Damian watched. It was all too familiar a practice, something he’d done before the Bat and something he’d do after. Before he’d watched for information, watched for changes in moods and harsher training. In a world where he was told nothing, he watched to get an advantage.
Now, immersed in a new environment, he watched to understand. He watched to comprehend this family dynamic, so different from the one his mother and grandfather had cultivated with him. So Damian watched and he learned and he noticed.
He noticed a lot, but most of all, he noticed Drake.
Drake, the third son.
Drake, the genius.
Drake, the trustworthy.
Drake, the businessman.
Drake, the strategic.
Drake, the strong.
Drake, the favoured.
Drake, who could make Father smile with his brilliance. Drake, who had Todd in his pocket. Drake, who could send Grayson running with just a word. Drake, who was the only one allowed to see Cain dance. Drake, who Brown would give some of her waffles to. Drake, who Gordon enjoyed discussing blackmail with. Drake, who Alfred offered more lenience to. Drake, Drake, Drake--
Damian watched and he saw all the things no one else did. He saw Drake, who had everyone’s trust. Drake, who had a place in this family. Drake, who resembled Father more than any of his other children.
Drake, who had everything and was everything Damian wanted to be.
Drake, who right now stood in the Batcave. He snorted at something Todd said and waved as Cain came out of the changing room. He glanced over at Damian almost disdainfully.
“Whatcha looking at, Dami?” Grayson piped up from behind Damian, resting a hand on his shoulder. Damian glanced at him and shook his head.
“Tt, nothing important. I must get changed,” Damian announced, stepping away from Grayson’s hovering. On the way to the changing room, Damian snuck a last look back at Drake.
I cannot stand you, Damian thought and then, quieter, I wish I was you.
Drake remained blithely ignorant.
It was another fight. Contrary to popular belief, Damian didn’t enjoy fighting with Drake. Not anymore. No, now it only proved exhausting. Now, it drained everything from him to argue with Drake and see everyone take his side. These bickering sessions only reminded Damian of how alone he was in this family of eight.
“You need to get over yourself, Damian!” Drake shouted, throwing his hands in the air. “You’re not above me in terms of authority, which means when I say something, you listen! You seem to be under the misconception that you have an advantage in this family so let me make it perfectly clear: you don’t.”
“I am the blood son!” Damian shouted, hands shaking and stomach turning. He was blood; he was DNA; he was the true son. He was supposed to be important. He was supposed to be loved. His nails dug into his palms hard enough to bleed, but Damian relished the grounding sensation.
Drake crossed his arms, eyes rolling to the ceiling like a silent prayer. “We know Damian! At this point, I’m pretty sure half the world knows! You’re the blood son; you’re the heir to Batman; you’re the only one worth something. All of us pale in comparison, oh great one. You’re his only true son!”
“Then why am I the one he doesn’t want!?” Damian screamed. “Blood is everything to an Al Ghul and yet Father has made it clear that out of all of his children, I am the one forced upon him, the one he does not care for! Why am I…” His voice lowered to a broken whisper, “Why am I not good enough?”
Drake went silent. It was only the two of them in the Cave tonight, everyone else still out patrolling. His whispered words echoed in the enclosed area. They’d come back to get Damian’s shoulder checked out, a harsh tug leaving it aching from jumping in where he shouldn’t have. Drake had been furious that Damian disobeyed direct orders, but the anger seemed to dissipate as Damian took in shuddering breaths.
“What?” Drake finally said. Damian’s face lit up red.
“I’m done here, I’m going to my room. Don’t bother me,” Damian hissed and started to walk away. Before he could get too far, a hand wrapped around his good arm and yanked him back.
“No, Damian, wait. That’s not what I meant, I just… You can’t honestly believe that, right?”
Damian sneered. “Can’t honestly believe what? The truth? I’m not stupid, Drake. Observation was something I learned young and my skills have only improved with time.”
“What? No, Damian. Bruce loves you,” Drake insisted. “He loves you. That’s not what I meant. I just… Bruce loves you, but he loves us—his other kids—too. He loves all of us the same amount. One of us isn’t any more important to him. There isn’t any one of us he’d pick over the other. Especially, well…especially not you.”
Damian looked away, a lump in his throat. “He does not enjoy my presence as he does yours. No one does.”
Drake ran a hand down his face. “That’s not… he likes spending time with you, Damian, he just… Well, he’s an emotionally constipated idiot. He abandoned you not even a year after you came to the manor, willingly or not, and he’s jealous of your bond with Dick. He wants to get to know you as your father but he doesn’t know how. Maybe he even thinks he’s too late. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you very, very much. And the rest of us do too, even if we aren’t the best at showing it.”
Damian swallowed, fists unclenching slowly. Drake caught sight of the blood on his palms and sighed. Wordlessly, Drake reached out a hand and gently tugged Damian over to the medbay. He grabbed some disinfectant and bandages, cleaning out the cuts before wrapping them. Drake’s hands were delicate and warm on Damian’s. He so rarely got physical affection outside of Dick’s hugs.
“I don’t understand this family,” Damian admitted quietly, like it was a sin. Drake huffed softly.
“I didn’t either, at first.”
Damian tilted his head. “What do you mean?”
“My parents…” Drake sighed. “My parents weren’t the best. Never physically abusive, but they were neglectful at best and emotionally abusive at worst. It took me a long time to unlearn all the things they taught me. At first, it was overwhelming. Everything was so different at the manor. I didn’t understand what certain actions meant. I lashed out more than once. I pushed the boundaries to see how far I could go before I got punished. It was hard, but eventually… eventually, I learned. And it got better. I know we don’t exactly have the best relationship, but… we’re family, Damian. I’m here for you.”
Damian’s eyes stung. He felt like an outsider a lot of the times in this family. He felt like he didn’t belong, like he wasn’t wanted. Grayson helped a lot, but he had his own life and his own home. He couldn’t be there for Damian all the time. This though—Drake’s soft words and gentle hands—this he thought he’d like to have.
It would be difficult, Damian knew, but he thought it was possible. With time and effort and error, he thought he could learn to be a part of this family. And maybe… maybe Drake—Tim—could help him.