Sometimes Damian misses the simplicity of before. Before his father’s return from the grave, before the inevitable conflict between father and mother. He misses being a Robin hot on the heels of Gotham’s worst criminals, and what he had built with Grayson along the way.
It’s not the same now, sparring with his father to stay sharp, ready to take on the mantle again and lead a team of young superheroes like his predecessors did. Father is thorough but ultimately too soft. He pulls his punches and talks about what Damian needs to improve. His defense is weak, father says. He never blocks or deflects or dodges. There’s power in being light-footed, Damian understands, but that’s not how he moves.
With Grayson, they were a well-oiled machine. Grayson was the lightweight, twisting and jumping across the floor to land a hard blow on a thug. No one could touch him. He knew Damian’s strengths and supplemented his weaknesses, lining up their opponents like domino pieces and warding off any blows that could meet Damian head on.
“That’s good work, Robin,” he would say, and the kid would grumble under his breath when Grayson rubbed his head affectionately. But the reassurance did good. Damian didn’t train under Grayson. He adapted. He learned about the subtle things that mattered.
Father seems to know that his partnership with Damian won’t be as organic as the one his sons have. And though Damian loves his father with devotion, devotion isn’t what he needs. He needs a friend.
“C’mon, Damian, and try to hit me this time!"
They made a habit of sparring, when the opportunity presented itself. Damian just huffs and delivers small but efficient punches, each one missing their target.
“Mark my words, Grayson, I will get you today."
His partner flashes one of his bright grins and summersaults back two steps. “I sure hope so, kid."
The back-and-forth feels so familiar fondness blossoms deep in his chest. Since when did it become this way? Having Grayson around made everything fun, enjoyable. He wonders why his heart flutters when Grayson dodges another punch laughing like the man is ten again.
And when Damian manages to catch him off-guard in his fit and land a kick on his back, his whole world explodes into giddy laughter.
He holds these sparring sessions close to his heart and looks back on them like precious gems when Grayson’s away fighting for Gotham and Bludhaven.
There’s one session that Damian spends a long time thinking about. Grayson — or Dick, as he’s starting to test out — didn’t do anything beyond have the both of them stand on their hands, still as possible. Damian found it ridiculous, he’s not the acrobat of the family. But Dick had told him it was very important. And so Damian humored him.
It was actually harder than it looked. Balance rested not only on the position of his body but how much force he was putting on different parts of his palms. The angle of his legs, his torso. It all mattered to keep equilibrium and not exhaust himself. He made it to the twenty minute mark on sheer willpower before his little forearms gave up.
Dick just waddled up to his prone side and told him, “Good work, Damian! That’s a lot longer than I expected you to last."
“What was the point if I was going to fail."
His partner lifts himself to his feet and leans down to help Damian up, all the while comforting him with words. “It’s not that we fail what matters, but how we get up."
Damian huffs a tut of air. “What does that even mean.”
“It means,” he drones while ruffling Damian’s hair, “that experience is worth more than perfection and preparation. And I know Bruce is all about being prepared — I know that’s what he’s teaching you — but there are some things you have to get wrong to learn how to do ‘em right."
“Like not to get between Drake and coffee?” Damian frowns remembering how that went the first time he made that mistake.
“Yeah,” Dick laughs, remembering too.
But what things must he get wrong first before learning to do right? It seems counterproductive, when he can just learn how it’s done right first and not make a blunder on the way.
Damian recalls with crystal clarity the first time he sees Dick as something other than…as something other. Dick was never like a father to him, not like a brother either, but something close between the two. And then he was something.
Damian was already in charge of the Teen Titans at the time, learning responsibility of a new kind. That first year he came to understand what Dick had meant once by mistakes and doing right by them. But on that day he wasn’t team leader or Robin or brother. He was a Wayne out in the middle of Gotham on the few trips he ever made with Dick.
Dick was as excitable as always, talking away to pass the time and keeping Damian close with an arm around his shoulders. Damian was growing taller now, hitting the peak of teenagehood. Dick mourned the height advantage that was becoming smaller and smaller.
“I just know you’re going to be as tall as Bruce and that’s not fair."
Damian ate away at his lactose-free ice cream and shrugged, hiding a little smirk under his cone. It was a nice day, and being so close to his protege felt welcoming.
“Hey-hey, your ice cream's dripping, hold on."
Then Dick grabbed his hand and smiled in that silly way of his, and Damian turned his face away, feeing heat creep up his neck. He was just wrapping a napkin around the sugar cone.
But it was Dick’s hand curled carefully around his fingers and he never does that.
He looks up once during the whole fidgety act and sees Dick’s face, thin eyebrows furrowed in concentration and making sure nothing drips onto the pavement. It’s just so Grayson of him, when he sees Damian staring and splits a smile, that Damian spends the rest of the walk clutching his cone too hard and trying not to focus on the warmth of Dick's finger tips fading from his own.
Dick has always been something close and distant and in-between, and now that Damian’s grown up past childish devotion and camaraderie, he’s starting to see that with this, he doesn’t want to make mistakes.
It’s a long time before Damian fully realizes what’s happening. What his own consideration of Dick has become, and before he knows it, he’s leaving rooms in a fit when Dick doesn’t pay attention, or he’s the happiest he’s ever been, just sitting quietly by his side. Dick is here, away the next moment, flitting around the world or just in Gotham’s underbelly. And Damian, Damian has his own responsibilities. His own grievances to carry, his failures and his pride. He wears them like a badge of honor and hopes with all his heart that Dick sees it too. More than father, and more than he ever wanted with mother.
One day he’s looking up at his partner and the next they're looking almost eye to eye.
“You’ve grown up, Damian,” Dick says, but all Damian hears is, you’re a young man now. He hears the sadness hidden in his words and feels anger bubble in his throat. Damian learned how Dick thinks, the subtle things that mattered that were never said but spoken though shared smiles and standing back to back.
So he stammers when he says, “Just because I’m older doesn’t mean I’ll stop being your Robin,” and the surprise in Dick’s face is almost worth the embarrassment.
Then he grabbed Dick’s hand, something he’s never dared to do before, and squeezed his fingers tight.
“And…and I’m still the same Damian you’ve known all this time. Just, bigger."
His heart feel light when Dick’s downturned lips curl up into a wide smile, and a little pleased when the tips of Dick’s ears turn into a bright pink. “No, you’re not. But, that’s not such a bad thing either, I guess."
Damian keeps Dick’s hands tangled with his own and his heart swells when Dick doesn’t pull back.
He will always think of himself as Grayson’s Robin, but now he has the chance to be something else.
Later, maybe that same evening, Damian walks into a room in the Wayne Manor and finds Dick sprawled over a couch, a sight that is so normal in this house, but now he sees it through fresh eyes. That’s Dick sleeping over there, his…something. Damian hasn’t decided yet, hasn’t pinned a word down for that feeling in his chest like he’s run too fast or too far and he can’t feel the air that goes into his lungs.
He sits, carving a space for himself around Dick’s legs and takes in the comfort, the safety. He wakes Dick in the process and grieves for the lost moment.
But then Dick moves and suddenly there’s enough room for him to lay down too, Dick with his narrow form and Damian with his limbs still filling out with muscle. He lays down and an arm envelops him and it’s the best feeling in the world, like he’s walking down the street with Dick pressed against his side again.
They curl around each other, or more precisely, Damian hunches over Dick’s chest and breathes. Everything is simple again, just him and his partner.
He feels Dick press a kiss to his hair and falls asleep thinking, they belong to each other.