The batcave echoed. Despite Bruce’s every attempt to still the bouncing sounds, he couldn’t keep certain noises from echoing through the cavern. Specifically, the sound of a baby wailing.
Bruce tugged the overlarge hoodie a bit tighter around the boy in his arms and rocked him gently, cooing soft words of comfort and safety at him. It made sense that he’d be red faced and screaming, he had no idea what was going on. He’d been a 13-year-old boy moments earlier, and to suddenly find himself dropped back to being a baby had to be a rough transition.
“It’s alright, Damian. Your father has you.” The word father felt odd in the face of the baby. One didn’t call themselves ‘father’ around an infant. Dad, Papa, Daddy, all of those had a more natural ring to them. Father was so formal. But Father was what Damian called him, and in spite of Zatanna’s promise that Damian didn’t remember anything, he still felt like it might do some good.
Damian only screamed louder.
“Perhaps he’s hungry?” the magician asked from beside him.
She was hovering over his shoulder, attention on the boy in his arms. She had offered to take care of him while Bruce found clothes more suitable than the hoodie the boy had been wearing earlier, but he hadn’t been willing to let go. He’d tried, holding Damian out for her to take, only to pull him back at the last second, to keep him close. He’d never held his son this way before and knew it wouldn’t last very long. Zatanna was too skilled a sorceress to have trouble turning him back, even if she hadn’t quite figured it out yet.
He’d called Alfred instead, who’d taken the events in stride and informed him it would be a few minutes before he could find something suitable.
“Maybe.” he said, still murmuring down at the boy.
He couldn’t take his eyes off him, even screaming with his eyes squished shut, mouth open in an ‘O’ that didn’t quite seem proportional to his face, he was beautiful, and unexpected, and the best thing to come out of a magical accident.
Titus whined at Zatanna’s side, large eyes looking dolefully up at Bruce and Damian, in what almost seemed to be regret at causing the accident, or as a plea to Bruce to stop the noise.
“This is your fault you know.” he told the dog, kneeling down to face him.
He had hope that the animal might calm Damian some. He had been chasing him through the cave when everything went sideways. Titus wasn’t a jumpy dog, but he’d bolted at the first rumblings of Zatanna’s magic, a locating spell that was supposed to help Bruce in tracking down a shipment of magical artifacts both had been looking for. Damian had jumped after him in an attempt to keep any accidents from happening. Instead he’d found himself the object of Zatanna’s attention the moment Titus bumped her, causing her words to muddle and the spell to change.
They'd been left with an embarrassed Zatanna, one curious Titus, and a crying infant, swamped in a now too large hoodie and jeans. And Bruce. Bruce hadn’t been all that surprised. He’d catalogued, processed, and accepted the events. Everything with the precision of Batman. At least until he’d stooped to pick up his mewling son, his voice dropping to a quiet whisper to hush the boy, emotions curling in his chest he hadn’t expected.
Titus inched forward to examine Bruce’s loud bundle, his wet nose pressing against one of Damian’s tiny fists, balled against whatever had him in such a state. The boy stopped suddenly, eyes popping open in surprise at the strange feeling against his hand. He squirmed until he could see Titus, green eyes blinking curiously at the dog.
Bruce held his breath as the two examined each other. Damian’s tiny, oh so tiny, fingers fumbling as they tried to grip the short hair on the dog’s face. For his part, Titus moved closer to nudge the baby, seeming to be confused. He sniffed the child before tilting his head and licking him.
Damian giggled, and Bruce knew if he’d raised the boy from infancy that giggle would have stolen his heart. As it was, it still did. Gripping it with the pure, light, tone he’d rarely heard his son make. He wanted to laugh and cry. Why hadn’t he pressed Talia harder when she’d claimed to have lost their baby? Why hadn’t he kept an eye on her anyway, knowing the possibility of her lying to him was high? Why had he missed out on years of tiny, joyful giggles?
“It seems you’ve managed to calm him.” Alfred’s voice pulled Bruce from his thoughts. He turned his head to see the man standing over him, arms filled with baby supplies.
Bruce stood, keeping an eye on his son to make sure taking him away from Titus wouldn’t start the screams again, but Damian seemed happy enough to look at Alfred, hands reaching for the pile of stuff in his arms.
There weren’t many things that ruffled Alfred, they’d been through too much over the years for much to faze the man, but when he caught sight of Damian his eyes widened for a moment before they softened at the boy.
“Isn’t he beautiful?” Bruce found himself asking.
“Yes, he is.” Alfred said.
Bruce had no idea why Alfred had anything suitable for a baby in the manor, but the man did. Diapers, a bottle, and even a onesie, decorated non-ironically in Batman symbols. He only let go of Damian when Alfred insisted he either do so or get the child diapered and clothed on his own. Alfred dismissed him to discuss the ramifications of this ‘accident’ with Zatanna. Bruce stepped away, his arms feeling a little lonely without the warm weight of his youngest in them.
“I am so sorry, Bruce.” Zatanna said when he turned his attention to her.
He gave her a half smile. “It’s not so bad. At least you didn’t age him. If you’d done that I don’t think we’d have been able to convince him to let you turn him back.”
She smiled and glanced around him at Alfred and the baby. “He’s pretty cute this way.”
Bruce nodded, tempted to turn around and look again. He didn’t, as lucky as he was to have a few moments with his son at this age it couldn’t last. “Have you figured out what spell it was you accidentally used?”
Zatanna crossed her arms and bit her lower lip. “Not exactly. What I need to do is take a look at Damian and read the magic I placed over him. That way I can see if it’s something that will wear off on its own or if I need to take it off.”
“Why wouldn’t you just take it off?” Bruce asked.
“Damian is a child, and magic can affect them differently than it does adults.” Zatanna said. “If the spell will wear off by itself, it’s safer to let it than try to remove it and risk something else going wrong.”
Bruce nodded. “If it’s temporary, how long will it last?”
She uncrossed her arms and shrugged. “It’s hard to tell, but I meant the original spell to last about twenty four hours, so if we’re lucky that’s all it’ll be.”
A day. One solid day with his son as a baby. Bruce hadn’t thought to hope for that. He didn’t think to want it, but now that the possibility existed he realized he wanted it more than he probably should. More than he deserved.
“Will he remember?” Bruce asked.
“No, it’ll feel like he’s had a long restful sleep.”
“Good.” Bruce nodded.
He could only imagine Damian’s reaction otherwise. Angry, and embarrassed at ending up in such a compromising situation he’d probably ignore Bruce for a week out of spite at the situation. This way he’d still be embarrassed, but it would blow over quickly, an event to be forgotten by the boy, and cherished by the father.
There was a giggle from behind them, and Bruce found himself turning without thinking. Alfred had finished changing Damian into the onesie, with a matching black hat on his head, the bat symbol outlined in yellow on the front. He was sitting on a medical cot, reaching for a colorful stuffed parrot Alfred was dangling over him. His fingers brushed at the multi colored tail and Alfred brought the toy down swiftly to boop Damian’s nose with before raising it again, making the boy squeal with delight.
“If you need to check him, Miss Zatanna, now would be the time, while he is content.” Alfred said, not looking up from Damian, a small smile on his lips.
They moved to Damian’s side, the boy glancing at them for a moment before turning his attention back to the bird that Alfred was now bouncing in front of him. Bruce turned his own attention from his son to Zatanna as she whispered something, eyes glowing for a moment before fading back to normal.
“It is temporary.” she said.
Something in Bruce shifted, a sigh of relief from within. He’d held so much hope for extended time, and to have the wish granted was almost unbelievable.
But now, he was going to cherish the unexpected joy of being able to see Damian as he would have been if Bruce had known about his existance years ago. It didn’t change missing his birth, but holding him as a baby was answer to a prayer he’d never felt worthy to utter. If he could, he’d wish to see all his children like this. It didn’t matter that most had been born to other parents, he loved them the same, and there was something special about seeing them so young.
Maybe it was the utter dependency on him. Or the idea of caring for a life that was just beginning. What he really thought it was, was the trust and joy on his boy’s face as he sat across from Bruce, tiny fists finally catching the bird’s tail. It was a look Bruce had never gotten from Damian before. Not that his son didn’t trust him, just not this way. Not in such and open, honest manner.
“We can continue the search tomorrow.” Zatanna said. “I’m sure you're worried about him.” she nodded down at Damian who was pulling at the bird now, a look of concentration on his face.
“It may be beneficial to us all if you took the time off.” Alfred suggested, releasing the bird so Damian could pull it into his lap.
Bruce nodded. “Why don’t you take Damian upstairs while Zatanna and I work out the plan for tomorrow and then we’ll all take the day for ourselves.”
Zatanna offered to re-cast her original spell and track the information for him, leaving him free for the rest of the day. Their original plan had involved mostly waiting anyway, and not much would change if they began compiling the information the next day instead of that night.
It took him longer than he’d hoped, and by the time he’d made it back upstairs he found Alfred without Damian. After a frown, the butler informed him that he’d left the boy with Dick, who’d showed up for a preplanned day with Damian and jumped on the chance to watch him. They worked out the cancellation of Bruce’s meetings for the day and split ways, Alfred heading off to start lunch and Bruce to the living room where his sons were.
He found Dick sitting on the floor, bouncing Damian up and down on his thighs. Both were smiling at each other.
Dick turned his head when Bruce came close, and smiled. “Hey, B.”
“How’s he doing?” Bruce asked, stepping around the couch to stand close to them. He was struck by a kind of shyness, an idea of wanting to leave Dick to play with his baby brother without his presence feeling overbearing.
“Good. He’s a big fan of bounces.” Dick said, letting the baby stand on his legs while still holding his arms, “Not so much of silly faces though. He’s too serious for that. Aren’t you, Damian?”
Dick’s voice took on that tone one does when speaking with babies, kind of squishy and soft. It made Bruce smile, the tone would have never been tolerated if Damian were his actual age. No, it would have been met with fury and a demand for a fight.
As it was the boy gave Dick a serious look and tugged on his hands demanding the bouncing resume. Dick obliged, eliciting a squeal of approval from him. Bruce didn’t think he would have ever gotten used to that sound coming from Damian, no matter how long he heard it. No one could get used to the way their heart seemed to both soar and laugh along with the child’s laugh.
Bruce smiled at them both. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“So, how long’s he supposed to be like this?” Dick asked as he leaned back, pulling Damian with him and up over his head, bouncing the now horizontal baby with his arms. Damian seemed to like this even more and clapped his hands with the rhythm as he rose and fell.
“About a day.” Bruce answered.
Dick would be a good dad. He realized, watching them. Gentle and patient with his kids, and fun. So much fun. He’d be strong too, able to take care of his family no matter what the situation, but he’d do it better than Bruce had. There would be joy in his house, even in the rough times.
“Your so cute this way, Dames. If only you always let me play with you like this. We’d have way more fun.” Dick said, easing the boy back down to hold him as he stood on his feet.
If Bruce was being honest with himself, Dick was already a great dad. He’d stepped in where Bruce himself had failed. He’d taken Damian in at his worst, and eased the boy into both the household and their lives. His soft patience just enough to coax Damian’s true nature out from behind the programing his mother had put him through.
Damian shifted his balance from foot to foot as if testing how they felt on the carpeted rug Dick had set him on. Bruce wondered for a moment if this Damian could walk or not. What age was he? Twelve, maybe fourteen months by his size and attitude?
The boy stepped towards his older brother, watching his feet carefully as he did so. He wobbled, but managed the step. Then he made to take another and bumped his chubby foot into Dick’s leg. He frowned at the offending leg, a pout pushing out his lower lip so far out it utterly declared his displeasure with the obstacle.
Dick chuckled. “Let’s try a different direction, eh?” he said lifting the boy and turning him to face the open carpet in front of Bruce.
After a moment of confusion Damian toddled his way forward, Dick holding his hands high to keep him balanced. He glanced at Bruce.
“What do you say, B? Should we see if he can handle it on his own?”
Damian looked up at him, his face so focused it seemed to give Bruce the permission to agree. He knelt down and nodded causing Dick’s smile to grow into a grin.
“Alright, Damian. Head over to your dad.” Dick said and released his brother’s hands.
Damian thrust his hands out forward for balance and toddled over to Bruce. His steps fast and uneven, his whole body bobbing with each clumsy step. The last few were rushed, almost run steps that sent him stumbling into Bruce’s arms.
Bruce grinned down at the boy held loose in between his open palms, already trying to climb up his knees, hands braced against them to push himself up.
“You’ve got all the energy in the world, it seems.” He said, before scooping Damian into his arms. He was rewarded with another giggle. Maybe he could get used to them, in the good way. The way that said it was something welcome every time he heard it.
He looked up and Dick had his phone in his hands, thumb pressing against the center button so fast Bruce wasn’t sure if he was taking pictures or trying to fix a glitch.
“I’m sending this to Steph. And Cass, Tim too, even though he’ll probably use it for blackmail. Do you think Jason would want to see? I’ll send them anyway.” Dick said, letting the phone fall to a more comfortable height.
Bruce realized belatedly that he should stop Dick from sending the pictures. It would surely mean the end to his quiet time with Damian. All of his kids would come over to at least see Damian, and many many more pictures would be taken. Tim would certainly use it as blackmail, and Damian would discover the full extent of his situation when he returned to normal.
Dick looked up at him with a grin, “Steph says don’t move, she’ll be here as fast as possible.”
“I didn’t expect him to be so quiet.” Tim said, examining his younger brother with a wary eye.
He and Steph had found Bruce and Damian still in the living room. Dick had ducked away to grab a snack in the kitchen the moment Damian’s eyes began drooping, a clear indication he was ready for a nap.
It left Bruce sitting, back leaned up against the couch, with Damian curled up in his arms, sleeping peacefully. They’d been that way for almost half an hour, Bruce entranced as he watched Damian’s tiny chest move up and down in deep even breaths. And Damian, sleeping as if he were recharging for his meeting with his next brother and almost sister.
He had woken the moment Tim and Steph had come into the room. Green eyes bleary with sleep, but growing alert as he watched the room’s new occupants. He squirmed until Bruce helped him sit up in his lap, presumably so he could get a better look at everyone.
Steph scooped up the forgotten bird plush and held it towards Damian. He reached for it at first, then paused and frowned at it for a moment before shoving the toy away with enough force it fell from Steph’s light grip.
“Hey, not nice Baby Bat.” Steph said, before looking up at Bruce, “He really is a Baby Bat this time.”
Bruce frowned a little. “Don’t remind him of that when he’s back to normal, or he’ll completely outlaw the nickname.”
“All the more reason to do it then.” Steph said, grinning. She looked back down at Damian and that grin softened into a smile. “No toy then, what about just letting me hold you?” she asked him.
Damian let her lift him out of Bruce’s arms to settle in her lap. she‘d worn her hair down and his hands went immediately for it, little fingers tangling in the blond strands. He seemed captivated by them, pulling once but not too hard.
Steph laughed, and pulled the hands away. “Careful.” she said.
She turned to look back at Tim, who was still hovering close to the door. “What are you waiting for, come over and say hi. He’s not going to bite.”
“Right.” Tim startled, and walked over. He paused for a moment beside Steph, unsure of how to proceed.
She rolled her eyes and motioned for him to sit on the floor next to her. “You can’t see him properly standing, come on.”
Tim took the spot on the carpet next to her and eyed Damian. Bruce wasn’t sure he’d ever seen Tim around a baby outside of patrol before. He seemed nervous, like he didn’t know what to do. It was so opposite of Steph, who held Damian with ease, her whole body relaxing around the kid.
Damian caught sight of him and let out a happy gurgle. He pressed his hands into Steph’s arms and pushed himself up, and out of her lap, tumbling the short distance to the ground. Both Steph and Tim reached out, instinctively. Steph catching him before his head could hit the ground.
“I see how it is, excited to see your brother?” she cooed down at him. “Well don’t say I didn’t warn you when he does something stupid, ok?”
Damian giggled as she handed him off to Tim. Bruce wanted to laugh at the look on Tim’s face. It was somewhere between confused and suspicious, still he let the child clamber onto him, going so far as to let Damian stand on his legs and press his hands to Tim’s cheeks.
“Oh, I am taking photos. Tim, this is going on Instagram. You’ll be known as the next great baby whisperer.” Steph said, grinning.
Tim gently pulled Damian’s hands away, eyeing the boy. “He’s not acting like an assassin baby.” He said.
“And, why would he?” Steph asked, scooting to Tim’s other side for a better camera angle. Bruce made a mental note to get the photos from her later, they’d be better than what he could pull from the manor’s security footage.
Bruce was expecting Tim to say something about Damian naturally being a terror, instead he looked thoughtful before he spoke.
“Well, Talia raised him. And from what he’s said, she started his training pretty early. Like fresh out of the womb early.” He frowned. “Though I’m not sure even Damian could prove that.”
The thought of this happy, bubbly, baby going through any kind of training at his age, especially that of the League made Bruce’s stomach turn. He’d let it happen. Let Damian stay with his mother and go through that.
He imagined Damian as he was now, eager and ready to smile, that happy trust destroyed by angry words and harsh actions against him. Every part of his life designed to destroy the innocence he carried, and craft him into a weapon.
Bruce had the sudden urge to take Damian back into his arms and ask Zatanna to keep him this way, give him a second chance at growing up. But it wouldn’t be fair to Damian to make him grow up twice. If he’d learned that Bruce had done it, it wouldn’t matter the differences in how he was raised, it would break their bond. It would be a betrayal, no matter what the reason, and even Bruce couldn’t talk himself into making that kind of mistake.
He’d have to be happy with the tiny blessing of having him like this for a day, and hope he could nurture the same trust back into his son when he returned to his normal age. Damian had already started to soften, maybe if Bruce tried harder he could speed things along.
“Alfred says you’re taking the night off, does that mean everyone should?” Tim asked, arms wrapping gently around Damian.
For all his earlier worries about Damian’s intentions, he seemed to be taking well to the boy. Though, Damian himself seemed to have a way of winning over anyone who stayed too close. Bruce blamed the giggle.
“I won’t tell you not to, but a night off would do everyone some good.” Bruce said.
Tim blinked at him. “Really?” he asked.
Tim frowned, “Having a baby has changed you, Bruce.”
“Having a baby changes everyone, Tim.”
They looked at each other for a moment before Damian started squirming again, prompting Tim to reach out for the forgotten toy. This time Damian took it without argument.
“He seems to really like you today.” Steph said, “What’s your secret, so you can try it out when he’s older?”
“Don’t ask me.” Tim shook his head, “Damian hates me.”
Bruce was ready to interject and say that Damian didn’t hate Tim. They had their differences, but Bruce had watched the ice between the brothers thaw over time. He doubted they’d ever be as close as Damian and Dick were, but he never had to worry about sending them on patrol together either. Both would die for the other if the need arose.
“I doubt that.” Steph scoffed. “He likes to protest, but he doesn’t hate you. I actually think this proves it.”
“Have you already forgotten, he doesn’t remember us.” Tim said.
“I’m serious.” Steph said, pointing at him. “You wonder why he’s all over you. Well, babies have instincts, Tim. It’s what keeps them from being complete death magnets.”
“Death what?” Tim said, interrupting.
Now Steph rolled her eyes at him, “Death magnets. You know, babies are always crawling towards danger instead of away from it.” She mimed what Bruce guessed was supposed to be a baby moving towards danger. “Anyway, they’ve got instincts. And one of those is trust. They always know who’s going to take care of them, and keep them safe, and who might be dangerous.”
Damian tried to stand with the bird, but instead lost his balance and fell back into Tim’s chest. He adjusted his arms around the kid to better hold him while talking. “And what does that have to do with Damian liking me?”
Everything. Bruce wanted to say, knowing exactly what Stephanie was getting at. Some part of Damian remembered the trust they’d built together, and knew that Tim was someone he could be at ease around. Bruce was confident, that even if Damian returned to normal with nothing gained from this situation the idea wouldn’t change. The two would be there for each other, long after their other siblings might have moved on.
“Isn’t it obvious? He trusts you. His instincts told him you were safe.” Steph said.
Tim seemed to stall at that. His whole body going stiff like a board as he processed the information. Bruce wasn’t sure he was breathing, and leaned forward to shake him, but Damian beat him to it, swinging the bird toy so it smacked him in the face. Bruce wasn’t sure he’d ever heard Steph laugh so loud before, and he’d been there during the mustard incident.
Steph took Damian back from Tim after that, as he got a phone call. He stepped out of the room to take it leaving Bruce and Steph with Damian.
“He’s a good kid.” Steph said, as Damian squished the bird to his chest.
“He is.” Bruce said. “I wonder if he behaved this well all the time?”
Steph’s smile turned down, “If what Tim said was right, he probably didn’t have a choice in how he acted.”
Damian dropped the bird and frowned at it. Steph gave him a smile that on the outside was reassuring, but tinted with emotion. Instead of picking it back up she slipped a bracelet off her wrist. It was made of elastic and had large purple heart shaped beads on it.
“Here you go, tug on that.” She stretched it for him to see then shook it so the beads clinked together making him laugh and reach for it.
He grabbed it and pulled at it, before shaking it up and down to make it repeat the clicking sound.
“Sometimes I really hate Talia.” Steph said, still looking down at Damian. “How could any mother put their kid through what she did?”
Bruce had often wondered the same thing himself. Talia was a mystery to him, sometimes she seemed so invested in Damian’s well being, so loving, and motherly, but then other times she was the exact opposite.
“I mean. A mom's supposed to be there for their kid, and love them, and just do everything in their power to make their life better than her own.”
They weren’t talking about Damian anymore. His heart reached out to Steph. She’d been through and lost so much, and she was still so strong kind and good.
Bruce reached out and put a hand on Steph’s shoulder. “It’s not your fault you know.”
“Of course it is.” She bit out.
“It’s not. You did the best thing you could for your baby. I promised you she’d be taken care of and, Stephanie, I’ll never go back on that.” Bruce turned her face up so she could look at him.
“I know you would have been amazing if you’d gotten to keep her, and not just because you're a natural with Damian now.” He nodded at his youngest. “But you’re amazing with him even older.”
“Do you think…” Steph railed off. “Do you think she would have trusted me?”
“I trust you. He does.” Bruce said, “And she still would.”
Steph nodded, and reached out to help Damian untangle the bracelet from a knot he’d gotten it into. “Thank’s B.”
Tim returned from his call a few minutes later and together and and Steph kept Damian occupied until the kid’s stomach grumbled under Tim’s palm. He thrust the child back at Bruce with a hurried explanation of the problem and a wary eye, just waiting for him to start crying. Damian didn’t, but it his son had a sour look on his face, a pout that said he might cry soon if he couldn’t figure out why his stomach was grumbling.
Bruce gathered him up and took him to the kitchen. Alfred had distributed lunch earlier, leaving some out for anyone who decided to wander into the manor. Bruce hoped he’d prepared a bottle. It would save time, and hopefully keep an explosion from happening.
He found Alfred and Jason in the kitchen having tea. Both men looked up when he entered, Alfred smiling, and Jason grinning.
“So, this is the Tater Tot, shrunk down to an appropriate size.” Jason said, standing.
Bruce gave him a half smile. “You may want to hold off the official examination, Jay. He’s hungry and his mood is dropping.”
Damian had started squirming in his arms, and instead of the happy sounds he’d made for most of the day he was starting to sniffle and grumble.
Alfred stood from his own seat and moved to the refrigerator. “I prepared him a bottle, earlier but he’ll have to wait while we warm it up.”
Damian’s hands reached immediately for the bottle when Alfred pulled it from the fridge, and he pushed at Bruce’s arms when it wasn’t handed over to him. Bruce wondered what exactly his son recognized and remembered. He seemed to do well enough with walking, and he’d recognized the bottle right away, but he hadn’t reacted at all when Tim had mentioned Talia.
He fussed the entire time Alfred slowly warmed the bottle in the microwave, putting it in for short increments so the formula didn’t get too hot. Bruce added another mental note to ask Alfred why he had so much baby stuff prepared after all this was over. He’d expected to have to wait for an emergency trip into town before they could take care of anything earlier, but Alfred had not been caught off guard yet.
“There we are, Master Damian.” Alfred said taking the bottle over to them.
He handed it to Bruce with an expectant look and Bruce found himself at a loss. His experience feeding babies was shaky at best, the last time had been years ago and it had only been for a few moments in a coffee shop while the woman he’d been helping got her drink.
“Give it to him, but make sure he’s tilting it at a proper angle so he has an easier time drinking.” Alfred said.
Bruce nodded and let Damian take the bottle from him, keeping one hand loose around the bottom so it didn’t slip from the boy’s eager fingers.
“Should he even be on formula?” Bruce asked, suddenly worried they were feeding him the wrong thing.
Alfred hummed, watching them. “We could try something more substantial later if he’s still fussy, but this is the safest bet since we have no history with his dietary practices.”
“I get dibs on giving him a lemon. Babies make the best faces when they eat them.” Jason said from his place at the bar. He’d sat back down, and seemed happy enough to watch as Bruce fumbled with the bottle.
“We’re not going to give Damian a lemon just so you can laugh, Jason. Maybe a cookie of some kind, though.” Bruce said, his voice gentler than he’d wanted the light reprimand to be.
Alfred smiled and sat down, his attention still close on Bruce and Damian. “I wouldn’t be too harsh on him. Feeding your child is one of the joys of fatherhood. Seeing them make faces at good and bad flavors is simply a bonus.”
Bruce narrowed his eyes at Alfred. “Why do I have the sinking suspicion you made it a habit to sneak me food that tasted bad when I was younger?”
“Experience is the best teacher, Master Bruce.” Alfred said, before taking a sip of his tea.
After Damian finished the bottle Bruce let Alfred show him how to burb the boy. At that point Jason demanded his turn to hold Damian.
“I’m sure everyone else has already had a shot, and since this is a once in a lifetime thing I need to at least experience it.”
Damian was sleepy enough to allow the transition easily, moving from being curled against Bruce’s chest to Jason’s. He yawned and balled his fist in Jason’s t-shirt, eyes slipping shut in contentment.
Bruce pulled out his phone and motioned for Jason to pose. If everyone else was taking pictures of Damian, he wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to get one of Jason holding him. He snapped a few for good measure.
Jason looked so natural standing there cradling a baby in his arms. He, like Dick would make a good father one day. He might not settle down the traditional way, but Bruce had a feeling that Jason wouldn’t let that stop him from taking in kids of his own. He was most like Bruce in that sense, unable to leave someone behind if he could take care of them.
“He’s pretty cute like this.” Jason said, his voice soft so he wouldn’t wake Damian. “Is Zatanna sure he has to change back tomorrow?”
Bruce brushed Damian’s dark hair back from his forehead, letting the fine strands slip through his fingers. “He can’t stay this way. No matter what it might do for him.”
“I know. It’s just, I keep thinking what if. I had to have seen him while I was with Talia.” Jason said, eyes locked on Damian. “I don’t think about it often, but I know it had to happen. There’s no way we didn’t cross paths. And if I’d known who he was? Well, even my anger at you wouldn’t have made me let him stay there.”
Bruce moved his hand to Jason’s shoulder. “It’s not your fault, Jay. If anything, it’s mine. I should have kept a closer eye on Talia, maybe even suspected her of lying to me. Instead I let the matter drop, happy to stay oblivious.”
“It is neither of your faults.” Alfred said, gathering his and Jason’s used teacups. “And even if some blame were to rest on either of you, it does no good dwelling on the past.”
Jason smiled at him. “Your right, Alf.”
“Of course, I am, it’s my job.” Alfred said, giving them a wry smile.
Damian stirred from his short nap, a yawn taking up most of his face as he rolled away from the warmth of Jason’s chest. Jason sat down and let Damian sit on the table in front of him, keeping one hand close by to grab the kid if he happened to fall.
Alfred walked over with a bowl of lemon slices and smiled, setting them down outside of Damian’s reach. Bruce grinned up at him and handed Jason a lemon slice.
All three couldn’t keep from laughing at the first face Damian made when biting into the tart citrus. His face scrunched up in a pucker that seemed to turn even his nose up, and he dropped the slice almost immediately.
Jason handed him a second one and the process repeated, this time Damian chewed on the lemon a little longer, making his scrunched face the whole time. They went through the bowl of slices, Damian apparently happy to try each slice in hope that it might be different than the last.
Jason was about to hand him the last one when he paused, his own nose scrunching. “I think Dames has had a little accident.” He said.
“What do you mean?” Bruce asked.
Jason lifted Damian by his arms, and handed him to Bruce. He took Damian and knew immediately what Jason was talking about, if the sagging diaper wasn’t enough of an indication, the smell was.
“Are you sure you don’t want the honor? It is a once in a lifetime opportunity.” He asked Jason.
“Oh no, this is another one of those ‘joy’s of fatherhood’” Jason grinned. “And I’m not his father, that name belongs to you. Good luck, B.”
After changing him Bruce took Damian to his study. Alfred had managed to shoo everyone away long enough to give Bruce some quiet time with his son, and he was taking advantage of it. He’d been planning on sitting with Damian and committing everything about him at this age to memory, instead he’d found himself showing Damian all the pictures he had lining the room.
Pictures of his mother and father, of his own grandparents. Pictures of each of his children when he’d first brought them home, and gradually moving up to the present. He even had some of himself from when he was young.
These were the one’s Bruce stopped on and whispered to Damian about for an extended period.
‘This was me when I was ten, the same age you were when you came to live with us. It was taken just after my parents died, and I was a mess. I don’t think I’ve ever apologized for leaving you at the same age my parents left me at. I’m so sorry, Damian.’
‘This was me at the age you're supposed to be now. I was just as troublesome as you are, probably more so back then. I did everything I could for attention, as a way to stop the pain I couldn’t quite escape. I think it was around this time I really decided that Batman was something I had to make a reality.’
‘Here I am as a baby, like you are now. But I only got to experience it once. I wonder if you’ll remember any of this tomorrow when you’re stalking the manor trying to round up all the pictures your family has taken of you.’
He wasn’t sure when she walked in, but Cassandra made herself known the exact moment she wanted to. A light knock on the doorframe stopped Bruce’s trip down memory lane and had him turn to smile at her.
“And this,” he said to Damian, “Is your big sister, Cassandra. You look up to her a lot, even if you hate to admit it.”
“Hello, baby.” Cass said, stepping towards them.
Damian smiled at her, a bright, happy smile that she returned.
“May I?” she asked.
Bruce turned Damian over to Cass who held him in her arms a moment before sitting down on the floor with him. Bruce followed her lead, sitting next to them, with his back resting against the back of his table.
Damian babbled at her, hands going to tug at her hair. She let him play with it, until he got tired, flopping back into her cradled arms.
“He is sweet.” She said. “Like he is when older.”
“On good days, yes.” Bruce smiled.
Cass shook her head. “Every day. It’s just hard to show.”
She was right, of course. Damian was sweet. It was still buried beneath hurt, years of training, and the need to be accepted, but it was there and it always came out in the most surprising of ways.
Bruce thought Cass had always known that about Damian. He’d been wrong, she’d told him how irritated she’d been with him when they’d first met. How his attitude had made her turn her attention away from him, happy to be angry with him on the surface instead of reading the reasons beneath.
But she, like the rest of the family had come to know him and set her original ideas behind her. Damian had changed, and earned the change of mind in his family, and Cassandra had been happy to give it. Her support was something Bruce knew Damian cherished.
Cass locked eyes with Damian and pointed at Bruce. The boy turned his head to look at his father and Cass said. “Dad.”
Bruce opened his mouth to answer, but Cass shook her head at him then repeated the motion and word, to Damian. She did it a few more times, and as she did so realization slowly dawned on him. She was teaching him to talk. He was old enough to figure out the words, and Bruce was surprised he hadn’t tried anything yet with all the attention he’d been getting that day.
Cass frowned at Damian when he didn’t seem to be willing to repeat the word.
“He hasn’t said anything all day.” Bruce told her.
Her frown deepened. “He should. It is right when being introduced.”
“I’m sure he would have if he’d known that.” Bruce said, smiling at them. He reached over and ruffled Damian’s hair. “He’s happy to see you though.”
She smiled at this and scooped Damian into her arms. “I am happy too. Happy for you, and him. It is a blessing.”
“Yes, it is.”
They sat together as Cass tried a few more times to get Damian to say something. She focused on ‘Dad’ but tried other words like ‘no’ and ‘hi’ and even ‘Cass’ but he refused say more than baby gibberish.
“I’m sorry.” Cass said, at last. “I know you would have liked it.”
“It’s ok. I got more than enough today.” He said. “Thank you for trying.”
She was always so loving. Bruce was so proud of Cassandra for that. She’d taken her upbringing and turned it completely around, choosing to help people instead of hurt them. He knew she’d carry that resolve with her for the rest of her life, no matter what she chose to do with it.
He was proud of all of his children, each one was so different, yet they’d already grown into people he knew the world could one day look up to, even if they changed it in small ways. What he was happiest about was that none of them had turned out like he had, no matter their similarities to him. Every single one of them had a chance at a happier future than his had been at their ages, and he make sure things stayed that way.
Even Damian, with so much growing left to do, would have better opportunities before him, simply because of the family surrounding him.
“We are lucky.” Cass said, and Bruce thought she was still talking about Damian.
He looked down at the boy, playing with one of Cass’s sleeves, and smiled. “Yeah.”
She shook her head. “No, we are lucky to have you.”
“Oh,” Bruce said. “Me too, but about you. All of you.”
She smiled. “I know.” Then she looked down at Damian and pointed at Bruce. “Who?” she asked.
He looked at his father and frowned for a moment, concentrating. Cass repeated her question and Damian nodded.
“Daaa.” He tried and then grinned, trying again, “Daa...Dad.”