His brothers – even Jason, though he'd never admit it – were under the impression that after Bruce, Dick was the man with all the answers, but they couldn't be more wrong. He'd always followed Bruce's lead or instructions if he wasn't there in person. And after him there were countless other people he would have been happy to consult, with Tim at the top of the list. But the teen was with the Teen Titans, though Dick still had one other brother to consult.
Jason was somewhat predictably down in the cave tinkering with another set of gas grenades. There was a strict no-firearms policy within the family, and he seemed determined to honor that once again for Bruce's sake, but that didn't mean he was limited to baterangs.
"Big plans for those?" Dick asked by way of greeting as he rolled over a chair and sat backwards facing his brother, but with his chin resting on the back.
"Never know." Jason didn't look up from his work. "What can I do you for?"
Apparently small talk was still a little lost on him. "So, what are you doing tomorrow?"
"Umm..." Dick hesitated. "Well, in this house, it's another Bring Flowers to the Cemetery day. For most of us, anyway."
This did make Jason look up. His brow furrowed a little as he appeared to be thinking about that, translating it. When he finally spoke, it was a little distant, like he was talking to himself instead of Dick.
"Tomorrow's Mother's Day."
Dick nodded. "I'll bring a bouquet for Janet Drake, too, when I go. Since Tim's not here..."
"Aha." Jason's head was once again bent over his work, his voice disinterested. Dick sighed.
"Can you please look at me when I'm talking to you?"
"What?" His brother snapped. "That's great. Gold star for you. What do you want from me?"
He thought about asking whether or not Jason was going to go visit Catharine Todd's or Sheila Haywood's graves, but judging by the younger man's suddenly cold and angry mood, thought better of it. Instead, he decided to move onto what he really wanted to talk about.
"I don't know what to do about Damian. It's not like he doesn't know what this is. He's... pretending it doesn't matter, but it does."
Jason instantly stopped what he was doing and really looked at him this time. There was something sad in the other man's eyes, and Dick knew that while he could pretend he didn't care about it in regard to the women who had touched his own life, Jason was not about to disregard what this meant for their little brother. Tough, stubborn Damian, who, for all his bravado, was still a child who missed his mother.
"He can't contact her?" Jason asked, though his tone suggested he already knew the answer.
"He can, but I don't think she'll respond." Dick shook his head.
Jason cursed. "Some people just shouldn't be parents. I can call and yell at her if you like."
This made Dick raised a brow. "You have Talia al Ghul on speed-dial?"
"Yeah, well..." Jason cleared his throat. "Considering I have her to at least partially to thank for my resurrection... Just trust me when I saw I can get in touch with her. I'll..."
"Let's keep it as an option," Dick interrupted. "I'm not sure how much Damian or Bruce will appreciate it."
He thought Jason might argue, but his brother just sighed and shook his head. "Of all of us, kid's the only one with a mom who's still alive, and she's gotta go and pull this shit. It's not fair."
"Tell me about it." Dick couldn't agree more. "I'm trying to think of something that'll cheer him up tomorrow."
"Patrol cheers him up," Jason quipped.
"Yeah." Only then did Dick notice that Jason's red domino mask lay on the computer counsel, his leather jacket hanging on the back of the chair. "You're not going out tonight?"
"In case you hadn't heard, my partner abandoned me in favor of the sunny beaches of San Francisco." Jason rolled his eyes in pretend mockery.
Like every sarcastic mocking comment, there was always a grain of truth to what Jason said. He could scream about independence till he was blue in the face, but the truth was that he didn't just go out on patrol with Tim to watch their younger brother's back. Dick knew that resisting the urge to use lethal force was still problematic, especially since Jason had always been quite brutal in battle. His size, strength, and tendency towards anger made it difficult to hold back. When Tim was there, at least he had a constant reminder of the family he was holding back for.
"They had an emergency at the tower. Don't be mad at him."
"I'm not." His brother shook his head. "I just don't know how he jungles all this stuff. If he doesn't curb this ocdness, he might grow up to be Dad."
Dick laughed. "I think he is. I think we're seeing a 'Bruce, age seventeen' flashback."
"Untrue," came a voice from the top of the stairs, and both turned to see the billionaire stride into the cave and push back his cowl. "I was not nearly as disciplined at his age."
Jason smiled. That was one of the first thing Dick had noticed about his prodigal brother; Jason rarely smiled in a way that wasn't mocking or sarcastic, but he did smile at Bruce. Their father detached the heavy cape and cowl and tossed it on the consul next to Jason's mask.
"That was a fast patrol." The young man glanced between Bruce and the digital clock on the computer screen. "Quiet night?"
"Nothing major, but if you like to go out, I can do another round," Bruce offered.
"Nah, if you say it's quiet, it's quiet. Guess even bad guys have moms to buy flowers for. And on that note... Dick?"
"Right." He took a deep breath and looked at Bruce. "The topic of conversation is moms and flowers and little former assassin boys who are pretending not to care about the whole thing. What's your take on it?"
Bruce blew out a breath, crossing his arms, and Dick couldn't quite tell if he'd forgotten – doubtful – or had been hoping to avoid the issue. One would think that by now he would know how to deal with kids in uncomfortable situations, but each of them was so drastically different that Dick supposed he shouldn't have been too surprised that Bruce looked as lost as himself and Jason. Damian wasn't exactly a normal ten-year-old who might be easily distracted with toys or a trip to the movies.
"I could... take him out somewhere. Take his mind of..."
"Patrol." The brothers said at the same time.
"Yeah, we thought about that," Jason put in. "Look, I'll keep him company while you guys visit the cemetery. We'll figure out something to do till you get back."
To his credit, Bruce didn't ask why Jason himself wasn't going or how he planned on handling Damian. Dick suspected it had something to do with the smiling thing; there were still certain things Jason did only for Bruce and in return their father did not bring up his issues in front of the others. It was fair, Dick supposed, at least until Jason felt more comfortable. As long as he was talking to someone, it was okay.
"Where is he now?" Bruce asked, glancing up the stairs.
"Sleeping," Dick replied then amended. "Or pretending to sleep. I thought I'd give him some space at least till the morning."
The next morning they left the house in silence, but when they were far enough away from the manor, Dick spoke.
"You did this on purpose, didn't you?"
Bruce was silent for a while as they made their way to the marker of his parent's gravestone first. He put down a single rose by his mother's name and bowed his head.
"They have this in common," he said finally. "Abandonment, betrayal... They're different kinds of tragedies than death, but nothing less than that. If Cassandra was here, I would have her in there with them as well."
"They do seem..." Dick looked for the right word. "On a similar wave length."
Bruce smiled sardonically. "Despite all his missteps, Jason has a strong sense of justice. He can't stand to see the innocent suffer. It's what made him both good and often blind Robin. We'll all be there for the boy, but I want them to have some time together first."
As soon as he'd heard it, Damian had instantly scoffed at the "I should have stayed in bed today" expression. It seemed to him like nothing but support for wasting time and feeling sorry for oneself. He was even more disgusted when, that particular morning, he realized that it was exactly what he felt like doing: staying in bed or at the very least in his room.
He was still there wallowing by nearly nine, something the boy normally would have considered unforgivable, and listened. The manor was large but mostly empty so most sounds carried very well. Two pairs of footsteps headed towards the front door, and he could tell by the weight and frequency of steps that it was his father and eldest brother, no doubt off to visit the cemetery. Damian frowned a little: why wasn't Jason going?
His answer came only a moment later with another sound of footsteps, this one heavy, taking two stairs at a time. His newest brother entered his room without bothering to knock, but by that time Damian was back under the covers, feigning sleep. It didn't help.
"I know you're awake, little D." Jason took a few steps inside. "It's a shitty day for both of us, but guess what? We're gonna suffer through it together. At least until Dad and Dick get back. Come on. Up."
That made Damian role over and push back some of the covers. Dick had been awkward around him for most of the day prior, which made Damian feel worse about something that already felt like impending doom. If there was one thing he appreciated about Jason, it was his straight-forward nature. He was going to tell it like it was, and to hell with everything.
He sat up a little. "What's for breakfast?"
"Well," Jason crossed his arms. "Considering Alfred is in England, it's whatever I make. And if you're nice to me, the kitchen is open to requests."
"You know how to cook ?" Damian looked at him doubtfully.
Jason looked positively insulted. "Kid, do you know how many years I had to fend for myself for? Takeout gets a little tiresome."
He had to give him credit; Jason lived up to the claim and then some. He hadn't even tried it yet, but Damian could tell by the appetizing smell of sizzling bacon and eggs that breakfast was going to be great. He hopped up on the counter, legs dangling, and watched as Jason stirred the eggs on the pan.
"I can add cheese," his brother offered. "Cholesterol on top of a fat and empty calories. How does that sound? Aside from a death sentence if Alfred ever found out." Damian wrinkled his nose. "No? Okay, strange kid who doesn't like melted cheese, what are you drinking?"
"Whatever you are."
"Black coffee, no sugar it is."
He couldn't tell if it was mockery or a challenge, and Jason turned to the pot and his back to him. Only seconds after the coffee began to trickle in, the phone in his pocket buzzed. Jason deftly fished it out and looked at the caller id, frowned, then clicked to answer.
"Should I ask what you're already doing up at before six in the freakin' morning or is it still for you?" There was a pause, and his brother's frown deepened. "You're where?"
Damian cocked his head to the side and listened. Jason shifted to hold the phone between his shoulder and ear as he moved around the kitchen, reaching for plates and silverware. The boy had to get out of the way a few times and finally jumped down.
"Aren't you supposed to be in Teen Tower?" The young man told Tim, obviously the person on the other side of the phone. "The hell are you doing on the other side of the planet? Alright, call if you need me. I think I still remember how to fly the Batwing. What? Oh, right, Dick's got it covered. Yeah, okay, see you in a in a few days."
He hung up the phone and replaced it in his pocket. "Timmy's in China."
"Why?" Damian's curiosity was peaked.
"Don't know. Alright, your highness, breakfast is served."
His first estimation was off: breakfast was much better than he'd expected. Jason claimed that he's learned to cook out of necessity, but Damian suspected Alfred might have had something to do with that. What was the normal way one learned about these things? His expression suddenly fell. Damian propped his left cheek against his palm and absently stabbed at the eggs. Jason looked up. The expression on his face must have said everything, because his brother didn't even have to ask him what was wrong.
"Kid... I..." Jason sighed and put down his own fork. Then he stopped, apparently thinking better of whatever was on his mind and instead said. "Do you want some juice? Or milk?"
Damian looked at his untouched coffee – he really hated it – and scowled at his brother.
"Don't. Don't... baby me. If you have something to say, say it."
Jason nodded slowly. The two of them had an understanding, something that came out of never truly being allowed to be children.
"Okay. Damian... I hate saying it like this, but she's not worth it."
"She's my mother!" He tried to be angry, but it was hard since this was pretty much exactly what he'd expected to hear.
"I know." The look on Jason's face was not unsympathetic. "Trust me, I probably know better than anyone else here. But if she can pull this shit, what kind of mother is she? She shouldn't be making you go through this."
Damian looked down. "Maybe... maybe if I call her... I'm supposed to do that today, aren't I?"
"Not if you don't want to." His new brother assured him. "You have zero obligations as far as she's concerned."
"But I should," the boy said again.
Jason looked at him for a long time then began to get up, fishing his phone out of his pocket again. "If that's what you really want."
Wherever Jason had gone, it was out of Damian's earshot. The boy wondered if he should listen in, but something kept him in the chair. If it was bad... he didn't want to hear. The food in front of him was getting cool, but suddenly he didn't have an appetite. He poked at the eggs again unenthusiastically.
The sound of footsteps made him look up, but it was his father and Dick who entered. If they passed Jason on the way, neither indicated it. His father smiled, but it wasn't a happy smile. Dick grinned, ruffling his hair as he came up to him.
"Mornin', kiddo. Did Jason cook?" Damian nodded and allowed his brother to snatch a piece of bacon from his plate. "Aren't you lucky?"
He didn't feel lucky. His father came around and put a hand on his shoulder. "My schedule is free for the rest of the day, Damian. Whatever you want to do, just tell me. I'm at your disposal."
"Thank you, Father."
He hunched his shoulders a little, not knowing what it was he was supposed to ask for. The truth was that all this extra attention made him feel worse, not better. Bruce patted his shoulder and looked around. He frowned slightly.
"Where is Jason?"
As if on cue the sound of a scream of frustration and something crashing against the wall came from the foyer. Damian scrambled off the chair and took off after Dick and his father. All three ran out to find Jason standing over the pieces that had once been his cell phone. His fists were clenching and unclenching at his sides. No one said anything while he reigned in his fury. When he finally turned, it was Damian he was looking at.
"I'm sorry, kid." Jason shook his head sadly.
Not that he'd been expecting anything more, but the obvious rejection still hurt. Still Damian took a breath, nodded, then looked at his father. "May I be excused?"
Bruce nodded. "Let's go talk in your room."
Damian was up the stairs before Bruce and closed his door for good measure before plopping down on the bed. His father would just walk in like he always did, but he was in no mood to talk to Dick or Jason and hoped that the closed door would keep them out. Predictably Bruce was there in only a moment and closed the door behind himself. Damian briefly looked up at his father, who, for once, looked at a loss of what to say, so the boy decided to speak first.
"I asked Jason to call. Don't be mad at him."
The corner of Bruce's mouth turned slightly. "I don't think that's the whole truth, but I do love the way the four of you cover for one another. " Then his expression sobered. "But I'm not mad at either of you. I know this is not an easy day for you, Damian, and I wish she didn't make it so difficult. Despite everything, I'm sure she loves you."
"No, she doesn't." The boy scoffed. "She told me so. She said she couldn't love me because I'm not perfect."
His father's lips went into a thin line, then he knelt on his haunches and placed both hands on Damian's knees that hung off the edge of the bed.
"She said that?" Damian nodded. "Then I am very sorry you had to hear it. I want you to understand that her inability to love or express that love has nothing to do with you. She's looking for something perfect in an imperfect world, and maybe one day she'll understand how impossible that is. But even if that day never comes, I love you now. Dick, Jason, and Tim love you. Do you understand, son? I know I'm not always very good at showing it and it doesn't make up for what she said, but I need you to hear it."
"I do." His father was right; his words didn't magically wave the hurt away, but it did help. "Thank you, Father."
Bruce nodded and cupped his cheek with one large palm. "You're a very brave little boy, Damian. Very brave, very special. I hope for both your sakes, she sees that one day. As for now, my former offer stands. Anything you want to do today..."
"Can we go out?" Damian asked. He wanted some kind of distraction and getting out of the house seemed like a good idea. "For dinner, maybe, before patrol. All four of us."
"If that's what you want," Bruce nodded rising. "I'll go tell your brothers."
Jason was waiting just outside when Bruce closed the door. His middle son seemed to have calmed down a bit, but the expression of cool resignation on his face was not too comforting. Bruce didn't like what this day, Talia's refusal to speak to Damian, and his issues with both his adoptive and biological mothers were doing to Jason's psyche. The young man stood with his arms crossed over his chest.
"Is it considered matricide if I kill my brother's mother?"
"No? Does that mean I can?"
"Jason..." Bruce pinched the bridge of his nose. He was kidding... he hoped.
"I think," his son said with slow determination. "I've decided to officially hate her. The kid can't hate her, so I will."
"I don't." He said it somewhat absently, as if it was a sudden realization rather than a reply.
Jason gave him a dirty look, and Bruce realized with a pang of hurt that it was a variation of the look he received when he'd told Jason he wouldn't kill the Joker. A look that clearly read disappointment and anger.
"She gave me Damian and you, in a way," Bruce explained. "I can't hate her for that."
"She kept me from you for years, ignored her kid for most of his life, and brainwashed him for the rest of it!" Jason exploded. "How can you not hate her?"
Bruce didn't say anything, until the young man seemed to calm down a little. He took a slow deep breath, and Bruce could see how much of an effort it was for Jason to push all that fury away. There were so many pieces of this that just hit too close to home for the young man, but oddly enough it was more likely protectiveness over his little brother than any personal projection that was the cause of his anger.
"Feel better?" Bruce asked finally. Jason just shrugged a shoulder.
"I don't get how she can do this shit to him. How anyone does this to their kids." He grimaced, his eyes screwed shut. "I mean, it's nothing I haven't seen before, but seriously..."
"I know." Bruce put an arm around his middle son, guiding him down the stairs. "It's hard, but try not to let it get to you. I'm fully aware of how bad a day this is for everyone."
"So what's the plan?" Jason wondered.
"Dinner and patrol."
His son raised a brow. "All four of us?"
Bruce smiled and nodded firmly. "If there's one thing we all agree on is that it's the best way to cheer him up."