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Bird by Bird

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The SUV shifted gears as it climbed a slope full of old potholes. Kiran Devabhaktuni swerved around a larger one before the tire could hit the gaping pit in the asphalt. Then, there was a sharp curve in the road, and then another, both around little spots where the undergrowth had been trimmed back from beneath the trees to accommodate picnic tables of rotting wood and rusted camp grills.

Vernon State Park was dotted all over with little areas like these, tiny offerings for hikers or campers who had ventured deep into the forest. There were warning signs posted about packing trash to carry out, and bears in the region. In over five years of hiking, Dev had never seen a bear at Vernon, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there somewhere-- he hadn’t considered himself a particularly loud hiker until he’d gone on a few hikes with various Waynes, but now he knew he was only barely shy of a full parade with local band.

“You’re certain they said the aviary was up here?” Dev asked, when the poorly-maintained, cracked pavement gave way to gravel.

The boy in the backseat didn’t answer.

The passenger seat held a cage, held in place with the seatbelt and covered with a cloth. There was a wounded red-tailed hawk inside, one that Damian Wayne had found on the Manor property early in the morning. Dev had been drinking tea after sleeping for a few hours in the guest bedroom they’d given him. Bruce Wayne was in his own room, with strict orders to stay in bed so the sutures over his cracked ribs didn’t pop. Dev’s plan to stay long enough to look him over before going into the hospital lab was derailed by Damian showing up in the kitchen with a huge, listless bird and a face as pale as old ash.

Alfred had spread a towel on the floor and Damian had shot Dev a demanding look-- it was as close as he could get to asking while upset. The bird’s anatomy was foreign to Dev, but he knew enough to agree with Alfred that the wing was broken, and mauled. Both were things Damian already knew, and he had scowled at Alfred and Dev alike, while the bird had looked frantically around the kitchen with roaming, beady eyes and panted helplessly.

“She’s starving,” Damian had said angrily. “And dehydrated. There is no way to know how long ago she caught her wing in the kite string.”

“Kite?” Dev had echoed, peering closer at the wing again. It was a mess of feathers, haphazardly jumbled and coated with dried blood. He was wary of those talons, and the sharp beak, and kept a bit of distance Damian wasn’t bothering to maintain. Damian nearly had the bird in his lap.

Alfred must have been concerned for the same reasons, because he had put a hand on Damian’s shoulder just long enough to say, “Give the poor creature some space, Master Damian.”

“Here, and here,” Damian had said, pointing to the wing as if he hadn’t heard. “These are lacerations from string. I suspect the kite was tangled in a tree, but the collision could have been airborne. She got out, but it is likely she struggled and possibly fell from a height.”

“I’ll fetch one of the cages,” Alfred had said, likely resigning himself to failure in convincing Damian to move away otherwise. “I suppose you ought to ring wildlife control.”

He had left them in the kitchen, Damian tense as a taut rope and Dev nearly the same. He’d stayed near enough to hopefully minimize damage by helping grab and restrain the bird, should it find a second wind and lash out in a panic.

It never had, though. Its breast heaved in and out, but Damian was right. It was hurt and malnourished and possibly ill. Dev didn’t know enough about birds to identify illness in them with any degree of certainty, but it wasn’t a healthy bird even to the untrained eye. He had crouched beside them while Damian stroked the chestnut brown feathers along its neck with the backs of his fingers, just once.

“It’s a sodding beautiful animal,” Dev had said.

Damian, who had grown still after that one brief gesture of what was likely an attempt at comfort, nodded tightly.

“Yes,” he had agreed.

Within an hour, the bird was in a cage and Damian had rung three different places while sitting beside it. His sharp, young voice sounded clearly upset while he talked to people on the other end. Dev knew from experience how jarring that voice with Damian’s vocabulary and razor-temper could be. Damian stayed just civil enough that Alfred didn’t wrench the phone away from him after Damian insisted on making the calls himself, even though Dev saw the moment he nearly did. Damian hung up on that number before Alfred could carry out the action, which would have ended poorly no matter what.

“The rehabilitation aviary at Vernon will take her,” Damian had announced after the third phone call. “I require transport immediately. We should not make her wait.”

“Your father will need–” Alfred had begun, but Dev, still hanging around in the kitchen, interrupted.

“I’ll take him,” Dev had said. “My lab work can bloody wait. It isn’t a problem.”

The last part had been addressed specifically to Alfred’s concerned, quick glance. There was some sort of battle going on behind that calm facade, but gratitude and acceptance won out. He was likely reluctant to leave Bruce alone for any time-- the first day of painkillers could be a difficult one, even if Bruce was cooperating with bed rest.

“Very well,” Alfred had said. “Master Damian?”

It had been a question and prompt all in one.

“Thank you, Dr. Dev,” Damian said quickly, if flatly. “Can we leave now. I have the directions on my phone.”

“You’ve not eaten breakfast,” Alfred said. “The bird might need medical attention, but you require sustenance yourself.”

“I will take one of father’s protein drinks,” Damian said, rising to pull open a cupboard. “It will be sufficient. I’m not hungry.”

“We’ll stop for something after,” Dev said. “Dames has been after me to try a place in Gotham and I’ve bloody never gotten around to it.”

“Only if you’re quite certain,” Alfred said.

“He is,” Damian interjected sharply, twisting the cap off a sealed bottle. He gulped down half the liquid before pausing for breath.

“Master Damian,” Alfred said, with that quiet censure he had.

“He already stated his intentions,” Damian said. He screwed the cap back on the unfinished drink and set it on the counter. “Are you satisfied. May I go.”

Alfred cast a look at the caged animal, and whatever sharper reproach Dev was certain he was about to deliver was replaced by a nearly inaudible sigh. “Take the beverage with you. You would do well to remember your manners. Please, update me on the animal’s condition when you know more.”

It was this, not the reprimanding use of his name, that brought a faint flush to the tips of Damian’s ears. He didn’t duck his head, but focused on the drink label as if intently reading.

“Tt,” he said, the faint click of tongue against teeth. He snatched the bottle and hefted the cage, which was a clearly awkward size for him to handle on his own, much else one handed.

“Dames,” Dev said, offering a hand toward one side of the cage. “I can get it, mate.”

The bottle was shoved in his hand instead and Damian was off ahead of him down the hall, cage wedged between his arms and against his chest, mindless of the ineffective barrier between himself and the wild animal.

They had situated it in the passenger seat, on Damian’s insistence, with the seatbelt fed through part of the bars to secure it. A blanket from the boot was draped over it and before Dev could even get behind the wheel, Damian was buckling himself in with a little click of the latch.

“I will give you directions,” Damian said, when Dev turned the key. “It is further within the park.”

“Brilliant,” Dev said. He tried to catch Damian’s eye in the rear view mirror but Damian was resolutely staring out the window. His cheeks, which had blushed faintly under Alfred’s attention in the house, were still reddened like he was trying not to cry.

“If you aren’t capable of applying your medical skills to her, you might go ahead and drive so she’s not suffering for even longer,” Damian snapped without turning his head, when the SUV didn’t move forward.

“Dames,” Dev said, frustrated more than offended. He tracked the tense swallow under Damian’s imperiously-tilted chin and changed his mind about trying for any conversation. Even reassurance was likely to be shot down, so he pressed his lips together to keep from muttering at his own uselessness.

He had put the SUV in drive and headed north.

Now, gravel road stretched on in front of them, until it curved out of sight into the trees and denser brush. Dev frowned at, hunting about for any signage, and the only thing he saw was a fluttering piece of orange paper nailed to a gnarled oak. He guessed without stopping to read it that it was one of the many NO HUNTING ALLOWED fliers. Nothing indicated that there was any sort of building ahead, or that the section of road was even public.

“Dames,” he said. “Is this the right road, then?”

Dev twisted in the seat, hands tight on the wheel. The continued silence was changing the sympathy that had filled the drive to an actual annoyance. Damian’s face was drawn and he was looking steadfastly out the window at the passing branches, no mobile in sight.

“Bloody hell,” he swore under his breath, swiveling back to look out the windshield. “Dames, mate, you’ve got to—”

It was that moment, when his eyes had been off the road and returned too late, that the front tire dipped into a crater of a pothole. It was a fraction of a second before the impact rocked the SUV. The suspension creaked in protest. Dev’s teeth rattled and he yelped a startled, “Sodding fuck,” and from the backseat, there was the too-familiar sound of sudden retching. The bird beside him gave a pathetic squawk of fright.

He slammed the brakes and whirled, the vehicle stopped in the middle of the gravel road, to stare into the backseat at what he already instinctively suspected he’d find.

Damian was sitting stiff as a board, his brown skin turned antique newsprint yellow-gray, with a profoundly shocked expression and vomit all down the front of his shirt and across his lap. His wide eyes met Dev’s and then immediately dropped, while his chest heaved. It reminded Dev of the panting bird on the kitchen floor, bloodied feathers against a blue towel.

“I—” Damian started, and then he wrenched open the door of the idling SUV and jammed his thumb into the release for the seatbelt. He stumbled down and away from the tangle of retracting strap, onto the gravel. It caught on his arm, hooked on his elbow, and Damian yanked away with a roar of irritation and kicked the rear tire so hard the hubcap rang. He stomped a meter into the brush and stood there with his back to the car, his narrow spine hunched into a miserable arch.

The dash beeped insistently, a touch of mechanical panic, when Dev put the SUV in park and opened the driver door without turning the car off or removing the keys from the ignition. His knee brushed the penlight keychain and sent it swinging in mad circles when he climbed out onto the road. Gravel crunched beneath his trainer tread and he went around the bonnet to the other side.

“I did not mean to,” Damian choked out, when Dev was behind him on the edge of the road. He was so tense it was turning to a faint trembling, the tendons on his inner wrists starkly defined ridges pointing to balled fists. “I thought I would…that I could…”

“Dames. It’s alright, mate,” Dev said, keeping a bit of distance. Damian’s fingers weren’t glistening talons, his mouth wasn’t a piercing beak, but he could be dangerous upset all the same. All his bladed parts were slivers of metal hidden beneath layers of clothing, tucked against skin.

Dick had mentioned it once early on, how many knives there always were, that they’d given up confiscating the knives and throwing stars. When they took them all, he’d said, Damian would grow more angry and violent and unapproachable until he’d found more somewhere, or had stolen his old ones back. Dick’s voice had wavered between apologetic and hard as steel, when he’d explained that it wasn’t always safe, that they couldn’t make promises, that they’d understand if Dev preferred Alfred or Dick or Bruce handle Damian when sick or injured.

He carries fewer than he used to, he’d said, like a last-ditch consolation. But he’s still dangerous when he doesn’t feel safe, and he doesn’t feel safe when he’s hurt.

Dev heard it and categorized it as the defense of a brother, desperate to guard Damian from others’ fury as much as others from Damian himself. He’d said he would treat Damian like any of the other Waynes, that he’d assume the risk, and he suspected Dick had heard that as ignorance, or stubbornness, because there was no way for him to know what Dev was saying was, I know exactly how that feels.

He’d slept for weeks with a receding headache, a rucksack beside his bed with a few changes of clothes and his wallet. There were nights he slept with one hand hung off the mattress, gripping a strap, ready to bolt if the footsteps and voice on the stairs were the wrong kind of loud and angry. He’d thought he’d be able to shake it when he left for uni, but it was another several months before he could sleep with that bag emptied and his wallet somewhere else in the room.

There were not a lot of details he’d heard from Damian himself about his years before he’d come to stay with Wayne, but he’d gathered enough from comments and hushed explanations and scars— too many scars. He knew it hadn’t been pleasant, and far worse than anything he’d endured, but if all the ways Damian hid injury or illness were any indication of learned expectation, then Dev knew the moment he got out of the car what that felt like, too.

Damian, if he wasn’t off the mark, knew he was in trouble and was waiting for the hammer to fall. There weren’t enough years of safety in his life yet to undo that ingrained response.

They stood there, Damian hunched in on himself like he’d already been struck.

In the kitchen, he’d sat and cradled the bird, mindless of the danger.

“Damian, it’s Dev. I’m going to touch your shoulder, alright?”

Dev took another step through the brush and put a gentle hand on his shoulder, half-expecting to be shrugged off or have his arm sliced for the attempt. Damian didn’t move, and then he straightened, and very slowly turned around. Dev’s hand fell away but he didn’t move back. Damian’s posture was perfect, his chin jutting out with a fierce determination. There were tears standing on his lashes that he didn’t brush away, not even when one spilled over.

He looked for all the world like he was somewhere else entirely, his eyes glassy and unfocused, and the only tell he had besides the errant tear was that at his side, one fist twitched. The vomit on his shirt and trousers was thin, milky white and Damian seemed not to notice it at all.

Dev crouched so he was shorter, looking up at Damian’s face.

“Dames,” he said, softly. “Can you hear me? You’re in Vernon State Park, mate. In the woods. You’re safe. Can you look around, tell me what you see?”

A breeze rustled the top branches, high overhead, and Damian’s breath was so quiet it was lost beneath that noise.

“You’re alright,” Dev said. “I’m going to touch your hand.”

He reached for the twitching fist and wrapped his fingers loosely around it, waiting for signs of resistance. Damian’s head jerked sideways on his neck, a harsh flinch with a whine muffled deep in his throat. Dev would have dropped his arm away like he’d touched a hot coal, if Damian’s fist hadn’t splayed and twisted to clutch his hand. His slender fingers and palm were clammy, and the grip like iron.

“You’re alright,” Dev repeated. “You’re in the woods by a road. The car’s running. Can you tell me what you see?”

He waited, while Damian clung to his hand and tiny breaths whistled faintly in and out of his nostrils. Dev crammed down the rising bile at the thought that Damian had flinched away from him, even while he suspected Damian wasn’t seeing him at all.

Then, slowly, Damian blinked. His frame was still so rigid Dev wasn’t sure it meant anything until Damian’s lips parted.

“Tr—” The consonants were a puff of air, nothing more. His voice was hoarse when he tried again. “Trees. A woodpecker. There’s a woodpecker.”

Dev didn’t turn to look, but the second Damian said it, the echoing raprapraprap of a beak drilling into wood filtered into his awareness. He’d not even noticed the sound earlier, as focused as he was on the boy in front of him.

“Breathe,” Dev said, rubbing a thumb over the back of Damian’s hand. The knuckles were hard knots under the grazing touch. “You’re safe. What else?”

Damian’s inhales and exhales took on an almost perfect evenness before he said anything else. “Your vehicle. Brambles.” He looked down at his own front, every movement jerking, and stammered wordlessly. A noise of distress escaped through his clenched teeth, but he didn’t start crying. Dev squeezed his hand to try to keep him grounded and tilted his head to try to catch Damian’s lowered gaze.

“Mate. It’s nothing. I’ve a change of Timothy’s clothes in the boot. Can you get that off?”

Damian nodded and disentangled his hand. Dev tugged him out of the undergrowth toward the road with a little pull on his upper arm, and Damian took a few wooden steps forward until he was on the edge of the gravel. He peeled the shirt off and let it drop to the dirt while Dev turned the car off. They were plunged into the forest sounds, without the engine idling to drown them out.

The boot door hissed when it was opened. There was a knapsack of Tim’s in the back, with clothes and a phone charger and a floppy magazine about photography. Dev couldn’t remember when or why the bag had ended up there, only that it had been there long enough for him to repeatedly remind himself to return it, and then forget. He dug the blue tee and a pair of shorts out, briefly grateful that if he’d any spare clothes in the car that they belonged to the one person in the Wayne family nearly the exact same size as Damian.

There wasn’t much mess on the rubberized seat. He scrubbed it down anyway with antibacterial wipes from the glovebox while Damian changed behind the car. Dev found a biohazard disposal bag in the car medkit and shoved the clothes and wipes alike inside, then tied it off and tossed it in the boot. He grabbed a water bottle from the kit.

Nobody had come up behind them on the road. Dev found Damian staring at the injured hawk, the passenger door open, and the blanket corner turned back. He slid two fingers through the cage to stroke the striated feathers, pressed up against the bars.

“Dames,” Dev said. “How long have you been feeling ill?”

“I’m not,” Damian said, his voice very soft, a rough whisper that grew louder and harder as he continued. “I…I get carsick. In the backseat. I thought I would be okay. I miscalculated. It was an error on my part. The failure was mine. I will do whatever—”

“You’re not in trouble, mate,” Dev said, leaning on the car to look in at the hawk. “I wish you’d told me. We could have put the bird in the boot. But I’m not miffed. Things like that happen.”

Dev tried not to think about what would have happened if he’d puked in the car on a trip when younger— it was too easy to hear Leena’s yell of childish disgust, the deeper fury from the driver’s seat that followed. The vivid fragment of standing beside the roadway, cringing from the shouts, made him wonder if it hadn’t happened after all and he’d mostly forgotten. He took a slow breath in and out, and rubbed the small of Damian’s back in a few circles. Damian’s fingers retreated from the cage.

He looked shattered. Dev bit his tongue at the ineffectiveness of words or gestures to undo those shadows of hurt and fear. He’d seen Damian terrified enough to be defensive more than once, but it was rare to see him so shaken.

“This is the correct road,” Damian said. “We should be close to the building. Will you tell anyone.”

Dev handed him the water bottle, and then reached around the cage when Damian stepped back. He unbuckled the makeshift harness while Damian swilled a mouthful of water and spit it into the brush.

“I ought to tell your da,” Dev said. “You’ve had a rough time, and he’d want to know. But not because he’ll want to punish you.”

He hauled the cage up and Damian shadowed him to the boot. Dev set it down, mentally cursing at himself for not insisting on the location back at the manor, and then shut the door.

“I’m not telling Timothy,” Dev assured him, when Damian’s attempt at glaring him down was more pleading than Dev suspected he wanted it to be. Damian gave a curt nod and clambered into the passenger seat and slammed the door.

The breeze picked up again, hard enough this time for the middle branches to sway while the leaves fluttered. Dev watched and inhaled deeply before rounding the SUV and taking the driver’s seat again. The engine hummed alive and Dev swerved carefully around the potholes when they started forward.

It was only another turn and stretch of road before the aviary building came into view, beside a small ranger station with a couple parking spaces marked by hewn branch barriers instead of concrete ones.

“If I talk to you, will you still feel like you must tell my father?” Damian asked stiffly, when the car was turned off.

“Are you afraid of him, mate?” Dev asked, quietly.

Tim’s shirt, too big on Tim himself, hung a little loose on Damian even with his shoulders braced to look as severe and broad as possible. It reminded Dev of a sparrow puffing its feathers against the cold.

“No,” Damian said. “It will hurt him. He cares too much.”

“Dames, I think he cares just as much as he ought. If it hurts him, it’s because it’s hurt you. He’d want to help you sort that. That isn’t your job to protect him.”

“It is my job,” Damian snapped. “I’m…I’m…you know who I am. Who I am to him.”

Robin.

He was too careful a boy to say it even here, in a closed car, in something resembling a public space. Tim had tried to explain the dynamic to Dev once, and claimed it was simple, but struggled for words anyway. Robin protects Batman, he’d said. Not…not the way Batman protects Robin, or other people, but from Batman himself, except not really, it’s more from…Gotham. He’s capable. But Robin reminds him that he’s…well, that he needs Robin, to…well, you know.

Tim had given up.

Damian glanced at Dev’s expression and his lip curled in disgust, or irritation, maybe. He turned away. “You wouldn’t understand. You couldn’t.”

“I don’t,” Dev admitted. He was silent for a minute. He thought, without searching for the memory, of a time he’d walked through the manor and onto Dick crying on Bruce’s shoulder. He’d backed out of the room without a word then, and never brought it up. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel.

“Tt,” Damian said.

“I know that isn’t all that you are, though,” Dev said finally, thinking carefully through the words as picked them. “You’re also his son, mate. He loves you. You’re not supposed to protect him from being your da.”

“He didn’t ask for me,” Damian said. There was a waver in his voice. “It is enough that he has accepted me. He does not need to deal with all of my weaknesses as well. I cause enough trouble. I ought to minimize what I can, no matter what he says.”

If Damian had drawn every hidden knife and stabbed him with each one, if he’d uncaged the hawk in the boot and it had sunk talons into Dev’s ribs, it would not have hurt as deeply in his bones as those words did.

“Dames,” Dev said, his voice steadier than he expected. He thought it should be strangled, the way his throat felt. “That isn’t how it works. He’s your da, and that’s for all of you, not just the parts that are easier to manage, or hurt less.”

There was a shaky certainty there, a conviction this was true and also a suspicion it was wishful thinking.

Damian crossed his arms and flashed an icy scowl at him.

“How would you know?”

For a second, Dev couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move. If Damian’s self-dismissing confession had been like knives, this was like bleeding out. His limbs had gone cold and numb.

“You’re an imbecile if you think I don’t hear things,” Damian snarled. “I’ve heard enough that—”

“Out of the car,” Dev said, through clenched teeth. His jaw ached it was so tight.

“What?” Damian demanded.

“Out of the bloody car!” Dev shouted.

Damian didn’t move.

Dev shoved his door open instead, stepped out, and slammed it behind him. He stalked off away from the buildings, back down the gravel, until he’d reached a trailhead six or seven meters down the road. He stood there trying to catch his breath through the weight of anger on his chest. It faded to oily guilt the longer he was there.

He was not prepared for this. He wasn’t good at it. All he knew, standing there with insects hopping around in the moss and ferns at his feet, was that the little boy in the car behind him— and he was, whatever he said, a little boy— had been hurt too much to deserve anything like lost tempers while he struggled to see his own value. And he was valuable, he was—

Dev turned and dragged himself back to the car. Damian was sitting motionless in the passenger seat with a pinched expression. Dev rapped knuckles on the window, staring down at the laces on his trainers, and the door latch clicked. Damian pushed it open a few inches.

“You can see how I am best at wounding,” Damian said quickly, his voice flat. “Even when others attempt to reassure me, I am prone to hurting them in return.”

“I’m sorry,” Dev said. “I’m sorry I yelled and slammed the door and left you. I shouldn’t have. Look at me, Dames.”

Damian looked at him, a bit furtively, but he did so.

“You’re right, I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t know for just anyone, or any family. But I do know your da. I know Wayne. And I know I’d let you stab me before I even thought about giving up on you, and if I feel that way, your sodding family feels it ten times over. You didn’t ask for this anymore than that sodding hawk asked for a kite string. You’re not supposed to fix yourself alone, so your da doesn’t have to bother with it.”

“Why?” Damian asked, his eyes wide as tea saucers. “Why would…I’m cruel. You know that I am. Drake knows. He says it often, but he isn’t wrong.”

“I do know you,” Dev said firmly. “I know you care about people. You care about animals. You care so much about your family you don’t like hurting them. I know you try to protect yourself, and that you likely hate yourself more than anyone else does. And I don’t think you deserve a fraction of what’s hurt you. You don’t deserve to be alone with it, either. Of course you can bloody talk to me, if you want. But not because you need to hide it from your da. Right, then?”

It was too much. It was too many words, too fast, and Dev felt like he was trembling all over and that the anger had left him without the heat of it fading.

Damian’s wide eyes were wet and he ducked his head. He leaned sideways and pressed his forehead against Dev, and sniffed.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“It’s alright, Dames,” Dev said, feeling like he could exhale again. He cupped the back of Damian’s head in his hand and held it there. “You’re alright.”

“I hate all of it,” Damian mumbled, his voice thick. “I hate being stupid and childish. I hate remembering. I hate not being able to do anything except hurt people. I hate being carsick.”

“Shh,” Dev said. “I know. But you are good, Dames. Trust me.”

“We should take the hawk inside,” Damian said with another sniff.

“Take your time,” Dev said. He didn’t move until Damian pulled away. The boy rubbed his face with his hands and took a long drink from the water bottle beside him.

“Bird, then lunch. It’ll be close enough by the time we get back to Gotham,” Dev said, when Damian slipped out of the seat.

“We can still go?” Damian asked.

“Of course,” Dev said. He opened the boot and Damian climbed in on his knees to pick up the cage.

Inside, there was a single woman in a ranger’s uniform who came out from behind a desk to meet them. She spoke to Damian for a moment, about talking to him on the phone, and where he’d found the hawk.

“I can’t make promises,” she said, “but this looks like a simple break. With some help, she should be fine. It’s good that you and your dad could bring her up right away. Most people wouldn’t make that drive last minute.”

Dev froze.

“This is my uncle,” Damian said casually, like it was fact. Stephanie and Tim called him that sometimes as a joke, but he’d hardly ever heard Damian use it even as that. Dev blinked down at him, while Damian moved on to asking if there was a way to receive updates on the bird or visit later.

A few minutes later, they were back outside getting into the SUV.

“Raouche,” Damian said. “I will order for you. I am very familiar with the menu. That is, if you would allow me.”

He fiddled with the window button when his voice changed to a more questioning register on the last sentence.

“Sure, mate,” Dev said.

“I am glad we were able to help the hawk,” Damian said. “She is beautiful. It isn’t fair that she was hurt. She didn’t deserve that.”

“No, it wasn’t,” Dev agreed. “Not everything that hurts is deserved. You know that, right?”

“I am trying to,” Damian said quietly. He pulled at his shirt. “Drake has hideous taste in clothing, but I appreciate that he tries to be prepared.”

“Was that a compliment, mate? Nearly a compliment for Timothy?” Dev teased. “Your secret’s safe with me.”

“Just drive,” Damian complained, with a huff. “Or should I? You are clearly hearing things.”

“Mm, nice try,” Dev said. “Ask again when you’ve got your bloody license.”

Damian jabbed the radio button with his finger and dialed through stations until one came in clearly enough. It was classical music, and Damian turned it up.

“Thank you,” he said. “For…for this.”

“Of course,” Dev said. He looked sidelong at the prickly boy beside him, at the scarred hands that had been so gentle with the injured hawk despite the danger. “Anytime.”