“Good—my—ngel…time t’ cl—”
The stereo fizzled in and out with the storm, tune swinging in an out of existence in short choppy bursts. The white noise hurt, like fuzzy hands repeatedly boxing his ears and the charged air made the fine hairs at his nape tingle, but Damian shrugged it off to continue toggling with the settings. A flash of lightning split the sky, casting just enough light for him to slide the knob into place. The box shuddered and buzzed, before belting out a rush of notes.
“I promised I would never leave you…”
Peals of thunder hit the walls like cannon fire. Damian knew the walls were sturdy; Father had reassured him many times, but there had been no reassurance that the manor’s long winding hallways would not bend and break with the wind. When the storm had started and the sheer abruptness of it had shaken him from his dreams, Damian had deemed his room unsafe. Father’s would do—Father’s was safe.
“Wherever you may go, no matter where you are, I’ll never be far away…”
Damian curled deeper into the blankets, pulling himself closer to the speakers. He didn’t know why Father had such an ancient thing at his bedside. It was severely outdated and in need of much cleaning; Damian had told him several times over breakfast, glaring the man down and gesturing wildly with his fork. It was on its last legs, and this was probably its last moments of life.
The corners of Damian’s lips twitched, Father would be devastated when he and Uncle returned from patrol to find his beloved stereo dead. He’d probably hold a funeral.
With deafening crack, a series of luminous fissures exploded across the sky. Damian shivered, burying his face into his father’s pillow. It smelled of him—rich and earthen, with an underlying hint of sweat. His father was a working man, running about the house, toppling chairs, skipping steps, so unlike Uncle and himself.
The CD skipped, hacking at the lyrics as they fought against the pounding rain. Damian sighed, relaxing his shoulders. It was just like Father; always leaving out words and mucking up the tune. Then the song straightened itself out, curling about the room like a gentle caress.
With a swift jab, Damian smacked the top of the stereo, forcing the song to start over and sputter out at random bits.
“I pr’mise—I wi—nev’r leav—”
There. That was better. Breathing out a heavy sigh, he drifted off to sleep. Explaining the damage to Father could wait till tomorrow when he and the manor were safe again.
Father had lied. He’d lied through his teeth, with that same bright smile he used to win Pennyworth, Uncle, and so many others over.
“Where is Father?” he demanded, shrugging off Pennyworth’s hand.
“Master Damian, I think maybe we should—”
“Where is Father?”
The pitter-patter of keystrokes died abruptly, leaving only the soft chittering of bats. His uncle turned to stare at him. “Sitting next to you,” he replied.
Damian glanced sharply at the boy, who regarded him with a curious stare. It made his stomach turn. “Fix it,” he snapped before hurrying up the stairs.
Everyone was a liar—Father, Uncle, Pennyworth, and that man with the gold helmet. It had failed. Their only chance at returning him to normal had failed miserably. The perpetrator had vanished, and with it the secret to his curse. Without it, no one, not even Doctor Fate, could reverse such an intricately woven piece of sorcery. They were all liars. He couldn’t trust anyone anymore.
Outside another storm raged and Damian found himself cocooned in the center of his bed. He fought back an onslaught of shivers every time the sky lit up like a broken mirror. Squeezing his eyes shut, he pressed his face into one of Father’s stolen shirts. If he squeezed hard enough, the storm would quiet and maybe, just maybe his bed would dip and strong arms would hold him and a quirky mouth would press a kiss to his hair.
“Damian,” it would say, “Daddy’s afraid of thunderstorms. Can he sleep with you tonight?”
One arm would draw back the covers before sliding up his shirt to rub out the shivers in his back. Damian would scowl and settle down next to the warm body, replying “If you must.”
Father would chuckle and Damian would feel it reverberate in his chest as he was cuddled close, the beginnings of that silly lullaby spilling from Father’s lips.
More thunder rumbled overhead, snapping and cracking as Damian shot out of bed. Frantic he let his feet carry him, Father’s shirt billowing out behind him as it caught new flashes of lightning. Just a few doors down from his father’s room, he stopped. Someone was hurrying across the hall and into Uncle’s room.
Silently Damian padded up and pressed an ear to the door. Soft sobs grew louder as the bed creaked.
“Bruce,” the boy whimpered, “I’m scared. Let me stay here. Please?”
There was a tired grumble as the bed creaked once more and then everything went quiet. Damian’s fists balled before he took off down the hall, the shirt laying forgotten on the floor.
…I promised I would never leave you…