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salute death, but only with valour

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Surrounded by the trees, Damian watched the sun rise above the writhing mass of mist that was Gotham city. Alone in the vast, rambling grounds of the Manor, he listened to the light chirp of the resident birds, the swishing of the leaves permeated only by the low hum of bees on the chamomile. This was his spot - his hidden paradise - tangled away behind three towering pines where shafts of pure golden sunshine would soon bathed the soft, mossy floor.

This hidden oasis was, in fact, originally Todd’s. Silently, he had lead Damian there one morning to watch the hazy red sun rise. No words were exchanged but they didn’t have to be; it was written across Jason’s face like ancient scriptures of human nature: the need to be understood. And now, Damian could. They shared something - too tentative to be a bond, but stronger than a fleeting likeness - over being the only people to really comprehend the concept of time. Both had suffered, experienced something so other-worldly that it simply wasn’t possible, yet it was. Both were inextricably broken from one day to the next by an experience that demanded their silence.

Both of them should be dead.

They weren’t.

The Manor had always been bustling with life, ever since Damian had arrived. It had been too loud, too distracting at first and he had missed home. Some days he would long for the silent corridors that stretched on for decades, pierced not even by the sound of footfall of the people that walked down them without a sound. The only noise the young boy had been used to was the sting of warm whipped sand against the buildings and the trickle of the marble fountain situated in the middle of the emerald fresh grass grove; sacred stillness that bred an assassin. Wayne Manor, however, was a pulsing ball of stress and excitement all rolled into one.

Now that he was back, Damian’s hearing was piqued much, much easier. Even the slightest sound, the tiny creak at two in the morning in the east wing on the other side of the imposing house would be audible as if it were a heady roll of thunder. The hair on his nape - his arms and his legs too - would stand to attention for no reason, as if something just beyond the constraints of the human mind lingered beside him. In a house where someone was always shuffling around the kitchen or running down the thickly carpeted corridors, Damian could never find solitude. Always noise, and he craved more than ever absolutely none.

“Your eyes,” Dick had once commented quietly as they sat on the rooftops together, heads seemingly brushing the stars. It was tentative between them after he came back, the heavy weight of guilt resting upon his older brothers shoulders. “They...they almost glow up here in the dark. The brightest green I’ve ever seen.”

Lazarus green, Damian knew too well. It was a captivatingly unsettling colour that worked its way under someone’s skin, burned into their mind because there was something so unusual about the hue that it stuck in your mind for as long as you lived. Damian could hear the way Grayson was unnerved and trying not to be, his voice wobbling ever so slightly. No part of him blamed his brother for being that way. That was the price for life, he supposed, for destroying the natural order that had been crafted for a reason. To live the rest of it as an outsider.

Resurrection had done things to Damian, changed his very molecular make up into something that wasn’t recognisable anymore. On the outside it was him, but on the inside it was someone else, a broken fragment of a boy that was already too damaged to even start with.

The lights would tell him that as he passed, flickering with an ominous crackle that had goosebumps flare up his arms like wildfire. Mirrors too, all distorted shadows in thin air that after the first time he had been ignorant enough to look has shook him to the core.

No reflection.

Damian had loved to help Alfred with the garden, before. They would sit together pruning the roses, or pulling weeds swaddled in companionable silence. But now, the plants that he touched would die in a couple of days, blackened and rotting like something out of the great plagues of the Bible. Damian hadn’t emerged from his room that day, too smothered by his own thoughts to show his face in shame.

He should have known that death did not take kindly to being cheated.

On days where the sun was long in the sky and his siblings would laugh and joke around a camp fire erected in the closest part of the garden, telling each other tales and stories that had Drake in particular almost in tears, Damian would sit just out of their orbit. Silent. He didn’t belong here. Not anymore.

Todd - Jason - would sit next to him then, all gangly sinew of a nineteen year old, but with a face that was too old, too haunting. Together, they would relish in the quiet the longed for, in the mutual trauma they both shared. Often, he would offer Damian a cigarette; being fifteen and touched by the rebellion of youth, often the boy would take it. The nicotine would soothe him only slightly, his mother’s incessant voice chanting that Damian was a warrior and warriors did not have vices. Bitterly, he would stub out the glowing ember before he’d even had a good drag.

Then, he would let the world swallow him whole, for that was the only release he would ever feel.

Nothing was the same anymore. Before, Damian had felt inherently off when Jason walked past, as if something seeping frozen air had sucked the warmth from his very skin. It had been highly unpleasant, but Damian was a Wayne and Al-Ghul by blood, and nothing bothered him. Now, he knew it all to well that the people around him experienced it too.

Grayson was close and yet distant. His father was hovering, as if expecting the boy to disappear into thin air. Drake was normal, but even he and Brown shared glances sometimes that Damian knew were about him. Even his animals were wary of him. They recognised their master, but their ears were always pricked, as if expecting something darker to flow out of him; animals were perceptive, Damian knew, and they could feel that he had become someone else.

Something else.

Damian ran his fingers over the coarse bark, his body speckled with the golden sun not tainted yet by Gotham’s pollution. He wanted to cry, for the first time in his life he wanted it more than anything.

This was no life he was living, no freedom. It was like being constrained in a cage of weight iron, hidden just out of the sunlight but enough that you could almost touch it, the beam on the floor mere milimetres from your fingertips but too far.

Damian understood Todd now when he said he never wanted to come back, because nothing was the same. Laying down as the sun began to peak over peach clouds, the boy with the world on his shoulders allowed the tears to fall.

He was a prisoner, an outsider, forever.