Dick.”
Dick sighs. He’s been trying to teach Damian his name for days. Talia might kill him for his name being the first one Damian speaks, but Dick really, really wants it to be. He just feels like it would mean something. He wants it to mean something.
And it still makes his heart twinge every time Damian calls him ‘dah’.
“No, it’s Dick,” he says patiently. He’s sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of Damian while the boy presses buttons on a plastic piano-like toy and only half-listens. They’ve been at this for half an hour already. “Dick. Diiick.”
“Dih,” babbles Damian as he presses the same low note repeatedly. “Dah. Dih.” He’s been alternating the two words for Dick lately—it’s an improvement.
“Dick. C’mon, I know you can do it. Dick.”
“Dick,” he urges gently. Damian is so close to saying it. If only he could get that k sound at the end.
“Bahoo. Bah.” He smacks his hand against the plastic piano keys. “Hooheboo.”
Dick rolls his eyes fondly. “Yeah, yeah. Hooheboo. Actually thought we were making progress for a second there, Dami.”
“Mi!” Damian says with confidence.
“Yes, you.” Dick pokes him in the belly, earning a reluctant gurgle of laughter. “Can you say your name, Dami? Dami.”
“Day,” he corrects encouragingly. “Day-mi.”
And they’re right back where they started. Dick laughs, flopping down on his back and spreading his arms in defeat, and it’s not long before Damian is crawling all over him, babbling nonsense as he yanks on Dick’s ears. So much for progress.
Steph often complains about the lack of accuracy, as she calls it, in all the Robin dolls she searches out to buy for Damian. Dick learns that she’s taken matters into her own hands when he returns from a JLA mission to find Damian has a new toy—a handmade Robin plushie with yellow yarn hair and slightly uneven limbs, dressed in a replica of Steph’s old uniform.
They keep showing up after that. Two Robin-Tim dolls, one in his original uniform and one in the red-and-black version. A painstakingly sewn Batgirl-Cass with stitching detail around the mouth of the mask. Dick thinks Alfred starts helping Steph out, because after the first doll they very quickly increase in quality and detail, the stitching so neat it could be professional.
Alfred fixes the Steph-doll after she rips open on a seam and her stuffing falls out. When she returns her limbs are looking much more regular and she doesn’t have that strange bald patch anymore.
Every time Steph babysits, a new little stuffed vigilante appears. A smiley Batman and a frowning one, a familiar red-haired Batgirl and an Oracle, an Alfred, a Nightwing with finger stripes and even one with a disco collar and mullet, which makes Dick laugh. And more, so many more. As if Damian didn’t have enough toys already.
Out of all the dolls, Damian seems to like the two Tims the best. Or perhaps he hates them, it’s hard to tell. He plays with them the most, but when he does he is always trying to rip them apart, or he’s squeezing them by the faces and smacking them against the floor repeatedly. And yet Damian is inconsolable when either of the Tims rips or breaks, fussing and whining until Alfred fixes it.
A little stuffed Robin-Dick in scaly shorts is one of the last dolls made, almost as an afterthought. Damian already has half a dozen store-bought ones like it, it’s the most common style of Robin in stores, but this one matches the rest of the handmade crimefighting family—the same size, the same yarn hair.
And then the next week there’s another one—nearly identical to the first Robin-Dick doll, wearing the same outfit, but with an angry frown. Something in Dick’s chest sinks when he sees it. It’s not right. It’s not Jason.
It’s not Steph’s fault—she didn’t know Jason back then, she only knows what she’s heard about him and what she’s seen since he came back as the Red Hood and started giving them trouble.
Alfred must notice the look on Dick’s face whenever he picks up the doll while playing with Damian, because one morning he finds that Jason is different. His yarn hair is curlier, he has little pieces of fabric made to look like band-aids sewn onto his knees, and his frown is now a toothy grin. He’s perfect.
Dick stands there for a long time holding the little Jason doll and smiling, and then places him back on the shelf with the rest of his stuffed family. Damian’s family, even if the baby hasn’t meet most of them in the flesh. Hopefully one day he will.
Outside the windows of the penthouse, the sun has just set on Christmas Eve and snow is falling slowly through the black sky. Inside the fireplace is crackling and Dick is holding Damian beside a tall, sparkling Christmas tree decorated in red and gold. He thinks all of it would make a beautiful, heart-warming holiday scene if not for the angry Catwoman yelling at him.
He doesn’t blame her for being angry.
"I can’t believe you’re only telling me about this now,” she’s snarling. “I can’t believe he—”
"Bruce never knew about Damian. It’s not his fault,” Dick interjects. “It’s me you should be mad at—I should have told you sooner, you’re right.”
She jabs a sharp-nailed finger against his chest angrily. “And why didn’t you?”
“You’ve been busy with your new friends, Selina. We haven’t talked out of costume in ages. And Damian… he’s supposed to be a secret, or his life might be in danger.”
“That probably didn’t stop you from telling your hero friends. I thought we trusted each other.”
“I trust you. Your roommates are a different story. And after you told me how Harley and Ivy tried to pry Batman’s identity from you…” Selina opens her mouth indignantly, but before she can say anything Dick holds up his one free hand reassuringly and says, “I know you didn’t spill the secret. And again, I’m sorry. That’s why I’m introducing you to Damian now—and because… it looks like he might be with us for a long time. I’m not sure.”
“And here I was under the impression you just invited me over to share in holiday spirit and a glass of wine.” Selina sits down on the sofa, crossing her legs and smoothing her skirt, which Dick takes as meaning he is forgiven. Otherwise she’d be wasting no time storming out the door. “I could really use that wine, by the way.”
Dick sets Damian down and pours two glasses from the very expensive bottle Alfred left out for them. He refused to let Dick choose, apparently he doesn’t trust his taste in wine.
“Any word from your Robin that flew the coop?” asks Selina.
“Not yet,” Dick says heavily as he hands her the glass and sits down next to her. “It’s my fault. I screwed up, I drove him away. Tim was in such a bad place, he— he needed me to believe in him. And I didn’t.” He still doesn’t, if he’s honest with himself.
“You weren’t in such a good place either,” Selina reminds him gently.
“I trust him on his own, I do—he’s an adult now. I just wish he would call so we can know he’s okay. Alfred worries so much. We both do.” There’s a tugging on Dick’s pant leg, he leans down and pulls the demanding toddler onto his lap. Damian settles in contentedly, like he’s sitting on a throne. Dick can’t resist kissing him on top of the head. “I don’t think I would’ve been able to make it through the last few months if it weren’t for Damian.”
It’s funny, too—a couple months ago he thought the stress from taking care of a baby was what made him feel like he was crumbling apart, but looking back he thinks having Damian to love and love him in return, having that bright, sunny thing to revolve his life around so that all of himself doesn’t get sucked away by the dark city, is the only thing that held him together.
Some nights when he strips off the uniform feeling tired and hollow, those bad nights when patrol is like bailing out a sinking ship with a thimble, he heads upstairs to Damian’s room and the way the boy’s face lights up as he walks in, so glad to see him, makes everything else in the world disappear. He wonders if that’s what parenthood is.
"Can I hold him?” asks Selina. Dick shifts a disgruntled, clinging Damian over onto her lap. He pouts unhappily, but he allows her to hold him with only minimal squirming. "He sure is heavy, isn’t he?"
"What’s wrong?” Dick asks after a minute. Selina’s been silent, looking at Damian like she’s trying to figure out a puzzle.
"Nothing, I was just— How old is he?"
“Selina—“ He knows what she’s getting at.
But Selina won’t let him interrupt her. She narrows her eyes at Dick, asking more firmly, “How old?”
He sighs. “Just over a year. He turned one last month.”
She’s doing calculations in her head, Dick can tell. She’s frowning. Finally, she says, “So Bruce and I weren’t together at the time, not really. I don’t think. It’s close, though. Very close.”
"You know he wouldn’t do that to you."
"I don’t. There’s still far too much I don’t know about Bruce, and it’s not like I can ask him.”
“He loved you, Selina. I know he did.”
Selina is quiet for a while. When she does speak again, it’s to Damian. “I suppose I’m almost your step-mommy in a way, aren’t I?” she tells the boy. And Dick chuckles a little because, oh, how much Talia would hate the idea.
Selina gently smoothes back Damian’s soft hair, and he bites her thumb. Smiling and shaking her head, she pulls her thumb out of his mouth and reaches out to wipe the drool off on Dick’s shirt.
“I would have brought the boy a present, but as you know…” she tells Dick, pursing her lips and shrugging. “Next Christmas, maybe. And one year I’ll have to bring him a kitten, once he’s old enough to handle it properly.” She bops Damian on the forehead. “Sorry, kiddo—have to wait until you’re past this biting phase.”
He responds by trying to bite her again, and then grumpily crawling back into Dick's lap. He can never stand being held by anyone else for too long.
“So, what are you doing for the rest of your Christmas Eve, Selina?”
“I have a few errands planned. So many things go unguarded this night, they’re easy pickings.” She laughs at the look on Dick’s face. “Kidding. Mostly. I’ll probably head back home, check how the renovations are coming along, wait for the girls to get back.”
“You’re welcome to spend it here, if you want. I’m having some friends and their kids over for dinner—the more, the merrier.” Roy’s bringing Lian, and the two of them should be walking in any minute now. Same with Donna and Garth, and Wally’s bringing his family a bit later. Dick wants Damian’s first Christmas in Gotham to be a happy occasion filled with warmth and laughter and family.
“Thanks for the offer, but I’m afraid I have to get going.” Selina stands and pats Damian on the head. “He’s a cute kid.”
“Wait,” says Dick, reaching for the bottle of wine. “A toast, before you go.”
“To absent friends,” says Dick, raising his glass. She smiles and clinks her glass against his.
It was a stupid thing to do. A stupid, reckless decision made in a moment of weakness and desperation.
A mistake Bruce would have chewed him out for—but Bruce isn’t here, he’s still dead, because Dick was wrong. The body he threw into the Lazarus pit wasn’t Bruce. The Batman he resurrected was an impostor. He was crazed, and deadly, and could have cost Dick everything.
It was luck that he managed to get an emergency transmission out to Alfred, warning him to hide himself and Damian in the panic room in the bunker, after the impostor stole Dick’s Batplane and flew off towards Gotham.
Dick hasn’t been able to take a full breath in hours, not until right now—the monster in the Batsuit is tied up safely and rapidly decaying as it waits to be taken away by the Justice League, and Dick is opening the the reinforced vault door of the panic room to see Alfred and Damian alive and well.
“Young Damian is perfectly fine,” Alfred says before Dick can ask. “He managed to sleep through the entire ordeal.” And Damian is, amazingly, still asleep in Alfred’s arms.
Dick gathers up both of them in a fierce hug, grinning so wide he feels like his face is going to break.
“I’m— I’m so sorry,” he stammers as he releases Alfred. “It’s all my fault, I was so— You two could’ve—“
Alfred pats him on the shoulder reassuringly. “Surely all’s well that ends well, Master Dick?”
Dick will agree once his hands stop shaking.
Each month, Dick and Roy schedule an afternoon playdate outing for Damian and Lian… and themselves. Their last field trip was to a petting zoo on a farm in the countryside, and they got rained out after an hour. Today the weather in Gotham is much more promising and they’re enjoying it at the regular zoo.
It’s all Dick can do to hold onto a squirming Damian as they look at the lion exhibit. He can’t tell the difference between the last zoo and this one, he doesn’t understand why he can’t pet the big cats like he had pet the goats and the sheep.
“Can’t wait until Damian’s old enough to know why he can’t go near the carnivores,” Dick remarks, looking down at Lian and nearly jealous at how good she’s being, holding Roy’s hand and standing at the edge of the lion habitat without trying to climb in like Damian.
Roy snorts. “You should be careful what you wish for, they grow up way too fast. Close your eyes for a second and when you open them again your kid’s already in kindergarten. And it sure doesn’t get any easier.” He nudges Lian. “Hey, little troublemaker, did you tell Uncle Dick what you did at recess this week?”
Lian launches into a retelling of how she confronted some older bullies from the grade above hers who pushed down a boy in her class and stole his gummy bears. Dick listens intently, nodding often, while Roy looks on proudly. He mutters “that’s my girl,” more than once.
The crowd around the lion exhibit thins enough for Steph to finally wedge her way through with Damian’s stroller, only bumping into a few legs. Dick’s been bringing her along to these field trips as extra adult supervision and it’s already paid off during two of Damian’s meltdowns and that time they almost lost Lian in the hubbub of that baseball game they went to a couple months ago. Steph was the one who found Lian in the ladies’ bathroom, and Roy had been so relieved he was almost brought to tears.
“Please tell me it’s almost snack time.” She crosses her arms over the stroller’s handlebar, leaning down against it. “I could really go for one of those big pretzels."
Lian perks up at those words. She tugs on her dad’s hand excitedly. “Pretzels!”
“Alfred packed us some—“ But Dick is quickly shot down.
He and Roy share helpless looks and shrugs.
“And then after we have to head over to the aviary and see the tropical birds,” Steph is saying. “They remodelled it a couple months ago and it’s supposed to be the best exhibit. Would you like that, Dami? Birds?”
“Bur,” Damian parrots as he’s buckled into the stroller. “Burd.”
Dick beams, so proud he feels like he’s glowing with it. Another new, complete word. The list is growing quickly, new additions added more and more frequently. No, and me and mine, and poo—a very helpful hint for when to change his diaper—and dog, and bye. He still hasn’t gotten the k sound in Dick yet, but it’s only a matter of time.
He leans down to tweak Damian’s nose playfully. “Yes, the birds. You love birds, don’t you? Can you say it again? Bird?”
“Burd.” The boy puffs out his chubby cheeks in a grumpy, impatient expression. Like he’s saying, get a move on, Grayson.
Lian practically dances through the doors of the aviary, Steph racing after her with the stroller. Roy and Dick are left behind in the dust and have to jog to catch up.
A camera is pulled out, and Steph decides to play photographer for Lian and Roy. While they’re waiting their turn to take a picture in front of the very popular toucans, Dick takes over pushing Damian’s stroller. He wanders to a quiet corner of the building, where the only sounds are the birds chirping faintly and the soft rustling of wings. It’s soothing. It reminds Dick of the Batcave, in a way, and Bruce.
Damian flaps his arms like he thinks he can fly up out of his stroller and into the trees with the birds. So determined.
“Look, Dick, it’s you!” Roy says as he walks up with Lian, pointing at a black bird-of-paradise with blue wings hanging upside-down from a tree branch. Lian giggles. “You know, I always thought your costume must’ve been inspired by some bird, just like your first—“
“Quiet,” Dick hisses, punching him in the arm. Roy just laughs and punches him back harder.
Steph is lagging behind. There’s a perturbed expression on her face when she catches up to them. She tugs Dick’s head down by the ear so she can whisper to him, “Do those two guys by the macaws look familiar to you?”
He scans the area for who she’s talking about, and— “Yes.”
Dick always recognizes a face he’s punched. The two men are dressed like tourists, but they’re wearing white gloves—they work for Penguin, and they’re eyeing the security cameras much too intently. Something’s being planned.
Steph’s come to the same conclusion. “Looks to me like they’re scouting the place out.”
“We need to find out why,” says Dick. Though he has a hunch. Penguin, aviary, rare birds. It doesn’t take a genius.
“What’s going on?” Roy asks, pausing as Lian tries to drag him over to a nearby souvenir stand.
“Following a lead,” answers Dick. "We’ll be right back.”
Dick and Steph push Damian’s stroller through the crowd and fall into step perfectly as their undercover identities without having to discuss it. Married couple with a baby, certainly nothing suspicious or threatening about that. Steph chatters away in a strong southern accent, which is kind of strange, but Dick isn’t going to argue with creative inspiration.
“Ex-cuse us,” Steph drawls, as rudely as one can say it. She shoves past the men with the stroller, hitting their shins so hard that they don’t notice when she sticks a tiny tracker-slash-listening-device onto one of them. The other one is jostled into dropping his phone, and Dick manages to tag him with a second device in the act of apologizing and picking it up for him.
Once they’ve pushed their way to the front of the peacock exhibit, Dick takes out his phone and has a fake conversation with his made-up business associate Alf about the dozen or so reasons that moving their golf game to Tuesday is unacceptable. What he’s actually doing is listening in on the conversation between their suspects through the planted bugs.
The men are irritated at getting bumped into, casting dark looks in Steph’s direction, but they’re not suspicious. They don’t get spooked and leave and make this little investigation much harder than it needs to be, they just scoot over far enough away that they feel safely out of earshot. Right where Dick wants them. It isn’t long before he hears exactly what he needs to foil this soon-to-be heist—a day and time. He gives Steph a thumbs-up.
And not a second too soon. Their perps spot a security guard rounding the corner and now they’re definitely spooked. They make a hasty getaway, a mixture of nonchalant and nervous that makes Dick snicker. It’s the opposite of subtle. Penguin really needs to get smarter henchmen, but then this wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.
As the suspects pass by in a hurry, Damian tosses down his sippy cup of juice. It bursts open at their feet and one of the men slips in it and falls backward, flailing and knocking his associate down with him.
They scramble back up onto their feet and rush away, embarrassed. Dick is fighting back so much laughter that his chest hurts, and Steph doesn’t bother fighting it back at all. She laughs so hard her eyes go wet with tears.
Steph kneels down and tousles the boy’s hair, still laughing. “Damian, you devious little genius. We should take you crimefighting with us sometime, you’re a natural.”
“Burd,” Damian points at the tropical bird plushie in Lian’s arms as she and Roy rejoin them. He scowls jealously. “Burd.”
“Yes, of course we’ll get you a bird,” agrees Dick, even though Damian has more stuffed animals than any child could know what to do with. “You earned it.”
It’s been the better part of a year since Dick has seen Tim. When he does, it’s a quarter past midnight on a rooftop a stone’s throw from Wayne Tower. They’re both in costume—Tim in one Dick has never seen him in before, and as Tim paces back and forth thinking, his black cape fluttering around him, Dick notices with a pang how much he has grown.
Tim is taller now, and his face below the cowl looks so tired, like he hasn’t had a single good night’s sleep since he left Gotham.
But now isn’t the time. Something is going on tonight, something big. Dick’s been doing this long enough to just know by the way the night is unfolding. Tim’s brought some trouble with him back to Gotham, but won’t tell him exactly what. All he’s said is that it’s Ra’s al Ghul, and, well, that’s certainly enough to put Dick on highest alert.
Tim has a sharp, focused look on his face, a quiet energy that Dick has seen from Bruce a thousand times before. Tim is formulating, planning his next move and each move after that.
“You’re a target,” Tim mutters. “So is…” His voice trails off, too quiet to hear. And then he stops pacing abruptly, his head snapping around to look at Dick. “And the son. B’s son. The baby.”
“You know about him?” Dick blurts out, surprised.
“Yes. I— I know about a lot of things, I just— I’ll explain later, okay? Right now both of you are in danger. Ra’s has his assassins hunting you down as we speak.”
“Do you really think Ra’s would send assassins to attack his grandson?”
“Or to abduct him. Or just distract us because he knows we can’t take that chance.”
“And we can’t,” Dick affirms,
“Go,” Tim tells him. “I have the rest handled. Just stay alive—I’ll call you with details.”
Dick was already moving before Tim opened his mouth, pulling out his grappling gun and leaping off the edge of the rooftop. He just prays he’s not too late.
Tim won’t be calling him, that he knows. However Tim is planning the endgame for this case, it doesn’t include Dick or anyone else.
As soon as Dick knows Damian is safe, he’ll go find Tim, just to make sure he hasn’t gotten in over his head. Dick has a bad feeling, and he isn’t going to risk losing Tim after just getting him back.
It turns out he’s too late to save Damian… But what he didn’t know is that Alfred hired Supergirl to babysit for the evening. Unconscious ninja are strewn about the floor of Damian’s nursery when Dick arrives, and the baby is contentedly listening to his favourite bedtime story. Dick gives himself just one minute to hug Damian tightly in relief and thank Kara and then he’s out the window. Damian is in safe hands, and his other brother needs him more right now.
He isn’t too late to save Tim, catching him seconds before he hits the pavement along with the shattered glass from the window. Tim is heavier than Dick remembers and he grips the grappling line tightly, praying their momentum won’t be off, but through some miracle he manages to land them both safely on the next rooftop.
Having Tim back is more than a relief it’s— it’s the way things are supposed to be. Dick doesn’t know how he even managed all this time without Tim. He can’t remember when he last laughed this much or this loudly, and it feels good.
There was a worry twisting in the pit of his stomach, that after Bruce’s death and the fight that ended with Tim storming off, that things were too broken between them. That, even if Tim came back, all that time they spent apart would leave their relationship strained. That he wouldn’t trust Dick anymore, and they would never work together or talk like they used to. But as soon as Tim woke up, the words came rushing out from both of them. There’s a lot they need to catch up on.
Tim is on mandatory bed rest until Alfred deems his wounds sufficiently healed. That gives them plenty of time to talk things over, and it gives Tim plenty of cuddle time with Damian.
Or so Dick hoped. He really wants to see his younger brothers getting along, but Tim’s still sore and Damian is nothing but punching and biting and kicking. It’ll take him some time to warm up to his new big brother. Dick is sure that once they get to know each other, they’ll be inseparable. Just like Damian and himself.
Right now Damian’s favourite thing to do is smack and poke at Tim’s colourfully bruised, fractured cheekbone and chortle at how it makes him wince.
“No, Damian,” Dick chides, pulling Damian off of Tim’s lap and onto his own before he can do more damage. Dick is wedged beside Tim on the guest room bed, both of them sitting up against the headboard. “You’re hurting Tim. That’s not how you treat family. That’s not how you treat anyone. You gotta play nice, little Robin.”
Tim’s mouth hangs open in shock. “I am so betrayed,” he says numbly, staring straight ahead. “Robin? Seriously, Dick?”
“It’s just a nickname. Besides, Steph was the one who started dressing him up as—“
“I can’t believe you replaced me,” Tim interrupts, pointing a finger at Dick in mock accusation. “And with a baby.”
Dick is having a hard time stifling his laughter. “I can’t believe you feel so threatened by a baby.”
“He has been trying to bite my fingers off since we first met,” Tim reminds him. As if to prove Tim right, Damian bares his teeth at his new brother.
“I’ve missed you,” says Dick, once they’re done joking.
“Right back at you.”
“Tim, I’m—“ Dick stops, swallows. Tries to get right the words he’s been running through over and over in his head for when he saw Tim again. “I’m sorry about what happened. About everything I said. I should’ve—“
“Don’t. You don’t have to.” Tim ducks his head, bashful. His hair flops over his eyes. It’s longer now, almost too long, and he keeps having to push it back. “It’s fine, we’re fine, I promise.”
Dick smiles wistfully. They aren’t fine quite yet, neither of them. But they will be. “I checked out the parts of the manor you told me to.”
“And you were right. Not just about the paintings— I— I found a whole secret passage in the library, one that none of us knew about. I didn’t finish investigating it, I thought I’d wait a day or two until Alfred lets you off house arrest and we can check it out together.”
“You actually expect me to wait? Let’s go, Dick. Right now. We can be there and back before he ever notices.” Tim is already swinging his legs over the edge of the bed and grabbing at the floor for shoes. Dick yanks him back by his shirt collar.
“Nuh-uh, Timothy, I’m not helping you sneak out. Alfred will stick me with diaper duty ’til Damian’s potty trained. Everything will still be there once your stitches heal a bit more.”
“It better be. I’ve waited too long.” Tim slumps back against the pillows, crossing his arms disappointedly, but when he glances over at Dick his eyes are bright with joy. “How excited are you? Do you realize what this means?”
“Yes.” Dick strokes Damian’s hair as the boy starts to drift asleep against his chest. He is excited, beyond belief, but somewhere in all that hope there’s a worry about how things will change and— It makes him uneasy. “Bruce is alive, and we’re going to find a way to bring him back.”
A while back Dick heard about suspected vigilante sightings in Hong Kong, and he wondered whether it could have been Tim or Cass. But the info was sketchy and he had too many responsibilities to abandon chasing a rumour. Even in the small chance that it was Tim or Cass—especially Cass—he would have a hell of a time finding them if they didn’t want to be found, much less convincing them to come home.
He wonders, though. He still thinks about it.
Tim wasn’t anywhere near Hong Kong, Dick finds out when he shares the rumours with him. Which leaves the possibility…
It would be so great, such a relief, to have Cass back home. When Tim returned to Gotham it felt like one of the many missing pieces of Dick’s family sliding back into place, and now he doesn’t think he’ll be able to rest until they’re all together and here for Damian, so the boy can be surrounded by family like he deserves.
Not to mention that Dick needs Cass to help him tell Damian the story of Cinderella. He can’t do it without her. It’s their story.
He mentions something to this effect to Tim, and it can’t be more than a week later that he returns from an overnight monitor duty shift on the Watchtower and finds Tim and Cass sitting on the sofa and watching morning cartoons with Damian sandwiched between them in well-worn Robin pyjamas.
For a moment Dick can just stand there in surprise, blinking slowly and wondering whether he fell asleep at his post and this is just him dreaming. Tim glances over at him with a sly smile. He has dark circles under his eyes, he looks tired. Tired like someone who took a trip across the globe instead of sleeping through the night.
Cass lifts a hand in greeting. “Hi,” she says, as though it’s only been a couple of days since they’ve seen each other instead of months. “Long time…”
“No see. Yeah. I’m so glad you’re back,” says Dick warmly, squeezing her shoulder. “It hasn’t been the same without you.” He doesn’t pester her about why she left or why she stayed away, all that matters is that she’s here now. And Cass is… Cass. Maybe one day she’ll tell him about it. “Are you going to be staying here for a while?”
Cass nods. She’s petting Damian’s hair like he’s a cat. “I think so. Tim said that… Damian needs me here to be his big sister, and tell him about Cinderella.”
“He definitely does.”
She frowns. Shakes her head. “No. Right now he needs a new… diaper. He’s going to poop.”
“What? No, that’s not right, he always makes a face before—“ And there it is. Dick grimaces. “Oh, great.”
“Poo,” says Damian, wriggling around uncomfortably and scowling, reaching his arms up to Dick.
Cass is amazing with Damian. It very quickly becomes clear that she can read baby body language just as well as she can read adults, maybe even better. She defuses two toddler meltdowns in the first afternoon, like magic.
She knows when Damian is going to cry long before he does, and she knows whether it’s because he’s sleepy or hungry, or he wants to wear his red socks instead of white ones, or because there isn’t an adequate amount of bubbles in his bath. Tim dubs her with the title Baby Whisperer.
And she has a knack for teaching Damian new words—his vocabulary explodes with new additions like “please”, which he almost never uses, and “gimme,“ which he uses entirely too often, and words like “happy” and “mad”, which he seems to use indiscriminately, but then again he’s a very volatile, moody baby.
Maybe Cass so good at it because still she remembers learning her own first words, or maybe it’s because she spends so much time reading to him. She’s his favourite for story time. She doesn’t do silly, exaggerated voices, but she reads at the perfect speed and she never grows weary or bored of the children’s books. They weren’t a part of her childhood, and she finds them as fascinating as Damian does.
When Tim reads Damian his favourite book from when he was a kid, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, the boy listens grudgingly, clicking his tongue often and smacking Tim’s hand when he turns the pages too fast. When Cass reads it to him, he hangs on her every word intently, hardly tearing his eyes from her face long enough to glance at the pictures, and turns the pages himself, carefully and with a quiet awe.
One afternoon she and Barbara take Damian to the library, and they return with as many picture books as they can carry, all hand-picked by Damian and all, unsurprisingly, about animals. His favourite is the one featuring bats, so much so that they have to hunt down and buy him his own copy or suffer his heartbreak when the due date rolls around.
Damian loves Cass so much that Dick wonders if he should be jealous, but when he hears Damian yell “Cah” or sees the two of them sitting and flipping through a new book together, all he can do is grin.
Dick wakes up to the sound of Damian yelling. He bolts out of bed instinctively, but stops when he gets to the doorway of the nursery. He’s not the first one to the scene.
He keeps forgetting that Cass and Tim are really here. That they’re home now.
Damian is flailing on the ground in the middle of a tantrum, his face bright red. Tim is kneeling down next to him and tries to cheer him up by lifting the tiny Superman shirt and blowing a raspberry on Damian’s tummy, but in return he gets kicked hard in the eye by a baby foot. Then there are two of them flailing on the ground.
That’s probably going to bruise, Dick thinks with a sympathetic wince. Damian’s a strong little guy.
Cass is on the other side of the room, rooting around in the toy chest. She pulls out a green stuffed cat, a cow, and a mouse, and then decides they’re all wrong and throws them back in. Finally she emerges with one of the Robin-Tim dolls Steph made, the red and black one.
When she sets it down beside Damian he sits up and stops crying immediately.
"He likes the toy version of me more than real me," Tim says dryly, poking at his swelling eye gingerly.
“Where is Tim’s ear?” asks Cass, pointing at the doll in Damian’s arms. “One is gone.”
“Damian bit it off a while back.” Dick bites back a laugh at how Tim’s eyebrows rocket upwards. “I keep forgetting to ask Alfred to fix it. This isn’t the first time it’s happened. I think the other Tim is missing one, too.”
Cass looks around at the dolls scattered around the room, at the Spoiler and the Nightwing lying on the floor, two pixie-booted Robins poking out of the toy chest, the Batmen and Batgirls sitting up on their shelf. “There are… a lot of these. Where are they from?”
“Steph. Alfred helps her sometimes, but she’s really gotten the hang of it herself. She said she’s working on new ones of both of you in your new uniforms.“ Damian’s going to be upset about the new Tim having a little cowl instead of ears for him to chew on.
Tim, the good sport that he is, plops down on the floor beside Damian and picks up a toy airplane, making a valiant attempt to play with the boy. He makes some very impressive whoosh-ing plane noises as he swoops the toy in the air over Damian’s head.
Damian shuts him down in seconds. With surprising accuracy for a baby, he swings his Robin plushie by the neck to smack the plane right out Tim’s hand.
“I don’t get why he still doesn’t like me,” Tim grumbles. “I’m great with kids. And I’m the only one he hates this much. He has some kind of baby vendetta against me and I haven’t done anything to him.”
“Just give it a little more time,” is all the advice Dick can offer. He knows he’s said it before.
“Cass has only been here a few days, and he already likes her more." Tim watches jealously as she picks up Damian and kisses his pudgy cheek. “He screams in my face when I try that.”
“He does like you,” says Cass. “Lots. He thinks you’re funny… and that you make funny faces and noises, like when he pinches you. But he doesn’t like when you hold him… because your arms feel too bony.“ Cass picks up the doll version of herself from the shelf and offers it to Damian. He drops the Tim like a hot potato. “And he just likes me better. So…”
They have a full house that weekend. Tim and Cass and Steph, and even Barbara pulls herself away from her computers for a few hours to join in their movie marathon. Dick feels like his heart could burst, he’s so full of joy at being surrounded by his people.
But his happiness is nothing compared to Alfred’s. That pleased smile never leaves the old man’s face, he’s in such a good mood that he cooks them all pizza, even the weird artichoke heart and Canadian bacon combination Tim loves, and they actually manage to coerce him into sitting down and relaxing in front of the TV with them, something unheard of.
Dick jolts awake as the movie credits are rolling, he has a crick in his neck and he’s squished between Tim and Cass but it’s still kind of comfy and he doesn’t want to wake them, so he doesn’t move. He sits there, relishing the warmth and closeness and waits to drift back asleep.
Alfred is quietly stacking up their plates and glasses, and Barbara is draping a blanket over Cass and Steph, both of them slumped against each other and snoring softly. She shares a smile with Dick and then she turns away, heading out of the room and back to work. Crime never sleeps, as Bruce was so fond of saying.
But crimefighters need to, at least sometimes. The past few nights of patrol have been exhausting—mostly from all the long games of rooftop tag they’ve been having, to be honest.
Tim is fast asleep with a snoozing Damian snuggled up against his chest, which is something of a miracle. Dick hopes it’s because Damian has finally bonded with Tim, and not just because Tim’s wearing a sweatshirt of Dick’s. Most of Tim’s clothes are too short on him now, he grew quite a bit while he was away, and he’s been borrowing a lot from Dick even though they’re still too baggy on him. He hasn’t grown that much, not yet.
Dick shuts his eyes, smiling and content. They’ll have to do this movie night thing again. Except next time, hopefully they’ll have even more family joining them.
“I’ve been thinking…” Dick says to Tim one day as they’re sitting on the floor playing with Damian. He’s holding the Robin-Jason plushie, frowning down at it. “I know it seems like a really bad idea, but just hear me out, okay?”
Tim gives a little shrug-nod gesture, listening as he helps Damian stack blocks.
“I think… Damian and Jason should meet, at least once. I think it’s important.” Dick is forced to hand over the doll when Damian lets out a demanding grunt and toddles over, yanking it away from him. He carefully places it atop a giant stuffed turtle, all part of his elaborate setup that makes sense only to him. It’s how he plays. Dick smiles and tousles the baby’s hair. “Jason’s his brother, and it won’t be fair if they don’t get a chance to know each other… even if it doesn’t lead anywhere, and they’ll never be family. They should at least meet each other.”
Tim’s staring at him. “Are you serious? Crap, you’re serious.” He closes his eyes, sighing and pinching the bridge of his nose. Damian takes the opportunity to steal his cell phone lying on the floor by his foot and put it at the top of the block tower, the pièce de résistance. “You actually want him to know about Bruce’s son? He’s tried to kill Bruce, he’s tried to kill all of us, several times. How do you think he’ll react to news like that? What if—”
Dick shakes his head. “Jason won’t hurt Damian.” He knows Jason’s done so many horrible things, crossed so many lines, but— he knew Jason, once. He knows Jason. Jason would never take out his anger on a little kid.
“I guess I’ll have to take your word for that,” Tim mutters. “But… Okay. If this is what you want to do, fine, just tell me how you’re planning to play it out. Are we busting Jason out of jail for a playdate, or—“
“No. That’s… too dangerous for now. We’re going to take Damian to him.”
“Dick, he’s in Arkham.”
“I know. That’s why I’m going to need your help. And Cass—I already talked to her about it, we have a plan.” Dick tilts his head questioningly. “You in?”
“Of course,” Tim says without pause. Dick can always count on Tim, just like he can always count on him to rise to a challenge. “Can’t let you guys pull off something like that without me, can I?”
As Batman, Dick is granted a certain level of clearance through the Commissioner, but it’s not nearly enough freedom to get him a private, unmonitored visit with such a high-risk patient. They’d never allow it.
With Cass and Tim on his side, however, bypassing security is no problem. Cass deals with the guards as quickly as Tim deals with the cameras and electronic locks, it’s almost too easy.
Doesn’t stop Dick from being nervous. Arkham Asylum is the worst possible place to bring a baby, and if anything goes wrong… He tries not to think about it.
“Five minutes,” Cass reminds Dick outside the cell door. He nods, and slips inside.
Jason’s lying on the little bed in the corner that’s almost too short for him, looking up at the ceiling with his arms tucked under his head. He doesn’t seem too concerned about Batman walking into the room, he doesn’t even glance over.
“You know, the only bright side of being stuck in here is that I haven’t had to see any of your faces.” Jason sighs, and lifts his head. His eyes are red, and tired, and unhappy. Even after everything he’s done, it’s hard to see him here in this drab little cell, wearing the clothes of an Arkham inmate. “What do you want?”
“I have someone I want you to meet.”
Dick unbuckles the straps of the baby harness holding Damian snug and comfy against his back. The boy napped through the entire trip into the asylum, hidden safely under Batman’s cape.
When Jason sees the baby in Dick’s arms he sits up slowly, his eyes narrowed dangerously.
“The next words out of your mouth better not be trying to convince me that kid is mine, because there is no way—“
“This is Damian,” Dick says. Damian latches onto his ear and glares right back at Jason. “He’s Bruce and Talia’s son.”
Jason tilts his head, sizing up the boy, then lets out a bark of a laugh. “Oh. Yeah. He does look a lot like Talia, doesn’t he.” Dick must look quite surprised at Jason not being surprised, because he smirks and laughs again. “Me and her keep in touch. I’ve known about the kid for a while, but I’ve never seen him.”
Through the walls there’s the muffled sound of yelling, maybe screaming, from another part of the asylum. At least it doesn’t sound like laughing. Dick holds Damian a bit tighter.
“Can I hold him?” Jason asks. By his grin it’s clear that he’s just goading Dick. “Nah, you’re not letting me anywhere near him, are you?”
Dick doesn’t say anything. The smile drops off Jason’s face and he’s suddenly, startlingly angry. His mouth twisted in a sneer, hands curling into the beginnings of fists. “You know I’d never hurt a baby, right?” He stands abruptly. Takes a step closer. “I’d never hurt a baby. I’ve killed people for hurting kids.”
He takes another step closer. Dick doesn’t move.
“I know, Jason,” he says calmly. “You can’t hold him, not this time.”
The sudden mood swings are worrisome. The doctors here are supposed to be helping Jason, but it’s not working. The only thing this place is doing is stretching his patience like an elastic about to snap.
Jason takes a deep breath through his nose and lets it out in a huff. “Fine.” He frowns, raising his eyes to meet Dick’s. “This time? What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means…” Dick decides to get down to the point. There’s no easy way to break this news. “Bruce is alive. He’s gone for now—we’re not sure when he’ll be back but… we’re working on it. We think it’ll be soon.”
Jason stares at him, his face blank and his eyes empty—unreadable. He sits down on the bed that squeaks under his weight. He clenches his hands tightly on his knees and mutters something to himself that Dick can’t hear.
Dick almost wishes Jason would yell or scream or swear instead, or even sneer in indifference, anything would be better than this lost silence, the bowed head and shaking shoulders.
“I thought you deserved to know. When he does come back, a lot of things are going to change. It could mean some new beginnings… if we let it. It won’t be easy, but—“
Jason lifts his head, laughing, and Dick realizes his shoulders weren’t shaking from crying like he thought.
“That’s an understatement,” Jason remarks, smirking. “How many second chances are you guys gonna give me? ‘Cause if I have the option, I’d rather just cash them all in for a pack of cigarettes or something. Seriously, when are any of you going to learn your lesson? Drake tried this already and I’m pretty sure he regrets it.”
“It’ll be different this time. This isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card. You’ve done horrible things, things we can’t just forget about. But, if you want, you have the opportunity to work your way to a better place. One step at a time, starting with moving you to a different facility. Arkham isn’t helping you—“
“You’re the one who locked me in here!” Jason shouts. The accusation rings loudly off the walls of the too-small cell.
“No,” scolds Damian, upset at the outburst. He points a chubby finger at Jason. “No.”
Jason blinks in surprise, too taken aback to be angry. “What?”
“No,” Dick says, “I didn’t. That wasn’t my decision. You don’t have to rot away in here, Jason. That’s not what Bruce would want—”
“Shut up about Bruce. Why are you really here, Grayson? I know it’s not about him.”
“For you. For Damian. For us. But mostly for Damian,” Dick admits, “I can’t stop remembering how things used to be before… how you used to be before. You would have been an amazing brother for Damian to have—I believe you still could be. I want him to know you, not just as an enemy or a memorial case in the cave.”
Jason snorts. ”That’ll never happen. How’s B gonna keep him in line if he can’t use me as a cautionary tale of what happens to bad Robins? Sure worked on Drake.”
“Damian is never going to be Robin.”
“I’ll check back in about ten years, see how sure you are then. He’s practically bred for the job.” Jason shakes his head knowingly. “Of course B came back to life—how could he stay dead when he has a kid’s life to ruin? A brand-new baby, all his own without him even having to fill out any adoption papers like for the rest of us. Can’t wait to see how the mission chews up and spits out this one when he’s a bit older—”
“Not another word about him,” Dick snaps, his voice slipping low into the Batman growl. It doesn’t scare Jason. It couldn’t possibly.
“You’re only mad because you know I’m right.”
The five minutes are almost up—Tim gives him a beep through his comm as a warning. Dick has to leave while he can. If he stays any longer, their escape will only be more difficult and put Damian in more danger.
“I’ll be back when we have more news about Bruce,” he tells Jason, buckling Damian back into his carrier. “I’m sure he’ll want to talk to you when he returns, Jason.”
“Jay,” Damian echoes as Dick is about to hide him underneath the cape.
Jason looks stunned. His face softens, and for the briefest of moments Dick catches a glimpse of the boy he used to know. “What— What did he just say?” he blurts out, standing up and reaching out a hand to grab Dick’s shoulder. “Wait. Stop. Say it again,” he tells Damian.
Dick brushes his hand away. “Next time, Jason. Next time you might even get to hold him.”
When Dick wakes up, Bruce is there. He knows this before he even opens his eyes.
Bruce is sitting in the armchair by his bedside, reading quietly to the toddler in his lap, like he’s been doing every day since Dick’s surgery. Dick’s been hearing his voice in his dreams.
He feels so foggy and floaty that he thinks he could still be dreaming. His head is swathed in bandages and when he tries to lift it off the pillow it feels as heavy as a cinderblock. He stops trying. It just makes him dizzier and his vision fuzzier.
He lies there enjoying the softness of the bed and the low, reassuring sound of Bruce’s voice. Bruce must have noticed he’s awake, but he continues reading the last few pages. Damian doesn’t tolerate anyone stopping a story midway through.
The moment the story is over, there’s nothing to distract Damian. He starts squirming and grunting, trying to slide off Bruce’s lap to the floor, but Bruce shushes him and pats his hair. The boy settles down, pressing his cheek against his father’s arm.
Damian is being held by his dad. His real dad. It’s exactly what Dick wished he could see, what he worried that Damian would never have. Damian is going to grow up knowing his father and Bruce is going to watch his son grow up. Everything is perfect.
Dick doesn’t realize he’s crying until he feels the warm tears rolling down his face and Bruce is reaching for a tissue from the bedside table.
"How is your head feeling?” he asks.
"Like I… got shot in the skull…” Dick cracks a weak grin. “Oh, wait…” Bruce doesn’t laugh. Of course he doesn’t. “How long have I been out?”
“It’s been almost three days since the surgery. You’ve woken up a few times since then, but only for a few minutes at a time, and you didn’t say much. You were barely cognizant, we were worried about swelling… It’s all right if you don’t remember,” Bruce says when all he gets from Dick is a blank look, but it’s clear by the concerned way his brow furrows that it’s not all right. It’s worrying him. “It could be the drugs. You’re on a very high dose of painkillers.”
Dick laughs, small and hoarse. He’s certainly noticed that already, and what great painkillers they are. “No, I… almost can. Remember. I thought I dreamt it.”
Bruce still looks worried, so Dick rattles off his name, birthday, and social security number to put him at ease. He can move his arms and legs, he can add two numbers together, his brain is working the way it should.
“I’m going to be fine, Bruce… It’s only a little brain surgery, nothing compared to being lost in time.” Fighting through the wave of dizziness, Dick tries to sit up. “We have a lot to talk about—Gotham, Batman, the Justice League… and babies…”
Bruce pushes him by the shoulder back down against the pillows, gentle and firm at the same time. “We do, but not right now. You need rest. I’m going to let Alfred know you’re awake. No leaving that bed.”
He’s too tired to argue. “Yessir.”
Bruce turns to leave, carrying Damian with him, but the second he steps through the doorway the boy flails in his arms and fusses. “Dih!” he demands, sticking his bottom lip out in a stubborn pout. “Wan’ Dih!”
Now it’s Bruce who’s too tired to argue. Sighing, he sets Damian down beside Dick on the bed. Damian immediately crawls up towards Dick’s head so he can poke at his bandages, yank on his nose and tug his ears.
Bruce frowns. He probably expected Damian to cuddle up with Dick for a nap, not beat up his face. “Should I—“
“It’s okay. He’s just missed me a lot.” Dick is used to this treatment from the grabby baby. Damian isn’t hurting him. He’ll calm down soon. “And he’s a bit spoiled, sorry. My fault.”
“He’s perfect,” Bruce insists. Dick loves the way Bruce looks at Damian, with so much softness and warmth. He’s a man normally too guarded and careful with his feelings, but it's clear he already loves his new son with his whole heart. It makes Dick regret not being awake to see Bruce meet Damian for the first time—hopefully Barbara or Tim had that special moment secretly filmed. “A beautiful boy. I’m… thankful to be here, to be able to know him and have a part in his life.”
“Me too,” Dick whispers against Damian’s ear, after Bruce is gone.
Bruce is good at delivering bad news, in his own blunt way. He doesn’t drag it out or tiptoe around it, he does it quickly like ripping off a band-aid. Sometimes it’s not ideal, but right now Dick is glad for it.
The sooner he accepts it, the easier it will be.
Dick has a laptop open, watching cartoons with Damian and laughing whenever the boy laughs—Alfred has approved him for sitting up in bed, a welcome improvement—when Bruce comes in to tell him the news. The look on the man’s face has the laughter dying in Dick’s throat, and he shuts the computer immediately even though it makes Damian huff in outrage.
“Talia called, while you were still out from the surgery. Damian is staying with us for another two weeks, and then she’s coming to pick him up.”
Dick frowns. “Oh.” It’s not exactly a surprise. He knew it was coming, and soon. Talia had called about a month back telling him as much, even if she couldn’t yet give him a date. She said she was working on building a new home for her and Damian, somewhere beautiful and remote where they could be safe and happy once the last of the League’s traitors could be rooted out.
He forces his frown into a smile, pulling Damian close so he can nuzzle his soft dark hair and not have to look at Bruce.
“Hear that, baby D? You’ll get to see your mom soon. It’s been way too long, hasn’t it? I’m so happy for you.”
Bruce stands there helplessly, watching them with a troubled, unhappy expression. Looking like he wants to say something more but can’t get the words out.
He leaves without saying anything. He’s good at breaking bad news, sometimes, but he’s never good with what comes afterwards. It’s okay. Dick needs some time alone with Damian, anyway.
Everyone else has plenty to say on the subject.
"You and Bruce need to work out a custody agreement with Talia, the more specific the better,” Barbara tells him over lunch when she comes to visit his sorry self, still under house arrest from Alfred. “I can draft up the legal documents, but you need to get Bruce to talk to me about it.”
"What’s the point, Babs? I don’t think the al Ghuls care too much about our laws."
"No, but they care about keeping their word,” she says. "Are you going to be okay, Dick?"
He nods, stirring his soup slowly with no appetite. ”Yeah. Yeah, I think so.”
"You know it’s not forever, right?” she asks. He nods again. It’s not a good enough answer, so she gives him that look over the top of her glasses, the stern one that makes it impossible to forget she used to be a librarian. “I’m going to talk to Bruce about this. I know it’s hard, but you should too.”
Dick tries, but… Bruce never seems to be around. He has no doubt the man visits, but only while he’s sleeping. There’s no point faking and trying to catch Bruce in the act because he would know. They’ve played this game countless times before, with countless other injuries and difficult conversations neither of them have wanted to face.
It’s easier to talk to Tim and Cass, who have been spending most of their days keeping him company at his bedside so he doesn’t explode from the boredom and restlessness and escape through the window. They’ve been playing a lot of board games.
“Wasn’t Talia living in Metropolis for a while?” Tim asks as he destroys Dick at yet another game of checkers. “Think she’ll ever decide to move back? That’s really close by.”
“I think she has her heart set on an island.”
"You know, if Bruce was going to have a baby with someone, I’d always hoped it would be Selina. At least she lives in Gotham. And she likes us.” He smiles wryly. “Think that’s why Damian hates me so much? He knows how many of his family’s secret bases I’ve blown up?”
"He doesn’t hate you," Dick asserts. They’ve been getting along really well lately. Tim actually got Damian to eat all his mashed peas yesterday, without getting any thrown at him. A huge feat, for anyone.
"I know. That was a joke,” Tim says, rolling his eyes mildly. He bites his lip, looking to Cass for support before he says, "Me and Cass and Barbara, we were— We all thought that you’d… fight more, to keep Damian."
“How could I do that? Talia’s his mom. He needs his mom.” Dick could never try to keep Talia away from her son, not now that he has an idea of what it would feel like. “We’ve never seen eye-to-eye, but… She’s a good mom, I know it. She'd do anything for him. If… If Damian wants a unicorn, or a dragon, she’ll find a way to give him one. That’s how good she is.”
“I don’t think parenthood is measured in imaginary creatures.”
“I know. That was a joke,” Dick says flatly. Tim and Cass share concerned glances. “Everything’s going to be fine, you guys. It’s not going to be the same, but— it’s okay.”
“You’re not okay,” says Cass, poking him over the heart. “You’re… worrying.”
Of course he is. He’s been worrying about Damian for months, it comes with the job of surrogate dad. But now it’s different.
He worries about how big Damian’s going to be when he gets to hold him again. He worries… not that Damian won’t remember him—Dick will always be there for him, as a brother and a mentor and even a second father figure—but that Damian won’t remember any of this, all the time they spent together. He’s just a baby, how could he?
Dick is worried that he won’t mean as much to Damian as Damian means to him. That they’ll never be this close again.
He tries to explain all this to Steph. Other than him and Alfred, she’s spent the most time with Damian. She’s been a huge help through all of this—just like she is now, helping pack some of Damian’s favourite toys, the ones he can’t live without, to take with him when he leaves with Talia.
Steph laughs, trying to hide it behind her fist. Not the reaction he was expecting.
“Sorry, you’re just such a dad. The clingiest kind of dad. I bet you cry on Damian’s first day of kindergarten.” She claps him on the shoulder, serious. “You’re going to be okay. Nothing is going to change between you and Damian—he loves you too much, he’s imprinted on you like a baby duckling. It’s not like you’re not saying goodbye forever, none of us are. You’re… You’re not giving him away, or—“
Dick cringes. He had totally forgotten—He wasn’t trying to— “Crap. Steph, I didn’t mean—“
“No, it’s fine,” Steph insists, waving his concern away, but her jaw is tight and her eyes look sad. “I didn’t mean it like that, either. This is completely different. I gave away my baby, but… she wasn’t really mine. For a while I thought maybe she was—she could be—but…” She shakes her head. “It’s different. Damian is yours, as much as he is theirs.”
She looks down at the three-legged, juice-stained stuffed giraffe she’s holding—one of Damian’s favourites—and sighs.
“God, I’m going to miss the little brat, too. At least I’ve got these scars to remember him by.” She lifts up her hand to show Dick the toothmarks that he still can't see, but she always insists are there.
Dick picks up the smiling Nightwing doll off the shelf filled with the rest of his doll-family. “So, how many of these ones do you think we should pack for him?”
“All of them.” Steph gathers up an armful of the dolls off the shelf and dumps them in an empty suitcase. “That way he’ll have plenty of things to remember us by.”
The night before Talia is due to arrive, Dick can’t sleep. He doesn’t even try. Instead he sneaks into Damian’s nursery, just to sit in the rocking chair and watch the boy slumbering in his crib.
Bruce slips inside after a while, quiet enough that anyone else would have been surprised to turn around and see him standing there. He’s wearing a sweatshirt and his hair is still damp from the shower he took after patrol—must have been a slow night, if he’s back already.
“How are you doing?” he asks.
Dick takes a minute before answering. He sighs. “Not good. This is… This is even harder than losing you was.” He feels guilty for admitting it, for even thinking it. “And I’m not even really losing Damian, but… I feel like I’m losing something.”
“I’ve wanted to thank you. For being there for him when I couldn’t be,” says Bruce. His next words come out a bit awkward, and stilted. “You’ve been through a lot in the past year, and done well. I… have confidence you’ll make it through this, too.”
“Thanks, Bruce.” Dick tries to smile, but it comes out more like a wince. Bruce means well.
Bruce pulls over the toy chest and sits down on it. Neither of them speak, they just sit there together and watch Damian until dawn is breaking, spilling light through the curtains. Only then does Bruce get up to leave.
He stops at the doorway. “No matter what happens, I have a feeling you’re always going to be his favourite.”
And that— that helps, a little, to hear that.
Damian starts stirring and Dick leans down into the crib to pick him up so they can go watch the sunrise together, one more time before they part.
"Miss Talia, so good to see you again.”
Dick stops dead, holding Damian closer and cupping the back of boy’s head protectively as he shrinks back into the doorway, hiding where he can see Alfred and Talia but they can’t see him.
He swallows in dread. It’s too soon, he just needs another day or two…
"Likewise, Alfred.” Talia looks tired, and thinner than Dick remembers—it’s easy to see how hard these past months have been for her—but her smile is warm and there’s an iron determination about her. “I don’t mean to sound rude, but where is my son? I simply can’t wait another moment."
"Master Dick is just waking young Master Damian up from his nap. His belongings are already packed.”
Earlier, Dick saw Alfred crying silently as he was folding up Damian’s favourite pyjamas.
“Bah!” Damian exclaims suddenly, wagging a finger at Bruce—Dick hadn’t noticed the man walking up behind him.
Talia’s head snaps around to the source of the sound. For a moment Dick stands there frozen, eyes wide. He can’t— He’s not sure he can do this. Bruce gently takes Damian from his arms and walks towards Talia. All Dick can do is trail behind.
Damian is quiet when he sees his mother again, almost uncharacteristically so. He doesn’t reach out for her with automatic recognition and make any of his demanding little noises that are a language all his own, neither does he cry and scream and protest when she picks him up, something Dick had secretly, guiltily wished for.
Damian is quiet, looking up at his mother curiously, his tiny dark eyebrows knitting together in thought as she cradles him to her chest for the first time in months.
“He’s grown so much,” she says quietly, letting her hair fall in front of her eyes to hide how she’s blinking back tears.
Talia peppers Damian’s face with kisses, murmuring endearments and holding him like she’ll never let go again.
“Thank you for taking care of him, and keeping him safe,” she says. She gives Alfred a peck on the cheek. “It is you I should be thanking the most, I’m sure you did all the work.”
“Not entirely. I must say Master Dick has done a fantastic job with Damian. They’ve become extremely close.”
“He’s an easy kid to love. I mean, he’s a total brat, but he’s my—” Dick stops, silently cursing himself and biting the inside of his cheek hard. “…He’s a loveable brat.”
Talia smiles at that. “Thank you, Richard,” she says sincerely. He doesn’t get a kiss on the cheek like Alfred but… it’s civil, which is more than he can say about most of their past interactions. Talia meets his eyes and he knows they’re thinking the same thing—civil is what they’ll have to continue working towards, if they both want Damian in their lives.
When Talia walks out the room with Damian, Bruce places a heavy hand on Dick’s shoulder. Either to comfort him or keep him from running out after them, Dick isn’t sure.
Dick races the rain clouds up the road and through the manor gates. He skids his bike to a stop and runs inside but he doesn’t escape the downpour.
“Alfie?” he calls out, shutting the door behind him. “Alfred! Sorry about dripping on the floor!”
The house is quiet. There’s no answer except for the echo of his own voice. This place was closed down for so long after Bruce ‘died’, Dick almost forgot how big and empty it could be. Bruce reopened it after he came back but it still doesn’t feel like all the cold has been chased out yet.
Dick heads for the kitchen, hoping to find Alfred and a big plate of whatever delicious treat the man’s baked today.
Lately, Dick’s been feeling adrift. He stays at the manor now and then, it’s better than the empty penthouse where he can never fall asleep without waking suddenly to a baby’s crying that only exists in his head. Most of the time he crashes at Barbara’s place, or Tim’s.
It’s been nearly two months since he last saw Damian. He’s been forcing himself not to count the days, but it’s impossible.
A lot has happened in the past two months. Dick thought about visiting Damian, but he felt wrong about intruding on Talia’s time with him, and as soon as his head was healed up he was thrown back into his role as Batman and extra work helping Bruce set up his new project, Batman Incorporated, leaving him with hardly enough free time to get some sleep each day. He just got back home late last night from Batman Inc business in France.
It’s exhausting, but it’s good to have something to keep him occupied and keep his mind off how much he misses the kid.
There’s no one in the kitchen. Dick’s about to leave the way he came and check another room, maybe the cave, when something small crunches under his foot.
It’s a cheerio. There are pieces of cereal scattered across the floor, he notices, like they’ve been tossed there.
He can only think of one person who’d likely be responsible for that. He takes off at a sprint, out of the kitchen and down the hallway towards the bedrooms.
At one corner he slips on something soft and almost slams into the wall. He regains his footing and turns around to pick up the familiar object—a small doll wearing a smile and a Nightwing costume, much more frayed and weathered than it was when he packed it for Damian. Dick clutches it to his chest, grinning, and runs even faster.
Alfred is quietly closing one of the bedroom doors as Dick slides to a stop on the hardwood floors.
“Is— Is he…?” Dick begins breathlessly, pointing at the door. Alfred nods.
“Really, Master Dick? I just got him to bed,” Alfred says disapprovingly as Dick reaches for the doorknob—the softness in his eyes proves he’s only joking. “The poor lad could use some sleep after that long flight, and he certainly won’t be getting any once he sees you.”
Dick thinks he’s only been in this room once or twice, when he was younger and exploring the mansion. It used to be a dusty and unused spare bedroom off the same hallway as his, but, unknowingly to him, in preparation of Damian eventually returning it’s been converted into a beautiful nursery, with colourful wallpaper and soft carpeting.
There are suitcases of toys and clothes sitting half-unpacked on the floor, Damian must have only arrived a few hours ago.
Dick tiptoes towards the tiny bed. If Damian is asleep, he doesn’t want to wake him. He just wants to see him, see how much he’s grown. The rest can wait until he’s awake.
But as soon as he’s halfway across the room the boy sits up, eyes wide.
“Dick!” Damian shrieks, reaching his arms up demandingly. And every worry Dick’s been bottling up inside melts away. Nothing’s changed.
Damian has grown a lot, but he still fits on Dick’s lap. Dick kisses him on the top of the head. “Hey, little Robin. I’ve missed you like you wouldn’t believe.”
Damian isn’t going to be a baby forever. He’s going to grow up and Dick’s going to be right there to watch as much of it as he can. In the years to come he’ll help Damian with his homework and pick him up when he falls off his first bike and, eventually, he’ll show Damian what it’s like to fly, just like his parents showed him.
But, for now, he’s happy to sit there holding Damian until the boy falls asleep against his shoulder.