“So are the rumors true? Is Batman your father?”
Grayson grits his teeth, neck and jaw so tense that Damian worries for the structural integrity of his molars. He’s gone three shades too pale over the course of the past twenty or so minutes of interrogation, except for the bright blush of fever high on his cheekbones, and a thin and grimy layer of sweat shines on his skin.
The drug— truth serum, their captor had said delightedly—is doing a number on Nightwing’s system. He hadn’t said a word about it and was clearly fighting through his distress, but it’s clear that it’s incredibly painful, and not just when Grayson attempts to withhold his answers.
He’s wavering, growing weak and delirious. Damian wishes they had drugged him instead. He is better trained than Nightwing at resisting and weathering various poisons and toxins.
“Yes,” Grayson says. He writhes weakly in the chair he’s chained to, trying to find relief from the pain, but there’s no escaping his own body.
Their captor grins too widely, like a manic shark. Both Nightwing and Robin still have their masks on. This isn’t about uncovering their identities. This is about torment, about fun. Damian hates this man fiercely.
“And do you have siblings?”
“Yes,” Grayson answers, even quicker than he did with the question about Father.
“Oh? Who are they?”
For a moment, Damian thinks Grayson might slip up. The truth serum is clearly powerful, and Nightwing’s strength seems to be flagging. He groans, gritting his teeth, before shaking his head slightly.
“Red Hood,” he grits out, and Damian relaxes marginally. It’s not good for their kidnappers to know what the members of this family mean to each other, but at least Grayson, the sentimental fool that he is, isn’t spilling their best-kept secrets.
Of course he isn’t. Damian mentally berates himself for ever doubting him. Grayson is far too smart, too strong, too good at this to give away their identities so easily.
“Red Robin,” Grayson continues, “Black Bat, Signal.”
Damian tenses, waiting for his own moniker, but it never comes. The silence stretches, and Grayson makes no move to fill it, panting slightly as his chin hits his chest once more. Perhaps… perhaps he can still omit things. Perhaps Grayson is foolishly trying to spare Damian any possible retribution should their captors realize that he and Robin are family. Damian does not want to be used as leverage, especially against Grayson.
“But not Robin?” their captor asks, grabbing Damian painfully by the hair and forcing him to face Nightwing. He tries to glare, but the hand in his hair holds him still. All he can see is Grayson.
Grayson, who shakes his head. “No,” he whispers, and ice floods Damian’s veins. “Not Robin. Just… just the others.” He lets out a pained gasp before struggling to lifting his gaze to meet Damian’s. “I’m sorry.”
“Huh,” their captor says before shoving Damian’s head away from him. “Well that’s certainly an interesting development. Wonder why you didn’t make the cut, kid.”
Grayson doesn’t have to answer. They didn’t ask him a question, he doesn’t have to say a word—
“He’s not like the others,” Grayson says. He sounds near tears. Guilt, Damian thinks, guilt at having his lies exposed this way.
Rage curdles in Damian’s stomach. How dare Grayson have the audacity to sit there and be upset when he has been lying for years. He never cared about Damian, never loved him like he’d claimed over and over again. He probably just wanted to keep Damian from going back to the League, keep one more of Batman enemies on a leash.
The betrayal hurts worse than anything he’s ever felt. It hurts more than the sword through his chest, than dying— He had died for Grayson, and Grayson had never even cared about him.
(And the worst part is, there is a piece of Damian that knows he would do it again. That part of him is screaming while the rest of him is numb. It was always too good to be true anyway, that someone could love Damian unconditionally.)
Because people lie. They lie all the time and even more so in this ridiculous, fake family. Dick Grayson has a quick wit and a way with people, he knew just what to say to Damian to make him trust him. He’s known Grayson could lie better than anyone, he’d just been too foolish to think that he would lie to Damian too. People lie, but truth serum doesn’t.
Damian isn’t Grayson’s brother. Maybe legally he is, but not in the way that matters. We get to choose who our family is, Grayson had once said, his hand on Damian’s shoulder. Grayson hadn’t chosen him.
And why would he? Damian’s a killer. A spoiled, stubborn, murderous demon brat. Grayson’s right: Damian’s not like the others. He’d thought maybe he could be, even though he wasn’t asked for, even though he wasn’t chosen, but apparently he was wrong. Nothing he’s done has actually been good enough to earn his family’s love.
Damian blinks, his vision suddenly blurred. Tears have leaked out into his mask, getting caught behind the lenses. They drain out slowly, slipping through and around the adhesive holding his mask in place.
“Care to elaborate, Nightwing?” their kidnapper asks, brushing his fingers roughly through Grayson’s hair. Grayson whines, trying to pull away with nowhere to go. “What makes Robin different?”
No. Damian does not want to hear this. He doesn’t need Grayson to spell out his failures and flaws. He knows them all by heart already.
Grayson coughs, his breath rattling. “Robin—” He grits his teeth, a pained groan escaping nonetheless. “Robin, he’s—”
But their captor never gets to find out why Nightwing doesn’t care about Robin, because before Grayson can muster up enough strength to answer, the door comes crashing open and an onslaught of black and red kevlar descends upon them. Their captor doesn’t stand a chance against the combined forces of Batman, Black Bat, and Red Robin, who’ve clearly already cut through his reinforcements stationed outside like a hot knife through butter.
Drake undoes Damian’s restraints while Batman works on Grayson’s. Cain kneels in front of her oldest brother, catching his torso when he slumps forward and nearly falls to the floor the moment there aren’t any more chains keeping him upright.
“Robin,” Drake says as Damian rubs his raw wrists and rolls his aching shoulders. “Are you hurt? Did they drug you too?”
Damian shakes his head. “I am unharmed. And he only dosed Nightwing. I believe I was meant to be leverage.” Some leverage he turned out to be, although Grayson would still probably try to protect him. It was just how he was, doing everything he could to protect even strangers he knew nothing about. Damian, the kid who lived under his roof for over a year, would probably be granted that same protection, at the very least.
“Come,” Cain says, drawing their attention back to Grayson, who is now slumped between her and Batman, unconscious. “Nightwing needs medical. Let’s go.”
Drake rushes to help support Grayson as they take their exit, and after a long moment of hesitation, Damian scrambles after them, limbs heavy and heart numb.
Damian runs as soon as Cain and Thomas finish checking him for nonexistent injuries. Pennyworth and Father are busy with Grayson, who had taken a turn for the worse seemingly as soon as they’d gotten him into the Batmobile.
Damian had ridden the whole way back to the Cave with Grayson’s head pillowed in his lap, his hand awkwardly resting in his—not brother, they weren’t brothers—former Batman’s sweaty hair. Father and Drake had just deposited him there, not bothering to get approval from Damian before entrusting Grayson’s safety and comfort to him. Why would they? Before, Damian wouldn’t have let anyone else be the one to support his Batman. He can’t find it in him to blame them.
But he runs away, the moment he can, not turning back to see Grayson hooked up to wires and machines to monitor his too-weak heartbeat and too-low oxygen. There’s nowhere really to go, but he slips from the Cave as quick as he can, moving until he just stops, socks sliding on the tile floor of the kitchen.
Maybe he should leave for real. Leave the Manor and all its people and memories behind. But where would he go? The League? He shudders at the thought. And Gotham’s streets aren’t kind to lost and abandoned children. No, he has no choice but to stay here, in a home where he isn’t wanted but at least he’s tolerated.
Damian methodically makes himself a cup of tea, his typical post-patrol ritual. His hands are shaking badly, but he manages to avoid scalding himself. He drinks it at the kitchen counter, unwilling to go out and sit in the dining room and that great big empty table alone. The tea goes cold before he can finish it. He finishes it anyway, then holds the tea cup between his palms until the porcelain goes cold too.
“What are you doing up here?” Drake eventually interrupts him, looking actually alarmed to see Damian in his own kitchen. “Normally when Dick’s in the medbay we can’t even bribe you to leave his side.”
Damian’s face goes hot with humiliation, refusing to turn and look at Drake. All those times he’d sat at Grayson’s bedside, he’d never truly been wanted. He’d thought his presence would be comforting, and he’d wanted to know that Grayson would be okay. Had Damian actually been making things worse? Had Grayson ever feigned sleep to avoid him for just a little while longer? No matter. He would never make that mistake again.
“Don’t worry, Drake,” he spits out venom, aiming to hurt. He feels hollow. Drake isn’t the real target of his anger. It’s Grayson. It’s himself. “I’m not going to bother him. Wouldn’t want to impede his recovery.”
“Um… Okay…” Drake frowns. He looks tired and worn, dark circles smudging the skin beneath his eyes. Worry for Grayson and exhaustion from searching for an antidote, Damian assumes. “Is everything… okay, Damian?”
He steps forward, looking at Damian like he’s something to be pitied. Maybe he is. After all, what’s more pitiful than spending years thinking someone loved you when it was all a lie? Damian truly is pathetic.
“Everything is as it should be, I suppose.” Drake will probably be delighted by this turn of events. Maybe eventually he’ll become Robin again. Damian won’t let it go so easily, but some of his pride in it is fading, is turning hollow.
“Are you hurt? Did you and Dick fight?”
“You’d like that wouldn’t you,” Damian sneers. “No, Drake. We didn’t fight, and as if I would allow some third-rate wannabe villain to hurt me. Everything is perfectly fine. Why don’t you go sit with Grayson instead of bothering me.”
“Alright,” Drake says slowly. “I’ll go sit with him. Wouldn’t want him to wake up alone, I just figured you’d be down there.”
“Well, I’m clearly not, so you can go now.”
He looks at Damian for a long moment, his expression unreadable, before turning to leave. “You know, there’s plenty of room for multiple people to sit with Dick while he recovers.”
“Go away, Drake!” The teacup shatters on the kitchen floor, and Drake rushes off.
Grayson is stuck in the med bay for four whole days. The entire time Damian refuses to set foot in the Cave, even though it means he misses patrol. Pennyworth feels his forehead multiple times and tries to jam a thermometer in his mouth repeatedly, but eventually he gives up. Damian isn’t ill anyway.
Drake, Cain, and Thomas all try to tell Damian that Grayson has been asking for him since the moment his eyes had blinked open, but Damian refuses to put himself through that humiliation just to assuage Grayson’s guilt. Instead, he hides away in his room, alone and lonely, the way he should be.
But he should have known better than to think that Dick Grayson, raised by a steadfast butler and the most stubborn man in the world, would leave him alone. Grayson actually has the audacity to come ambush Damian in his own room.
He stands in the doorway, knuckles wrapping on the wooden trim. It’s only open so Titus and Alfred can come and go as they please, but now Damian regrets it. He would have shut it and locked it had he known that Grayson was well enough to escape medical.
“Hey,” he says softly, trying to smile at Damian. He’s still pale, his lips colorless and his eyes dull. His normally soft and shiny hair is in desperate need of a wash, and it looks a bit like a strong breeze could knock him flat on his ass. Damian has no clue how he could have possibly made it up three flights of stairs, but here he is somehow. “Can we talk?”
“No,” Damian snaps, slamming his sketchbook shut in his lap. He hadn't been drawing anything anyway, just holding the pencil in a death grip hovering over the pages. “Go away, Grayson.”
“Damian, will you please talk to me? I can explain everything, I swear. We really, really need to talk.”
“There is nothing to talk about. Go back to bed, Grayson, before I alert Pennyworth and inform him that you got up.”
“I’ve been in bed for almost a week, Dames. I think I’m good.” He takes a step forward, crossing the threshold into Damian’s room but doesn’t come any closer.
Damian flinches at the nickname. “Four days is hardly a week, imbecil.”
Grayson has the audacity to actually smile at him. “Oh, little D. I’ve missed you so much.”
“Stop lying!” Damian shouts, hands balled into fists. His nails bite at the skin of his palms. He smacks his mattress, vindictively satisfied when Grayson winces at the sudden volume and anger. “You have lied to my face for years, Grayson,” he hisses. “The least you could do is stop pretending now. You don’t like me. You don’t care about me, and you probably never have.”
“Damian, no. ” Grayson takes a step towards him, his expression like a wounded puppy. “That’s not true. I love you. What I said while I was dosed with the serum isn’t what I meant. It’s not true, Damian. It’s not what I meant!”
“You had been dosed with truth serum. Truth serum! And you said… and you said I wasn’t like them. That I wasn’t your family.”
“No,” Grayson says instantly. Desperately. He shakes his head rapidly, hands reaching out. If he comes any closer, Damian will reach for his sword. “No, I said you weren’t my brother.”
“It makes no difference!”
“It does. It does, Damian, please. Please, you have to let me explain. I figured it out and I need you to know. I need you to understand. Please. I need to explain myself.”
“Why should I? So I can hear more of your lies? Get out of my room, Grayson. Now. ”
“We still have a sample of the serum,” Grayson says in a rush, inhaling shakily. “I’ll take it again, so you know I’m not lying.”
Damian’s eyes go wide. “No!” he scrambles up and onto his feet, throwing a hand out to stop him even if Grayson hasn’t moved yet. “It hurt you. It—it nearly killed you. Why… Why would you voluntarily take it again?”
Grayson... has betrayed him horribly, but Damian will not watch him suffer like that again. He doesn't ever want to see Grayson hurting, and he hates himself for being weak enough to feel that way.
Grayson drops to his knees in front of Damian with far less grace than usual. He reaches out for Damian’s face, but Damian takes a step back out of his reach and lets his arms fall limp. Grayson looks utterly devastated, and some childish part of Damian wants to run to him and fall into his arms, to pretend again that he can be safe and loved in Grayson’s hold. But he still has enough pride to stay where he is, still and careful as Grayson crumbles.
“Because,” Grayson croaks, “I would rather feel all that pain and helplessness all over again than let you keep thinking that I don’t care about you. Please, Damian. Just let me explain.”
“I don’t see how you can explain away what you said while drugged, but.” Damian swallows hard, remembering Grayson’s slack face and too-pale skin. Even in those moments with his whole world ripped out from under his feet, it had been a terrifying sight to see. “Dosing yourself again is not necessary. That you would even be willing to… It says enough.” He drops to the floor too, sitting down across from Grayson, a four foot chasm between them.
“The serum,” Grayson starts, “it wouldn’t let me lie at all. Not even to myself.”
“So you have been trying then,” Damian says numbly, his stomach sinking. “You wish you could love me, but you just can’t bring yourself to. It’s me who has made it so impossible for you to actually care.”
“No. No.” Grayson shakes his head almost violently. “I do love you, Damian. I love you so, so much. You’re easy to love. Easier than breathing. Even if you never believe anything else I say for the rest of our lives, I need you to believe that much. I love you, Damian.”
“Then why? I don’t understand.” His eyes burn once more. There are few feelings in this world that Damian loathes more than helpless confusion, and right now he feels like he’s drowning in it. Nothing makes sense and there’s no buoy in sight for him to cling to.
“You’re different,” Grayson says, and Damian flinches back. He’s not like the others. “I… The others… Tim and Jason and Cass and Duke, I care for them and love them to pieces, but it’s different with us. You and me. And I think you know that too, at least deep down. I—I raised you, kiddo,” he breathes, ducking his head slightly. Damian goes still, doesn’t even dare to blink. “I don’t see you as my little brother anymore because I guess I still think of you more as my kid than anything else. My son.”
Damian can’t breathe. All the air has been sucked from the room. He’s spinning and drowning but Grayson keeps going.
“And it’s okay if you don’t think of me the same way. I understand, Dami, I do. I’d never want to overstep or try to replace Bruce. It’s okay if I’m just your brother. I get it, I swear. But the serum forced me to realize some things I’d been avoiding thinking about because it hurt too much, but then it just wound up hurting you. Maybe I would’ve said something one day, maybe not, but I love you way too much to ever let you think that you don’t matter to me. You mean the world to me, Damian.”
“I—” Damian stares, searching desperately for any hint that Grayson could possibly be lying to him. But his face is open and vulnerable, his devastation and love out there so plainly for anyone walking by to see. He can practically feel it radiating across the room, threatening to smother Damian.
A sob tears itself from his throat, ripped violently out of his chest as Damian unfolds his legs just enough to launch himself across the gap between them, colliding with Grayson’s chest and throwing his arms around his neck. Grayson grunts with the impact, clearly not ready for the attack, but his arms come up to wrap around Damian without hesitation. Like it’s instinctive for him. Like a father who’s always ready and willing to hold his son.
“I’m so sorry,” Grayson mumbles, pressing kiss after kiss to the top of Damian’s head. “I’m so sorry, Dames, I love you.”
Damian shakes his head. He's experiencing emotional whiplash, his heart having been hurled back and forth like one of Titus's chew toys. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“I’m still sorry. I hurt you, even if I didn’t want to. I never wanted to.”
“Then… I forgive you.”
Grayson laughs, the sound hoarse and watery. Tears fall into Damian’s hair. “You’re too good. I don’t deserve you, but I do love you, Damian. I love you more than anything.”
“I love you too,” Damian says, nose still pressed into Grayson’s shoulder. Into his dad’s shoulder. “I'm... I’m sorry that I doubted you.”
Grayson shakes his head. “I didn’t give you any other choice. You didn’t do anything wrong here, sweetheart. I should’ve talked to you sooner, made myself explicitly clear before any of this even happened.”
“I love you too,” Damian says again because he knows what Grayson means now. It’s there, in every sentence he says, underlying every word. He’s never felt warmth like this. Love, pure unconditional love.
The same love he feels for Grayson right back, the first person to believe him and care for him and try to understand. The only person that Damian thinks he would still kill for, even if he knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that Grayson would never ask him to. Someone who he would die for but who also makes him proud to be alive and to be Damian Wayne. To be Robin. He thinks Robin is the best thing he’s ever done, but Grayson is the best thing that’s ever happened to him.
Grayson pulls back just slightly, his hands cupping Damian’s cheeks fiercely. “So you know I love you, right? I like you and I love you and I would do anything for you. You’re my kid and I love you so much. I need to hear you say that you know that, Dames. Please.”
“I know,” Damian whispers, squirming slightly under the intensity of Grayson’s gaze. “I believe you, I promise.”
“Alright,” Grayson huffs, his voice a teary laugh. He tips forward to press his forehead to Damian’s. Damian lets his eyes fall closed, lets himself drown in the onslaught of pure love.