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why do we fall

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Once upon a time, Icarus fell in love with the sun.

 

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Damian first hears the tale as a child.

He’s just turned four, just killed two of his opponents in hand-to-hand combat, snapped each of their bones and dug his nails into whatever he could reach until they’d lay on the reddened sand, choking on their own blood. His grandfather had laid a hand on his shoulder, deceptively soft in its touch, and he’d stood still as granite as Grandfather praised him for a job well done.

“He’s on his way,” he tells Mother, and Mother smiles fondly at Damian in a way that makes him feel a bit warmer.

My pride, she murmurs as the servants escort him past her and back to his chambers, and he stands a little taller despite the weight of his blood-soaked robes.

Later, she opens the door to his rooms silently, slips in quiet and closes the door behind her. Damian’s all ready for bed, sitting up with the pillows at his back and hands in his lap, legs straight under the duvet pulled up to his waist. He looks at her expectantly. The tall candle on the left bedside table flickers, casting long shadows on the walls. Birthday’s are special, he knows this because every time it’s his birthday, Mother would come in once her duties were done to sit beside him on the bed, thread her sharp nails through his hair as she weaves him tales to lull him to sleep. He sleeps better, on those nights where he has his mother’s voice in his ear. The stories are longer the quicker his kills are.

“Have I told you the tale of Icarus?” She asks him, even though she of all people should know she hasn’t. Damian shakes his head anyway, because everyone answers his mother.

“Once upon a time,” she said, settling herself on top of his duvet, “there was a man. He was imprisoned by the king in a maze of his own invention, the Labyrinth.”

However, the king could not contain him, for he was a creature of the air, and longed to fly free of restraints. He built a pair of wings for him and his son, wings of feathers and wax, for them to fly out of their cage and across the sea. However, he cautioned his son. “Never fly too close to the sun,” he said, “for your wings will melt and you will fall, and I will not be able to save you.”

"Yes, father," Icarus said, breathless with the idea of freedom. "I won't let you down."

But then, what did Icarus do? He forgot his father’s warnings, ecstatic with the wind in his hair and his fingers brushing the clouds, and he flew higher, higher, until it felt as though he could reach the heavens. Too far, too close to the sun, and the wax of his wings had melted, feathers come loose, and he no longer had anything to hold him up. He fell to his death, landed in the sea and drowned.

“Do not strive for things that you cannot reach,” she says, and her hand leaves his hair. “And never, ever, disobey those who are above you. It will be your downfall.” The room feels a little colder when she blows out the candle and leaves.

Years later and he’s too old for bedtime stories, too old for fantasies that do nothing but distract him from his missions, and his mother hardly ever enters his room anymore unless it’s to fetch him for meetings with his grandfather. The tale of Icarus and his wax wings never leaves him, even when he goes to find his father, when his mother leaves him with a man he hardly knows in hopes that he will achieve his full potential.

Looking down over Gotham, hood pulled low over his face like a hooked beak and cape whipped by wind, he stops for a moment to just grip tight onto a protruding brick in the wall, creeps as close as he can to the edge of the building, and just hovers there, fifty stories of nothing below him, and relishes in the quick thud of his heart. The Robin uniform scrapes against his skin in a unfamiliar way, but he thinks he could make it work, he has to. Batman—his father—needs him to. His free arm dangles, fingertips reaching for the pavement below. He takes a breath, holds it, feels his pulse pounding in his ears.

He lets go as he breathes out, and his cape spreads out like crow’s wings to catch him as he falls.

Damian falls in love with flying.

 

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He’s still getting used to the idea of a family, still figuring out the patterns, but his older adopted brother is there—Grayson—guiding him, helping him, smiling and joking even when Damian gets it wrong. After a while, Damian finds himself answering with quips of his own, and he no longer lashes out instinctively whenever Grayson or Todd slings an arm around his shoulders.

Grandfather would be disappointed in him, he thinks, and then he does it more.

 

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He dies. He resurrects.

 

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Damian Wayne knew since the moment he met him that Jonathan Kent was the sun.

He’s got dark hair that looks softer than feathers, ruffled and messy from the wind in his face, and Damian’s fingers itch to comb through them, straighten them only for Jon to mess them up again, wants to sit Jon down and hold him there long enough for him to immortalise those sky-blue eyes and effervescent smile in charcoal and watercolour.

They got off to a rocky start, maybe, Damian kidnapping him and then the frightened ten-year-old almost setting his lab on fire. Damian’s pretty sure he hates him, tells it to anyone who bothers to listen, but he goes back again and again and again, sneaking Jon out for missions that in all honesty Damian needs no help with, and after a while they fall into an easy partnership.

Jon smiles at him, expression bright and open, and holds out a hand that could crush his bones, level an entire city. Damian takes it, lets himself be tugged along, and he can feel himself falling, falling, falling.

 

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The first thing that had led Damian to seek out Jonathan Kent was the fact that he might be a danger to the people around him.

Solar flare, the future Tim Drake says. He kills millions.

In the end, Superboy lives, the future Drake is gone, and Damian holds Jon as he shakes apart in his arms. After his death, Damian always ran a little colder than everyone else. Jon’s fingers leave a palpable warmth where they clutch at Damian’s arms.

I don’t want to hurt people, Jon says, stricken.

You won’t, Damian says. Its not the first time he’s lied to protect someone he loves.

 

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Damian’s jumping out of the Batmobile even before it screeches to a stop, tucking and rolling to soften the impact, before he’s up again, searching desperately with his eyes. There, just at the end of the port, Superman’s flying—stumbling—away from a warehouse with a child in his arms. He barely makes it ten metres away before dropping to his knees, setting the child on her feet before he turns and throws up on the wooden deck.

“Damian!” His father shouts. “Don’t go in there!”

Damian runs, runs until it feels like he’s flying, vaulting over fallen crates and crashing into the door. No sooner do his fingers wrap around the deadbolt does he snatch his hand back with a bitten-off curse, heated metal searing even through his padded gloves. He tugs off his glove with his teeth, braces himself, uses it to slide back the bolt quickly and dart into the warehouse. His father’s shouts ring behind him, fingers brush against the edge of his cape, but can’t go any further because there’s a wind that builds out of nowhere, throwing his father back against the docks. Metal creaks under the onslaught. The door slams shut behind Damian and he turns to face the maze of walkways and pillars in his way.

“Robin!” His father’s voice crackles loud in his ears. “Get out of there!” Damian jumps over a pile of fallen boxes, wraps his cape around himself to protect himself from the heat. It flaps furiously in the wind, and he stumbles against the side of a pillar. Something slams into the door behind him, but the edges of it have melted into the frame. The floor feels like fire under his feet.

There’s flames everywhere he looks, charring the walls and there, in the middle of the burning warehouse, is Jon, except it’s not, not really. It’s an inferno, swirling winds twisting fires that lick away at wooden beams, sparks jumping from Jon’s fingers that he twists in his hair, curled into himself as if to try and keep the wildfire at bay. Heatwaves shiver around his body, and pure lights shines from the cracks in his fingers, from his very core like the flare of a star before its collapse. Damian doesn’t hesitate, leaps over the railing, spreads out his cape to soften his fall.

Jon looks up, and the brightness of his eyes almost blinds him.

“Damian,” he whispers, sways forward as if drawn to a magnet, before those blazing eyes widen and Jon leaps backwards as if burnt.

He says his name again, high and frightened, and scrambles backwards on his elbows. There’s a fire building in his chest, so bright that Damian can see the glow, the outline of his ribs through his jacket. The wind is screeching in Damian’s ears, and his cape whips around as if trying to drag him away.

“Jon,” he breathes, and the wind snatches it away.

“You can’t be here,” Jon says, scrubbing away liquid fire that drips from his eyes. There’s no more welcoming blue there, no more calm colour in his eyes; just scorching white, a barely-repressed supernova behind his eyelids. “My dad—oh my god, Dami, I’m hurting my dad.”

“It’s alright,” Damian says, and takes a step forward, like taming a wild animal. Jon doesn’t move when he takes another, another until he drops to his knees in front of him and gathers him to his chest, ignoring the way his skin blisters and cracks.

“Damian,” Jon sobs into his shoulder, molten tears dripping onto his uniform and scorching holes in the fabric. Damian doesn’t flinch when the heat burns his skin, doesn’t relent his hold when Jon tries to shove him away, leaving singed handprints on his chest.

“I’m hurting you,” Jon whispers, breath searing hot over his skin.

“I don’t care,” Damian tells him, and Jon seems to slump in his arms, defeated.

“I’m sorry,” Jon says, repeats it like a prayer, and somewhere behind them, a walkway crashes to the ground in a fit of sparks. The earpiece in Damian’s ear has long since gone dead, and the only thing he can hear from the outside is the thudding of helicopter blades like wingbeats.

“It’s alright,” he whispers again, smoothing down Jon’s hair, and he can feel flames licking up his cape. Distantly, he can hear his father shouting his name, wild and panicked, and he spares a second to regret not being able to say goodbye to his family, for leaving his father for the second time to mourn the death of his son.

“No, it’s not,” Jon says, before curling up on himself with a pained cry, and the wind gets stronger, twisting the raging flames into a column of fire above them.

“I love you,” Damian whispers, and there’s flames licking at his cheeks, Jon’s fingers burning holes where they dig into his arms, and Jon seizes, pure light spilling from his pores.

Damian closes his eyes, presses cracked lips to Jon’s hair, and the whole world explodes into white.

 

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Once upon a time, Icarus fell in love with the sun.

 

end.