Actions

Work Header

Culture Shock

Chapter Text

Part I - Damian

 

 

It should have been enough for the entire family to be on admittedly strained speaking terms, Damian Wayne al Ghul, son of the Bat and grandson of the Demon’s Head decided. Father was expecting too much for everyone to sit down to a ‘family-style dinner’ without losing one or two of the weaker members in the process. It simply brought out the worst in everyone, and when all of them plus their guest sat down together - Father at the head, Grayson at his right hand, Todd at his side (and there would be blood spilled between he and Grayson this night, Damian was sure of this), Brown, himself, Cain, (the only two who could keep in him place for even a moment, through very different means) Drake’s oafish friend Kent (It truly amazed him how a superhero could have such little personal grace. Father wasn’t like that, and neither was he), and then Drake himself (Oracle could not be there tonight, having prior engagements. Personally, Damian thought she was the wisest of them all) - he doubted there would be enough food for everyone to have thirds.

Drake’s 22nd birthday aside, he really wasn’t sure why Father thought this was a good idea. Drake himself was stiff as a board, hardly picking at his food! The man was hopelessly small and thin to begin with, and if Damian didn’t know exactly how much he could eat, would assume he was being starved, or some such. Hopeless. He shook his head and swore in Farsi under his breath, and to either side the girls surreptitiously put more food on his plate.

That was the one positive about this evening. For whatever reason, Brown and Cain seemed to make it their duty to keep him fed, and for once he was not going to complain. Alfred had made his famous garlic mashed potatoes, and although Damian could give or take most aspects of western cuisine, he had made up his mind very early about those.

He’d train doubly hard tomorrow, but every spoonful of potato on this table would meet the inside of his belly very, very soon.

The maker of the culinary delight seemed happy, hovering about the table and paying especial attention to Todd and Grayson, although it could simply be that they were placed nearest to him. Or perhaps he, too read the tension between Drake, his awkward guest, and the rest of the table. Yet Damian thought it might be the former. Although Todd had reached an unsteady detente with most of the family years ago, tensions still flared and matters between he and Father were strained at best. Matters between himself and his mother’s former protegee were non-existent, of course, no matter Damian’s personal and very private opinions on the man’s fighting style. (He would admit - only to himself, of course - that between all his ‘older brothers,’ he considered Todd to be the most dangerous. In the past Grayson had always defeated him, but Damian knew that it was because Todd simply didn’t have the stomach to kill the man he’d once called older brother. Damian knew that Todd certainly had the training to break a man in half like a dry twig and the will to use it on anyone who wasn’t currently seated at the table.)

“Looking grim, there, Dami. Something wrong with the potatoes?” Brown leaned in a little, not wanting to cut through the collection of other strained conversations at the table. Currently, the only ones who seemed unmoved by the awkwardness were Cain and Todd, talking in Japanese about what may be - his Japanese wasn’t very good, he would admit it - a seafood dish, living room decorations, or a homemade bomb. Damian turned back to Brown, knowing that she was probably his best bet of insipid yet unstilted conversation.

“There is never anything wrong with these potatoes. What is wrong with you, foolish woman?”

His retort shouldn’t make her lips twist in suppressed pleasure, but that seemed to invariably be her reaction. “Loosen up, Dami. It’s gonna’ be a long night, otherwise…”

“Tch. I understood that coming in.” Lowering his voice, he continued. “Why exactly are we all here? Drake has barely said a word and we exchanged gifts yesterday, on the actual day of his birth. There must be another point to this ‘family dinner.’ But then why invite Kent?”

There was a look of remarkable uneasiness that crossed her otherwise decently pleasant features. But before Damian could push, Drake stood, commanding the attention of the table.

He smiled somewhat awkwardly - his true smile, Damian noted, not one in the repertoire of his polished Timothy Drake-Wayne persona - before beginning. “Hello, everyone. Not to sound like I’m giving a board speech, but first I’d like to thank everyone for coming. Really. It’s been awhile since we’ve all sat around a table like this...without a villain holding us captive, anyway.” He glanced over at his friend, who smiled encouragingly. There was a very determined look in both their eyes, and Damian watched thoughtfully, surreptitiously scooping another spoonful of potatoes into his mouth. He felt justified when Todd did the exact same thing only with the salmon a moment later.

“Anyway. I’d also like to thank you for the birthday wishes. But I won’t insult your intelligence by going on about that. The true reason why I have invited everyone here today is because I have an announcement.” He glanced back down at his friend and now Damian saw the anxiety in his gaze. Kent must have seen it too, as he stood next to him, and set his shoulders so that for the first time all evening, he looked almost impressive.

We have an announcement,” Kent added, glancingly almost shyly at Drake as he did so.

Damian’s eyebrows furrowed. Was all this fuss about them wanting to go off and make a new partnership? A new league, perhaps? This was an odd place to bring it up. Surely alter ego talk should be reserved for the batcave, not the dinner table…

But then Drake’s friend laced his fingers through Drake’s own, and Damian could feel his brain stall. He simply could not make the connection, as if the surprise itself was too great for even him to immediately comprehend.

Tim smiled back at him before raising his chin. “Kon and I are together. We wanted to tell you first, before we made any firm decisions about our future.” He took a deep breath. “And...also to see if we had your support.”

Damian made some sort of surprised noise in the shocked silence that followed and immediately felt Cain’s bony elbow land against his sternum, and Brown’s deceptively small hand at his mouth, keeping him from voicing his opinion. Dimly, he was impressed at Cain and Brown’s synchronicity, and wondered if all those years of fighting with Barbara had taught them this. Yet they needn’t have bothered. For once, Drake had surprised him into speechlessness, and all he could do was sit there with Brown’s hand still on his mouth and watch the spectacle unfold.

As he inevitably would, Father commanded all the attention in a single word. “What?”

Drake swallowed, but stood up manfully under his mentor’s obvious disapproval. “Kon and I have been romantically involved for almost three years now, Bruce, and we’ve kept it a secret the entire time. We want the chance to be open about our relationship, even if it’s just as Tim Drake and Conner Kent, rather than Red Robin and Superboy.

Drake glanced around the table to Grayson and Todd, oddly enough, who had said nothing the entire time. Yet then Todd nodded, smirking a little. Drake seemed to take some encouragement from this and continued. “Some...already know. Barbara, Jason, Dick...Stephanie. But we wanted the entire family to know.”

Damian felt himself turn slowly to Stephanie who glanced over at him out of the corner of his eye with an apologetic expression on her face. He was torn between respect at her deviousness and surprise that she could keep a secret that long. But her hand was still over his mouth so he would tell her none of this. Not that he would tell her any of this anyway, but the point remained. Why was her hand still there? Did no one else notice this?

Did no one else notice how good she smelled, either?

Father began shaking his head, slowly, his eyes tracking from Drake to Kent. “This isn’t funny, boys. Joke time’s over.”

“It’s not a joke, sir,” Kent fixed Father with an earnestness that Damian suspected he had inherited from his kryptonian father. “I’m in love with Tim. We’re in love with each other. No matter what you say, that’s not going to change.”

Father narrowed his eyes. “No. No.” And then, as if it had just occurred to him, “Does Clark know?”

Kent gave Tim a look. “He knows I’m seeing someone...and that it’s serious. We were going to have dinner with him tomorrow and tell him.”

Christ.” As one, all heads turned to the head of the table, where Father was rubbing his brow and frowning mightily. “Tell me this is some chemical you’re on. Has Ivy developed a new compound? Or I’m dreaming. This is a nightmare, isn’t it?”

Damian watched Drake’s face shutter, and Kent step in closer to him, trying to offer support. He wondered how Father didn’t see this, nor retroactively put together a hundred clues over the last three years that pointed to this very outcome all along. All the evenings spent in each other’s company, the arguments about college and careers beyond superheroics, the faint flush on Drake’s cheeks when Damian walked in on them while playing video games. Personally, although he had not expected this, he was not surprised. He was only a little miffed he hadn’t realized it sooner.

Nor did he care one way or the other, so he finally reached up and took Brown’s hand within his own, careful not to crush her slender fingers but also exerting enough pressure to show her he was serious. He pulled it away from his mouth and sat quietly for a moment, holding it to make sure she did not try it again. He thought for a moment, formulating something scathing yet also not too judgemental. He didn’t truly care if they were lovers, after all. While homosexuality - especially among males - was a bit of a taboo subject back among Middle Eastern culture, as long as it didn’t affect him he didn’t care too much personally. Besides, he had long given up hope that Drake would become a bastion of masculinity. He had other strengths, Damian had long ago and mostly begrudgingly allowed. And if Grandfather found him impressive enough to consider him a worthy opponent, Damian could not give any care or concern to whomever Drake took to his bed.

Cain spoke up from his left, her quiet voice both soothing and stilted. “Congratulations, brothers. I am happy for you.”

The boys spared her a smile, and Damian belatedly realized he was still holding Brown’s hand. Drake coming out of the closet was one thing, but what in hell’s name was wrong with him? He let go of her hand and for a moment she seemed just as surprised as he was, having been engrossed in the tension as well. She glanced over at him and her eyebrows twisted into a question that after years of training, sparring, and patrolling, he understood without words.

Are you ok with them?

He shrugged and clicked his tongue, showing with a gesture that he was not altogether in favor, but ultimately it was nothing to do with him. He could not understand why his reaction made her smile so gently, nor why he felt irrationally pleased with himself for making her smile so.

Father, it seemed, was not dealing with this as well as he was. He turned to Grayson and growled, “You knew? You knew and didn’t tell me?”

Grayson looked uncomfortable, but resolute. “It wasn’t my secret to tell, Bruce. And come on. This is Tim. He is hands down the most responsible out of all of us, and this is his personal life, not Red Robin’s. I understand your worries, but Tim and Kon are facing this head on. Isn’t it our role to be as supportive as possible?”

Father cast his eyes around the room until the fell on Alfred, who wisely kept his own gaze on the floor. Perhaps feeling the heat of Father’s stare, he glanced up and raised his eyebrows at him until Father realized that even Alfred would not back him and his objections. “Are all of you ignoring how dangerous this is? Am I the only one who sees how badly this could end?”

Drake took a deep breath. “We understand the issues, Bruce, but-”

Todd leaned in, interrupting him. He had that battle-mad glint in his eye that generally bespoke large quantities of blood would soon be spilled. Against himself, Damian leaned in a little closer as well. “Oh, don’t be coy. You got a problem with gays, Dad?”

Jason.” This from Grayson, but it was too half-hearted to do any good. He too sounded worried, and Damian wondered at their both having kept this a secret for so long. “I’m sure that’s not it. Bruce doesn’t care who we like, as long we’re smart about it. But Bruce-”

Father exhaled roughly and raised his hands. “I do not have a problem with anyone’s sexuality. What I have a problem with are relationships that could seriously undermine the stability of all we’ve worked to achieve. Red Robin and Superboy are high profile heroes, and their breakup could destroy the work of long years. Can you imagine that Clark would say anything different?”

Drake nodded respectfully. “I see where you’re coming from, Bruce. That’s why we may never come out as Red Robin and Superboy. We accept that. That’s also why we wanted to try as Tim and Kon.” He exhaled falteringly and looked over at his lover. “It may be the only chance we have at...at having a future together.”

Bruce narrowed his eyes at them. “You say that, but people will still know. Enemies will still know. None of our identities are as safe as you think, especially yours, Kon-El. I’m not blaming you, it is simply the nature of Metropolis, and the Superfamily way.” He shook his head. “I just can’t sanction it. Not when there’s so much that could go wrong.”

Damian shifted and suddenly there was a hand on each thigh, anchoring him to his seat. Once again, the girls had moved in tandem, neither of them looking at each other. Really. What did one have to do to have a partner you were that in tune with?

Yet he would now do or say exactly nothing. Cain would likely end him in a heartbeat and then proceed to eat all his potatoes. And Brown? Well. Now that she was sitting this closely, he was getting a little distracted by the herbal, minty smell of her shampoo, and until he determined precisely what herb was used in the mixture, he wouldn’t make a break for it.

Pennyworth was always telling him to have a hobby, after all. He could start here. At the moment it seemed perfectly logical.

Todd leaned back, his long body just as dangerous in this position as when he was tense on his toes. “Fuck that, old man. Wanna’ talk about safety? Or how about your protection? It’s not like you can keep us alive anyway.” In the shocked silence that followed - Grayson glanced away and even Drake looked suitably worried - he turned back to the standing lovers and raised his glass in a mockery of a toast.

When he spoke, however, there was none of the acidity that he directed at Bruce. “I’m with Cass, guys. Congratufuckinglations. Supes - don’t fuck it up or I’ll kill you. Placers - no matter what happens here, let yourself be happy, bro.” He smiled at them, and it was almost natural. “And let me know if you get shit for coming out. Red Hood and the Outlaws will help you deal.”

“Same here,” Brown smiled at her friends, and her the unexpectedness of her voice made Damian turn to her, catching another whiff of her shampoo. The scent of it made his eyes shutter. “You need my help and it’s yours, no questions asked. I’m so proud of you guys for finally coming out. I think you guys can go the distance, no matter what.” She glanced at Kent and winked. “Just let me know if you need more love coaching anytime soon. I am always available.”

Kent nodded slowly, looking excruciatingly uncomfortable. Drake turned to eye them both suspiciously, but there was a glint of mirth in both his and Brown’s expression that lead Damian to believe they were once again poking fun at Superboy’s expense.

Damian could only conclude that he deserved it.

Brown’s hand tightened on his thigh, and he looked at her in confusion. After a moment and an extremely heated glance, he realized it was supposed to be his turn to say something. He glared at her for a long moment before sighing.

He ignored Kent entirely in favor of cataloguing Drake’s flat expression. Although it seemed bored, Damian knew Drake’s utmost attention was on him, and would analyze his every nuance for what he really thought and felt. “Please,” he scoffed. “With their level of inability they’ll likely be killed off anyway, so I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Who cares if they’re...dallying? Can we go back to eating, now?”

There. That should be enough for everyone. He could do without the flash of a smirk on Drake’s face, but at least he wouldn’t have to do that ever again. Now, perhaps, he could go back to his beloved potatoes, and-

Father settled his cup onto the table with an unwarranted amount of force. “You are all ignoring-”

Todd cut in. “What, that you’re being a homophobe? Oh no. We got that. Loud and clear.”

“Jason, that is not-”

Grayson stood and threw his hands down on the table, cutting through the argument. “Both of you, settle down! Take a moment and just be quiet.” Father glanced at Grayson in surprise but Todd just shook his head. Yet Damian was interested to see that they both followed his command. To save face both decided to take a drink at the same time, glaring at each other over the rim of their glass. It was then that Grayson continued, choosing his moment with the timing only a born performer could harness.

“Jason, shut up. You’re being rude. And Bruce, I hope he’s wrong and it’s really not a sex thing, because otherwise your dinner is going to get even worse. Tim isn’t the only one with a guy. Jason and I are engaged.”

Alfred’s quiet, surprised inhale was overshadowed by Father and Todd’s reaction: in perfect unison, both of them spat out their water onto the tablecloth, then turned to glare at Grayson.

You’re what?”

“What the hell, Dick! We have not decided that!”

Grayson turned a bit pale. Too late had he realized what he had just announced. Because he was not a complete idiot he chose to address Todd, rather than Father. “We have been together for six years, Jay.”

“Yeah, but-”

“And we have no plans to end it, right?”

“No, but-”

“Then yes. We are now engaged, Jason Peter Todd.”

Todd ground his teeth. “That is not how it works, you goddamn Dicktator-”

At this point, Damian could not tell whether Grayson and Todd were actually dating, or pretending to do so to turn the disapproval from Drake and Kent onto them. Neither could he tell he was actually awake or not. Surely this couldn’t be reality. Perhaps Father’s earlier guess that he was in a nightmare was correct? If so, there was clearly one thing to do.

He turned to Brown and pulled on a strand of her hair. She turned to him, surprised. “Brown,” he began, adopting his most serious expression. “What scent is your shampoo?”

He could not attempt to describe the expression on her face. Nor did she answer him, which he felt was quite rude.

Across the table from him, Father looked to be developing an apoplectic fit, or perhaps would soon attack them all. Damian would like to say he felt ready, but his body felt odd, and his head quite swimmy. Yes, definitely a dream, he decided. This was a good thing because he most definitely did not feel fighting fit at the moment.

“Dick...and Jason...are together?” Father ground out each word, and Damian could not tell to whom the question had been direction. Todd seemed to think it was an open question and broke off his staring contest with his boyfriend(?) to respond.

“Yep. For a hell of a lot longer than Placers and Supes. And apparently we’re engaged now, what the hell Dick. I don’t remember that conversation ever happening.”

Grayson turned to give him his very best Nightwing face. It may also have been Grayson’s watch what you say or you’ll never have sex again face, but Damian could not be sure. The room was swinging far too wildly for that. “Are you saying that we’re not?”

Todd ground his teeth, clearly fighting the urge to be stubborn and argue this into the ground, but also knowing - as all men who have ever faced an angry partner since the dawn of time instinctively do - that it was safest to sit tight and say nothing at all. Grayson glared right back at him, and Damian had the awful feeling that this would eventually lead to them fornicating right on the dining room table. In order to clear his mind he found his mouth opening and the most ridiculous thing coming out.

“Don’t worry, Father. I am fairly sure that I, at least, am heterosexual. Let me just figure out what the herbal scent is, and I will get back to you on that.”

Next to him Brown tensed, and shot him - or Cain, he couldn’t quite tell - a worried glance. In response, Cain pushed his plate away from him, and the world started spinning backwards.

There was the sensation of falling without a grapple, and then suddenly Damian found himself blinking at the ceiling. Was he on his back? What had happened?

Whoops,” he heard Brown mutter as she kneeled down next to him, checking his pupils.

“We may have overestimated the dose,” he heard Cain explain to the table, as if this was a matter of only minor concern and that they should all go back to their regularly scheduled arguments, now.

With the last of his consciousness, Damian understood.

They had drugged him.

Damn him and his insatiable love for garlic mashed potatoes!

And maybe Brown’s shampoo, too.

Revenge would be his, as soon as he woke up...

 

 

Chapter Text

Stephanie felt a little guilty as she glanced over at Damian’s unconscious form, but not too guilty. After all, there was simply no way to tell how the little - well, the big, hulking, terror now - would have taken Tim and Kon’s announcement, and as there was no way of drugging Bruce who by all expectations would take the news badly, they had to handle the only unknown variable in any way they could.

In her defense, Cass had been the one to come up with the sleep drug...although Stephanie had been the one to suggest putting it in the potatoes. His love for them was well known, and one of the few things he could not grumpily insult even at the height of his bad moods.

“He’ll come around, Master Kent. He always does.” Alfred’s tone was calming, and Stephanie was thankful for it. Kon and Tim had come to ‘watch over Damian’ with her in Alfred’s personal medicine room, as the alternative was staying and hearing Jason, Dick and Bruce’s argument in the dining room. As she was personally connected to none of it, Stephanie could admit the volume and vehemence of the fight was so far, spectacular. She was vaguely impressed that no one had yet come to blows, or in Jason’s case, shots. Although she supposed Cass might have something to do with that - her friend had stayed behind to, as she put it, ‘referee.’ Stephanie supposed that meant keeping their men from killing each other, and for that she was thankful.

Kon smiled up at the aging butler. “Thanks, Mr. Pennyworth- err, Alfred. For Tim’s sake I really hope he does.”

Tim squeezed his hand, and Stephanie could tell he was incredibly relieved. There had been a few breathless moments back at dinner, but on the whole he had handled it well. And now he could breathe a little more easily knowing there were no more secrets left to keep, even though they had sacrificed the small amount of freedom keeping their secret had afforded them.

Yet in the long run they would have more of it, she was sure. It was time to start working towards that goal. She turned to the men and asked, “What can we do to help smooth this over? Now that we’ve all offered our support - even Damian, in his own way - how else can we help Bruce to accept this?”

Alfred hummed. “Perhaps a family bonding retreat for the couples and Master Bruce? Gotham could stand a day or three without the family’s constant efforts. That way you could assure Bruce of the strength of your bond, and of your determination.”

As one, every other conscious member of the room paled. Stephanie and Kon exchanged panicked looks, imagining the carnage that would ensue. Perhaps if it was just Kon and Tim the plan might have worked. It would have been painful, but all would probably have come home alive. But putting the two of them, Bruce, Dick and Jason together? None would come home alive, Stephanie was fairly sure. Well. Maybe Tim. Maybe.

Seeing his friends’ horror, Tim took it upon himself to answer. “Let’s try smaller steps, Alfred. Let’s see if we can get his head wrapped around one couple at a time first.”

Kon nodded. “Yeah. And actually, I was thinking. So, we’re meeting with Clark tomorrow to tell him...maybe Bat- err, Bruce should be there for that. We know it’s going to go badly, Tim. But facing them both at once will help them see how serious we are about this. And I think at this point it’s the right thing to do.”

Although Stephanie was not entirely sure she saw the wisdom in that plan, Tim nodded slowly. “Including him like that will make Bruce feel empowered. He’ll feel as if he had the news a step ahead of Clark, and you know how he is about information and control and all that. It will be way better than springing it on him like we did today…”

“There is also the chance that Master Clark, seeing how badly Master Bruce takes it, may in fact veer a little more towards supporting the two of you.” When everyone looked at Alfred in surprise he smiled. “Those two are as stubborn as they come. I think it would be interesting to see what Master Clark has to say when faced with Master Bruce’s opposition.”

Tim and Kon looked at each other, and finally Tim shrugged. “Might as well. You up to it?”

Kon leaned in and kissed his cheek in lieu of answering, and Stephanie found herself glancing back at Damian. All this lovey stuff was making her lonely, and a little jealous. At least he didn’t have a love interest in the wings! If he did, she was pretty sure she was going to exile herself out of the family in shame. She was a fit, attractive, kick-ass young woman, yet had been single for over a year. Hell, she hadn’t even been kissed in over a year!

Clearly, there was something wrong with the universe. She was awesome. Why was no one paying attention to this?

Faintly they could hear the sounds of the dining room argument, and they all winced.

“But what about Jason and Dick?” Tim glanced over at her, not knowing if she had known ahead of time. She hadn’t, but had masked her surprise well enough, she thought. A few of Barbara’s angry mutters now made a lot more sense, however. “Bruce is going to tear himself up over them. He’s going to blame himself. Kon isn’t family, and that’s one thing in our favor; but he’s always considered them his sons. Finding out they don’t exactly see themselves as brothers is going to take a lot longer to accept.”

“This on the heels of the missing al Ghul operatives,” Alfred murmured, watching Damian thoughtfully. “It’s the last thing he needs. I can speak with both Master Dick and Master Jason, see how matters lie with them. I am not sure their plans are truly that settled. Master Jason is quite young, after all - only a year older than Miss Stephanie. Still, I will sound out their intentions, and perhaps we can decide on a better informed plan of action then.”

Although it paled in comparison to the family drama enfolding right in front of her, Stephanie’s attention was hooked Alfred’s first comment. “Missing al Ghul operatives?” She glanced over at Damian. “I hadn’t heard anything about that…”

At a look, Tim took over from Alfred. “It was something Damian and I were working on, actually. Several of our inside agents in the League of Assassins went missing over the last few months - all of the females, oddly enough. Several have resurfaced but have respectfully asked to break ties with Bruce.” He nodded at the puzzled expression on her face. “Oh yes. It gets better. They claim to still be on our side, but will only take orders from Damian. This, coupled with the radio silence from Talia since his 17th birthday has made us a bit nervous.” Tim considered. “Damian keeps telling us that this is all probably nothing, but it’s a bit unnerving. Bruce and I believe that Talia’s clearly up to something - but whether the target is Damian or Bruce is unclear. If she’s trying to oust Bruce and put Damian in power that’s one thing, but Damian seems to think this is all par for the course, and that if anything, Talia is simply considering the possibility that he’ll someday choose to lead the League of Assassins.”

“He won’t,” Stephanie asserted before she realized what she was going to say. “He’s never going back to her. Not after what she did.”

Years ago, Talia al Ghul had sent his brother, Heretic after him with the singular goal of killing him. The brothers ended up destroying each other, although Bruce was able to resurrect Damian with a chaos shard. After that, Damian had no longer been swayed by any of his mother’s tricks, and had chosen to stay wholeheartedly - if grumpily - in Gotham with his father and the batfamily.

“I agree, but I also think he knows more than he’s admitting. While he’s not outright hindering my investigation, he’s not really helping either. Something is going on, Steph, and unless he opens up about what he may know, we’re going to be flat-footed when Talia finally strikes.”

“Hmmmmm.” Stephanie considered this. “What if we tried a change in partners?”

“Are you offering, Miss Stephanie?”

She smiled broadly at Alfred. “Yep! Little demon will be like putty in my hands. I’ll just pretend to be super worried about him, and he’ll grumble and complain but eventually break down and tell me what’s going on. You’ll see. Besides, he’s not so antagonistic with me as he is with you, and we’ve been fighting together really well lately - he’s getting to be just like fighting with Bruce, and it’s so nice to fight with a bruiser again. No offense, Tim.”

“None taken.” There was a swift glance at his partner, and a small smile. “I kind of know what you mean.”

Stephanie ignored their lovey moment to consider. Last month, Damian had officially become the tallest and strongest of the Robins, overtaking Jason by an inch, with several left to grow. In truth, he was built like a goddamned linebacker, without losing any of the unnatural speed and agility that he had honed as a child assassin. Yet while it was a little disconcerting to know that the angry pipsqueak had grown into becoming physically the deadliest of the Robins, it was even more so for Stephanie to look up at him across the kitchen table and realize he was only 17 when he looked every minute of 25.

Still, it was great to coordinate her moves with such a tank. Not that she didn’t love fighting with all her brothers, and especially Cass...but there was something natural about fighting with Damian, and if taking on this mission meant more beat down time with him, she was totally on board.

Tim sighed. “Well. If it was anyone other than you, I would probably fight you a little harder on this. But you’re right. I think the demon child is still kind of afraid of you, especially after you painted his nails that last time.”

“Look, I really thought the french tips were a nice touch.”

Tim smirked. “Oh, I’m not disagreeing with you.”

Alfred cleared his throat. “Children. Please. So is it decided? As soon as Master Bruce stops yelling at Master Dick and Master Jason, I’ll let him know the change in plans. Master Tim? Perhaps you and Master Kon would like to take a walk and plan your next move?”

Mildly chastised, the young people all murmured their compliance. Alfred lead the way out into the kitchen, mentioning something about a pot of tea for when Damian awoke. Yet just as Tim and Kon shuffled out (probably to go make their last kisses before the hand of bat-inflicted justice descended upon them, Stephanie thought darkly) Damian shifted. In truth of fact, he nearly fell of the bed.

As he rolled he mumbled something that sounded vaguely Arabic - Stephanie hadn’t learned any of the Middle Eastern languages, not like Jason and Bruce had - and she lunged back to catch him before he rolled off the cot. As she lugged him back up - damn, but he was heavy - his eyes fluttered open and for a moment she found herself staring down at the starbursts in his blue-grey eyes, fringed by thick lashes. There was a curious lack of anger in them, and Stephanie wondered what he had dreamed of.

Maybe your shampoo, a quiet, impish voice said. He certainly was rather distracted by it earlier…

“Brown?” Damian mumbled, breaking into her inner thoughts. “What the hell are you doing?”

Well that was the question of the hour, now, wasn’t it? Sighing, Stephanie dropped him with a thud, taking a small amount of delight in seeing him bounce a little on the cot. “You almost fell out of bed, Dami. I felt bad. Now, I am absolved.”

“Oh no you’re not, woman,” he growled. “Not after the stunt you pulled. You drugged me! You drugged the potatoes!

“Technically, Cass drugged you, but yes, it was in the potatoes.”

Damian watched her through slitted eyes and kept on grumbling. “I wondered why no one else was eating them…” Shaking his head abruptly he rolled himself off the bed, but his balance was still off - although the effects were short lasting, the sleeping drug was still working its way out of his system. He stumbled into her, pushing her back against the wall in his effort to stay upright. Stephanie reached for him instinctively, but his bulk and momentum ensured that her efforts were ineffectual and she was trapped against the wall by his weight.

She was wearing casual wear, and so was he. If they had been wearing their costumes there would have been something far more normal about this, for how many times had all of them supported each other, having far more physical contact than this? As it was, a spark of something illicit shivered through her. Damian was, for all his faults and foibles, an extremely handsome man. And his build was perfect - there had been an early morning or two where she’d stumbled into the manor’s kitchen and blearily thought she’d wandered into one of her rare kitchen fantasies with the perfectly built dream lover. Yet those were only fleeting moments, and now he was currently pressing the body of her dreams against her. He’s only 17, Stephanie found herself repeating as a mantra. And he’s Damian. 17. Dami. Get yourself together, girl!

Exhaling roughly, she wiggled to the side so that she could slide up under his arm, supporting him when he was far too proud to ask for help. “The side effects may be a bit of a bitch,” she explained as they hobbled from the med room together. “We weren’t exactly sure what would even put you out without seriously hurting you. You’re probably gonna’ have to sleep if off for a couple more hours before you can really function.”

They were halfway down the hall to his bedroom now, and Stephanie was grateful he slept on the ground floor. He shuffled along with her, lips pressed in a tight, straight line. He was angry indeed if he was being quiet, or perhaps this was his way of preserving his dignity.

For once, Stephanie was beyond frustrated with his silence. If only he’d say something entitled and bratty, then she could put this passing attraction out of her head. So what if he’d grown up to leave all his older brothers in the dust, attractiveness-wise? He was still the spoiled bat prince, and there was absolutely no reason to think of him beyond that.

Yet he didn’t say anything, and the silence was so oppressive that neither could she. He did manage to shake off her hold at his doorway, and for that Stephanie was profoundly grateful. Helping him into bed would have been the lumpy cherry on the awkward cake. As it was, the thought of her own bed was getting to be rather tempting, with how slow, heavy, and delicious her own body felt...especially when she remembered Damian stumbling against her in the med room.

There would be time enough to tell him she was now his partner on his mission later, she decided as she left him at the doorway, watching her with that laser focus he had inherited from both his parents. Right now her thoughts were getting a little muddled, and she’d rather not face the muddler himself when the smell of him - soap and man and some sharp, herbal yet surprisingly palatable overlay - was making her stomach tighten.

She escaped down the hallway with none of her usual flair, running past the dining room and up the stairs before anyone could catch her. Once there, it was the work of a moment to launch herself into her old bedroom, still kept for her to crash in after patrols. Taking a moment to glance at the hidden camera, she clearly announced the code phrase that Barbara had taught them long ago that would loop the previous 15 minutes recorded over and over until the end phrase was uttered. It was a useful little trick that only she and Cass knew, which was fitting.

Girl time.

The camera whirred, and Stephanie knew that short of Oracle herself going back and reviewing the tapes, she was off the grid.

Stephanie fell back against the bed, thoughts flitting back over the past several hours, steadfastly trying to avoid landing on the very topic that had brought her here. Dinner had been horrible, and god only knew what Jason and Dick were going to do with themselves. Had been doing, apparently, for the past six years! How had no one caught this? How had Bruce not realized his eldest foster sons were enough in love to announce it over the most disastrous Wayne family dinner she’d ever known?

He must not have wanted to know, she concluded. There would have had to have been clues, no matter how careful Jason was, nor how good Dick was at putting people off his scent. He must have shut his eyes to nights where Dick simply could not be reached, and found ways to reason around Jason’s slow ascent back to the rightful side of the law. Granted, Stephanie hadn’t known they were together either, but she lived her own life and assumed all her pseudo-brothers were doing the same. But even she had wondered a little why Dick and Barbara never seemed to fall in together. For someone like Bruce practically lived through them, such an oversight had to be unconsciously intentional. Especially with his closeness to Dick, who was more his partner than his son at this point.

But Tim! She was so proud of him. She remembered the night he and Kon got together like it was yesterday, and was still fairly proud of scaring Superboy shitless. She had been more involved in their relationship, and thus remembered other exciting milestones as well - the day she had first found them kissing in a dark alcove in Gotham’s unpopular art museum; their second breakup scare when Bart found out, and helping Tim to pick out an apartment that he and Kon could share.

There was a little flicker of interest between her thighs when she remembered about Tim (finally) losing his virginity as well. She hadn’t been there, of course, but the interest came from her mentally re-enacting the event. She’d learned enough the day after when she’d gotten Tim hopelessly soused and finally asked him why the hell he’d been limping for the last couple hours. Bashfully, he had told her all, and her squeal of delight had resembled the canary cry, or so Tim told her later.

She thought it was warranted. Kon had been so in love with Tim he was afraid of losing control right at the crucial moment, and so it had taken more than a year after they had secretly began dating - after she had kicked Kon’s superheiney into gear, no less - for them to do the deed. There was still a little fear in the act itself - she wasn’t naive, she could imagine the consequences - but it was not much more so than if Tim had been a woman. Yet Stephanie didn’t want to think about reality right now. Right now, there was a slow build of heat between her thighs, and so, letting her hands wander up and down her own body, she finally let her mind go where it wanted.

Inevitably, her thoughts turned to Damian. It was just because of the year long dry spell, she assured herself. She wasn’t actually attracted to Damian. It was just the thought of his body, not him. His broad shoulders, muscled thighs, the dark hair that dusted his strong forearms...even his wide palms and long, thick fingers turned her on. It was so different than Tim, with his willowy elegance. Someone with a build like Damian’s would utterly engulf her, and it was such a primal pleasure to imagine being taken by someone so much larger and stronger than her.

She touched herself confidently, knowing just how to bring herself to orgasm after so many months of solo practice. Yet her fantasy lover touched her with Damian’s hands, lifted her up with Damian’s strength, and nudged her thighs apart with Damian’s own. Beyond that she had to make do with her own projections, sliding two fingers in and out of herself, circling her clit with her thumb. But as she grew close she could fuzzily imagine Damian’s lips on her breast, her neck, her mouth. And when she came it was his face she looked up into, and his name she swallowed down.

She drifted in the mindlessness of the afterglow for quite some time, slowly rationalizing her fantasy. It wasn’t like it was him she was attracted to. Just his body. Which he would grow out of, eventually. Or she would grow immune to. Either way.

Eventually she came to the conclusion that as long as she told no one - and Barbara never overrode and watched the tape - it never happened.

Otherwise she’d have to come to terms with the fact that she just got off to the thought of the youngest batboy.

 

Chapter Text

 A week had passed since that fateful dinner, and Damian found that there had been longer lasting repercussions than a woozy head and incomplete control over his body for the next six hours. After several more hours of charged verbal combat, Todd had left the manor in a huff. While that was no surprise, the fact that Grayson went with him was enough to make Damian’s eyebrows raise. This was the first and only time Grayson had ever chosen Todd over Father, and from his father’s subsequent distraction and poor mood, he could only guess it was as much of a surprise to Father as it was to everyone else.

Drake and Kent, the progenitors of the madness, decided that it would be a good idea to take Father along to their coming out dinner with Superman. Although Damian had expressed exactly zero interest in how the evening went, Brown took great pleasure in relating the events at length. Suffice to say the evening surprised everyone except for Alfred, when Superman decided to take offense with Father’s “narrow-minded assholery” and offered his support to the boys. Once again, Damian wasn’t sure how anyone was surprised at this. Their lives had been a madhouse circus for as long as anyone had been aware, and why this should change when it came to matters of romantic dalliances made no sense to him.

More importantly, however, his mission partner had been switched from Drake to Brown, making this exercise all the more humiliating, and it even more imperative that he keep his mother’s foolish delusions from making any sense whatsoever to the rest of his crime-fighting unit. Brown was nowhere near as canny as Drake, of course, but she had a bluntness to her that Damian found curiously hard to ignore. Drake would go through every trick in the book before finally finding out the truth through alternate means, whereas Brown would simply look at him until his stomach flipped over, and he found himself struggling not to explain everything to her in excruciating detail.

Women were dangerous, he could only conclude. Her in particular. He suspected it had something to do with all those times she had painted his nails and put makeup on him when he was younger and unconscious...or perhaps it was connected to his recent awareness of her.

For that was truly the most immediate concern. Yet he thought the answer to his problem was a simple one - if Brown would only stop flouncing about in that stupid skirt, this ridiculous mission would at least be bearable! Clearly, everything was Brown’s fault, although he had yet to voice his opinion. Even he knew that to blame a woman for her legs was only going to end very, very badly.

And it wasn’t just her legs, although they were long and toned and inviting enough to make him imagine running his hands along them, distracting him for minutes at a time. No, there were a few other aspects of her feminine physique that caught and held his attention with the same fervor. Her wicked smile; the proportion of her shoulders, waist, and hips; the line of her neck when she pulled up her herbal-scented hair...not while ignoring, of course, the plump swell of her breasts and the firm, tight curve of her rear. Truth be told, all of her was beginning to become a serious distraction, and it was only by gritting his teeth and reminding himself of her time in a relationship with Drake along with all the other ridiculous things she had done - and to him, no less! - that he was able to get by without making a fool of himself.

It helped to know exactly what Mother was up to. If he hadn’t seen her design in the ‘capture’ and release of their female operatives, he might have had to waste mental energy on figuring that out, rather than simply undertaking their mission, protecting himself and occasionally Brown, as well as purging himself of this ridiculous awareness of her. As it was, all he had to do was protect Brown, and try to keep her from figuring out his mother’s ‘plan.’ After all, he was in no danger, and neither, truly, were the operatives.

Yet there was more to their mission than simply finding the missing operatives, as they came to discover. It was while they were on patrol, suited up in non-descript costumes that would not announce their usual identities. Undercover missions were tough enough during the day when Brown nanced about in (what he considered to be) revealing attire. They were a little easier at night, in terms of battling this foolish attraction to her. Yet not taking on their regular identities meant fighting every low-level thug who thought they’d get lucky taking on an unknown vigilante, and it made their nights busy, to say the least.

It didn’t help that Brown had decided to go a little battle mad, and throw herself into every challenge that presented itself. Although perhaps this was unfair of him. Usually he would applaud such initiative, although not when he found himself half a second too slow to dodge a normally easy blow because he’d been too busy staring at the graceful execution of a move that she had used against him during their sparring sessions. The punch jarred his senses back into working order, however. He began fighting seriously, and in short order they had cleared out the drug dealing thugs who thought they might be enough for two of Gotham’s finest superheroes.

Just when they thought it was over, however, a figure stepped out from the shadows holding up both hands to indicate a peaceful intent. “Good evening, Master,” the man spoke in Arabic, and from the corner of his eye Damian saw Brown shift closer. “I bring news from your honored Mother.”

Damian narrowed his eyes, mentally calculating what the man could say versus Brown’s inability to understand this language. Drake would not have forgotten this - if he was smart (and for all his faults, he was always intelligent) he would have outfitted her with a recording device that would relay everything this man said back to the Batcave. This in mind, he knew how to proceed. “You may continue if you speak for all to understand. My partner does not speak that tongue.”

The messenger glanced at Brown, her femininity obvious underneath the tight fitting protective material. His features twisted in scorn. “Yes, we noticed your partner was again the woman. Yet we thought you fought with a man, the one whom the Great Leader found worthy. What good is a woman of her ilk by your side?”

Although Brown could not understand his words, she undoubtedly understood his tone. Coupled with his obvious distaste as he looked at her, it was not so much jumping to conclusions when she turned to him and asked, “So should I kick his ass, or what?”

Damian hid a small smirk. Seeing Brown fight this little toad for him would be enjoyable…but would send the wrong message back to his mother. He shook his head and gave the messenger one last chance. “I fight with those my father deems worthy. Is that the end of your message? You had best run quickly then, before my partner decides to show you her worth.”

Seeing that Damian would not be swayed his mother’s messenger scowled but switched to English. “Your mother wants to know if any of her gifts appealed, Master?”

Although he had just forced the messenger into English, he internally swore vociferously in Farsi, Arabic, and then Russian for good measure. All this took about 5 seconds in which Brown glanced at him, eyes narrowed.

Thankfully, as soon as the anger passed he knew just what he must say. “So far from appealing, I think she would be better served to rethink the impetus to gift me anything at all. And even if they had, I have turned my back on that way of life. I shall not choose any of her so-called ‘gifts.’ “

The messenger’s face darkened. “Lady Talia will not appreciate such a slight. Neither is it your place to refuse such an honor!”

Damian growled. “Lady Talia should have thought a little harder before trying to kill me, then. But I have said all I need to say.” He turned to Brown. “Do you want him? Or may I make an example of him?”

Brown grinned, and the evil in it even now made his stomach flip over. “Oh, no. I think we should take him together.”

The messenger’s eyes lit in fear. “Assassins,” he called out, slipping back into Arabic. “To me!”

5 assassins slipped down from the rooftops, and battle was joined. In the melee the messenger slipped away, but he was not Damian’s prime concern. Neither was it his own personal safety. Now he knew for sure that his mother had changed her plans for him and would not see him killed before he had fulfilled her newest hopes - but the same courtesy did not extend to Brown. So rather than leaving her her own share of assassins to fight, he fought back to back with her, channelling all his strength, aggression and discipline with her flexibility, fluidity, and quickness. They had always fought well together, but since Damian had grown into his adult frame he now suspected he might fight better with her than almost anyone else in their ‘family’ unit.

The assassins fell more easily than he had expected, although the last gave them no small amount of trouble. Here was the leader of the group, and would have been more than a match for Brown alone. Perhaps even for him, several years ago. Together they worked him down, and finally laid him low in an unplanned yet well-coordinated duo attack. Seeing an opening he flipped Brown over his back, and with the added momentum her kick had the force to take him down. It had not been a move they’d ever practiced, although he thought he could remember Cain doing something similar on a patrol with Grayson. Yet they were the team’s most flexible members, and the fact that he and Brown were able to emulate such a move made him happier than it should have.

After checking to see that the leader was truly unconscious, Brown shared his excitement. “That was awesome, D! We gotta’ work on that, get that into our repertoire. Man, we are the best.” She smiled up at him and from behind his mask he found his lips twitching upwards in answer. “Ok, let’s zip tie these baddies up and then let’s go get some chow. You’ve got some translating to do, buddy.”

Yet before they could, a smoking pellet was dropped from the rooftops above - dropped by the messenger’s hand. Blast him for a motherless fool, but he had somehow forgotten the damned messenger in all his excitement! He grabbed Brown’s hand and yanked her down the alley, fumbling with his grapple gun as he did so. Delayed reaction pellet bombs were one of the few things his mother had not taught Todd, but he knew to recognize them easily enough - and even their protective wear would not protect them from the blast.

He shot the grapple and Brown threw her arms around his neck, anchoring herself without him having to waste time to explain. The claw caught on an adjacent building just as the bomb went off, and they shot into the air, escaping the destruction by mere seconds. There would be no failures among the League of Assassins, and only the messenger would return home to Mother alive. They swung onto the roof and both leaned back over to view the explosion from their safe vantage.

“I hate your mother,” Brown murmured, light eyes reflecting the fading flames below. The fire would burn itself out before any authorities could arrive, charring the bodies of the assassins beyond recognition. The initial pressure and heat were the deadliest aspects of the bomb, and save for some structural damage to the buildings hemming in the alley, there were only the five casualties.

Damian said nothing to her quiet statement. He did not quite know how he felt about his mother most days, and that indecision deflected the odd urge to be honest with her. He did not want her thinking he had taken offense, however, so he turned to her, wracking his brain for anything he might say to shift the mood.

She had turned at just the same moment, mouth open to offer an apology. Or something irreverant, or completely unconnected with the quiet moment they had just shared. Whatever it was, it fell away as she lifted her eyes to his, just as surely as how he had forgotten all manner of human speech when he took in the finer nuances of her expression. He froze, a little stunned. Had Brown always been this...been so…? His brain stumbled over words in every tongue he knew, flitting from one concept to another without allowing itself to land. There was no word in English to properly encapsulate the spark in her eye, the curve of her mouth, the dirt on her cheeks. Yet neither was there the proper term in Arabic, Farsi, Russian, Chinese, French, German, or Spanish, either.

He might have stared at her forever trying to land on just the perfect word, but Brown herself seemed to shake herself from a stupor of her own and whisper, “Dami? You didn’t hit your head, did you?”

Oh, no. He knew the word now, and it was right when he remembered how much of an annoyance she could be. He had been wrong - it was a word in all those tongues. It was beautiful, and now that he knew it, he would have to outdo himself trying to forget it. “Of course not, Fatgirl. Now, are you ready to move on, or would you like to stare at me more?”

He had hoped to fluster her, but he had forgotten the difference in their age. Such a rejoinder merely made her narrow her eyes and meet the challenge head on. “Oh, ready when you are, you little brat. But first, why don’t you tell me what the heck just happened back there. Starting with Talia’s gifts.”

It was time to fob her off. Perhaps it would work better than it had with Drake. “I have already discussed this with Father, Brown. Mother’s ‘gifts’ are not what you think - they have nothing to do with Gotham at all. They are merely...a part of my birthright she would like me to accept.”

“But what are they? And what’s their connection to the missing operatives?”

Well, he tried. Now to deny everything. “There is none. And it has nothing to do with you, Brown, so-”

Damian.”

“I am not giving into you, woman! This is between my mother and I, and as long as the operatives come back unharmed, what business is it of yours?”

She growled at him and planted her hands on her hips. “And are you so sure they’re coming back unharmed? How can you possibly know that this - whatever this is - isn’t connected to some larger scheme?”

How did she have the ability to make him so impossibly angry and still manage to look this good to him? “Because it’s a rite of passage, foolish woman. She went through something quite similar when she was only a little older than I, and I understand the reasoning behind it. But, as you have heard me tell her messenger, I am not going to go through with it. So let that be the end of it, Brown.”

“Damian. You’re going to have to sleep sometime. If you don’t tell me what’s going on, I’m going to-”

“Brown,” he growled. “If you ever crawl into my bed seeking mischief ever again, I’m going to show you the error of your ways.” For a long moment his promise hung between them, and every traitorous thought in his head whipped through a vast array of exactly what he could do to her if he ever found her in his bed. And then what she might do to him.

Brown, thankfully, seemed not to pick up on his discomfort. “So then what did he say about me? When he spoke in...was it Farsi?”

“Arabic,” he corrected her automatically. “And it was nothing flattering.”

She looked up at him in exasperation. “I picked up on that. I’m asking what he said.”

“It was just a general dislike of your gender. Nothing personal, like your sloppy habits, or your rudeness, or your inability to leave me alone.”

Damian.”

He sighed, but on the whole was far more comfortable talking to her about Middle Eastern culture than his mother’s new...vendetta. “That really was all it was, Brown. He wondered why I was fighting with you, rather than Drake. It is...not the most surprising of reactions. There are far fewer women than men in the League of Assassins, and while they have all proven themselves, there are still many in the League that do not afford them the proper respect. It is not surprising, therefore, that he showed the same lack of consideration to you.”

Brown hummed as she considered this. “Fundamentally sexist, huh? Not with your mother though...what about you? You think I’m worth less than a man?”

“I think I’m not so stupid to answer this question, Fatgirl.”

He felt her small fist against his stomach, hard enough to show she was serious, yet not enough to hurt him. “Call me that one more time, Dami, and I’ll make you regret it…”

Putting her off topic had already saved him once tonight, perhaps it would again? “The majority of the women in the League are not like you. In some ways, perhaps - they are dangerous and determined, so I suppose there are a few similarities. But never would they speak like you, or dress as you, or act as you do. Or punch me without reason. Take heed, Brown.”

She watched him with one eyebrow raised and her head cocked to the side. “So, what? You’re saying I’m a super slut compared to the women back home?”

“No, I’m -” Too late he saw the hint of mirth in her expression. “Brown.”

She smiled. “So what you’re actually saying is that I wouldn’t fit in? Oh, unbreak my heart. Too bad you like me better. I’m way more fun.”

He sighed, but her laughter kept him from his planned scathing rejoinder. Gods, if the woman would only stop distracting him every ten minutes, he could live and die a happy man! “You are...different, Brown. And that is all I will say.”

She grinned up at him wickedly. “You find me refreshing, perhaps?”

There was nothing he could say to that. He merely glared at her before aiming his grapple for the adjoining roof, the sound of sirens in the distance. The last thing he heard before he shot off was her throaty laughter, causing a small flare of warmth deep in his belly.

Hellfire and damnation, the woman was going to be the end of him!

 

Chapter Text

Talia seemed to lay low after their initial altercation, although Stephanie remained on alert for days. It was partially in response to the threat - she wasn’t going to let any assassin from the League show her up now that she knew they were underestimating her gender - but also tied in to her new personal mission: not noticing Damian.

Admittedly, her secret mission was not going well. Personally, she blamed him. Everything would be so much easier if he would just look his age. And while he was at it, maybe he could have been a little less attractive, as well. Being genetically modified for physical perfection in terms of combat was one thing, but did Talia have to grow him so goddamn pretty as well?

Seriously, if she ever met this woman, they were going to have words.

Days passed, and while Stephanie managed to keep her rampant attraction to Damian at bay, she did not get him to tell her what he knew about the mysteriously returned operatives, nor what his mother was planning. Tim was right - Damian obviously knew something, and for some reason he was closed up tighter than a drum about it. Stephanie tried everything she could to get him to tell her - even sitting on him on the bus when it got crowded, a surefire way of embarrassing him into telling her anything she wanted to know - but received nothing for her troubles but scathing rejoinders, expressions of annoyance, and a fire in her belly from whenever they entered into close physical proximity. Eventually it got to the point where she had to back off, because all that had once made him blush and sputter was starting to make her do the same.

And then, only one day before they were to return back to the Manor and discuss other ways of breaking into Talia’s intel, they caught a break. A high level operative returned from her disappearance, and sent a request through Batman to speak with Damian. She set a meeting time for that evening at the famous 5 star restaurant, L’Duc Mellor. It was public, high profile, perfect. Very little could go wrong in such a restaurant, and Bruce gave his approval before informing his son.

Damian was less than pleased. He wore an expression like a thundercloud when he emerged from the hotel bathroom, clean-shaven and impeccably dressed in a double-breasted suit. Stephanie, who had been lounging on the queen bed closest to the window and lazily flipping through television channels, nearly dropped the remote at the sight of him. He looked...good. So good, that the only thing that kept him from reigning supreme as the most dangerously attractive man she’d ever seen was his non stop cursing, murmured under his breath and to her ear, in a variety of different languages.

Oh, what was she saying. He was by far the most dangerously attractive man she’d ever seen and his fury did nothing to detract from that. This mission needed to end, as of five minutes ago. Five days ago, maybe. It was getting harder and harder to put off this awareness of Damian down to temporary insanity and being forced to share close quarters - they had their own rooms, but they did adjoin - for the past week.

Luckily, Damian did not notice her fumble with the remote. He was far too busy adjusting the cufflinks that Tim had worked a recording device into, and looking stupidly, unfairly attractive. “Brown,” he called out over his shoulders as he rolled them underneath his suit jacket. “You really don’t need to accompany me. I am perfectly capable of handling this interview myself. I assure you there is no danger here. You would be better served by staying in.”

And there it was - the condescension that got her blood going every time. It may have been a little more awkward in its delivery this time - for some reason Damian was refusing to turn and look at her, resorting to glancing through the hotel mirror - but she was going to take everything she could get. After all, this method of getting her blood boiling was more than acceptable, it was practically tradition. “Dami, I’m not sure why you’re even still pushing for this. Our entire mission was to determine why Talia abducted these women, and then decided to return them. Here is one such woman who refuses to talk to anyone but you.” She tipped her head to the side, and felt the brush of her long, blonde hair against her elbow. “What part of you thinks I’m going to sit this one out?”

Damian glared at his reflection in the mirror and mumbled something that sounded an awful lot like the hopeful part of me. Stephanie chose to ignore this, and continued.

“It’s going to be all right. I’ll keep you in my sights the whole evening, and won’t interfere unless she up and drugs you.” She smirked. “Just don’t order the potatoes.”

“Very funny, Brown.” Finally he turned and gave her a very quick and detached once over. Usually, she would be stuck playing the waitress at a time like this, but L’Duc Mellor had a very high bar for its waitstaff, and there was no way to fake that level of expertise on such little notice. So Stephanie would break into and then proceed to spy on him from the crawlspace between the rafters and ceiling, using heat vision goggles specially keyed to the frequencies of the tiny heat generator clipped to the underside of Damian’s tie. “You look morbid,” he informed her, taking in her head to toe ensemble of black, black, and more black. “Your hair stands out.”

Stephanie stuck out her tongue at him as she bundled her hair into a low bun and then pulled a dark skullcap over it. Twilight had fallen, and in another half an hour she would be able to grapple up to the roof and pick the lock of an old window and crawl through. Damian would have to leave in only a few minutes, however, as he would be fighting his way through Gotham’s evening traffic. Although she was a little nervous about leaving the now-man-sized terror alone, there was nothing else they could do. Damian was adamant about not bringing her with him, arguing that it would attract Talia’s attention more than him travelling alone. Bruce hadn’t liked it, but had agreed.

And as for his suggestion to stay back at the hotel? Even hanging out all evening in a crawlspace was better than staying here and waiting, Stephanie knew that for sure.

On an impulse she stuck out her hand. “Good luck, Dami. Let’s hope we don’t need it.”

He eyed her hand with an air of marked distrust, before her gaze flicked up to her face. Then he turned away without shaking her hand and settled his belt - a dress version of their normal utility belts. “We won’t. I will see you when we reconvene afterwards, Brown.” He walked out the door without looking back, leaving Stephanie standing there like an idiot.

Stephanie harrumphed. Well. A few more moments like that, and she might just stop seeing anything good in him at all!

...

90 minutes later, when both she and Damian were in position and the contact arrived, Stephanie had cause to regret offering him any luck at all. Up till that point it appeared they hadn’t needed too much more of it: she reached her vantage point to discover there were small, darkly glassed windows that she could peer out of, and one in particular whose pane had broken long ago that looked directly out into the dining room. With her binoculars, she could spy on four tables with impunity, and the lucky streak continued when Damian and their contact was led to one of those four tables. Pressing a button on the binoculars, she ensured that the scene would be recorded visually from a distance, as well as from Damian’s specialized contact lenses that Lucius Fox had finalized only a few weeks ago.

She saw Damian first, his big body winding through the tightly packed tables with more grace than the server himself. There was a smile on his face that Stephanie recognized from Bruce’s during all the Wayne Galas she had been forced to attend as Tim’s on again, off again date. Tim had learned a variant of it, but seeing it on Damian’s face really drove home the relationship between Bruce and Damian - it wasn’t just from Talia that Damian got his good looks, after all. He pulled out a chair for the contact and Stephanie choked down a snicker at the thought of Damian being polite when he was usually so rude.

Yet before she sat the woman turned around to hang her purse on the seat, and Stephanie then realized a little less luck might have been ideal. This missing operative was no different on paper than the six others - female, between 20 and 35, fluent in so many languages, and as well versed in the arts of death as any other member of the League of Assassins. In person however, she was without a doubt one of the most darkly beautiful women Stephanie had ever seen, and a cold, hard stone formed in the pit of her stomach. Suddenly, the thought of Talia squirreling these women away made sense to her in a whole new way, especially in their total interest in Damian afterwards. What if this was Talia’s attempt to seduce her son back into the League of Assassins?

What had Damian said? That his mother’s ‘gifts’ had nothing to do with Gotham at all...but everything to do with his birthright. And the emphasis he had placed on gifts… Stephanie’s eyes widened and her binoculars shook. Was that all it was? Was Talia sending these women as an incentive to bring Damian back? Were they his to keep upon his return? How was Talia convincing these women to go through with this?

Stephanie’s clutch on the binoculars threatened to break them in half. Damian’s date for the evening - for that was no doubt what this was - had just leaned forward and slowly laid her hand against his chest. In return, he had flashed her a playful smirk, eyes lidded and looking entirely too pleased with himself. Against her will Stephanie felt the cold pit of her stomach churn with an unwelcome heat. Maybe Damian himself was all the incentive these women needed. Between Talia’s expectation for him to lead the League one day and his myriad physical charms, what League assassin could resist him?

Stephanie did not want to examine that last part closely, especially as she knew how badly she had been faring in that particular arena. She had plenty of time to mull it over, however, as she was forced to watch him all throughout dinner just in case she was wrong and things went south. Yet they did not, and after two hours of fighting both her sensibilities and her growling belly, they finally stood, meal finished. Damian reached for her jacket yet the woman leaned in and planted a lingering kiss on the corner of his mouth. Although Stephanie white-knuckled the binoculars in her rage, Damian did nothing other than smile down at the woman, choosing to move closer nor farther away from her. He retrieved her jacket and handed it to her, leading her out of the restaurant with a proprietary gait.

Stephanie shut off the binoculars and breathed deeply. For some reason, it felt as if her body had entered crisis mode, and her anger was so strong she wanted to go tearing through Gotham just to get into a fight. Yet that would be foolish, and doing anything foolish would alert the Stupid Fucking Assassin Prince to the notion that something was wrong. So her plan was this:

1 - Find a pizza joint and inhale whatever they had on hand.

2 - Go home.

3 - Not yell at Damian.

Even before she left the attic of L’Duc Mellor, Stephanie knew exactly how well she would do at all three concerns - very well, exceedingly well, and oh fuck that.

...

Even though she employed the utmost enthusiasm in her attempts to distract herself with pizza, she still arrived back at the hotel before Damian did. In fact, there was time for her to change into her patrol costume and whip herself into a proper snit before he made it home. Yet when the door to his room opened Stephanie was through the adjoining door like a shot, ready to see an indication of why he was late - rumpled clothing or hair, lipstick marks, the scent of perfume, even just the air of sexed out bliss...but Damian wore none of these things. He came through the door just as put together as when he’d walked out it hours ago, and in the exact bad mood he’d had earlier. He glanced up at her as he locked the door behind him and kicked his shoes off, exhaling roughly as he did. He looked tired, she realized, and a small part of her anger shriveled up and died when he began shucking off his jacket without preamble.

“I told you it would be a boring evening,” he said, glancing over at her as he loosened his tie. “You’d probably have enjoyed yourself more watching that awful television show you enjoy - the one with the improbable plot line about cannibals cooking and detectives having visions and out of body experiences.”

He was standing in the doorway to the hotel room, flipping his tie and jacket onto the chair, and had just begun unbuttoning his dress shirt to get to his costume underneath. There was something so hopelessly domestic about all this that for a moment, Stephanie simply could not comprehend it. She had seen him a thousand times in casual wear, and again in his costume. What was so special about seeing him change from one to the other? Was it the trust involved? The casualness of it, like he saw nothing strange or unexpected in including her in this small, intimate moment of his life?

Perhaps it wasn’t an intimate moment to him, she reasoned. Or perhaps when faced with the beauty of the operative he’d had dinner with earlier, she left him entirely unmoved. She could simply be another lamp in the room for the notice he took of her, and he would be a strange man indeed to care about changing in front of a goddamn lamp.

The thought made something crumple inside of her, spilling out enough ugliness and jealousy to make her a little unwise. “That was one of our operatives.”

Something in the tone of her voice made Damian look at her, concern in the tiny furrow of his brows. “Yes. We knew that at the outset, Brown.”

“You went on a date with one of the now-returned operatives...and you made me watch.”

He sighed and clucked his tongue in frustration. “Tch. Brown, that is not what it was-”

She narrowed her eyes and nodded at him. “Oh, yes it was. I’ve figured it out, Damian. That’s what’s happening to the women. Your mother is carding through them to see who can best seduce you to make you come back home. That’s why they’re ‘gifts,’ and why you keep claiming they don’t affect Gotham. She’s going to throw all the most beautiful women in the League at you until she finds one you like, and then-”

Brown.” He looked agitated, and Stephanie couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen quite that expression on his face. He actually took a step towards her before shifting his weight to his back foot. He made another annoyed sound before folding his arms across his chest, regaining his calm. “All right. You are...partially correct. The woman tonight was sent by my mother as a potential marriage partner. She didn’t have anything useful to say, however, and so we’re still at a dead end as to the rest of Mother's scheme. We’ll go back to the manor tomorrow and collaborate with father, but I’m fairly sure that now that mother has shown her hand, there will be no more missing agents. The operative intimated that Mother has already selected her lineup, and there would be no more contenders until I had dismissed all of them.”

It shouldn’t be so much of a culture shock to hear Damian calmly talk of practices that made very little sense to her. But the idea of Damian marrying at all made her lungs feel flat and heavy in her chest, and utterly unable to take in air. “Marriage partners?” It felt a little empty, so she tried again. “What the fuck?”

He sighed and eyed her like she was displaying some particularly deviant expression - but she was definitely not the one reacting inappropriately, here! “I...I mentioned that this was all a rite of passage a few days ago. That’s what I meant. It is tradition for the current leader of the League to hand pick a spouse for their heir or child - or both, whichever the case may be. Grandfather attempted to do so with Mother and Father, although we all know how well that turned out. This is simply Mother’s attempt to do so with me.

“And if it puts you at ease, it is not only our operatives Mother ‘carded through,’ as you said. All female assassins in the League, as well as any other pertinent personages Mother thought might best represent the League at my side were considered. Now that the selection process is complete I will be forced to interact with them and refuse them, one by one. Not all would have passed Mother’s test - but Mother might send one or two who did not to gauge my individual tastes. It’s all early, and completely ridiculous. Truly, I think this is the least of our worries at the moment.”

He took a moment to consider. “Besides, the marriage would not be legally binding for another year, yet. And I doubt she wants me to settle this quickly. She is merely trying to remind me of my birthright, and show me that I have more options than just Gotham.”

Stephanie knew that there was a wide variety of things she could do in this situation. It would be a fantastic idea to come out with something silly or witty, and above all, unconcerned. It would be a really, really bad idea to lose her cool right now, yet for some stupid reason, that was all she wanted to do. There was no laughter in her when faced with the thought of Damian’s reluctant acceptance of his eventual fate - although he spoke of refusing all the women his mother sent, there was no anxiety in him. Had he accepted that someday, he’d marry back into the League?

And why the hell did she give a damn?

She needed to get out of here and figure herself out before she did something drastic. Like rage. Or cry. Or continue staring at him in this un-Stephanie, stagnant silence. “Huh,” she forced out, hoping that her tone sounded normal and not like that of a crazy person. “Wow. That’s um. That’s. And you’re saying Bruce knows all this?”

Damian nodded hesitantly, and from his expression Stephanie could tell she had not been as successful at schooling her expression as she had hoped. “Father is aware. It is why he was not so assiduous in assigning us backup for this particular mission.”

Great, so she had been sent out on a wild goose chase only to watch Damian lock lips with some older, sexy woman who wanted to get in his pants. Awesome. Fanfuckingtastic. “Well. Tim’s gonna’ be pissed. He thought it was going to be way more drastic than that. Speaking of, I gotta’ call him. You know. Gotta’ see how things are going back at the homestead. And Kon. And um, the other disaster lovers. I’ll uh, be back in a bit.”

Damian narrowed his eyes. “You don’t wish to patrol together?”

Oh god, would he stop looking at her like that? Some strong emotion that she did not want to name kept washing over her, and she was going to lose it if he took one step closer. “Nope! I’ll be on the regular channel if you need me. It might be better that way - not sure how long this talk will go. We can meet up later, if you want.”

Now his eyebrows were at his hairline. Stephanie backed up a step or two towards the open window, her escape. “You’re letting me patrol by myself?”

“If you’re old enough to have marriage partners, you’re old enough to patrol by yourself. And by patrol...well, you know what I mean. Just looking out for you, little buddy.” She looked down immediately, knowing that of all the things she’d said on this trip, that was probably the worst. Thankfully she hadn’t sounded too bratty when she’d said it, but she’d been unable to make a joke of it either, even though she had tried. Matter-of-fact wasn’t too bad, considering. Judging that she’d reached the end of her rope, Stephanie shot him a jaunty little salute and, readying her grapple, jumped to the window before shooting it and flying off.

If he said something to her as she moved away she didn’t hear it. She would be surprised if he had, however. No matter his surprise at her offer, Damian would likely not look a gift horse in the mouth and would no doubt take the opportunity to patrol the city by himself...or avail himself of the operative’s ready charms.

Stephanie hit the roof running, and shot out again, leaping off the roof just in time to feel the claw connect onto the next rooftop. She was running recklessly and she found that she did not care. She knew that when she stopped, she would be forced to confront something that she had known from the first moment that the operative had turned around - she had feelings for Damian Wayne. It was not just a physical attraction, nor a reluctant use of him in her fantasies. Somehow, the thought of him with anyone else made her stomach clench and her heart burn with jealousy, and that was not par for the course with any other man she had only lusted after.

No longer could she try and convince herself that she wanted to ride him like a pony and that was that. There was that, but more besides: she didn’t want him to change so casually in front of anyone else, nor insult another girl with that endearing tone of exasperated fondness, nor fight beside any other woman potentially more dangerous than she. She had ignored how well they worked together for the sake of prolonging this epiphany, but discovering how close she was to being outed from his life made her realize just how much she wanted to keep it. Keep him.

Yet admitting that her attraction for him ran more deeply than she wanted was still no good. He was still only 17, still the son of Batman and Talia al-Ghul, still Damian. She was almost 24, still the daughter of a third-rate villain, still Stephanie. It would never work, not in a million years. Nor, for most of the years in question, could she imagine wanting it to.

But oh, right now she did. The whole past week she had. Frankly speaking, she had begun wanting a chance to make things work when he had keeled over from potatoes and sleep powder during that disastrous family dinner. And she had only realized it now when she knew that any chance would be so highly unlikely, if not absolutely impossible.

And this was without taking Damian’s own indifference under consideration! How many years had she teased and messed with him, painting his nails and applying makeup and making him blush and sputter and swear? He’d never see her as anything other than an older sister. Especially when faced with hyper-attractive assassin-models who had no compunctions about openly coming after him to pin him in the sheets.

Out of breath, Stephanie landed on one last rooftop and hunkered down into a corner, feeling sheltered by Gotham’s dark shadows. Making sure her radio was on in case Damian did end up needing her, she crossed her arms, folded her knees to her chest, and closed her eyes.

She did not cry. She was not a woman who did so very often. What she attempted to do instead was to put all her newly recognized feelings for her partner into a box in her heart and seal it thoroughly. Whether she was successful or not would remain to be seen, but for now she knew she had at least tried her best.

Stephanie decided it was a thankful thing they were going back to the manor in the morning, because out here in the heart of Gotham, she could no longer deny her feelings for Damian Fucking Wayne.

 

Chapter Text

Now that Brown - and by extension Drake and the rest of the of the Batman unit - knew about his mother’s plan, Damian found that he had taken for granted how smoothly his daily life had run before. It had been much better when only Father had an idea of Mother’s plans for him, and what they would entail. Now that everyone in the manor knew that Talia al Ghul would be sending a bevy of attractive assassins after him to try and tempt him with marriage, he learned that there were new depths of teasing and ribaldry, especially at the efforts of Todd who had somehow gotten ahold of his private telephone number, and in his own quiet, smirking way, Drake.

This was why he had told no one. This was embarrassing. He did not doubt that his mother would fail; he was no one’s puppet any longer and would decide his own fate. But for everyone to know what was happening? It all just seemed so infantile. Like he could not choose his own partner, when the time came! Like he could not woo and win a woman on his own!

Someday, he would prove Mother wrong by searching for and procuring a perfect partner without anyone else’s assistance. As it was, he was already a little distressingly distracted with a very different woman, whose recent behavior had quickly surpassed even Todd and Drake’s efforts to annoy him. Brown was...well, he suspected she was avoiding him, and had been doing so ever since he had finally met with Talia’s first marriage partner. Although physically present at the Manor - Father had requested her presence during patrols while Grayson refused to come back until Father accepted his and Todd’s ‘engagement’ - she had done all that she could to ensure that they were never on patrols together, nor that they crossed paths during the day. On the rare chances he did manage to find her, she met his gaze absently, with none of her usual spark. Nor did she engage in her usual rambunctious chatter, nor call him by that childish shortening of his name. She wouldn’t even spar with him, choosing Drake instead!

Clearly, something was very wrong. Just as clearly, he needed to do something about it.

The wrongness of their interactions was an unwelcome distraction at such a time, right when he had to be ready and anticipating his mother’s every move. As soon as he righted whatever was wrong between them, surely he would stop thinking of her overmuch, and all would go back to normal. He would no longer find himself worrying over her coldness, or her inexplicable mood swings, nor the way her hips swing, for that matter, or-

Hellfire rain down upon him!Damian gnashed his teeth in frustration. There was also matter of his own physical frustrations. He had gotten used to seeing her day in and day out, even though there were aspects of being so close to her and keeping a calm facade that were akin to several lesser forms of torture. But now that she was keeping her distance he thought he would undergo it all again, rather than have nothing at all. Either way, thoughts of her left him moody and restless, and it was at the very worst time.

The only consolation was that no one else seemed to notice the oddness of her behavior. If they had, Damian had no doubt the majority of the house would take her side, thinking he had wronged her while they had been on their mission. This was absolutely not the case, or at least, as far as he could tell. If only the blasted woman would sit still long enough for him to quiz her on her illogical behavior! Still, everyone else in the Manor was likewise distracted. Not just with the revelation of Mother’s actions, thankfully, but with all the mismatched lovers running about the Manor.

Drake and Father were currently undergoing a cold war about his and Kent’s relationship, where Father no longer outright denied his support, yet did not offer it either. Neither spoke of it to each other, although Damian suspected that Superman himself ignored this unspoken rule by the number of calls he was now placing to the Manor throughout the day. Drake chose to stay in the Manor to help patrol, decipher Mother’s schemes, and generally make himself useful. Damian could see that Father grudging thankfulness, especially since his eldest ‘son’ and partner had walked away.

Compared with Grayson, Damian had thought Drake’s response to Father’s disapproval the smarter one. Grayson still had not come home to the Manor, and refused to speak to Father again until he was ready to take he and Todd seriously. Yet perhaps Damian was wrong, because even he could see how cut up Father pretended not to be at Grayson’s defection. Every day that passed only demonstrated how serious the men appeared to be about each other, but in the end Damian thought it wouldn’t be enough. His father was the stonewall to end all stonewalls, and Damian hoped that Grayson was prepared to truly choose Todd over Father, because he could not imagine time being the deciding factor in Father’s changing his mind about them.

Damian did his best to stay out of such things, choosing against taking sides. He pretended that he couldn’t care one way or the other, and kept to his personal mission of getting Brown alone and forcing the truth from her, one way or another. Yet one evening when he was out on a patrol with Drake, he found that Brown’s odd behavior had not been as unrecognized as he’d hoped.

Drake had brought it up at the close of a short, fruitless patrol. He had just expressed his desire for 2AM tacos and he was trying to convince Damian to chase down the taco van with him - a ridiculous endeavor, and Damian would run exactly nowhere - when he had given Damian a side glance that he had long learned to be wary of, and asked, “So do you really not care that I’m dating a guy?”

The question was so unexpected that Damian actually glanced over at him. “Why should I?”

“It’s...very heavily frowned upon in your home culture.”

Although Damian understood what Drake was referencing, he wasn’t going to make this any easier on him. “Sexuality is viewed as a weapon in the League. Whether used against men or women, it is used to further a purpose. So if anything, physical closeness with someone simply because you care for them should seem more strange to me, no?”

Drake took the change of topic in stride, as he always did. “And is it? The idea of it, at least? Does it still seem a weakness to you to ‘suffer that sort of useless attachment?’ “

Damian did not enjoy having himself quoted back to himself, but this was the first intelligible conversation he’d had since Brown began avoiding him and he found himself curiously reluctant to end it. “Perhaps a little. But I am no longer bound by Mother’s teachings and expectations. I will do as I please, and if that means taking a lover I care for, rather than furthering Mother and Grandfather’s ambitions, than I shall not defeat myself by perpetuating the thoughts and behaviors they sought to instill.”

Drake nodded slowly, and Damian, having seen at the last how the conversation was really Drake’s way of asking if he was concerned with his mother’s plotting, thought the conversation over. Especially as the taco van had driven away several minutes ago.

But then Drake glanced over and asked, apropos of nothing, “So...what’s up with Steph these days? She seems a bit jumpy. Has been ever since you guys got back from your ‘mission.’ “

Damian glared in response but a small flicker of excitement lit in his belly. Drake had noticed her reaction? And even he didn’t know what it meant? “How would I know? I haven’t seen her. You’d know more than I. You were her lover once.”

“No,” Drake murmured. “Not….I mean, yeah we dated, but we were never lovers.” He grinned sadly. “For what is now obvious reasons, I would expect.”

This was the most forthcoming Drake had ever been with him, and Damian knew he should be very wary. Drake’s conversations were always multidimensional, and he had learned to be careful with what he said. But the thought of talking about Brown - and perhaps figuring out what in gods’ name was wrong with her - was a lure he couldn’t resist. Especially when it turned out that she had never been quite so close to Drake as he’d always assumed.

That shouldn’t make him feel quite so good as it did, either.

To keep his pleasure from being recognized he asked the first thing that popped into his head. “Did you not desire her when you were with her? Did you...desire Kent instead?”

Drake sighed. “I tried not to desire anyone at that point,” he admitted. “But it just didn’t work. Not because she’s Stephanie, but because she’s a woman. And Kon...well, yeah. I like guys. But I like him because he’s Kon, not because he is a guy.”

Damian considered this. “You’ve dated other women. Were they also inferior to Kent? I imagine Brown was the most appropriate female consort even with her...mood swings.”

Drake laughed. “Oh, Dami. All women have mood swings. Even the ones who are not so awesome as Stephanie. Men have them too, you know. They’re just...a little more palatable for me.” He glanced back at Damian and his gaze sharpened. “But back to the matter at hand. Something happened. You gonna’ tell me about it?”

“No.” The urge to deny Drake was instinctive, and internally he kicked himself for answering so foolishly. Refusing to tell him implied something had happened, and although Damian suspected something had, he had no idea what it was. Drake was learning none of this, now or ever. “Nothing happened. At least, that I know of. You would be better served having this conversation with her.”

Tim hummed in thought, still smirking at Damian. “Oh, I’ve tried. Didn’t get very far. But I was thinking...it could just be the way you’re grown up now - you were her little bat brother for so long, and now you’re going on dates with deadly assassins and fending off your mother’s marriage partners...coupled with all the other bat drama, your situation may just be the last straw? Maybe it’s hardest for her to deal with the thought of you growing up?

Damian hesitated, thinking back to the night she had begun acting oddly. Something told him that wasn’t it, and he wondered if perhaps he should tell Drake about how he had followed her after she had set him free for a solo patrol. He had watched her spend several hours on a rooftop in Gotham, not calling Drake as she’d claimed she was to do, but sitting there quietly, thoughtfully, and clearly upset.

This kind of behavior was not entirely unknown to him. He had seen other women act like this, but on the television and in very different situations. And none of those women were Brown. Brown shouldn’t act like a weak, lovesick girl, Damian was sure of this. Largely because she was none of those things, and had no call to be. The idea of her being weak made him scoff reflexively, whereas the thought of her torn up emotionally over the thought of him and another woman…

The thought made his heart light with such pleasure that it was simply incomprehensible to him. He had not felt this joyous since Father had risked everything to save him, so how could he feel such delight at the thought of Brown caring for him more than she should?

Potentially caring for him more than she should, he hastily corrected himself. Brown was a mystery to him, and it was incredibly unlikely that she was acting in a comprehensible manner. There was likely another explanation for all this. Perhaps she was jealous of him? Did she want handsome assassins offering themselves up as marriage partners?

Over my dead body, he internally growled.

Yet Drake was still watching him, with a curious, far off look in his eye. It was the look he had when he pieced together a particularly knotty crime, putting together parts of the solution that at first seemed to fit nowhere at all. It was another one of his looks that Damian had learned to be wary of, and so he belatedly tried to end the conversation. “Who knows, Drake. Brown is a woman and therefore a mystery to us all. Now, if we’re done here, I’ll be heading back to the Manor-”

“You know,” Drake interrupted, in that disassociated manner he would sometimes adopt when he announced the solution of those previously unsolvable cases, “It’s funny to think about now, but I was so sure you always had a thing for Steph. The way you’d always scowl at her, call her fatgirl...you couldn’t take your eyes off of her when you were younger. You never tried to hurt her, really, and you’d work surprisingly well with her...maybe it’s because I was a little frustrated at how poorly we got along, but I always thought you’d fight me for her someday.”

He smirked at Damian, who was trying his hardest not to betray any emotion whatsoever on his face. “At this point, you’d probably win. Although to be honest, I wouldn’t be fighting so hard. Unless you fucked her up, Dami. Then there wouldn’t be a fight. I’d just up and end you.” There was a danger in his promise that Damian had witnessed before only a handful of times. It was the potential of that danger that kept Drake in Grandfather’s sights, and had earned his respect in a way that none of the other Robins had been able to emulate.

There was also the chilling fact that Drake had somehow managed to determine exactly what had been driving Damian a little mad over the last month or so, effortlessly and moments before Damian himself understood.

“Save your worries for a legitimate cause, Drake,” he hissed, standing up abruptly. “There will be no fight. And even were there to be, you would not end me.”

Drake looked up at him. “I mean it, Dami. Don’t hurt her.”

“She’s not...we’re not…” Damian sputtered. “I’m not going to...to - anything. With her. At all. Ever.”

“Mmm. I see you’re getting a little flustered over there.”

“Go to hell, Drake.”

Drake smiled widely up at him. “You know, I was younger than you when I had my first kiss. Stephanie, too. Well, obviously, as it was together, but-”

Damian had had enough. Whatever game Drake was playing was ill-executed and in poor taste, and so with one last annoyed tch, Damian took off the roof, shooting his grapple when he was in free fall.

He would have to think up a way to prove Drake wrong later. It was dangerous enough for Drake to suspect that Damian’s...regard for Brown may have shifted a bit during the past month or so...or, now that he thought of it, perhaps it had been a bit further back than that. Regardless, that secret was his to keep, and Drake was no honored confidant to keep it for him. Drake would undoubtedly tell Brown, and then...then…

Damian’s mind stalled at the thought of Brown knowing he cared for her slightly more than he should. Would such knowledge bring her out of her odd mood? If he had gone to her on the roof that night and intimated such a thing then, would she had meditated so fiercely with such a pained aura?

No, no. The idea was foolish. He had to rid the woman from his system and that was that. It would never work. He was, as Drake pointed out, her ‘little bat brother’ and no matter how large he had grown he was still no doubt a child in her eyes. And Mother - if she found out about this foolish awareness, she would be quick to nip it in the bud. Likely by nipping Brown in the bud. Damian exhaled roughly. The idea of that was...unpalatable. Unacceptable. Perhaps even unforgivable.

He had to make a plan. Distance himself, somehow. Or, better yet, figure out a way to permanently turn Mother from her course…

From the com there was a crackle and then a faint, “It doesn’t work that way, Jay-” He had tuned it to Grayson’s frequency half an hour back at Drake’s request, just in case he was more like to contact either of them than Father. Yet that hadn’t been a direct hail, simply a smattering of a sentence. They must be close, if their frequencies had overlapped. Curious, Damian dropped to the next roof and fiddled with the com’s scanner.

...then tell me...another…ick. ‘m listening.”

And there was Todd. He didn’t sound nearly as angry as he usually did. Perhaps Grayson was drugging him to keep him compliant? In all arenas save battle, Damian would applaud such a plan. Damian walked to the edge of the roof, planning to jump to the next to see if he could get a better reception when suddenly they both came in loud and clear.

I’m just saying. I’m glad you were my first. Wouldn’t want to do this with anyone else.”

“I’m the only man you even like, you heteroflexible dickwad.”

“Jason, please. You know what name calling does to me.”

There was a hopeful tinge in Todd’s voice, discernable even through the com. “Revs you up for angry sex?”

Damian choked a little, and missed Grayson’s response. He was about to change the channel when Todd’s voice stopped him, uncharacteristically quiet and calm. “Well, I’m glad I went through all that before you. Got the experience. That way I could make your first time good...and didn’t have to hurt you.”

There was a quiet moan and the sound of kissing, discernible even to him. Just because he’d never chosen to rid himself of his virginity yet did not mean he had not been kissed, nor was he totally clueless about the act itself. But he had never wanted to know that Todd could be a considerate lover as well as a dangerous one. Especially since he knew that once upon a time, Mother had taken him to her bed. Now he truly was going to change the com’s channel, but Todd’s voice once again made him change his mind.

You really wanna’ marry me?”

There was no hesitation. “Yes.”

“What the hell is wrong with you, Dick?”

He could hear Grayson’s smile through the com. “Oh, I have no idea. You, probably.”

“Oh, that’s just so romantic.”

“Just like you, Jaybird. Besides. What other option do we have? Just going along like this? People would find out eventually. Even we couldn’t keep this a secret forever.”

Todd hummed and there was a rustle of bedding. Damian realized with dawning horror that the reason he was picking up on all this was because he was standing right on top of one of their safe houses, and Grayson had likely forgotten to turn off their coms when they had gone to bed.

You could leave me. Find somebody better for you. Some pretty girl who’d keep you safe and give you kids. Someone you wouldn’t have to fight Bruce about.”

“Jason-”

“‘M serious, Dickiebird. This could fuck you up. You know that. You’ve always known that.”

There was a long pause where Damian began to feel bad for listening in. Just a little more, he told himself. Then he could go. He had to know how this ended, how two mismatched people could somehow make a relationship work…

Grayson’s voice was quiet and soft, touched with wonder and resignation. “No. You’re it for me, Jay. You keep me from burning out, from flying right up into the sun. Nobody else can do that like you do. Maybe if you’d never died and or come back I could have found someone else, but I can’t waste anymore chances with you.

“Besides, you made me love you too damn much to go. So if anyone’s going to be doing the leaving, it’ll have to be you. And are you up for that?”

Todd’s voice was choked with emotion, rough and gravelly and very, very quiet. “If I could have left you I’d have done it six years ago,” he admitted, and then there was the sound of a growl and more kissing, and quite shortly after, Grayson’s moan. Damian knew they were done now, and even if they weren’t, he was. It was time for him to go. So with a head and heart full of revelations, he made his way back to the Manor. There was a long day ahead of him, and a long night too - Father was hosting another of his vaunted Wayne Galas, and while the majority of the family would be there to promote the visibility and glamour of the Wayne name, he had another distasteful mission of his own to complete. The second of his marital prospects was meeting him there as his date for the evening, although Damian had no doubt about how that would go. He would snub her publically at the nadir of the gala, leaving her no option but to withdraw. Perhaps then his mother would then see how little interest he had in her choices and leave him alone for a month or two while she re-evaluated his tastes, giving him some space to breathe.

If so, that would hopefully be enough time to process his brother’s affections for each other...as well as his own.

Maybe by then he would even have found a way to end this dangerous obsession with her.

 

 

Chapter Text

There had been more uncomfortable evenings in Stephanie’s life, but at the moment, she was hard pressed to remember any of them. The Wayne Galas were always an exercise in awkward misery, and tonight with the family in secret disarray, it would be no different. At least she was not alone in her unhappiness. Under his thousand kilowatt smile, Tim was suffering. She could tell. As his fake date for the evening, she had an up close and personal view of each moment of false charm that Bruce had taught - by osmosis, Stephanie was certain - to each of his sons. Well, maybe not Jason, Stephanie conceded. Or Dick. They had dubious charm aplenty on their own. But Tim was not a little charmer naturally, especially when he was forced to contend in what must be Bruce’s most devious punishment up to date: Kon. Kon was here pretending to be one of the newest Wayne Enterprises interns, taxed with following Bruce around all night and keeping him from social ruin. That meant that Tim had to watch the man he loved in a tight fitting suit all evening without getting to talk to him, interact with him, or sneaking off with him to a quiet alcove to show him exactly how much he liked the look of him in that suit.

Judging by the sweat at Tim’s temple and his quiet cursing whenever he leaned in close to her, pretending to whisper sweet nothings in her ear, this was going to be a bad night for Tim. And Kon. Actually, Stephanie thought that Bruce was going to make this a far worse night for Kon, but hey. He was fricking Superboy. He could handle it. Tim had cracked a smile at her when she mentioned this to him, and a moment later when Kon glanced over with a sharp look in his eye - oh that superhearing. Good for making her evening a little more bearable. She winked sassily, knowing there was nothing he could do when Bruce was that close.

What she didn’t tell Tim was this: her evening was going no better. Although in her case it had nothing to do with Kon, Bruce, or any of the normal reasons for disliking these stuffy, fancy parties. No, the reason she was having exactly no fun at all tonight was because he was here, dressed in another delectable double breasted suit and a tie, with just the hint of a vest peeking out above the top button. That insufferable, sexy smirk had been playing on his lips all night and while all that was manageable - and would be appreciated tonight when she thought about him later tonight with her hand between her thighs - what was not appreciated was Marriage Partner #2, who although very physically different from Marriage Partner #1, was no less beautiful, dangerous, and (apparently) charming.

She was also doing better than the first operative, or so Stephanie thought from the two, hurried glances she had shot them. The first had been on accident, and she had cut her eyes away as quickly as she could, without even seeing if Damian had noted her reaction. The second had been Tim’s fault. He had pointed to something behind her with an odd look on his face and she had turned automatically. As Damian and his date had been standing only five feet away, there had been no helping meeting his gaze. It had been the first time she’d done so in days, and the intensity of his expression left her feeling a little stunned.

Seeing the sultry redhead at his side stiffened her spine, however. She shot him an arch look, hoping it would come off as playful and above all, normal. Then she spun back around and put a hand on Tim’s arm. It came off as feminine, if a bit possessive. She squeezed his forearm very hard to make sure he knew not to do that again. He winced and led them away, and Stephanie knew that by the end of the evening, Tim would know. One way or another, her secret would be out.

Thankfully, Tim was a man who could keep a secret. Would have to. He might also be the only person left who could talk her out of this ridiculous crush, especially after Cass had failed so miserably just a few hours ago...

“What if Mulder was way younger than Scully?” She had asked Cass as the two girls watched a few episodes of season five of the X-Files, taking refuge from all the man-drama at the Manor. “Like, way younger. Like, 15 years younger, or something. Do you think that would matter?”

Cassandra Cain: Black Bat, hardcore asskicker, and the scariest woman Stephanie knew made the closest thing to a scandalized face that she had ever seen. “Absolutely not. No. Sister, you are incorrect. There is nothing more perfect than their bond. Nothing.”

Stephanie hid a smile as she hugged her pillow. Cass had developed a minor obsession with the X-Files after being forced to watch it on a plane for nearly 16 hours straight several years ago. It had quickly become Stephanie’s prime tool in her efforts to socialize her bat sister. Cas’s definition of love came from Mulder and Scully, as did a perfect partnership. And profound bonds. And fashion. It may be time to introduce Cass to other shows, but in the meantime, Steph would just smile at Cass’s rarely seen adorableness.

Suddenly Cass sat straight up, and tore her eyes away from the screen to look directly at Stephanie. “Wait. I believe I understand now. You are not speaking of Mulder and Scully at all.” Her head tipped to the side, like a bird. “You are speaking of our baby brother. Damian.” Although her facial expression were still very reserved, Stephanie could read what would be on any other person an impressed expression. “Son of the bat and the ghoul. You are very brave, my sister.”

Stephanie made an unflattering noise as she sank down on the couch, hiding her face behind the pillow. “I...I neither confirm nor deny. But...but. Age. Tell me it matters. Maybe not to Mulder and Scully, but to us?”

After a long moment Cass breathed deeply, humming a bit as she did. “No. I cannot lie about this. Age is not important. Not for us, not for him. Heroes are different, sister. And those like he and I are even more so. But more important than age: love is love. Lust is lust. Are you sure of what you feel for him?”

Now she could feel her blush, and that hadn’t happened since she was 14 years old and had her first big crush on the senior captain of the basketball team. “It’s...it’s just lust, Cass. Well, mostly. Ok I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s not love. It can’t be! Not with our lives and our alter egos...and Bruce. Besides, he’s Damian! And I’m...Stephanie. So… it’s not-”

“Yes, I understand,” Cass interrupted in her calm, quiet way. “I see. In that case I admit I see no problem with deepening the profundity of your bond with our baby brother. But I would not tell the Batman.”

Stephanie’s eyes goggled with horror at the thought of telling Bruce she wanted to climb his biological son like a tree. “Oh god. Cass. Of all the things I’m never going to do...that’s at the top of the dang list.”

Cass giggled quietly. “Although with the way the two of you look at each other, you might not have to say a word. I knew.”

“Yes, but you know everything. Even more than Timmy.”

This pleased Cass enough for the girl to become somewhat whimsical. “Well. Perhaps you can tell the Batman when our baby brother comes of age. Perhaps he will be relieved that at least one of his sons is heterosexual.”

Stephanie took a sip of her champagne as her attention travelled from the past to the present. Telling Cass her secret had not gone the way she’d thought, not with the end result being Cass’s explicit approval. But Cass also thought Damian liked her back - or at least that there were tension - and so perhaps she was not the ultimate authority. Tim would undoubtedly do much better at convincing her to stay away from Damian. He would likely be horrified that she was even noticing him at all. Right now, that was what Stephanie needed. Someone being horrified at her body’s inappropriate reaction to the 17 year-old Robin.

She turned to Tim, hoping he would have some dry, sarcastic comment about anything at all that might take her attention off of herself. Yet he was sipping from his champagne flute, eyes smouldering above the rim of the glass. It wasn’t difficult to find who he was watching across the floor. Kon was giving him the exact same look minus the drink in hand, and the heat in their expression was so intoxicating that she was getting a little turned on just from watching.

Three years ago, she could have never imagined Timmy looking at someone like that. Couldn’t imagine him being comfortable enough to express that kind of emotion. Yet here it was, directed at his best friend, and in public! Stephanie was fairly sure that whether or not Bruce approved of their relationship, by the next gala her role as fake date would be rendered obsolete. With the way Tim and Kon were going on, people were bound to notice sooner, rather than later.

Although the press of people on the ballroom floor hemmed her in, Stephanie suddenly felt impossibly alone. The ebb and flow of voices all around her seemed like some inexorable ocean, and the monotony of it unnerved her. From behind her came a feminine, outraged shriek and it cut through her daze, spurring her to action. She had to get out of here. Now, before she did something totally humiliating, like spend the rest of the evening mooning over Damian.

So she kissed Tim swiftly on the cheek, jostling him from his staredown with his secret boyfriend. “Going outside for some air,” she whispered in his ear.

“Need backup?” His gaze was sharp, undulled by the alcohol.

She smiled as she shook her head. “Nope. Just need some me-time. I’ll see you later.”

Tim smiled back before whispering, “Set your earrings to channel 3. It’s the emergency line for the evening.”

She nodded and then she was gone, pushing past him through the crowds, not stopping until she reached the back lawn. There were a few couples about, stumbling around in various levels of sobriety, yet she pushed past them, heels sinking into the turf. As soon as she reached the hedge garden, she ducked out of sight and shucked them off - who needed three inch heels when pottering about a hedge maze? She kept her champagne, however. She had developed a bit of a taste for the good stuff, and it was a shame to let it go to waste.

Yet there were still voices close by - so into the maze she went. Keeping one hand on the left wall of the maze she made her way to the center, hearing the voices fade away slowly. Finally she reached the middle where several statues of Waynes from ages past stood, proud and polished and untouched by age. Hemmed in by a marble half-wall, they served as the crowning glory of the garden. For all their attraction, no drunk guest would be so determined stumble onto this place, Stephanie knew. Especially as there were discreet retinal scans in place that would alert Alfred if someone without authorization tried to enter the maze. She would be safe here, free to indulge in a moment of loneliness.

Then, she promised herself, she would pick herself up, re-fasten her shoes, go back to the party and show them all just how fine she was feeling. She was wearing her tightest red dress and her hair and makeup were phenomenal. So what if she wasn’t enough to tempt Damian? There were more men than he at this party, and she would learn to look past him soon enough.

She looked up at the stars, burning clearly against the cool night air. It was a beautiful night, she told herself. And you will get over this ill-advised infatuation with just a little more time. All you need is time, and for Damian to just-

A low voice startled her out of her thoughts. Brown?”

Stephanie whipped around, eyes wide with surprise. As if thinking of him summoned him, there he stood, hesitant yet utterly handsome. She gripped the champagne flute tightly, startled into sloshing a little over the edge. His eyes tracked the motion before flicking back to hers.

Stephanie tried her best not to gape. “What are you doing here?”

He furrowed his brow at her. “I could ask the same of you. Although I suppose the gala grows a bit tiresome after a while.” He frowned. “I might never understand Father’s need for ostentation. Especially with such boorish individuals.”

While Stephanie wholeheartedly agreed, it was dangerous to agree with Damian at the best of times, let alone now. Her body was thrumming with some strange energy, a mix of both fight and flight that she knew would be disastrous to give into. She had to get away. She had to be smart and avoid whatever it was that was happening here. “Yeah, well, you’re still the Wayne prince. I can escape it if I need to, but you’ve gotta’ get back in there and woo those ladies.” Her tone was not what it should be but it was better than it had been. “Err. Well, I guess one lady in particular,” she finished, remembering his mission to meet with Marriage Partner #2.

The look he gave her then was entirely unfair. She was doing her best, goddamnit, and even if she was a little off he shouldn’t be this attuned to her to know that! He took a step towards her and Stephanie found herself reacting, casually ambling back to the space just between the statues. She affected an expression of innocence when he huffed angrily through his teeth.

“Brown, will you just...I want to discuss something with you. Do you have a moment?”

His face had grown very serious, and it was enough to bring her mind off of how delicious he looked in that suit (and how terrible she was for thinking of that) and back to the present. Had something gone wrong? He certainly had not wanted her help before, so that he was asking for it now meant it was probably something serious and maybe even unconnected to his mother’s newfound obsession with marrying him off.

So she nodded, unconsciously stilling her body of all its nervous tells, almost like she was preparing for battle. “Sure. What’s wrong? What do you need?”

A strange expression flitted across his face, but it was gone quickly. “Why are you avoiding me?”

Stephanie froze. Of all the things she had expected (and feared) that was not one of them. “What?”

He frowned at her, and although it was an expression she’d seen thousands of times, this time it made her heart clench. “I wish to know why you are avoiding me, and what I have done to merit this behavior. I’ve been aware of this for some time now, but I had not an opportunity to speak to you of it until tonight.”

Stephanie stared at him, too stunned to move. Damian had noticed?Damian had cared? Enough to come and accost her out in the gardens? Her heart swooped and then fell into her stomach, leaving her ridiculously angry with herself. What was his timing? She had just decided to give him up for good!

Yet now that he was onto her, it was more important than ever to keep him from knowing the truth. She shook her head and tried to laugh a little. “I’m not avoiding you. It’s just been...a long week. Some awkward stuff going on with old college friends. It’s nothing to do with you.” She ended with a big smile but he was unconvinced.

“You are a poor liar, Brown.”

Ok. That was absolutely untrue. “If I were lying to you, I would have to argue that I am actually a damn good liar. As I am not, I will say nothing more on the subject.”

He narrowed his eyes at her and took one step closer. As she couldn’t back up much further without hitting the marble wall behind her, she stood her ground. “No, you are indeed lying. You haven’t sparred with me in a week, nor have you used my name, nor had you met my eyes until tonight. Your body language is telling - you do not wish to interact with me. I would like to know why.”

Think think think Stephanie Brown. Pretend you are Timothy Drake and think like a damned evil genius. “Ok,” she admitted, “I’ve been a little off lately, but really, it has nothing to do with you...Dami. I’m just...worried a little. For all the boys and their crazy lovescapades...and how B will handle it. You know. That sort of thing.”

He was only a few steps away and was practically looming above her. The force of his stare was practically burning the air between them, and against her will, Stephanie felt a trickle of heat slip down from her belly to her thighs. Oh lord above she wanted this man. Did he have to look so perpetually angry? While angry men had never been her thing before, his current expression only made her want him more.

Damian had been angry his entire life, and showed no sign of stopping. She was doomed.

Finally he nodded, and for a moment she thought he’d believed her lie. But then, “You’re afraid of my mother, aren’t you?”

Her surprise was so genuine she nearly dropped her champagne flute. “What?”

His eyes flickered as they tracked her surprise. “It’s obvious. You’ve been odd since you learned about the truth of her intent - are you worried to be connected to me?” He leaned in, close enough for Stephanie to count the faint freckles across his cheeks, spanning the bridge of his nose. The smell of his cologne washed over her and her thighs tightened at the deliciousness of his scent. “I wonder what it is that you fear more? Her thinking you are worthy of me and trying to use you to seduce me...or of being found lacking?”

The dry, mocking tone in his voice cut right through her desire, and anger lanced through her. Without thinking, she hurled the contents of her champagne flute in his face and stood her ground as he pulled back and wiped his face with his hand. “I am not afraid of anything, Damian Wayne. Least of all your mother. Or you.”

He glanced up at her, face sodden but the light of challenge burned brightly in his eye. Without signalling his intent he rushed her, scooping her up and shoving her back against the marble wall behind her before she could duck and twist away - damn his quickness! He thrust her back up against the wall, hoisting her six inches off the ground, keeping her in place with his strength. Now they were eye to eye, and Stephanie drew in a deep breath of surprise. His eyes were dark and glittered with promise, and she knew that her parted lips and dilated eyes would reflect the same desire. Here it was, she thought faintly. What Cass had seen. What I understood without knowing. This is why I was supposed to run.

Oh lord help me, I don’t want to run anymore.

Damian’s voice was a low, sensual purr that rumbled against her chest, making her nipples tighten against the cups of her dress. “You’ll regret that, woman.”

The scent of him was making her head spin, and the feel of him up against her made her weak. Yet it was his determination that collapsed the last barriers in her heart, and caused her to lean in so that they were nose to nose.

Make me.”

There was no mistaking her intent, nor his. With a low growl he leaned forward and captured her lips with his, pressing her back firmly against the wall. Immediately her arms went around him, pulling him even closer. Only then did she tilt her head, slanting their mouths so that she could better slot their mouths together, deepening the kiss.

She groaned when he returned the gesture, opening his mouth against hers, nipping her full, bottom lip gently. Yet she forced a quiet, bitten off moan from him when she teased her tongue along his upper lip, tracing its contours before slipping it sensuously against his own. In the back of her mind Stephanie wondered at his experience. Had he ever been truly kissed? Or had his aura of general competence been a front for his inexperience? He was young in years but not in anything else...except, perhaps, for loving.

He hitched her higher against the wall when she began to slip, pressing his body in tightly against hers. Now that she didn’t need to grip his shoulders for support, she lay them against him, mapping out his contours and angles, tingling with the desire to explore underneath his suit. His own hands cupped her rear firmly, ostensibly to hold her up until they began squeezing and massaging her curves. Her legs tightened around his back of their own accord when Stephanie’s fingers slipped to his tie, causing Damian to inhale quietly. It was only when she tilted her own hips that she understood: there he was, hot and hard and ready for her. If she’d entertained any doubts of his intentions they were undone in that moment. She rocked her hips again and kissed him harder and when he rocked his hips back against hers found herself locked into place to the wall behind her.

This could happen right now, she thought dizzily. Right against the wall. Without even taking our clothes off. God, that would be so fucking hot. She could feel the trickling moisture against her thighs, soaking through the thin g-string she had worn underneath her dress. All it would take would be a moment to unzip his pants and nudge her panties to the side and then he could be inside of her, his (no doubt) genetically modified cock inside of her, making her scream and pulse and come-

“Brown,” he mumbled against her lips. “Don’t avoid me anymore.”

“Ok,” she whispered back, pulling back to bring her mouth to his neck, laying kisses against his jumping pulse.

“I mean it,” he exhaled, leaning down to catch her cheek, her nose, and then her mouth with his lips. “I don’t like it.”

He mirrored her kisses, trailing them down her neck, his mouth softer than hers had been as if he was experimenting with pressure to gauge her pleasure. Stephanie wondered at the honesty in his statement, and the touch of vulnerability he had admitted to. Yet higher thought processes were unwelcome at the moment, so she leaned her head back against the wall, giving his tongue access to lathe along her collarbone, and sighed.

“Don’t say yes to any of them, and I won’t avoid you anymore.”

He bit down and Stephanie moaned loudly in a mixture of pleasure and surprise. The volume of it brought Damian’s mouth back to hers, kissing her fiercely with more passion than finesse.

“I won’t,” he promised between kisses. “I’m not. Brown.”

“Stephanie,” she responded when she pulled back momentarily. “You call me Stephanie when your mouth is on me.”

He shuddered against her and thrust hard. For a moment Stephanie wondered if that had been enough to push him over the edge - coming from a kiss alone, bragging rights were hers! - but his erection did not die away, still straining thick and heavy when he continued rocking it gently against her core. Through the breathless pleasure this evoked a thought surfaced - so, the idea of using her personal name revved him up? Not enough to make him forsake all discipline, but Stephanie had no doubt that the thought of using it had nearly brought him to the brink. She planned to use that to her advantage - somehow - and would begin as soon as he lifted his mouth away from hers-

“Damian. Come in.”

Both froze, not hearing Bruce’s voice come through her earrings - which doubled as radio transmitters - but from the pin tucked discreetly underneath Damian’s collar. For one heart-stopping moment Stephanie thought one of them had activated it, relaying the sounds of their interlude to Bruce. Yet the urgency in his tone - this was his Batman voice, not that of his foppish Bruce Wayne persona - was enough to quell her fears. He had not heard. Otherwise he would be giving them hell.

Although jarring, it was not quite enough to cut through the tension that hung heavy and sweet between them. “Yes,” Damian replied, not taking his lust-blown eyes away from Stephanie’s. “I’m here, Father.”

“I need you back in the ballroom. Your date is acting up.”

Oh god, Stephanie had forgotten all about Marriage Partner #2! From his small smirk, Damian had not, however.

“I’m not surprised. I made sure she was very drunk when I parted company with her - and in no doubt about my lack of interest.” He was still staring at her, as if he wanted her to understand every word that was coming out of his mouth. Hope unfurled in her heart like a flower, even as the remnants of sanity in her brain began screaming for her to use this opportunity and get the hell out of there. All throughout, her traitorous body simply wanted him to move. He was still holding her up against the wall, and still rock hard against her.

Bruce’s response grew even less amused. “Damian. Do not take Talia lightly - nor the women she sends. Come back now and handle it. If you’re serious about denying Talia, show her. Do not be immature and avoid it.”

After one last, searching stare, Damian’s eyes fell and Stephanie could feel the moment slip away. “Understood, Father. I’m on my way.” The moment they could hear Bruce’s com switch off, he shifted his weight back and she untucked her legs from around him. He let her down gently, and Stephanie had never been so grateful for the darkness that partially hid her shame.

What had she been thinking? How could she had let herself go? Oh, who was she kidding. The real question here was how had she held back for so long?

They said nothing. He merely looked down at her with an unreadable expression on his face, and she watched him back with her best attempt at equanimity. Then he pulled away, stalking back through the hedge maze, no doubt breaking into a jog as soon as he passed from her sight. Stephanie watched him go, heart hammering in her chest louder now than it had when they’d been so intimately connected.

Well, fuck, she thought. Fuck fuckity fuck fuck fucking.

 

 

Chapter Text

Two hours later, after the gala had tapered off to its natural end and Damian found himself absolved of all unpleasant duties for the rest of the night, he made a decision that he knew he might eventually have ample cause to regret. Yet not tonight, unless St- Brown reacted in a way that would bring upon a regret of a more immediate nature. There were many, many reasons why he should not do as he wanted in this, but the memory of her out in the garden undid his every concern, and so practically against his will he found himself down in the Batcave, taking care to expertly tamper with the video footage in Brown’s bedroom so that regardless of outcome, they would not be caught out.

There was a high possibility that she would turn him away, he thought as he stalked the shadows through the Manor, slipping up the stairs so that no one would notice his approach. Even though he thought that her passion for him might equal his for her. Yet acting on it had been a moment of spontaneity, and perhaps it was one that she did not want repeated. Perhaps his mother would ultimately be to blame...or perhaps himself. Perhaps it was all just a moment of moonlit madness, spurred by champagne and a little attraction. If so, he would hold tight his pride and never darken her doorstep ever again.

If not...well. Tomorrow would come with the sun, and he could figure out what to do then.

Her door was locked but that was no problem. He’d spent half his young life opening locked doors, and he slipped within silently as it opened. Yet then he was stymied - Brown was not here. But then he heard the sound of the shower running, and a slow curl of excitement unfurled in his belly. She had been a vision in her flame red dress, lips to match, wavy hair tumbling down her shoulders. He’d had a blessedly difficult time sparing any attention at all to his mother’s idea of a date when Brown had been there, flickering at the edges of his vision all evening. He could easily remember his relief when she had left the gala, although he had not been so pleased at the kiss she had brushed on Drake’s cheek before she left. Perhaps it had been that which had prompted him to be so rude to his potential marriage partner as he practically chased Brown out in the garden.

He shifted as his blood ignited, remembering what happened next. How good she felt against him, strong yet soft, pliant and willing. The taste of her mouth, and of the skin of her neck. Had he left a mark with his lovebite? A primal part of him hoped that he had, and truth be told, wished to leave many more on her pale skin.

He shook his head, willing himself to patience. Brown may want no more of him. Perhaps she had been unmoved by the experience, and when she emerged would tell him to go. Then, remembering her would be more pain than pleasure, and he would try and force himself to stop. But beyond that he could not imagine. He very much did not want to envision a reality where she did not want him just as much as he wanted her.

The water cut off suddenly, and Damian’s stomach shot through with nerves. There was the sound of something clinking, of being picked up and then put down. And just when he thought he could bear the tension no longer the door opened and out stepped Stephanie, wrapped round with a towel; wet, freshly combed hair spilling onto her shoulders. She froze when her eyes fell on him, mouth dropping into a perfect little o. Damian knew he wasn’t much better. She had been delectable hours ago, done up and dressed to the nines. But the sight of her now made his mind still and his body flush with heat. Somehow, she was even more desirable like this, unprepared and natural although admittedly, only scantily covered.

“Damian?” She whispered, glancing at the hidden cameras.

“They’re off,” he assured her. “Looping, at least. Just in case.”

“Just in case?”

It went against every instinct to display any sort of hesitance or vulnerability, but in this case he simply did not know what else to do. So he set his shoulders and glanced down, finding his response when he looked away from her. “In case you wanted to address the unfinished business from earlier.”

He glanced back at her just in time to see her eyes widen further, and unless he was very mistaken, a look of arousal cloud them. She bit her lip and he read the indecision dancing across her face.

“We shouldn’t. It’s...it’s not a good idea, Dami. You’re underage...and can you imagine what would happen if your mother found out? If Bruce found out?”

“It would be uncomfortable,” he agreed, heart plummeting to his stomach. “Although I’m not sure what my age as to do with this. I’ve already died once, Brown. And if my mother is hellbent on trying to make me...become a man, as one might say...I’m not sure if age was ever a valid reason for us not to.”

She glanced away, torn. Seeing his chance for success balanced perfectly on the edge of a knife, he took a chance. “My mother is not going to give up, Bro- Stephanie. She is going to send woman after woman to me until I find a way to defeat her. All of them would take me in a heartbeat, and becoming my first woman would make my mother take notice of them. I don’t want...I don’t want to afford them any chance for success. I don’t want to be forced. I would much rather choose my first partner.” He swallowed. “And in total honesty, I would choose you.”

Her eyes had come back to him during his painful admission, and there was a dizzying spark in them that he had only seen glimpses of. It made him very aware of the size of his limbs, and how best he could overpower her oh so sweetly with them.

“It doesn’t bother you that I have...I have experience? I’m not a virgin, Dami. Does that...does that make you not want me?”

There was very little that could accomplish that at this point. If he had been unable to turn himself from her, he doubted there was anything she could say now that would dampen his ardor. He took a step towards her, watching her chin tilt up. “Then you could teach me. If. If you wanted to.”

“Do you want this? Really want this. You’re not just doing this to piss off your mom?” She whispered in reply, licking her lips as he bent down to close the distance.

He shook his head and then kissed her in reply, not able to find the words that might reassure her. He hoped his silent response might. Her lips were sweeter than before, still plump from their earlier kisses, yet he felt an entirely new sense of wonder when she opened for him, slotting their lips together more seamlessly than they had at the first. She hummed at the back of her throat when he pressed more firmly against her.

Yet unlike their time in the garden, there was no overwhelming sense of urgency. He was conscious of every move he made, and kept his movements slow and gentle as he ran his fingertips down the skin of her shoulder, careful not to dislodge the loosely tied towel. Unlike before when he had surrendered to the urge to succumb to mindless plunder, now he felt like he wanted to unwrap her like a much-anticipated present. He wanted to take his time. He wanted…

She sucked at his lower lip and he groaned. Gods, he wished he knew what to do! He wanted to make her as weak as she made him, to see her unravel at his touch...but she would have to teach him. She would have to instruct him step by step, using her own body as a tutorial…

On second thought, there was no better to start than the present. “Show me,” he breathed into her ear, tentatively licking the shell-like curve. “Show me everything you like.”

She shuddered, and the towel slipped. It sagged, trapped beneath them and Damian’s eyes reflexively dropped to the pale swell of her breasts. He exhaled sharply through his nose as the rosy peaks of her nipples came into view, seeming to stiffen under his gaze. They hitched with her breath and cautiously, glancing up at Brown’s reddening cheeks as he did, he grazed them with his fingertips, playing with the slowly rising nubs, eventually gaining confidence and taking the peaks between his forefinger and thumb. He tugged gently and made her breath catch, glorying at the rush of blood through his body. He groaned as he leaned back in to kiss her. This...this was not how he had imagined sex to be. This was quiet and concise and slow, simple movements, and yet fire was arcing through his body just from touching such a small area of her body. But perhaps it was the inherent beauty of her face, her form...her breasts themselves. They were making it exceedingly difficult to think, and do anything beyond pinch and pull and tweak with his fingertips, kissing her slowly and gently all the while.

Dam-i-an,” she eventually breathed against his mouth, and her tone, he noted, sounded incredibly weak. “We gotta’...bed. I wanna’ touch you, too.”

Oh. That sounded palatable, yes. But he didn’t want to stop touching her. He wanted to see how his hands could make her weak, so he palmed her breasts, rubbing his thumbs against the nubs. She arced in his hold and one hand slipped down to press her against him more firmly, cupping around her rear. Her stomach pressed up against his erection and he groaned low in his throat, slipping his tongue into her mouth. She had already taught him this from the garden, but in his excitement he pinched her nipple harder than he meant to, and she shuddered and cried out, pulling away from him.

“I’m sorr - was that too hard?”

She shook her head and her eyes held a distinctly wild cast. “Bed. Now.” She grabbed his hand and pulled him after her, towel dropping to the floor as she went. She shoved him in first and he caught himself before he could roll off. The next thing he knew he had a lapful of naked Brown, kissing him feverishly as she straddled his waist.

Oh, sweet and merciful gods. The feel of her was beyond description. So lithe and perfectly formed - he ran his hands up and down her body, gaining confidence the longer they kissed. In very little time he found himself paying homage to her legs just as he’d imagined, stroking and kneading her flesh until he reached the curve of her buttocks. His mouth trailed to her collarbone and then, daringly, below. She arced back as he bent to lick at one pale breast, and then the other before taking her nipple into his mouth. It tasted of soap and sweetness and her, and the feel of it against his tongue made him react primitively, bucking up against her in search of something soft and smooth against his growing erection.

“I love that fucking suit,” Brown gasped as he swirled his tongue around her nipple, nipping it gently with his teeth. “But it has to come off. Right now. I gotta’ touch you, Dami.”

“Yes,” he moaned against her breast. “Yes. I-” He cut off as she shifted back and her hands went to his pants, unbuckling his belt. Hurriedly he tugged off his jacket, vest and tie, and was just beginning to unbutton his shirt when Brown, rather than pulling his pants down as he’d imagined, simply unbuttoned and unzipped him and a little awkwardly extricated himself from his trousers. He hissed as she ran her hands over his naked member. It was so different than his own, quick, nearly impersonal touches. Her hands were soft and small and traced over every inch of him, and his breath grew short and quick.

“Jesus, Dami,” she murmured. “Seriously. Your cock too? Really? How is that even practical?”

“What?” He ground out, too distracted from her touches to make out her babbling.

‘What are you even-oh.”

Rather than explain, Brown bent her head and licked the head of his penis. He shuddered and then stilled as she bent further, taking the first few inches into her mouth. He breathed harshly through his nose as she went deeper, tongue smoothing across the sensitive skin at the base of his penis.

His cock had never felt so heavy and full before, and as she drew back only to swallow him down deeper, the room seemed to reel overhead. After a few breathless moments of experimentation she set up a steady rhythm and his thighs corded against the pleasure. Her hair slipped in front of her face like a curtain and he pulled it back, resting his hand against the base of her skull, leaving him an unfettered view of her mouth wrapped around him. This was too much, too quickly. He would come without pleasing her if she kept this up.

“Br- Stephanie. Let me - wait, wait.”

She pulled off momentarily, eyes flicking to his face. “Wanna’ make you come, Dami. You’ll last longer this way.”

Damian was filled with the urge to prove her wrong. He also wanted, irrationally, to be inside of her when he came. They could examine all the delectable angles of foreplay later, but for now he wanted her in the most primal way.

Yet he knew arguing with her was largely fruitless. He had to show her exactly what he wanted. So he hoisted her up the bed, ignoring her squeak of dismay as she landed on her stomach. He flipped her over and her hair fell every which way, obscuring her scowl and eyes that glinted angrily.

“Damian! You can’t just toss me around like a rag doll!”

“Hush,” he told her. “Let me have a turn.” He bent to kiss her, tasting faint traces of himself on her tongue. It was not disgusting, although he was unsure if it was more due to being able to taste her as the base note. Propping himself up on one elbow he let the other meander in between their bodies, brushing over her stomach and catching at her hip. Finally, his fingers trailed down even further, past the dark blonde curls that covered her mound, down to the very crease of her. His fingers slid against her wet opening and they caught their breaths. His cock twitched against her side as he gently parted the slick flesh, drawn by instinct to the heat and pressure she hid between her legs, breaking their kiss as he slid a finger inside.

His first reaction was to thrust his finger within her just as he would himself, but something held him back. “Like this?” He asked, breathing the question into the base of her neck.

“Yeah. But also…” She reached down to adjust his hand, pulling it out to brush his fingers against a small, nub of flesh - oh, the clitoris. So that was what it felt like…

“Like this,” she finished. “This is the way I’ll come if you’re not...oh! Not inside of me.”

Oh, he was going to remember that little sigh in his dreams tonight. But he turned his attention to stroking her, watching her breath hitch and her color rise as he stoked her sexual flame. Eventually he grew competent enough to divert his attention so that he could not only rub her at an increasing pace with his thumb, but also slip the first few knuckles of his fingers inside of her, crooking them up make her gasp and moan-

“Do you have a condom?”

He nodded into her neck, a little mesmerized at the pounding in his cock and the concentration it took to touch her like this. “Trouser pocket.”

He felt one of her hands dig at his hip, before sliding inside the pocket and pulling out the condom. What he was not prepared for was her pulling his hand away.

She pulled his face to hers, kissing him briefly. “How do you...do you have a preference? For the first time, I mean.” Her eyes were wide and dark, and he could only imagine he looked much the same. There would be time for experimentation later, he decided. The first time, he wanted to see her face.

“On your back,” he whispered. “I want to see you come.”

She raised an eyebrow and huffed, and but smiled too. “Let’s see if you can make me, big boy.”

She was always challenging him. No wonder he liked her so. “I will if it’s the last thing I do, Brown.”

Stephanie,” she reminded him, and he kissed her in apology. “Can you put it on?”

He pulled back and opened it, wincing a little as he stretched the latex over his skin. Then he stretched out over her, legs nudging her thighs apart, his bobbing cock reaching for her. In that moment it all felt so natural, like every minute of their interactions had always been leading up to this. How could he have ever imagined taking any other woman before her? It had always been Br- Stephanie. He could both trust and desire no one more than her.

He nudged himself against her, gritting his teeth as the head of his cock slotted against her opening. He glanced up at her, hoping she would not tell him no.

She noticed his look and nodded, biting her lip. “C’mere, Dami,” she whispered. “Aren’t you gonna’ make me come?”

The challenge spurred him and he slipped within her, gritting his teeth against the feel of her. He had seen the act before, and heard it described in all variety of uncouth language, but to actually slip inside a woman...it was indescribable. The pleasure was immense and his penis felt as if it may very well melt within her, but for Damian, it was Stephanie’s reaction that gave him the most pleasure. She sucked in a ragged inhale at his first thrust, and her head fell back against the pillow, face open in its bliss. He pulled back and thrust again, just to see the minute changes of her expression.

Although she was not a virgin he had thought there might be pain, and there was a slight furrow in her brow...but it smoothened out as he rocked forward again, and again, and again. His rhythm was dictated by the fire thrumming through his veins, and he would have lost himself within her if he had not feared coming before her. Before he had thought it would be a matter of pride. Yet now that he was within her, shaking her and filling her in the most delicious way, he realized his orgasm would be incomparably better if he could break her apart beforehand.

Yet his control was not perfect and she moaned when his hips snapped against her own more harshly than he’d meant to. “Oh god, Dami. There. There.”

He had canted her hips up with the force of his thrust and that angle was what he believed she was referring to. So he gripped her hip and held her there as he rode her harder and faster, judging his force and tempo by her direction.

“More. Dami, please. More. Faster. Yes, right there - harder! Oh god, yes!”

Gods, but his woman was a bossy one - perhaps it was why pounding her like this felt so satisfying. He gave her all that she asked for and more, hoping that he could hold on just long enough to see her lose control. Yet the fire within him was raging, and he found his control slipping. Frantically he reached for thought, in any language that might come. He found himself muttering to her in Farsi, and ending with an endearment he had not thought he might ever utter in his lifetime. “Come for me my beautiful warrior, my thorny flower. Burn me alive, ātashé del-am.”

Perhaps it was the purr of his native tongue that did it but she suddenly jerked against him, mouth opening in a silent scream. He felt her grow impossibly tight against him, and from her expression of pained ecstasy, she had indeed found her release before him.

It was all he had waited for. He thrust into her without mercy, finding his own climax looming large on his horizon. He was overwhelmed with sensation - the scent of sex rising high in the air, the press of her soft breasts against his chest, the sight of her bliss slowly fading. With a few more rough thrusts he came, catapulting himself into oblivion, unknowingly moaning what was in his heart against her neck.

Ma’shooq-am-”

He shivered above her as he emptied himself within her. He had never felt so adrift yet secure, before. And when he could hold himself apart from her no longer he rolled to the side and pulled her with him, taking a subtle yet bone-deep satisfaction from feeling her weight against him, even though their carnal dance was done.

For a long while she held still against him, and he breathed in her scent. There was that herb again...now that he was coherent, he thought that it might be rosemary, with some mint, perhaps. Finally she wiggled out of his hold and smirked before leaning in and kissing his nose.

“Again?”

A slow, predatory smile was his only response.

***

They came together several more times throughout the night - sometimes dictated by her, sometimes by him. Only when they were exhausted did they finally fall apart. Spent, he had moved to leave but she had sleepily reached out to him and he found himself crawling back into her bed. She tucked herself against him, fitting herself to him in a way he had never allowed himself to imagine. He had never slept with anyone by his side before, and he found it physically restricting, uncomfortably warm, and in general fairly odd.

Yet it also made something deep within him unclench, and he found he’d rather not move away. He would leave early in the morning, sneaking out to the Batcave and fixing the tapes before his father would rise. But for now...he closed his eyes and exhaled, surrendering himself to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

<!--
@page { margin: 0.79in }
P { margin-bottom: 0.08in }
-->

Part VIII - Interludes


In the days that followed they tried hard to let go of each other, yet all attempts at discipline came to nothing. Although common sense and the current situation dictated that now more than ever they should keep their distance, they both found it utterly impossible to stay away from each other. Patrols became a game of cat and mouse wherein one would inevitably catch the other when tensions ran high and their mutual attraction became undeniable. A quick visit to the pantry became a hushed, frantic session where both came away limping yet satisfied. They found reasons to skulk in dark corners of the manor, and took full advantage of the distraction and confusion that followed their older siblings’ coming out. Stolen minutes became a half-hour interludes of learning each other’s tastes and limits. In those first days they dared not speak a word of it to anyone, or each other. Yet still they came together, time and time again, unable to quell the spark between them.

***

“So, do you remember telling me that if I ever crawled into your bed seeking mischief ever again, you’d show me the error of my ways?”

“Of course I do, foolish woman.”

“I don’t think I’ve learned my lesson quite yet, Dami.”

“You are insatiable, aziz-am. I will have to discipline you thoroughly…”

***

Stephanie learned that Damian would indeed say her first name, but only when he was inside of her, or when he was engineering her own orgasm. During the day it was Brown this, Brown that...but now there was a delicious consciousness of what he sounded like when he collapsed against her, murmuring words in other languages against her flesh. He favored a Middle Eastern language, and she began to make out the syllables that she could not understand - and could not make herself look up. Aziz-am, delbar-am, ātashé del-am,ma’shooq-am…

She began to love the sound of his voice in foreign tongues almost as much as she craved the intent she could but barely understand. He was always at his peak when he spoke to her so, and there were things she did not need translated, words that she did not need to understand when her heart was already far too full.

It made her jealous that she had no special name for him, and so one rainy afternoon he began to teach her, slowly and quietly. Delbar-am , he taught her, mouth against her skin as his fingers opened her up. She repeated it when she rode him, rocking against him and utterly in control of their pleasure. Days later it was asheq-am, and it was as she lay against him in the aftermath of their bliss, feeling his thick fingers trace the slashing language of it onto her skin. Then followed hamsar-am, and finally, asheghet-am. She did not ask for their meaning. She did not feel she needed to. She merely whispered them back to him the next time they came together, and smiled against his skin when he choked out his own release only moments later.

***

“What are you thinking about?”
“If I could make you come without touching you...there.”

“You mean...without external stimulation?”

“No, I mean without touching you there at all.”

“You can’t just command me to orgasm, Dami. Asheq-am. I’m fairly sure that’s not how it works.”

He shook his head and a small, enigmatic smile touched his lips. Then, before she could offer up any other theories, he bent his lips to her nipple and showed her what he was thinking.

Stephanie did not come from breast play alone that night, but it was a near thing. And after almost an hour of his lips and fingertips teasing, plucking, prodding and sucking at her, she was a mess. A writhing, begging, pleading mess. When he finally slid inside of her to finish her, bringing her to the brink before cresting along with her, she could barely do anything other than moan his name, the last thing she was sure of when the rest of the world had fallen away under his touch.

When she had come down enough to know herself again, he looked down gravely at her. “Those were my thoughts, ma’shooq-am. Do you have anything else you’d care to add?”

She could do nothing but momentarily tighten her hold on his shoulders before her arms fell away, boneless. There was not even enough awareness enough to whimper, and the exhaustion of the past few days caught up to her with a vengeance.

The last thing she heard before she slipped away was his quiet promise. “We’re going to have to try that again sometime, ātashé del-am.

***

Damian found he was distressingly unaware of what was happening in the world around him. Drake became insufferable, smirking at him knowingly every time Damian was unable to arrange a patrol with Brown, but those looks fell away when Drake and his lover told their old team - The Teen Titans - about them. From what Damian could gather, Wondergirl was not so pleased with this news. Father still refused to relent and Grayson still had not come back to the Manor...and from something he overheard Drake and Brown discussing, he and Todd were discussing setting a wedding date. It was all ridiculous, Damian thought, but not nearly as ridiculous as his obsession with getting Brown alone and running his mouth over every inch of her.

Even the thought that Mother was out there somewhere, plotting against him and his newfound happiness could not dim this pleasant haze. If this was only the thrill of sexual discovery, he wondered how his brothers fared, with their foolish, all-encompassing loves. Yet he forgot this censure when he was inside of Brown, her skin so warm and slick against his, his heart and head pounding in unison. Then he found himself whispering sweet endearments into her skin that he knew he should not say - should not share that much of himself with her - but could not stop. Nor, lying with her afterwards, could he bring himself to regret them, or label them as untrue.

***

“Oh. Stephanie. I need-”

“Tell me what you need, Dami.”

Her lips are red and wicked around him, and he can barely think when she has him inside her mouth. “Need. You. Oh, delbar-am please. Let me...inside your mouth.”

She hums around him, and from the look in her eye the thought turns her on as much as it does him. Then she takes all of him and oh... oh-

“Asheghet-am, asheghet-!”

***

They are unwise, and there are so many opportunities for them to be caught. Yet it does not stop them. Knowing that there is little they can do against their eventual end, they lose themselves in each other, both desperate to have as much as they can of each other before all opportunities are over. The future looms dark before both of them, although they do their best to ignore it.

Damian measures time in the space between Stephanie’s hitching breaths, and Stephanie measures distance by how deeply Damian pushes inside of her. The world narrows to encompass just the two of them, as it so often does for young lovers.

Stephanie tells herself that her zeal is merely for his own protection, preparing him for whatever lover comes next, knowing that it may not be his own choice in time. Damian tells himself that every interaction with her is a challenge, without realizing his own desperation for her is due to his inability to give her up. And both sigh and kiss and touch, all without allowing the true nature of their attachment to come to the forefront of their awareness of each other.

***

On the day that Damian is called into an interview with his father, he had just spent the previous two hours taking Stephanie in a variety of physically improbable positions, before she turned around and returned the favor. Therefore, he was not at his best when his father turned to him and asked, “Am I wrong, Damian?”

For a tense moment, Damian had to frantically remember what his father could be speaking of. “In terms of Drake and Kent, or Todd and Grayson, Father?”

“Both. Either. You seem to be unexpectedly relaxed about both couples. Why is that?”

Because Brown is a devious vixen who keeps me so occupied with the land between her thighs I care for little else. “It doesn’t concern me, Father. The rest of the... family may choose to take whomever they wish to bed. As long as it doesn’t weaken Batman and his affiliates I couldn’t care less.”

“You don’t think it weakens us? To have such obvious targets, as both normal men and superheroes?”

Damian considered this. “Personally, I believe that Drake and Kent are stronger together. They have proven their ability to fight together and continue their dalliance, and with Drake’s intelligence and Kent’s brawn I think they could present a very formidable duo. As for Grayson and Todd…” He shrugged, and he remembered what Grayson himself had said to Todd, several weeks ago as they lay together in their safehouse. Together with what he knew of Todd from his time training under his mother, he knew exactly what he had to say. “I think Grayson keeps Todd from his darkness, and Todd keeps Grayson from...from flying too close to the sun. The danger is in their alter egos, but the Red Hood has always done what he pleased, and Grayson has long talked about hanging up his Nightwing costume, or bequeathing it to Drake.”

He remembered Brown and her slow, satisfied smile. “Perhaps it is time for a change, Father. We are not all of us Batman. Perhaps they need partners who can keep them true to themselves as well to their mission.”

His father looked at him with a raised eyebrow, and Damian felt a thrill of pleasure at being taken seriously. “Their mission?”

To protect. Perhaps...their affection for their partners keeps them able to care for the people they must protect.”

***

Stephanie had a heart-to-heart of her own, of a very different nature. Tim had smirked at her on patrol one evening, and the next morning - 5AM to be precise - found them dressed down and in a Denny’s, wolfing down an unholy amount of waffles.

“So, Dami, huh?”

Stephanie narrowed her eyes. “What about him?”

Tim’s smile didn’t fade as he sipped his coffee. “I never, ever thought I’d have cause to ask...but how is it? You know. Being with him.”

Stephanie swallowed the rest of her waffle before responding. “I will tell you only one thing: Talia genetically modified his cock.”

Tim promptly choked on his waffle. “No, she did not.”

“I shit you not. There is no other explanation for it.”

Now he was looking decidedly queasy, and shivered. “I...did not need to know that.”

Stephanie smiled. “I know.”

“But you know...you know what you’re doing, right?”

No, Stephanie thought. I really, really don’t. I need him more with each passing day and it’s all madness that I cannot walk away from. So no, Tim. I’m hopeless, and I can only hope that he is too. “As much as one can, with him. But I’m being careful. We’re being careful. You know. Condoms.”

Tim made another face. “Just...let me know if I have to kill him, ok?”

“Will do, Timmers. Will do.”

***

Late one night Damian watches her sleep, unable to be lulled into slumber even by the soothing rise and fall of her chest. Carefully he shifts himself away from her, wondering at how comfortable he has grown with her in just a few weeks of stolen hours slumbering at her side. He stands and watches her, and feels as if his heart was a country he had known by name, never by experience. She had been his teacher and his language, and although he may never tell her, he owes her far, far more than she knows.

Therefore, he turns his thoughts to what he must do to make this situation last. He is the problem, he and his mother. Before, his mother’s plans were simply a nuisance. Now...they stand in between he and his happiness, and he knows now what he must do.

He sits at her desk, opens the drawer and retrieves a sheet of lined paper. He glances once more behind him before he fishes out a pen from the mess on her desk shelf and writes.

Dear Mother...

Chapter Text

Part IX - Stephanie

 

A month had passed from what Stephanie termed Damigeddon, or the Wayne Gala that had replaced her sexual dry spell with a monsoon. Not that she was complaining. Although initially inexperienced, Damian’s determination, discipline, and deep seated need to undo her resulted in the most amazing lovemaking of her young life, and even the secrecy of it could not make her regret it. A month was a long time to go without having second thoughts or regrets, but in this particular case, Stephanie thought she could make this peculiar mindlessness last for another couple weeks. Or months. Or year.

She thought that even more so than the pleasures of his body, it might have something to do with the way he smirked at her during, challenging her to greater heights. Or perhaps it was the way he shuddered against her afterward, holding her more tightly than anyone had ever before, not knowing how intense his need to hold her was. But if she had to pick, it probably had to do with the dusky language he kissed into her skin, and what little he had taught her of it. Habibi she knew from what his mother called him, but she was beginning to suspect what he spoke was a different language entirely. Farsi, perhaps, rather than Arabic.

If that was the case, she was finally in position to ask the perfect person what Damian had been saying. If she wanted to know. Perhaps it was just generic things - yes, please, my dear, keep going...you’re so fucking hot Stephanie Brown I want to fuck you forever and ever, amen...things like that. But if it wasn’t? If he was whispering sweet and indicative things as he slid inside of her, lifting up her thighs so he could reach even deeper?

Stephanie flushed, fiddling with her drink. Maybe she shouldn’t ask...even though Jason was looking happy and relaxed right across the table from her. Besides, Tim was right there, and she remembered his reaction from the last time they’d attempted to gossip about Damian…

Tonight, Dami and Cass were out on patrol, although she and Tim wore their coms, just in case. Gotham had been quiet as of late but they were taking no chances. Bruce was meeting with Clark tonight, ostensibly to talk over League stuff but really to hash out Tim and Kon’s escalating relationship once again. Dick was on hand at the cave in case shit went down, and he would need to swoop in and pretend to be Batman. Although at this point, it would almost be better for Damian to take over that role, Stephanie mused. He certainly had the build for it…

And nope. Not going there. Especially when Jason was watching her with hooded eyes, trying to read the reason for her distraction. Jason was, without a doubt, the member of the batfamily who could best hold his liquor - compliments of his Irish heritage and his Russian training - and while Stephanie thought she did well for her body mass index, she had learned to be wary of that knowing glint in his eye, no matter how many shots of whiskey he’d downed.

Thankfully, Tim didn’t seem to read the situation. He was just happy for the three of them to be together again, even if they’d had to wait until Bruce was gone to get Jason back in the manor. Alfred had been quietly pleased as well, although due to a bad cold he had gone to bed an hour back. So the three of them sat in the kitchen, Jason taking shots as he grilled his baby bat siblings on the state of affairs, focusing on Tim’s love life as he waited for his own lover to get the all clear signal and they could head back to one of their safehouses.

Stephanie thought if he had known of the slightly more salacious developments in his youngest batsibling’s love life, Jason’s interest might have been a little more than piqued. But perhaps he was beginning to suspect something. She hadn’t quite been holding up her end of the conversation - she was a little distracted by the sound of Damian’s clipped voice through the com, and wondering when they’d next have a chance to come together - and Jason had just turned to her with narrowed eyes when suddenly, Cass’s voice grew louder than any could remember her speaking before..

Brother, no! Get back - al Ghul! Ta-”

The com suddenly filled with harsh static. Wincing, Tim tore his from his ear, but Stephanie just froze, eyes growing wide with fear. For a moment they all sat there, waiting for the static to end, frozen at the possibility. Then Tim tore off to the Batcave to check with Dick. If the common channel had been scrambled, there was still another way they could communicate, and it was to the Batcave directly. Stephanie knew she should run after him and see what was happening, but she couldn’t. She sat motionless at the counter, already knowing exactly what had happened.

Talia had found out. She had found out, and she had come after him. She would take him back with her and force him to accept one of those other women, or she would try to kill him again. And knowing his stubbornness, Stephanie was afraid she would know his answer, regardless of the nature and depth of his feelings for her.

“Steph?” Jason’s voice was quiet and deceptively gentle. “You ok?”

She had just doomed her partner, friend, and the man she...lusted after beyond reason to his mother’s cruel clutches. But they were goddamned superheros, and if they couldn’t save him, who could? She nodded, eyes turning fierce. “Yeah. Will be. When we get him back.”

“Get him back?”

Just then Tim tore back into the kitchen, Red Robin persona firmly in place. “Ok, Dami’s been captured by Talia - Cass was able to get away but not to save him. Talia hit him with a dart and he went down like a sack of bricks. Cass is marking their position - they’re still en route but they’re heading to the docks. I’m going to see what I can find out about al Ghul assets in US waters. Dick’s suiting up. We’ll be making a plan as soon as we know where they’re taking him.”

Tim winced and then turned to her. “Steph. I want you to sit this one out.”

“Oh, hell no.”

“Steph, you know why-”

“What I want to know,” Jason interrupted with a keen glance between them, “is how Steph knew he was taken before you did, Tim. Is this is connected to baby bat’s whole marriage debacle? Steph, do you know something? Is he just meeting with her to talk? Are we all freaking out over nothing?”

Stephanie’s reply was a biting, and it shouldn’t have been. “Why would he do that? He’s not going to accept any of the offers.”

Jason shook his head. “And how do you know that, Steph?”

“They’re sleeping together.” Tim wasted no time in softening the blow, nor caring that the Manor security cameras would record all this. He didn’t even wince when Stephanie turned to glare at him, and Jason choked on the apple he’d been lazily gnawing on.

“They’re what? Oh man. Bruce is going to lose his shit. Oh goddamn. Again.”

Tim.”

Yet Tim was unfazed. “No, Steph. Talia has kidnapped him and we need to know why. It could very likely be because she’s learned about the two of you. In that case, you’re the other target, and we need to keep you safe. Especially if…” He hesitated, and she could see how little he wanted to ask his next question. “Was it serious? Or was it just...a thing?”

Stephanie really did not want to think about that. “But how did Talia even find out? Especially if Bruce hadn’t known?”

Tim’s gaze turned inwards, as if examining something only he could see. “That...is a question for Talia. But first we need to determine how much trouble you’re in. C’mon, Steph. What’s really going on between you and Damian?”

The re-iteration of the question made her heart flutter and fall at the same time. She had no idea. On her part, she was beginning to get very, very nervous about how goddamn happy he made her, even with his disgruntled old man noises and stuck up elitism. But how to explain that she had no real way of knowing his regard for her? Just fragments of their time together, and the look in his eye, and the unknown words he would whisper...

“Well. I’m not exactly sure. What I do know is that...in the beginning, it was kind of a measure of control on his part. He didn’t want his first time to be with one of his mother’s operatives. And I mean. I’m also super hot, ‘cuz hello. But then...”

Jason had finally recovered from his apple mishap and cleared his throat. “But then?”

Tim watched her with that unnervingly sharp gaze. “The two of you have been doing it like bunnies all over the damn Manor. That doesn’t sound like only sticking it to his mother...if it was only that, it would be a one and done. You know. Like everything else Damian does to make a point.”

Stephanie nodded and then smiled weakly. “Look, it’s not like we’ve ever talked about it. We’ve done an excellent job of not talking about, and I don’t think either of you are in the position to judge. But there is one thing, maybe.” She turned to Jason. “How’s your Farsi?”

“Oh god. He’s speaking in Farsi to you?”

Stephanie swallowed, stomach erupting with butterflies. Now she’d know. For good or for ill, she’d know how he felt about her...and if it was nothing special that was probably for the best, right? Even if the thought made her want to claw out his heart and stomp on it?

She breathed deeply. Right. Here goes. “So he taught me some of the things he...says. During. You know. If I asked you…?”

Jason sighed, rubbing his temples. “Hit me. And then hit me harder so I forget all this.”

She closed her eyes and tried to remember all that he had called her. “Aziz-am. Delbar-am. Asheq-am. Ma’shooq-am.” She hesitated, trying to remember further. There were more...but what was the last thing he had said to her the last night they were together? Ah, now she remembered. “Asheghet-am.”

Asheghet-am?” He repeated, his pronunciation nearly as precise as Damian’s.

Stephanie nodded. “I’m pretty sure. That one was...the most recent, I guess.”

Jason Todd, the big bad Red Hood and scourge of Gotham baddies, put his head down on the counter with an audible clunk. “Oh god,” he then declared. “Forget Bruce. Talia’s going to lose her shit, and it shall be stupendous. And here I was thinking it couldn’t get any worse than Dicktar and I, or Placers and Supes.” He picked up his head and shook it at her. “Woman. I don’t know how you do what you do, but if it’s enough to make the little demon child tell you he loves you, goddamn girl. Just goddamn.”

Stephanie did not smile, although it felt as if her entire being was filled with light. She was suspended off the edge of a cliff, and had just found that she had possessed the wings to fly all along. Damian loved her? And had taught her to say it back without letting her know what she was saying?

That little shit, she thought. When I get him back, I’m going to smack him so hard. And then never, ever let him go again.

“We’ve are going to get him back,” is what she chose to say instead. “We are going to get him back right now.”

Tim and Jason shared a look. “Just take it easy, Steph,” Tim told her cautiously. “But I might have a plan. It’s going to need all of us - but if all goes well we might not even need Batman. Er, at least Bruce.”

Jason’s eyes lit up. “Do I get to play Batman?”

“No. First you get to play sober Jason. Then you get to talk to Talia.”

Booooooo.”

Stephanie frowned at him, ignoring Jason’s immaturity. “I’m going too. To talk to Talia.”

Tim shot her his patented look of utmost horror. “What? No you are not. You are the other target! If-”

“If I was what she wanted, she’d have already had me by now. And besides, leaving me in the Manor all alone with a sick Alfred isn’t going to be any safer. I’m safest right in front of her, especially if the rest of us are going to come along for the ride.” She glanced away, burning a hole into the kitchen counter before she continued. “Besides. I’ve got a couple things I want to say to Talia, regardless. About this whole marriage fiasco, and Damian. I think she’ll listen to me, if only to hear what I have to say about her son. Lord knows Damian’s not going to give her anything.”

“Look at it this way, Placers,” Jason leaned in. “Do you honestly think she’s going to sit here and twiddle her thumbs when the demon child she loves is in danger? Would you if it were Supes? She’s gonna’ go out and find trouble regardless. Might as well keep her with me. My pull with Talia isn’t so good these days, but it’s better than nothing. If the two of us go, we can at the least keep her attention. Steph can tell her that she wants to be considered as a marriage option.”

“What? Jason, I-”

“Shhh,” he told her. “Outlining a plan, here. Steph and I will distract Talia with love talk, and then you, Cass and Dickles find the terror and free him. Actually, I vote sending out Dick in the Batsuit just to confuse her - she has to know Bruce isn’t in Gotham tonight, that’s why she moved. But it’s also why she’s going to be halfway across the Atlantic when he does get back. So in and out, and let Bruce know as soon as he gets back. Or maybe Babs can fill him in now. It’s the best plan we got, and we gotta’ move quick.”

Tim glanced at her with a narrowed gaze before nodding. “Ok. I may add on a bit, but it might be better if the two of you don’t know the details...just in case. I’ve got a phone call to make. Jason, sober up and go fill Dick in. Steph, suit up. As soon as Cass sends us Damian’s location, we’re going in. Ready?”

Jason gave them a little salute, standing and moving quickly to the cave to collaborate with his lover. Tim took the moment to turn to Stephanie and fix her with a serious look. Stephanie tensed, waiting for something dark and serious to fit the mood.

At the last moment he smirked. “So after we get him back...I’m totally going to be the best man, right?”

Stephanie laughed, and if it was a bit strangled with worry Tim was kind enough not to say anything. “Yep,” she assured him, her smile strained. “We just have to bring him home, first.”

 

Chapter Text

Damian came to awareness slowly, blinking the sleep out of his eyes. It was nothing like the way he had been trained to wake all throughout his childhood as an assassin, nor how he had continued the practice as one of Gotham’s premier superheroes. Yet his eyes and limbs would not obey him, and this worried him more than the room seemed to rock side to side ever so slightly. This was because he had woken up on a seafaring vessel - likely his mother’s freighter, the Leviathan - and once again he had been drugged.

He closed his eyes, and tried to master his breathing. It would be the first step in regaining total control of his body. This was a strange drug, vacillating between moments of total lucidity...and then flashes of heat and pressure and a drive that he understood all too well, now. No wonder it was a drug he wasn’t familiar with - it was some sort of chemical aphrodisiac that played havoc with his parasympathetic nervous system and the sex-related chemical receptors in his brain. His mother would not have seen the reason to strengthen him against such a drug, and now he was paying the price.

That could only mean his mother had received his letter...and had not been amused. His gamble had not paid off.

Damnation.

The moment lucidity passed and he floated along on a current of desire, his penis growing heavy and full with blood, mind filling with images of Stephanie. For a long time he drifted there, forcing himself still and his breath to remain even, keeping control for as long as he could. When he could think again he tried to recall all he knew about his situation, and how he had come to be here.

He had been taken when out on patrol with Cain, he was fairly sure. He remembered convening with her on a rooftop after they had split up for a quick detour around the east side brothels. But then his memories grew disjointed. Had they taken her too? Unlikely. Cain was far too clever and quick to be taken in by even the best of Mother’s assassins. Yet would they know where to find him? Again, he thought they might. Drake’s brain was abnormally large for a reason, and if not, Todd might have enough contacts in common with Mother to find him that way. But would they come in time? He had no idea how long he’d been out, but from the motion of the freighter they were no longer tied to the dock. That complicated things. It may, in fact, leave the matter of his rescue entirely up to him.

Especially if Stephanie was planning on coming anywhere within a 1,000 mile radius of his mother. In that case, he needed to get off the boat. Now.

Before he could figure out what to do next another wave of desire ripped through him, and this time he was unable to keep motionless. A rushed exhale escaped through his nose and once again his body went heavy and still, thrumming with a heated energy that if he did not fulfill it, felt as if it might burn him alive. Above him there was a voice, soft and feminine, and the sound of it caused him to shudder.

You have wakened, my love. Come. Please me as only you can do.”

Small yet strong hands touched him, grazing his face, causing his eyes to flicker open. His vision was still not very clear, and the world swung in and out of focus, fuzzy like an old photograph. Those same hands smoothed down his chest, pulling out his dress shirt from his slacks...hadn’t he been in costume? Perhaps his memory had been wrong; this must be after one of Father’s insipid parties…

I want you, my love. You have made me wait for so long…”

Her hands were at his belt, slowly tugging the leather free. Had he made Stephanie wait? He certainly had not meant to do so, not when he had himself been driven half mad for want of her… He moaned as soft hands caressed him, filling him from half-mast to full. And then she leaned in, red, red lips hovering directly in front of him, the rest of her face in shadow…

Love me, delbar-am.”

Always, ma’shooq-am,” he responded automatically. Yet a strand of hair had slipped from her shoulders, and he focused on it just as the wave of desire ebbed momentarily. It smelled of cedar, and the scent made him hesitate...did not Stephanie favor rosemary? Squinting, he looked closer. It was long and glossy and black, nothing like Stephanie’s blonde, tangled mess…

Reality rushed in and he moved almost before he willed it. Drugged as he was, the woman was no match for him. His fingers found her pressure points at the base of her neck and he pressed, twisting her head sharply to the left. There. Partial paralysis at most, unconscious for more than a day at least...and a lifelong reminder as to why one should never try to fuck with Damian Wayne. She slumped down onto him and with an effort he shoved her off of him, rolling in the opposite direction to push up to his hands and knees. Flaming gods, how much had his mother given him? He was so weak he could barely stand!

“So she was not to your taste either, my son? For a young man you are extraordinarily difficult to please.”

While on his hands and knees, Damian tilted his head to the right, where the sound of his mother’s voice had come. Thankfully she was not in the room with him, but had clearly left behind a video monitoring system. “Perhaps I have no desire to perform while you watch, Mother.”

“Oh, I highly doubt that, my dear. But you must tell me what it was. The color of her hair? Her skin? What was it that offended you?”

Damian grit his teeth against an oncoming wave of lust. Thankfully, it seemed to recede much more quickly than it had previously. Finally, when he had mastered himself, he responded. “If you desire total honesty, I would have to tell you that all of her offended me. You’re going to have a difficult time finding a woman to suit me now, Mother. I stand by what I wrote in my letter - if you want me to lead the League, I will select my own consort. I will not change my mind on this.

“If this is unacceptable, you are always free to select another heir to the League. Gotham is a poor birthright in comparison, but it is mine with no stipulations. Father certainly doesn’t treat me like some sort of stallion, needed only to breed.”

There was a moment of quiet following his ultimatum before his mother’s low, smoky laugh. “Ah, my dear. You have grown so much like your father - and not just in looks. If I had not known better, I might have believed this was all a matter of determination, and a refusal to be manipulated. But I am your mother, and I know you better than you could guess. I think the next woman I send to you will be American born, with blonde hair and blue eyes and an impertinent streak a mile wide...I think that sort of woman would appeal to you more, no?”

Damian hesitated for the barest instant before throwing himself back onto his knees. With the momentum he was able to rock to his feet, although his balance was unstable enough that he had to reach out to steady himself so that he did not fall back to the ground. Stephanie. His mother had just aptly described Stephanie...how much did she know? “Send whatever fantasy woman you wish, Mother. But as long as she answers to you I shall not choose her. If ever I choose a partner, she will answer unto me alone.”

His mother’s voice still sounded amused, but there was a trace of iron running underneath it. She was serious, and so must he be. “Oh, I do not know about that, my son. I think there is a woman you would accept regardless of how she came to you - or did you think I did not know about Stephanie Brown?”

Damian swore internally, very loudly. Only in English, this time. Yet his mother had not truly shown her hand - Brown had been his partner during the first marriage meeting. All was still speculation, or so he hoped. “Ah, I wondered where your sudden focus on American blondes came from. Is there something I should know, Mother? I highly doubt that Brown has converted to the League of Assassins to seduce me…” His voice dropped to signal seriousness, not menace. “Father will not appreciate your abducting any of his assistants. Neither will Drake appreciate you targeting his lover.”

He had hoped there was a chance to convince her of their being nothing at all, especially as he had not implied there to be a lover in his letter. Only the determination to choose a consort on his own, and in his own time. But the ire in his mother’s voice proved him wrong immediately. “Do you think me a fool? She is not Drake’s lover but yours - you took her to your bed a month ago. Now, once or twice is an indiscretion I could forgive, especially in light of your distaste for the partners I selected for you. But to keep up bedding her? To let such an unworthy woman become a foolish infatuation? Did you think me blind, Damian?

“And then to write me a letter declaring your independence all for her sake? It is the height of idiocy to lie about it. You go too far, my son. And I will not let this woman diminish your worth further.”

“She does not diminish me.” His voice was low and quiet, and as dangerous as he could make it when an unknown drug ran rampant through his veins. “And neither is she the reason I wrote the letter. I choose my sovereignty over a life lived with leash around my neck, no matter how sweet you might make it seem.

“Years ago you chose to kill me. All ties were severed then. Never again will it matter what I do, nor whom I take to my bed. I will never choose any aspect of your life again, Mother. And unless you want me hunting you, you shall stay away from me and mine.”

“And is this Stephanie Brown yours to claim?”

There was something in her voice that sounded grimly pleased, as if he had reacted just the way she had expected. Suddenly, he knew. Mother already had Stephanie in her clutches - there would not be this lack of urgency otherwise. “If you hurt her I will end you,” he promised, and his determination seemed to clear his vision.

“You may try. But first I will make you watch, to see how pitiful your lover is as she expires. Don’t worry, my son. I know of your impatience - you’ll be seeing her again within the next hour or so, I can promise you that. But whether or not you’ll like when you see her...well. You always did have a fascination for broken things.”

“Mother!” Damian roared, tottering towards the microphone. Yet his mother did not reply. She was gone, the connection cut. Damian swore angrily, hissing as he nearly fell off balance when he spun. He launched himself at the door yet it was heavy iron and bolted to the door - impossible to open from the inside, if not the outside. He yelled angrily, and was swamped by a wave of desire - the strongest one yet. It brought him to his knees, shaking in its intensity. The world hung hazily before his eyes, every object in the room indistinguishable. All that mattered was the blood pumping through his body, able to sustain the heat between his legs.

The urge to surrender and touch himself was almost undeniable. But he knew enough to distinguish that this was not Ivy’s sex pollen that would flush itself out of his system upon orgasm. Who knew what giving in might do? If Mother was careful and quick, it would give her a batch of his own semen to impregnate whomever she would. But oh, the delicious pain would end if he only touched himself, brought himself one moment of relief-

Just as he reached down he heard his father’s voice in his mind, reminding him of something his father had taught him long ago, when he had first come to him demanding to be made Robin. There is only one thing that separates us from those that we hunt, Damian: and it is that we can and must put ourselves last. For the safety of all we choose to protect, we must always forsake our needs for the good of the mission. If we cannot do that we are no better than a villain who has lost their way. Can you do that, Damian? Can you show me your discipline, your will?

I promise, Father, Damian thought shakily, shuddering bodily against the urge to give in. I will not fail you. He focused on his breathing as the pleasure grew to pain, ebbing and flowing. Slow, steady, measured breaths: in and out, in and out. For a long time the world existed of those breaths and the force they seemed to hold at bay. And then, after what felt like hours, it finally faded. Not completely - he could feel the echoes of lust still lingering on his skin - but he felt more clear-headed than he had even during his talk with his mother. Rage could be a trigger, he realized. It was a thankful thing that he had incapacitated the woman while in a daze - otherwise he might have killed her and lost control of himself, as well.

Damian glanced back at the unconscious assassin, thinking. Would that really have been so bad? It would leave one less enemy to follow in his wake. Father would not have approved, nor would Grayson. Drake he thought would see the merit in it, but eventually would choose to side with Father. Stephanie he could not answer for, but he suspected she would have been far, far angrier if he had slept with the woman instead…

Cain would have killed her if there was no choice, but he doubted it would come to that with her. Todd, however. Todd would have killed her. Nor would he have regretted it. There was a streak of darker mettle in the three of them and it was tempered in different ways. Cain with her love for people, for all that was new and different; as well as her veneration of his father and all his associates. She saw the family as a living organism to protect, and would not do anything that would intentionally stress the harmony of their small community.

Todd...well. He wasn’t entirely sure of Todd’s motivation to stop killing, nor if he truly had. But Grayson seemed to be the primary reason he had begun the slow, begrudging trudge from nebulous villain to anti-hero, to perhaps a full-fledged hero in his own right. Perhaps he had been correct when he had told his father that Grayson kept Todd from his darkness. Perhaps the man would now be unrecognizable in his hate and need for revenge had not Grayson stretched out a hand all those years ago - or whatever had happened, no one seemed all that willing to discuss the origins of their relationship, oddly enough - and showered him with love. Cuddles, Damian darkly suspected. Grayson was always good for those.

And what, truly, was the difference between him and Cain and Todd? At their core, not very much. Yet both of them had an outside source keeping them from falling back into their old ways, keeping them in line with their new way of life. What was his?

His father? Once he would have answered this without hesitation. He still would, in fact. But now he wondered if there had not been a subtle, secondary influence that he had not suspected. After all, Stephanie had always been like a sassy, snarky, ever-smiling ray of sunlight in his life, even when he had not always appreciated it. He had always been grudgingly fond of her, when he viewed most of his older ‘brothers’ with true animosity. And there had been times, now that he allowed himself to remember them, where he had imagined her disapproval and stayed his hand or redirected his course. At the time he had assured himself it was only to spare himself the volume of her fury were she to find out. But now knowing what he did of her, was there not another more reasonable explanation?

Ma’shooq-am, he had called her. My beloved. Had all his whispered endearments been this true? Had her body drawn the truth out of his heart just as surely as the sun sets in the west? No wonder his mother had been able to suss out the truth of them so quickly. If he had loved her so openly, so irresponsibly…

Rage flared within him at the thought of her being hurt because of his...his love. Love. Yet to lose himself in emotion would only trigger the drug, so he breathed deeply and meditated, calming himself. He had to be still and think of a plan, observe his situation and find a way out. Without losing his head, this time.

If his mother was to believed, his lover’s life depended on it.

 

Chapter Text

 

It was easier than it should have been to gain access to The Leviathan, and only slightly harder to sneak about unmolested while on board.  While Batgirl was only a recently observed entity to the League of Assassins and was clearly being underestimated, the Red Hood had once walked among them. They should have recognized the man and his talents the minute they stepped on board, yet their luck held and it was Jason’s identity and familiarity with them that helped them reach the captain’s quarters without setting the ship on high alert.  

After Koriand’r dropped them off on the ship that was already several miles off shore, Jason had taken charge.  He knew the ship, having spent some time training on it.  So she had made her way according to his explicit, whispered instructions and with less drama than she’d expected - 5 assassin's down, and if Jason had killed 3 of them she would just have to be angry with him later - they had reached the captain’s quarters.  Cass, who had snuck aboard and waited for them after following the assassins to the docks, had watched Talia enter an hour ago and she had not left since.  

Damian was not there, but Cass hadn’t told her where he was.   Leave him to us, sister, she had advised.   You must focus solely on your mission. Be not distracted, and we shall win.

Stephanie thought they were going to win anyway - would accept nothing less, in matter of fact - but she knew that Cass’s advice was good.  If she didn’t keep her eyes on the prize she might not present herself well in front of her pseudo boyfriend’s mother, and although she wasn’t really doing this to prove her worth to Talia al Ghul, she needed to show that she was a lot more dangerous than Talia was expecting.  Especially if she and Damian were going to make a thing of this, let alone a future.  If so, she had to show that she was just as smart and capable and dangerous as Tim, at the very least.  He had won Ra’s al Ghul’s respect without murder, and now, she had to figure out a way to do the same.  

If she couldn’t, she had a feeling that she and Damian wouldn’t be seeing too much more of each other…

Jason glanced over at her, hugging the shadows.  “You ready? ”  He whispered.  “ Ain’t no takebacks with her.  You set on what you’re gonna’ say?”

Stephanie nodded.  Although it was impossible to plan out what Talia herself might say, between the two of them they needed to keep her talking as long as they could, and above all, to keep her in the room for as long as possible.  While they distracted her, Tim, Cass and Dick would be undertaking several other missions - Tim was hacking into the Leviathan’s aged security system, trapping assassins in the bunker, mess hall, and whatever else he could manipulate through the mainframe.  He was also hooked directly to Stephanie on a private, scrambled com link that not even the rest of the teammates had access to. If things went south, he would be the first to know, and with his assistance it gave her and Jason a fighting chance.

Meanwhile, Cass and Dick would be both searching for Damian and laying low any assassins they ran across.  The last she had heard, Cass’s count was at 14, and both Dick and Jason had expressed their disapproval at her high score. Yet at least Dick stood a chance at catching up.  Unless things went badly, Jason’s count wasn’t likely to rise much above 5 or so.  If they did and they had to fight their way off the ship...well.  All their KO counts would rack up.  

Barbara was doing her best to help out as well, although she was not on the ship itself.  She sent out a delayed, private hail to Bruce who would be back within an hour or so or reading the message.  Until then, she she sent out a few urgent messages, hailing Dick and Tim back to Gotham.  The fake distress calls were easy enough to decipher and sent out just at the edge of the docks - Talia would pick them up and hopefully be fooled.  The longer she thought Dick and Tim were in Gotham, the more relaxed she would be - especially when the last two high profile heroes in the batclan, Red Hood and Batgirl were the only two to show up to rescue Damian.  

She and Jason were the fulcrum of the plan.  Between the two of them they had to keep Talia on her toes and if possible, angry enough not to realize the rescue going on right below her nose.  Between the two of them, Stephanie thought they had a chance.  Jason’s true superpower was to be absolutely infuriating, and Stephanie was sleeping with her son.  If they couldn’t piss off Talia al Ghul, no one could.

 “Let’s do this,” she whispered under her breath.  “Time to meet the mother-in-law.”

As far as first meetings with the parent generally tended to go, this one took the cake for the most surreal.  She and Jason had barely fought their way to the door and slammed it behind them when Talia turned to them, a serene expression on her face.  On the table between them lay a full tea seat, and the incongruousness of it nearly made Stephanie laugh hysterically.

“So you have finally arrived,” Talia began, and her voice was melodiously accented, which contrasted with her stark physical beauty. “The tea was beginning to cool.”

She swept an arm gracefully towards the table, making them aware of the zen-like quality of the room, with its straight angles, strategically potted plants and bare yet warm color scheme.  “Please, sit.  There will be no danger here for either of you, not when we have so much to discuss.”

When neither Jason nor Stephanie moved, not even to shoot each other a disbelieving glance, Talia tutted.  “I trust you’re here because of my wayward son?  Please.  I can assure that he’s come to no harm, and will not in the future, no matter the outcome of our discussion.  So, if you would?”

Stephanie narrowed her eyes.  They could stand here in the doorway like country bumpkins all day, and force Talia to go on the offensive, or they could play along and stall for time.  Which was their plan.  The choice was clear.  So she strode forward, ignoring Jason’s choked out warning.  Fortune never favored the wusses, right?  

Stephanie walked to the table, locking eyes with Talia.  A moment later Jason stepped up beside her, body tense.  

“You were expecting us, then?”  Stephanie asked, senses on high alert for any sign of trickery.

Talia smiled tightly before sitting elegantly.  “I suspected that his plaything might come looking for him.”  Her gaze flicked over to Jason, warming slightly.  “I admit, I hadn’t expected you to make an appearance.  It’s been too long. The years have been surprisingly kind to you, especially in your profession.”

Jason unwound enough to grin back at her, and it was the grin that made women sit up straighter and Dick grind his teeth whenever he used it on anyone but him.  He was aware of Talia’s interest, then, and was willing to change their gameplan to roll with it.

Together they sat, Stephanie bolt upright in her chair and Jason lounging.  It spoke to their characters that they were both equally as dangerous in either position.  While Talia leaned forward to pour caramel colored tea into delicate teacups, Stephanie stretched her chewing gum across her front teeth.  The entire situation was too placid; too stagnant.  She hated it when nothing moved, and she was just about to blow a bubble to get a reaction when Talia leaned back and nudged their cups close to them.

“I suppose this is the point when you demand my son’s return…?”  Talia began, as politely as country ladies at a church function.

“Yes,” Stephanie replied tightly.

“It’s gonna’ piss off the Bats if you don’t give his son back,” Jason pointed out, in an amiable, almost lazy tone.

Talia smiled and sipped her tea.  “Bruce knows why I have requested Damian’s presence.  It was part of a ritual that he, himself took part in.”

Unknowingly,” Jason muttered.  “And you can see how well that turned out for him.  Would Damian’s being unwilling make it any better?”

“My son is a different entity altogether.  And I think he is not truly so unwilling as you believe him to be.”

Jason shrugged, picking up his cup and taking a drink.  “Whatever you say, Lady T. I’m just here for moral support.”

Talia turned her laser focus onto Stephanie.  “Ah, yes.  I imagine Damian’s future progeny might interest you more.  He wrote as much in his letter.  Tell me, was my son pleasing in bed?”

Had this been any other meeting, any other situation, Stephanie might have choked on her tea.  As it was, it was the pettiest barb she could imagine, and she’d rather this than a shuriken through her throat.  So she swallowed one mouthful of tea - first objective accomplished, she heard Tim mutter through her earpiece - and gave Talia the brightest smile she could.  

“He’s the fucking best,” she admitted, somewhat wistfully.  “I have to say, I think you did the right thing in genetically modifying his cock, too.  Total crowd pleaser.”

Next to her, Jason really did choke on his tea, and Tim’s voice was a quiet caution in her ear.   Timing, Steph.  Don’t blow this…

Talia’s lips thinned.  “I am glad to hear it.  This will please his future consort - heiress to the League of Shadows, and the only one who shall bear him children.”

For all her insouciance, Stephanie’s good humor dimmed.  The thought of Damian being trapped into this loveless future pricked her more than the thought of him laying with another woman.  Although that stung too, to be honest.  Especially if he were conscious.  And enjoyed it.

Talia noticed Stephanie’s guarded expression and adjusted her approach accordingly.  “And when the woman who I have so carefully groomed to be his consort succeeds - makes him hers, in both mind and body - I think I shall give her a gift.  She has been very patient, waiting through Damian’s little flirtation with you.   Although it would give me nothing but pleasure to kill you myself, I think I will allow her to do so.  Only after she delivers Damian’s child, of course.”  Talia smiled politely.  “It wouldn’t do to endanger the fetus.”

Steady, Tim whispered through the link.  Stephanie had no idea what her face reflected, but from Talia’s smug expression she assumed it was enough to continue the charade.   Just a bit more.

Thankfully, Jason erupted, leaping to his feet.  “That’s not how it works, Ta-” As soon as he was standing he tilted to the left, nearly falling over.  Without standing, Stephanie leaned over and grabbed him, yanking him back down into his chair.

As Jason groaned, holding his head, Talia’s smile widened.  “You should probably sit for now, Jason.  You’ve drank enough to be a bit woozy.  Don’t worry.  It won’t kill either of you.  It was just enough to incapacitate.”  Her eyes flicked over Jason’s form as Stephanie clutched her tea cup, settling it carefully down onto the table.

“I already have plans for the both of you.”

“Let Jason go,” Stephanie gritted out, making a show of weakness.  “He’s done nothing to you, or to Damian.”

Talia shook her head mockingly.  “I might have considered it had he been a little less handsome.  But I’ve had a new idea.”  She leaned in close to Jason’s face.  “I’m going to lay with you,” she announced.  “I’m going to try again for a suitable heir.  Bruce’s son was a bit of a disappointment, but I suspect yours will be nearly as capable, and far more malleable.  And judging by your lifestyle choices, this may be your only chance for a child.  I’m sure your lover won’t begrudge you that , would he?”

“Fuck off,” Jason muttered.  “And if you think he wouldn’t mind, you should see what he did to Harley when she got all handsy.   Brutal.”

Time, whispered Tim.   Everything’s in position.  Go.

Before Talia could respond to Jason’s provocation Stephanie grabbed her moment.  “Jason.   Shut up.”

While Talia turned to her with her eyebrows raised, Jason discreetly bit down on his back molars.  Those three words were a signal, and although he couldn’t hear Tim, he knew that the final stage of their plan was in play.  

To keep Talia’s attention off of Jason, whose reaction to the antidote would be swift and likely noticeable, Stephanie stood.  She did so jerkily, playing upon Talia’s expectations.  She took one more discreet chomp on her charcoal gum - a trial package, courtesy of Lucius Fox who had also supplied Jason’s antidote gel-tab - before reaching her full height and announcing, “This is bullshit, Talia.  I won’t let you do this, either to Jason or Damian.  I’ll fight for the men I love.”

Tali shook her head pityingly.  “You can barely stand, little girl. But I’ll give you this. You have a spine.”

Just say what I say, Steph, Tim whispered.   On three-

Stephanie bowed her head as if considering her demise.  When she lifted it, she gave Talia a cold smile.  “That’s not all I have,” she announced, and that was when the first bomb went off.

The ship listed to the left, and had Jason not grabbed her, Stephanie would have fallen as the ground shook beneath her.  Talia shifted noticeably, yet caught herself.  Yet before she could counterattack three more bombs placed strategically around the ship went off it quick succession.  Jason pulled out his guns as the cabin shook, and Talia went skidding to the back of the cabin, furthest from the door.  

“You bitch!”  She screeched.  “Is this your idea of victory?  Killing us all?”

Yet before Stephanie could reply a curious sensation interrupted them.  It cut through the smoke and the stench of burning metal, and the aftershocks of the detonations.  It was the sensation of rising , of being pulled higher and higher.  Although they could not tell from the captain’s cabin, Stephanie knew water would be streaming out of the holes in the hull as the Leviathan was lifted into the air.

God bless Superboy, she thought, just as Tim hummed appreciatively across her link: About time, Kon.

“You weren’t listening,” she chastised Talia.  “I told you I had more than a spine.  I have powerful friends, and a family that I will do anything for.  So here’s the deal: either you choose to keep Damian, and I let this boat sink, and you all die - me and mine excluded.  Or, you can choose to let Damian go, and my friends out there will solder the holes and allow you to slink off to lick your wounds.  Either way, I’m taking my man back.  Which option do you prefer, Talia?”

No need, Cass’s voice suddenly cut in on the common frequency.   We have Damian.  

“Let her sink,” Jason muttered, and Stephanie knew he could hear Cass, if not Tim.  

But Stephanie said nothing.  She was not sure if Damian would forgive her if she murdered his mother, even when his freedom hung in the balance.  And she found that his esteem meant more to her than she could have ever imagined.  Now that she knew that she cared this much for him, she was not going to lose him over something like this.

“You already have him, don’t you?” Talia noted.  “Why are you offering me this choice?”

Jason kept his guns trained on her, backing slowly towards the door.  The floor was still listing, but it was not an unmanageable uphill climb.  Stephanie was herded back, and she let Jason cover her.  

“Because killing you might piss him off,” Stephanie admitted.  “And that would be a poor move.  I plan to keep to him, as long as he makes me happy.”

Talia’s face twisted, and for a moment Stephanie could not tell if it was anger, disappointment, or oddly enough, pride.  After a long moment she finally acceded, “Take him and go.”

Once the deal was struck, things moved quickly.  While Jason and Stephanie made their way out to the deck, Kon began soldering the holes in the ship.  Then, as everyone escaped the Leviathan in an array of boats and friends with the power of flight - and Stephanie knew exactly what she would be asking for all her subsequent birthdays, because riding in Koriandr’s arms was all kinds of awesome - Kon used his TTK to motor the Leviathan miles and miles out to sea.  With a bit of luck Talia and her assassins would get home safely, and by that time Bruce would be back in Gotham, ready to serve revenge on the kidnapping of his biological son.

By virtue of being flow by Koriand’r, she and Jason were the first two back on the dock.  After a quick kiss on the cheek as thanks, Kori flew back for the next round.  Stephanie shamelessly hoped for Damian, but Tim and Dick were the next two brought back, taken from a rowboat miles and miles off of shore.

“A rowboat?”  Jason asked Dick incredulously when he explained.  In the descent Dick had fallen in the ocean, and Tim was still trying his best not to laugh. Jason stepped back as Dick shook himself wildly, like a dog.  Water sprayed everywhere, and when he stopped, Jason reiterated, “Your getaway vehicle was a rowboat?”

“They never would have expected it,” Dick sniffed.  “Besides, we figured it was better than Cas and Damian should get the speedboat.  You know.  Just in case.”  

“You’re an idiot, Dicktor.”

Dick had eyed him mischievously.  “And you’re all wet, Jaybird-”

Tim growled in annoyance, but Stephanie only turned away as Dick tackled his lover into the water.  Koriand’r only shook her head.  “ Boys,” she muttered, and although she and Kori were different species entirely, they were entirely in agreement as only women, faced with the ridiculousness of men, can be.  

Yet just then there was a glint of sunlight reflecting off the grey, Gotham waters.  Stephanie’s posture straightened, and Kori glanced around, squinting into the glare.  “Ah,” the alien said.  “There are our last passengers now.  If you will excuse me…” she trailed off, and without waiting for Stephanie’s anxious, approving noise, flew off.  

Stephanie watched, only half listening to Tim, Jason, and Dick bickering behind her. She didn’t pay any attention at all to her surroundings, hoping that this once Barbara and the others would alert her if anything were to go wrong.  Every ounce of her concentration was on the faraway shapes of Kori and two passengers, slowly growing larger as she flew closer to Gotham.  Soon she would be able to make out just the barest features - yes, both passengers had dark hair, and dusky skin.  Stephanie slumped in relief, knowing that Cass and Damian were nearly home.  They had won.  Damian was free!

Her elation was so all-encompassing that she did not place any importance on the faraway squeal of tires that had she been paying attention, would have been familiar.  Nor did she notice that her brothers behind her had fallen silent.  Instead, she moved to the end of the dock.  There, she could see all three of them clearly.  They would be here in moments.  What would she do when she saw them?  Kiss him?  Punch him?  Kick him into the water?  

Perhaps all three, Stephanie thought giddily.   Especially if Cass helps.

Yet when the actual moment came, it all happened a little differently.  Kori, having been updated on the reason for Damian’s abduction, let Damian down first, and so suddenly that he stumbled into Stephanie upon landing.  This took all question of their reunion and replaced it with a sudden, tight embrace.  She wasn’t sure who initiated it, but all she could do was cling to him as he wrapped his arms around her.

Stephanie squirmed in his embrace, wanting to see his face.  When he wouldn’t let her go enough to lean back, she snaked her hands up so that she could rest her fingertips upon his cheeks.  “You asshole,” she breathed, only half aware of what she was saying.  “I should shove you in the water for getting captured.  See if I don’t.”

“If you try, I will take you with me,” he murmured into her ear, his voice gravelly, and just shy of exhaustion.  “And we both know I am stronger.”

“I don’t know why I love you, you jerk,” Stephanie replied.  Her voice was tight and now that he was here in her arms, she felt a little like crying.  “But if you disappear like that again, I will end you.”

He froze for a bare moment, and she realized what she had admitted - knowingly, and in English.  But then, “ Ma’shooq-am ,” he whispered, and the emotion in his voice made her weak.  “I’m going to kiss you now.”

She should be punching him.  Every bone in her body was telling her this. If Talia was telling the truth and he had written to his mother about her, she should be doing all that and more.  But now he was leaning down and she found herself angling reflexively.   Just one kiss, she told herself.   And then into the drink he goes.

But with him it was never one kiss.  She had been trying that for months and it had never worked.  So one kiss became two, became three, became more.  Soon they were not chaste, relief-born gestures, but deep, drugging kisses.  They had kissed like this before, but never in public where their entire family could see.  Yet rather than taking away from the beauty of this intimate moment, the relief of no longer hiding made each touch that much more glorious.   These were not just kisses to die for , Stephanie thought hazily.   These were kisses to live for.

Later, Stephanie thought that these kisses might have continued until the end of freaking time had they not been interrupted in the most jarring, yet effective manner.  The awkward silence did not bother her, nor Damian.  If she had been able to think about it at the time, she would have figured they were just a little weirded out at seeing Batgirl and Robin go at it.  

What gave her a moment’s pause, however, was Jason’s low, worried mutter, “Oh, shit.  Here it comes.”

With an effort she pulled back, tearing her eyes away from Damian’s face to glance over at Jason.  Before she got there, however, she saw Tim and Dick’s expressions.  Both men were wide-eyed and pale, and the pit of her stomach burned cold.  

Damian, who had not seemed to register Jason’s warning, looked up. When he saw who stood behind her, he swallowed thickly.  His fingers clenched around her, and unconsciously he pulled her back the scant inches to his chest.

“Hello, Father,” he said, and Stephanie closed her eyes.

Batman had seen.

She was screwed.

Chapter Text

Two weeks later, Richard Grayson and Jason Todd were ‘married’ in a quiet, private ceremony. They had ultimately decided to not go through with a legally binding ceremony, largely as Jason Todd was no longer a legal entity, and neither were any of his plethora of aliases. Still, they went through with the trappings of a traditional wedding. Held on the grounds at Wayne Manor; vows were declared, rings were exchanged, and Arsenal, Todd’s best man, wept at all the appropriate moments. Thankfully Drake, as Grayson’s, did not. It was a surprisingly low stress affair. No one reneged at the last moment, they were not attacked by supervillains at the climax of the ceremony, and not once did Todd’s firearms, explosive devices, or trademark helmet make an appearance.

It was, according to Damian’s date, the best they could hope for. Damian, who had not attended any such occasions before, was willing to take her word for it. Truthfully, he was a bit nauseous at how emotive everyone else was being. While his date was being surprisingly stoic about all this, his older brothers were getting a bit misty eyed. Grayson went without saying, and apart from suffering through one manly embrace Damian had made sure to steer clear of him. Drake was no better, although he displayed his romanticism by staying close to Kent, holding his hand and whispering to him. Damian suspected an outward showing of their own union was not far off, although as they were higher profile personages in comparison to Grayson and Todd, he wasn’t sure how they’d pull it off when the time came.

Todd was the only one who seemed somewhat sensible about the whole thing. Damian caught him casing the room from time to time, checking for threats. But even his customary tension seemed to bleed away as the night went on, until he loosened up enough to let Grayson feed him a piece of cake.

For whatever reason, that made Damian turn away. The act of feeding another was an intimate one to him, and of all the aspects of their wedding ceremony - save the exchange of rings - it was the one that made the most sense to him. Yet he turned away from them just to lay himself open to his date, who sat at his side, watching his reaction with an amused grin on her face.

“Feeling the love, Dami?” Stephanie asked, throwing him a wink as she took a bit of her own slice of cake. “Took you long enough.”

Damian gave her a look. He was free to do so as they were the only two left at the table. Kent, Drake, Arsenal and Starfire had left for the dance floor long ago. Cain had left as well, acceding to Oracle’s wish for a push around the grounds a short while ago. While she was happy for ‘her Robins,’ it was hard for her to see Grayson so happy with someone else.

This left only he and his date, and from the guarded looks Father was shooting them across the room, it was in their best interests to remain at the table rather than sneaking off for some badly needed time alone with each other.

Damian swallowed. His fortitude would not be such a struggle if Stephanie would look just a tiny bit less alluring! He especially appreciated the view afforded of her cleavage in her strapless, navy blue dress. His frustration was helped by the fact that they had been completely unable to come together during the two weeks since their moment at the docks, and Father’s discovery. Damian is underage, he had announced coldly, forcing the two to separate by the force of his glare alone. We can discuss your relationship when he is 18.

This, after all his difficulty accepting the other couples proved that Father was singularly ill-prepared to deal with his family’s falling in love with each other. His edict had prompted the entire family to rise up in disagreement. Damian had obviously argued his own case, bringing up his death, resurrection, and atypical upbringing as reasons to eschew traditional arrangements. When Father had pointed out that as Stephanie was more than 5 years older than him Age of Consent laws would not protect them - that what they were doing was technically illegal. Damian had given him his most unimpressed look and pointed out that so was vigilantism, no matter Batman’s close connection to Commissioner Gordon.

Stephanie had done her best as well, assuring Father that she would treat their age difference with respect, and with her greater emotional intelligence and life experience would keep him from making so many of the mistakes that she had made when she was younger. Father was similarly unmoved, as he was through Grayson’s cajoling, Todd’s threats, Drake’s logical arguments, Oracle’s exasperation, and Alfred’s silent yet weighty disapproval.

Surprisingly enough, it was Cain who had finally convinced him to at least allow them to go to Grayson and Todd’s wedding as dates. She was the only one who had turned Father’s challenge back onto him. Do you not approve of Stephanie, Batman?

Father’s expression had been grim. He is too young. It has nothing to do with her.

He will do what he pleases. If you deny him this, he will find love elsewhere. Cain had shrugged, looking supremely unconcerned. Perhaps he will comfort himself in someone else’s bed. Female, male; good, evil...if he loses her, I doubt it will matter to him. If you deny them this, a worse love will come. What will his age matter then?

Somehow her message got through to him when no others did. And if Alfred served Cain an extra serving of key lime pie that evening, no one needed to mention it.

But perhaps all Father needed was more time. Holding Grayson and Todd’s wedding on the grounds was an unexpected enough decision. It was augmented by his attendance, and small moments of acceptance - allowing Grayson to hug him, and clapping a hand on Todd’s shoulder. There had been no speech giving his official blessing but no one seemed to mind. Father had unbent enough, and it was all Todd and Grayson asked for.

Damian wanted one more concession, however. Even if it was just one evening alone with Stephanie a week. Yet while he knew that they could get away with coming together in secret, that was not what they ultimately wanted. They wanted to earn Father’s approval - Batman’s approval - in a different way than the rest of the batfamily.

Damian was not a patient man. He would not hide for three years, sneaking around when the damage was already done. That in mind, he waited until his father looked over at him, and then he leaned in to kiss Stephanie on the cheek. Stephanie, who had just taken a bite of cake, looked at him with wide, disbelieving eyes.

“Living dangerously, huh?” She asked, eyes tracking to his father.

“Something like that,” he assured her. “Perhaps I’m just setting the stage.” He stood, smirking at her confused expression. “I’ll be right back.”

She waved him off with her fork, “It’s your funeral.”

It took Damian nearly 10 minutes to track down his father after that. The man was infuriatingly difficult to get ahold of, even when not utilizing his foppish Bruce Wayne persona. Yet Damian had learned from the best, and tracking his father to the kitchen and then barring the doors with a serving cart was the work of a minute. Bruce, who had taken a moment to hunch over the sink, glanced back over his shoulder and sighed.

“I had a feeling this was coming,” he grumbled. “Not tonight, Damian.”

Damian straightened to his full height, but kept his tone respectful. “It will only take a moment, Father. And if now isn’t the right moment, when is?”

His father sighed again before turning around, crossing his arms and straightening as well. Damian was now eye to eye with his father, and judging by Dr. Leslie’s bone tests, would grow several more. It was a heady feeling to before his father, the Batman as a physical equal.

“Yes?” His father ground out.

Damian took a deep breath as surreptitiously as he could. “I respectfully request the honor of courting Miss Brown.”

His father said nothing, choosing to raise his eyebrows at Damian’s bluntness, instead.

Seeing that no other response was forthcoming, Damian forged onwards. “I won’t waste your time trying to convince you that such a relationship would be a positive one. Rather, I’ll put it to you: of all the members of our...alliance, I am the only one pursuing a heterosexual relationship. Judging by the censure you’ve given the other couples, I can only ask: what are we doing wrong in pursuing each other?”

His father’s face shuttered. “I’ve already given you my arguments, Damian. You are too young, and-”

Damian was not by nature a gambling man, but he had learned to recognize appropriate moments. He could only hope that his gambit paid off. “I hope that is truly not what makes you anxious, Father. I would hate to think less of you.”

His father scowled. “Damian-”

“No,” he interrupted. “If age is the deciding factor, then you are a fool. I have died, Father. Died fighting an impossible, comic book villain. And if you are telling me that I cannot grasp happiness when it is within my reach, then-”

“I’m not saying that.”

“Then what are you saying?”

Rather than pushing back, Bruce seemed to fold. He loosened his death grip on the counter before admitting, “I worry that if she means that much to you, that losing her might destroy the path you walk on. Can you stay on the side of good if she’s not in your life?”

Damian sucked in a breath, remembering the hazy determination he had come to on his mother’s flagship. Stephanie had become one of the primary factors in his being a hero, rather than a villain. That his father also recognized this only drove home her importance. “Perhaps not,” he finally admitted. “I will not lie and say that she is not integral to my inner balance. Losing her might be catastrophic. But what am I now, Father? Better or worse than the man I was three months ago? I could not have denied Mother her plans for me without Stephanie. I would have killed aboard that ship if the thought of her had not stayed my hand.”

Bruce held his gaze for a long moment before ducking his head and muttering something that Damian could not quite catch, but sounded a little like, all my boys are racing to the altar. If that was correct, Damian thought that was uncharitable. Grayson had clearly won that one.

“I need to think about it,” his father deferred. “I’m not saying you’re right, but-”

It was time for Damian to play his last card. “Alfred agreed with me, last we spoke of it. He said...oh, how did he put it… ‘To err on the side of love is never a mistake, Master Damian. Not with your tenacity, at the least.’”

His father narrowed his eyes at him. “Alfred said that, did he?”

Damian, who had steered Alfred into saying just that, nodded innocently.

Bruce glared at him, and for a moment it looked as if the conversation might stretch on. Just then his phone rang, and Damian tried his best to hide his relief. He was out of arguments, and he knew better than anyone it would take time more than common sense to work his father around.

“I have to take this,” Bruce muttered, shoving the dessert cart aside. “Conversation postponed.”

“As you say, Father,” Damian murmured. Then, as soon as the door behind him swung shut he sighed deeply.

“Is he gone?”

The feminine whisper surprised him, but not nearly as much as did the cabinet door opening and Stephanie stepping through. She hopped down gracefully to the floor, her dress sliding up past her knees as she did so.

Damian blamed his hormones for how interesting the pale stretch of her skin was to him. It was almost as pressing as how and why she had been in the kitchen in the first place. “What are you doing here?”

She smiled wickedly at him, sauntering closer. “I was looking for you, to start. I was in here when I heard Bruce coming. I figured you’d be on his heels so I hid.” She stepped closer, wrapping her arms around his neck. “And yes. I heard everything. Permission to court me granted.”

Damian sighed. Her knowing how important she was to him was both good and bad; good in that it allowed her to air her own feelings, and bad in that she would never let him hear the end of it. “Perhaps I have changed my mind, fatgirl. Now-”

Stephanie chuckled. “You’ve been very, very mature,” she purred in his ear. “And you’ve been so good in doing what you dad says. But I am done being a good girl. Is that a problem?” She finished by pressing up on her toes to lick the shell of his ear.

Damian swallowed thickly as all the blood in his body shot straight to his cock. “No,” he murmured in return, tone turning husky. “Because I have missed you, ma’shooq-am.”

Stephanie stepped back, her smile turning shark-like. “Then why don’t you show me?” She challenged him, her hips switching as she backed away.

Damian glanced back towards the door, torn. “But Father…”

“I texted Timmy. He’s got our backs. No one is getting in this kitchen for the next half an hour.”

“Then we will have to be quick,” Damian murmured, blood heating at the thought of what the next thirty minutes might entail.

“Mmm hmmm,” Stephanie agreed, and then reached behind her to unzip her dress.

Yet before she could let the dress fall past her beautiful breasts, her earrings and his tie pin began to screech an alarm. Moments later, it was Oracle’s voice over the comms.

My apologies, everyone, but this is an emergency. Arkham’s had an escape - Penguin, Riddler, and Scarecrow are confirmed missing.”

“On it,Bruce took over, as there was a flurry of swears and sighs from over the other comlinks. “Tim, can you handle the guests? Dick, I want you and Damian coming with me. Oracle, do you have plans for Stephanie and Cassandra?”

Send ‘em my way, Batman. I’ve got a lock on the Riddler’s henchwomen; the girls can take them out.”

“I call Penguin,” Todd’s voice came through muffled, as if he leaned over and spoke into Grayson’s tie. “He and Kori have unfinished business.”

Bruce cut in once again. “Everyone, suit up. Meet back at the cave ASAP. Go.”

Back in the kitchen, Stephanie glanced up at him ruefully. “Duty calls,” she joked, but before she could run off Damian pulled her in for one fleeting kiss.

“This isn’t over,” he promised her.

Stephanie grinned up at him. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”