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Three years ago, Batman and Robin sat together above an old but locally trusted doughnut shop. The sun was nowhere to be found while the stars and moon hid behind storm clouds that threatened to rain at any second. For now though, the two vigilante's busied themselves with the slightly stale but still edible doughnuts the shop was about to throw away. It wasn't like they asked for the doughnuts, but sometimes Gotham's citizens showed appreciation for their local heroes in their own ways. 

Dick didn't think Damian’s ever had a crappy, all American doughnut before. By the looks on Damian's face behind his domino mask, he didn't like it. But it was a kind of dislike where you continued to eat it simply because it was a gift and there was nothing else to eat. Besides, Damian made that face for every meal given to him, even the ones Alfred prepared. Dick knew the poor kid was still adjusting to the food culture here. Dick understood it. He had to go through it too. 

Damian, despite his visual displeasure of the pastry, finished before Dick and sat there with a lax look on his face, kicking his legs out to a tune only he knew, letting the backs of his boots bounce off the lip of the rooftop they sat over. 

Damian had been quiet all night. Less chatty. Less insults thrown... even towards criminals. Dick knew something was on his mind, but he didn't quite know how to ask what was wrong. He was still learning Damian. And while the kid was… something like close with Dick, closer than what he was with anyone else in their shattered family, he still didn't like it whenever anyone so much as suggested he wasn't as calm, cool, and collected as he made pretend to be. 

Dick quickly stuffed the rest of his doughnut in his mouth, knowing Alfred already somehow knew they broke their diets and was preparing some sort of verbal rant session for the two of them, and turned to Damian. Cleared his throat. 

"Hey, Dami-an?" He asked, quickly continuing from where he accidentally almost left off with the nickname. Dick knew the kid secretly liked Dick's subtle way of showing affection with nicknames, but he would also sometimes bristle because he felt he needed to. Dick didn't want to immediately put him on edge. 

"Names, Batman," Damian replied, but it sounded half-hearted. They both knew the only thing listening to them right now was the mouse scuttling around in the dumpster in the alleyway below. 

Because Damian didn’t sound like he was going to say much more, Dick took a deep breath and took that as Damian’s response.

“You know, if anything is bothering you, you can talk to me, right?”

Damian didn’t reply, but his kicking legs slowed to a stop and his lips tugged down into a frown. Whether it was a thoughtful frown or an upset one, Dick couldn’t quite totally tell, especially from this side angle.

Dick was almost ready to jot this down as the end of the conversation when against all odds Damian opened his mouth with a shaky breath.

“Nothing is bothering me... Grayson,” he said slowly, carefully, like he was afraid the slightest misunderstood word would cause Dick to cast him off. “I’m just... thinking. About...” Damian paused. Dick remained silent. Damian took another deep breath, sinking back into his shell ever so slightly. “I was just thinking about how much... I unexpectedly enjoy being your partner. And that I am... honored to be trusted by you.”

Dick smiled and lifted one arm, wrapping his grasp around Damian and pulling him close to his side. Damian squawked, but it wasn’t angry. Dick squeezed his one-armed embrace tighter. “I’m happy you told me, little D. And, I hope you know that I don’t only trust you to be Robin, but I trust you with every aspect of my life. You’re family now, Dami. And I want you to know that you can trust me too . With anything . I will always take your side. I’ll never assume the worst of you. You can trust me as much as you can trust that it’ll rain in Gotham tomorrow.”

Damian’s frown turned upwards ever so slowly. The beginnings of a smile. It made Dick grin wider. “I’ll remember that, Grayson,” Damian said, his voice oddly reverent. Damian ducked out of his embrace now, jumping to his feet and brushing stale doughnut crumbs from the bottom of his tunic. He pulled up his hood just as the first flash of lightning struck through the air, bringing an earthquake of thunder and a sudden sheet of rain. “It appears we have a patrol to finish before we’re soaked to the bone.”

“It appears so,” Dick laughed, and the thought of some criminal seeing him laugh like this, dressed like the dreaded Batman of Gotham and laughing caused him to almost laugh harder .

With a nod to his young Robin, they both pulled out their grapples like a well oiled machine and jumped together out into the night. 

-o-o-o-o-

“Robin,” Batman’s voice commands, bringing Damian out of the focus he has on his current task. He looks up from the woman he’s helping to her feet, having gotten knocked over by the retreating bandits of her jewelry store to see his father scuffling with the three out of five burglars that haven’t managed to book it. “Door!”

Damian, right there, once again for the millionth time since his father has been back from being lost in the time stream, is reminded of the different expectations Richard and his father both have and had as Batman. While Richard would prioritize making sure everyone was okay before giving chase, father would give chase after making a mental note that everyone was at least breathing .

It’s been two years since Damian’s been his blood father’s Robin. He doesn’t know why he still leans towards Richard’s way of things.

Damian nods and lets go of the woman, sticking around just a heartbeat longer to make sure she doesn’t fall over, but the moment he sees that she can balance on her own he turns tail and jumps over the smashed glass counters towards the emergency back door of the little jewelry shop.

He bursts outside the door, stepping out into the suffocatingly dirty air of Gotham that he can never get used to. He looks down the alleyway he has emerged into and pulls out one of his swords the moment he sees the two escapee bandits sprinting down the alleyway towards the road.

And Damian can’t have that. He begins chase, pumping his legs with practiced ease, the cape tugging on his neck as he tugs up his hood. One of the bandits looks behind her and gives a startled yelp when she sees him ever approaching. They run faster, but they’re heading to a chain linked fence that reaches up at least a story to prevent trespassers. Shockingly, the wires haven’t been cut through. They must have been recently replaced. 

Because most fences have more holes cut into them than what they should in this city. 

The man in this escaping duo grabs onto the fence and begins to attempt to climb. Damian uses his free hand to dig into his utility belt and throw with deadly— accurate , not deadly—precision a batarang with a small electric shock coded into its blades. He hits his mark, the man’s left shoulder, and soon the man is crying out and falling to the ground with his arm twitching. The woman swears and turns, pulling out a gun and dropping the bag of jewels she had been carrying and aims with shaky hands towards Damian.

Damian jolts to the side just as she fires her first shot, the bullet whizzing a pathetic distance to his side and sending sparks into the brick wall. Because of her laughable aiming and panicked actions, Damian manages to close in quickly and swing his sword. The blunted side of his blade—the side he’s become accustomed to using more often than its sharp counterpart—hits the inside of her wrist and knocks the gun to the ground. 

Fuck ,” she yells, grabbing her wrist and backing up like a cornered animal

Easy. Damian almost feels sorry for them. The man is getting back to his feet, but his legs are shaky and his face pale. The woman looks about ready to try and dart past Damian, but the alleyway is too narrow, especially with the various dumpsters lining the walls, for her to go much anywhere. 

"Will we do this simply?" Damian asks, bringing his sword out in front of him. "Or will you both continue to embarrass yourselves?"

"Fuck this bullshit," the man hissed, then pulls out a gun of his own that Damian honestly should have expected. It doesn't matter though, because the man's aim is just as off as the woman's and the bullet slams into the side of one of the dumpsters. 

And Damian was about to charge forward and put an end to this, but then an unexpected noise fills the alleyway. 

The screeching, terrified cry of an infant. 

Damian has just enough time to realize that the infant's cry is coming from the dumpster before the woman is charging forward and ramming himself into Damian's side. Damian swears—just barely in control of his emotions with the heightened risk of a dumpster baby to keep the curse in English—and carefully turns his body so when his opposite side hits the alleyway wall, it doesn't hurt too much. Hands grab for Damian's chest, thick arms attempting to wrap around his upper body to physically restrain him but Damian has none of it. 

With a dirty kick to the man's groin, Damian slips out of his grasp and brings his sword back in front of him. He looks at the burglars, about to charge, but then freezes in his tracks when he sees the woman standing by the dumpster, a wriggling bundle of moth eaten blankets in one arm while her free hand aims her partner's gun down. 

And of course this doesn't shock Damian. If these two are willing to shoot Damian, who is clearly physically a child , then what gripes would they have with shooting an infant. 

"Back away, you shit," the woman hisses. 

The baby wails. Tiny lungs heaving for air, but not being able to grab enough before it's sobbing again. And for a second, Damian can't move. Trapped between wanting to stop these thieves and do as he's told and wanting to keep the baby safe. The innocent child that has done nothing wrong. Abandoned by its parents, left to either die or be found by someone willing to let it live. 

"The infant has no part in this-" Damian tries, but the woman scowls and presses the gun down, the barrel stabbing into the blankets and causing the baby's cries to rise. The man slowly backs away from Damian towards the chain link fence. Damian takes a step back, and then weighs his options. 

And in the end, there really isn't any. His father values the capture of criminals, but Damian was taught by Richard, who had always put the needs of the innocent above and beyond anything else. Is there anything in this world more innocent than a newborn? Damian can’t let this child be harmed. And he can’t trust it in these thieves' care. 

He makes to lower his sword, the woman slightly relaxes, then Damian moves

Dropping a flare from a compartment in his gauntlet, Damian slams into the woman just as the alley erupts into light. Damian manages to grab the baby from the woman's hand and back up a few steps just as the light is beginning to fade, but then a heavy body jumps into his own. The baby screeches in Damian's ear as they both go down hard, and it's all Damian can do to protect its head as the man lands on top of them. 

Heavy legs begin to straddle his waist, a deep voice cussing threats. Damian's on his side, struggling to breathe, cradling a baby with his cape in one hand and realizing his other hand is empty. He has dropped his sword somewhere in the confusion. 

And maybe it's the adrenalin. Maybe it's the hand that slammed down on his head and pinned his face into the dirty cemented ground. Maybe it's the screaming baby in his ears, or the way it writhed, tiny limbs flailing for someone who would take it away and keep it safe. Maybe it was the intense desire to just. Keep. The. Baby. Safe. 

Damian let's instincts take over. He let's the baby's survival outweigh everything else. In a blink of an eye, the man on top of him goes still and warm liquid splatters all over Damian's face and chest, causing the already distraught baby to become more upset.

He recognizes the feel of blood. He recognizes the shape of his right handed sword in his left. He recognizes the sound of a man gurgling on his own blood, going limp and falling to the ground. When Damian opens his eyes, he recognizes the way the man twitches weakly, hands going up to the gaping cut in his neck. The blood spews from his open throat and mixes with the puddles of rainwater that never go away. The woman screams. The grasping fingers do nothing to stop the blood. 

And the horror sets in.

And Damian doesn't even have time to contemplate what he's done. He stares dumbly for a drop of time. A single grain of sand. Before he can do anything—cradle the child, staunch the flow of blood, stop the woman from screaming, cry cry cry because he messed up—a dark shadow moves behind him.

"Robin," a voice growls. 

And it's all Damian can do to continue cradling the child as Batman rushes to the fallen, dying man, and presses his hands against his neck. 

The baby sobs weakly, all of its energy spent, and Damian sits there until the life of the man ultimately fades away regardless of Batman's efforts. 

He… he didn't mean to.

-o-o-o-o-

Dick staggers into his apartment, feeling more like shit than the actual shit he had to go through tonight. Literally and figuratively. And he thought Gotham sewers were the worst. Dick's never going to complain about Gotham sewers ever again. 

Dick needs a shower. Pronto. To both wash off all the icky from his skin and the blood too. Tonight's been rough. Rough like sandpaper. Viciously rough like the skin of a shark. Criminals tonight were on one. Causing him to go every which way in the city, stopping bank robberies, drug deals, attempted kidnappings, a few premeditated murders here and there. And the worst of the matter was that at one murder he happened to stumble upon—as you do in Blüdhaven—the cops, on complete happenstance, managed to actually show up early this time. 

Dick just barely managed to not get directly shot in the head before jumping down the nearest manhole cover. They weren't cops he recognized. Ones he didn't know and trust from his old days on the force. BCPD, despite his constant efforts, just never seem to trust him. Always wanted to connect him to crimes. Turn the city against him. He can guarantee that tomorrow the headlines will read NIGHTWING: MAN SLAYER? or something just as false and untrue. So now he's going to be at the highest of the cops shit-list and it's going to be so fucking difficult to find who the actual murderer was. 

Just. Great. 

He needs a shower. 

He carefully maneuvers through his apartment, not wanting to drop anything gross from his soaking legs and boots onto anything important, and eventually manages to get to his bathroom without managing to completely destroy anything with sewage water. 

He's in the middle of stripping down to his grimy skin when his phone begins to vibrate on the bathroom counter. Dick ignores it for the moment and turns on the shower, a flash of irritation shooting through his nerves. 

Whoever needs him this early in the day can wait. He has 6 hours to shower, eat, then sleep before work starts. 

He's stepping into the shower when his phone stops vibrating. 

Then it immediately begins again. 

Dick sighs. So much for getting any sleep tonight. Maybe he can skip eating?

He pokes his head out of the shower and frowns. 

"B" is on the caller ID. 

Ugh. Okay, so this one he might actually need to take. He regretfully gets out of the shower and wipes his hands on the nearest towel before picking up his phone and sliding the answer button.

He brings the phone up to his ear. 

"What's up?" He asks. 

Bruce's voice growls in his ear. Dick almost jokes about how Bruce should have said something kinder and happier and ask how Dick's day had been, but then he processes the words said to him and freezes. 

"What?" He asks. 

Bruce continues. Dick slowly sits down on the toilet seat, able to do nothing but blink and process. Dick takes a deep breath.

"Is he okay? No- Bruce I know, but that doesn't- Damian doesn't just-"

"…"

"I see… no, I know. I know . I can't Bruce, I have work-"

Frustration bubbles in his chest. "Bruce, he's your kid. Whatever happened tonight must have happened for a reason, and it's your job- I- Why do you think he only listens to me?!" Dick stands up from the toilet. "I'm the only one who bothers to listen to him half the time. Bruce did you even ask him why-? I can't come over."

"Bruce I can't-"

Dick takes a deep breath. Fine ! Fine… fine. Fine, I'll come over. Just… give me a minute? I'll be over.…"

"I know, Bruce. I know. I understand. Mhm. K. Yeah. Bye."

Dick clicks off his phone and groans, leaning against the toilet's tank. 

So much for his ingenious plan of shower, food, sleep. He stands up and quickly washes the worst of the sewage off of him, then uses a towel to dry himself quicker. After walking briskly to his room and stuffing his still damp body into the nearest shirt, clean pair of underwear, and sweats he could find, he grabs the keys to his bike and is on his way towards Gotham. 

The entire way, he can only focus on the knot of worry in his throat. 

He was irritated. Frustrated. He's not Damian's father. Bruce should be the one to find out what was going on with the kid and what would lead him to… to kill

But at the same time, he knew something more had to be going on. Damian doesn't kill. That isn't a part of his life anymore. 

This entire situation needs to be got to the bottom of. Dick just wished he had more than three hours of sleep from the night before while going into this himself. 

-o-o-o-o-

Damian's been back at the manor for about an hour and a half, hiding away in his bedroom while his father dealt with the police, the dead body, and the abandoned baby that had to be forced from Damian's arms. 

He took a shower. Scrubbed his skin so it's still raw and red. There's no blood on him, but he can smell it. The stench is powerful. Potent. So much so he's almost tempted to sneak from his room and grab that sinus teapot Alfred the Butler liked so much. 

But leaving his room involved… leaving his room. Besides, he's already stuffed his face under the shower faucet, nearly waterboarding himself to get out a fetor that's clearly and simply all his imagination. 

He can only imagine what will happen to him when his father returns. What kind of… punishment that awaits him. Damian knows he's not the first in the family to have killed. But for some reason, Damian's always felt a pressure on him that must have been heavier than the rest. The others slipped from their lighted paths and made mistakes. Mistakes can be forgotten and forgiven. Damian, however, was born into this shadowed path of death and gore. He fought his way up to justice, crawled up the slope of redemption with bloodied hands and knees. 

Damian killing again? Like this? It was him returning to his old ways. 

It wasn't a mistake. It was Damian showing his true colors. 

And that scares Damian, so he doesn't think about it longer. He's faced punishments far worse than what Batman would ever give. He can take whatever his father gives. 

Even if it… even if he takes Robin away. Damian will take it. 

He just feels like there's something missing in all of this. Something Damian himself isn't grasping. Saying he's killed a man so easily feels wrong. Untrue. Like his own brain is trying to convince him that he's wrong. He didn't murder. At least, he didn't do it with a cold heart. Like the entire night was a giant puzzle, and there was one piece missing that could change the entire picture.

He's reading too much into it. He hopes the baby, at least, is fine. Maybe father can adopt it. Replace Damian with a real child. 

There's a knock on his door, thankfully tearing him away from those thoughts. 

He looks up from where he's been picking at his clean nails, trying to get every last bit of invisible dried blood from his person. The door is knocked on again, and Damian stands up. Something in his chest flutters with panic, but he ignores it and lifts his chen proudly. He will not cower into his father's fury. 

He will not. 

He opens the door, and then everything falters.

It's not father. It's Richard. 

And the fluttering panic turns into trembling hope. Richard . Standing in front of him is none other than the one person Damian can always trust to find those last, tiny little puzzle pieces to make everything okay again. Damian thinks he smiles, but his face feels too raw from scrubbing—and definitely not wiping away tears—for him to be sure. 

He almost greets Richard, but then he notices how haggard and worn he looks. His clothes don't match. His hair is a mess. There's a strange stench that almost overpowers the blood that sticks to Damian like super glue.

"Richard?" Damian asks, trying to sound braver than what he actually all of a sudden felt. He has no need to be fearful of Richard… so why does he rapidly feel so afraid when Richard gives him a cold look and steps into the room?

"Sit," Richard says, pointing to the bed. Damian does as he's told, slowly. He tries to think of what Richard would be so upset about. Surely he's not here to simply carry on the will of their father and punish Damian himself? "Bruce told me to talk to you."

"I see…" Damian says, scooting to the side to make room for Richard to sit besides him. Richard doesn't take the offer. He stands tall above Damian, his arms across his chest. 

He remains silent as Richard takes a deep breath. He remains frozen as Richard begins to speak. "Bruce told me you killed someone."

And those words coming out of Richard's mouth… hurts. Hurts enough for Damian to realize that they're not true. They can't be true. Damian… he doesn't kill. He doesn't . And there has to be... some sort of explanation he hasn't realized yet. He opens his mouth. "I didn't kill him."

And it sounds true. It feels true. 

But Richard's face doesn't soften. It doesn't fade into sympathy and understanding like Damian had… expected it to. In fact, much the opposite happens. Richard's face screws up like he's bitten into something bitter. It makes the bags under his eyes so much sharper. Damian wonders how much sleep he's gotten. 

"You sliced a man's throat ," Richard argues. Argues . It shouldn't shock Damian, but it does. He can just sit there and Richard glares at him and begins to pace, wringing his hands together with jolting movements. "Jesus, Damian. Fucking Christ ."

Damian's rooted to the spot. His mouth dry. Richard… has never sworn at Damian like this before. Has never been this visibly angry. 

"I've had a long ass week," Richard continues, his voice rising to almost hysterical. "And right when I'm about to take a shower and go to bed , your dad calls me and tells me a man died tonight. A newbie burglar. That you could have fought off easily . Bruce doesn't know how to deal with you. No one knows how to deal with you. So I'm forced to drag my ass over here to find out what happened while Bruce deals with the cops and-"

"I didn't kill him on purpose!" Damian shouts, shocking himself with the anger that shook his tone. Richard stops his pacing and looks at Damian without a smidge of belief. It sends a dagger through Damian's gut. "There was a baby, and I just wanted to-"

Richard releases a bitter laugh, stopping Damian mid sentence; he sinks to the ground and places his elbows on his knees, cradling his forehead in his hands between his curled up body. "I'm too tired for this, Dames. I'm really too tired."

"Richard-"

"Just," Richard huffs, rubs his temples, "stop."

Damian snaps his mouth shut. His chest feels tight. He's seen Richard worn down like this before. He's seen how far Richard can fall in the right circumstances. But never before has his… frustrations ever been directed at Damian like this. Never before has Damian been so obviously the cause of his headaches. 

A beat of silence passes and Richard exhales. Doesn't bother to look up. "What's done is done. We'll deal with this and… figure out what to do with you later."

"What to do with me?" Damian repeats, and he hopes his voice didn't squeak. It probably did. That sentence somehow hurts more than anything. "You mean… get rid of me?"

Now Richard looks up, his eyes as wide and shocked as his red rimmed eyelids would allow. "Damian-"

"You're finally done with me," Damian continues, standing up from the bed and crossing his arms to hide the way his hands are beginning to shake. He can't breathe. "I make one mistake- I try to explain- and you want to get rid of me?"

Richard shakes his head. "No- no of course not-"

"You said you trust me." Damian feels something wet gather at the corners of his eyes. He ignores it. For all he knew, it could simply be blood. Murderers don't deserve to cry real tears. "And I can trust you. You said you'll always take my side."

Something hot falls down his cheek. Richard looks genuinely lost on what to do now. Of course he is lost. Father forced him to deal with Damian because no one else wants to bother. Damian's always been different from the others. A parasite. Something unwanted. Father chose the rest of his kids, but Damian was involuntary in every sense of the word. 

Damian's killed a lot of people. Damian's hard to get along with. Most people don't invite him places because they know he'll bring down the mood. Richard was the one person who looked past all that and gave him a chance. Saw the good in Damian that Damian had once thought was a weakness. 

Damian didn't murder the man tonight. He saved a baby. He was… defending himself. He- he let his instincts take over. So why is Damian to blame for that? Why should he be made out to be a monster when his instincts are still very much the very things he was brainwashed to believe since he was big enough to hold a sword? 

"You promised , Richard," Damian chokes. Why is he getting so emotional? Somewhere, deep inside him, he’s always known this would happen. It was always just a matter of time before everything came falling down around him. That he'd chase everyone away to the point that neither his mother's family nor his father's would want him. 

He wipes his eyes. 

"I trusted you."

"Damian," Richard finally speaks, but Damian shakes his head and runs towards his bedroom door without a single glance back.

He's through the hall, down the stairs towards the library, and into the cave all before he finally sucks in a jittering lungful of air. He scrambles for his bike, wiping blurs from his vision. He's speeding out the cave right as a voice shouts his name. 

He's too far away, driving too fast, to care. 

-o-o-o-o-

Damian's never had a panic attack before, but by the time he skids his bike to a stop in some random part of Gotham, he thinks he might be experiencing one.

His nerves are shot. His hands don't want to hold still. His vision keeps blurring and his chest really really hurts like his heart is finally deciding it doesn't want to belong to him anymore.

Why is he panicking like this? He's overreacting. He knows he is. He's still in a stupor thanks to the events that conspired a few hours earlier. He's still in disbelief that Richard has finally shown how little he actually values Damian's opinion. But these things don't warrant a panic attack. 

He's literally been through hell and back.

This should feel like nothing compared to that. 

And yet? It feels like a single pin has cracked through the surface of a frozen lake. A simple, stupid little thing hit the exact right places to send him spiraling. 

He hates this. He can't breath. His ribs hurt like they're broken. His head is fuzzy and he's overreacting and maybe Richard didn't actually mean what Damian thought he did. 

His knees give out and he scrambles backwards, splaying his hands on the ground and trying to grasp onto something , but his back just hits the wall. With blurry eyes, he looks up to see he's parked in an alley. Of course he has. He can practically imagine a tall, chain link fence and a corpse laying in front of it, blood pooling around him like spilled ink. 

He sucks in a breath, or maybe he sobs, and buries his head in his knees. His hands fly to his hair and he tries to think

But he can't. Because father doesn't want to deal with him. Richard deals with him because he's obligated to. All the other so-called siblings of this—that—family don't even have Damian's number. They don't want to talk with him. They don't invite him anywhere. They always look at him like he's made of slime. 

Damian understands. If he met someone exactly like him, all he'd see would probably be an irredeemable murderer too. 

Something suddenly sounds from down the street. Damian startles out from his cradled position to see moving shadows further down the alleyway. Panicked, Damian scrambles to his feet; his vision tilts and his legs shake as he does so, but he forces his body to move. He's dressed as Damian Wayne. Robin's cycle is right besides him. 

Damian can't mess up a second time tonight. 

He thinks maybe about jumping on the bike and riding away, but he can still hardly breathe. Do panic attacks normally last this long?! How does he get them to stop?!

Knowing it would be dangerous to ride in the state he's in, he uses every drop of will power he had to shove the vehicle behind a dumpster— a dumpster where a sobbing child lays, vulnerable to the nearest person with a taste for death and a gun in their hand. He shakes his head, biting the inside of his cheek to try and focus. Once he's sure the bike is hidden and out of the way, he turns around to find an escape route he can take while still compromised like this. 

His vision wobbles and he stumbles. A voice he doesn't recognize calls out. 

How would Richard say it? Oh yeah. Fucking Christ. 

Damian turns, heart in his throat, and begins to run the other direction, but somehow his unexpected guests catch up quicker than what they should. A rough hand the size of his entire bicep wraps around his upper arm, tugging him out of his uneven retreat and into a sturdy chest that reeks of marijuana. 

"What's a kid like you doing out here all alone?" A voice asks. Woman. Damian tries not to choke, but the stupid panic attack isn't leaving . It's just getting worse. He brings his free arm to grab at the restraining hold on him, but he gets nowhere. 

The man holding him chuckles. Tightens his grip around Damian arm and chest. Damian can’t stop the whimper that leaves his throat; the pressure is enough to easily bruise. His eyes sting traitorously. 

A third man steps in front of Damian. He looks like a rat personified. "The poor thing looks terrified," the man sneers. "Maybe we should take him somewhere safe. Off the streets."

Damian shakes his head, gasping, tears streaming down his face. Pathetic. Pathetic . He's better than this. He tries to breathe, but he just chokes again. He fights to be back in control of his own mind again and pulls his free elbow back, hitting the man holding him in the gut. 

The man groans, meaning Damian has managed to actually hit him effectively even in his compromised state, but the man doesn't really let go. In fact, the opposite happens. The man tightens his grip to an almost agonizing kind of pressure, then throws Damian to the side and against the dumpster. 

Damian hits awkwardly, his arm in front of his chest when he hits face on. He hears something snap. He hears his own scream. But he doesn't feel the pain until he's blinking stars from his vision, curled up on the ground. 

And now? Nothing makes sense. He's trapped in a haze of pain and terror that all he can see through his teared up vision is three vague, human-like forms approaching him. All he can hear is echoing laughter and the distant sounds of sirens going in the opposite direction. 

Damian would cry if he wasn't already. 

A heartless hand wraps around his arm again, dragging him to his feet with an uncaring roughness that sends Damian reeling with pain. It's this moment that Damian knows he's lost. He can't fight back like this. Not dazed and trapped in his own mind like this. He wonders what they'll do to him. Gotham criminals aren't like others. They don't care if their victim is a kid. 

They'll torture, beat, abduct, rape him the same they would any adult. 

He wants to fight back. He wants to go home and fall to his father's feet and beg forgiveness. He doesn't want this. He's being manhandled further down, away from the mouth of the alleyway, away from his bike, away from the home he was so sure he used to have. 

With his good arm, he clutches to the shirt of the person dragging him away. He can't find his feet, he can't find his brain. 

He doesn't want this. He didn't mean for this to happen. Not any of this. 

He closes his eyes and tears drip.

However, right as he lets his eyes fall closed to accept his fate, a fourth voice shouts into the alley. A familiar voice. One that has him shooting his eyes open in shock. 

Richard is wearing an old Nightwing suit. But it's still undeniably him. Looking pissed as hell. The escrima sticks in his hands already sparking with electricity. 

Damian let's his eyes fall back closed. He goes limp as Richard makes embarrassingly quick work of Damian's would be kidnappers. Embarrassing for who? Damian's not sure. He feels mostly like crap.

Soon enough, he's back on the ground, gasping for air as familiar arms wrap around him and pull him closer. And even though Damian feels betrayed and lied to and broken, he immediately relaxes against Richard's chest, forcing himself to listen to the breaths Richard takes and match them accordingly. He has his broken arm cradled to his chest, and Richard is impossibly gentle while lifting him up so he hadley feels it jostle. 

"I've got him B," Nightwing says, sounding breathless and angry. "I'm bringing him back."

-o-o-o-o-

"I watched the cowl footage," Richard says while driving the Batmobile; Damian sits in the passenger seat as they make their ways back to the cave. 

Damian doesn't speak. Just looks out the window. Pretends his arm that's in a makeshift split doesn't hurt to high heavens. 

Richard takes a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Damian."

That gets Damian's attention. He looks over at Richard and his eyebrows raise at the sight before him. Richard looks… torn. Face a mixture of a deep sadness and guilt that surely must be turning his knuckles white around the steering wheel.

"Bruce saw you kill someone. I saw you pinned and protecting an infant. I saw you grab the wrong blade with your wrong hand, but use it in the way I taught you. If you were using your left handed sword, you would have hit him with the blunt side."

And the missing pieces slowly fall into place. 

"The police aren't going to press charges," Richard continues, "as far as they're concerned, it was out of self defense."

And just like that, things make a perfect picture. 

But Damian... doesn't feel as relieved as he should be, even though now he has proof that his natural instincts aren't to kill, but only to disable. 

"You didn't believe me," Damian whispers. But it's so loud inside the car. 

"I know," Richard replies with a tight and wet voice. "I know. I… you were right. I told you I'll always take your side… and I didn't this time. I was frustrated and angry with Bruce and I took that out on you instead of doing what I promised I'd always do…"

"You only came because father forced you to."

Richard winces. Bites his lip. Inhales deeply. "He couldn't force me to stay away from you, Dami… I just… it's been a really long week. And it… it frustrates me to see that even after all these years, I'm still more of a da- guardian to you than he is. He calls me whenever he doesn't understand something about you. I just wish he'd learn to understand. I know he's doing his best, but… I'm not your dad. I can't… I can't run at every dime to help you when he should have… I guess I'm saying Damian is that I would drop the whole world to be with you. I just wish Bruce would… "

Make the same effort. 

Damian understands. 

"You're so easy to love, Damian," Richard whispers. "So easy ."

Damian licks his lips. "So… you still mean what you said?"

Richard frowns slightly. 

Damian elaborates. "All those things you said. That I can trust you no matter what. That if father never came back you would have adopted me yourself."

"Yes," Richard says immediately. 

"So if I asked you," Damian continues, tugging at the fabric of his pants with his uninjured arm, "right now to turn around and drive to Blüdhaven. Let me take your guest room. Tell father he can't have me back. You would do it?'

"Yes."

Immediately. Damian feels his throat tighten. 

The Batmobile slows to a stop off to the side of the empty streets just outside Bristol. Richard breathes for a moment. Then turns towards Damian fully. 

"Is this… you asking?"

Is it? 

Damian bites his lip. 

Then he shakes his head. 

"No. I know my father is trying his best. I wish… to try a little more with him."

Richard nods. Just nods. Doesn't express disappointment or relief. And Damian feels like the world is right again. 

"He loves you Dames," Richard says. "He's terrible at showing it. But I meant it when I said you're so easy to love. Just not everyone is as awesome at what makes you tick as I am."

"Careful to not be too humble, Richard," Damian teases, wiping at his cheeks which are wet again.

Richard laughs and leans over the seats of the Batmobile to pull Damian into a careful embrace. 

"I'm sorry," Richard whispers. 

Damian smiles. His chest feels lighter than what it has in awhile. 

"It's okay. I trust you.”

"I trust you too…” Richard takes a deep breath and lets go of Damian. He pulls the batmobile back onto the road. Damian almost thinks that the rest of the ride will be spent in companionable silence. But then Richard says one more thing. “I love you, Dames. More than anything in the world."

Damian trusts Richard. He believes him. He finds a smile spreading further on his lips. A warm feeling settles in his chest.

“I love you too, Richard.”