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Lessons on Loyalty

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Hound wasn’t in the dojo. Damian stared blankly for several moments before the fact penetrated. Hound was always in the dojo. In the year and a half Hound had been tasked with refining Damian’s swordsmanship, he had never been late or unprepared. Every afternoon at three o’clock, Damian had training, and every afternoon at three o'clock, Hound was seated in the dojo, their weapons lain out in preparation.

Had he upset Hound somehow? Was this punishment for last night? Damian was willing to accept that, but he hadn’t thought Hound was upset. Damian was good at reading Hound’s moods. Only grandfather was better. He’d thought Hound had been – happy, almost, sitting patiently as Damian stood much closer than was proper to stitch shut the laceration he’d accidentally opened on Hound’s arm. There’d been something soft in Hound’s expressionless face, a sort of shy wonder in his usually shuttered eyes. He'd hugged Damian, even, at the end of the lesson. Damian had done that. Damian had made Hound happy.

So where was he?

Damian fretted away the lesson’s hour, waiting for Hound to appear. Then another hour, and a half hour after that. Not a sight. Not even a note delivered second-hand. Silence. An unfamiliar feeling of dread crept into his stomach. Grandfather. It must be. Nobody else could have commanded Hound to break their meeting. Why? There was plenty left for Hound to teach. Damian bit his lip, then smoothed his face into an imitation of Hound’s careful blankness.

Damian traveled down the empty hallways, acutely conscious of the silent weight of invisible eyes. This was Grandfather’s domain, and for the first time the thought brought fear instead comfort. Within these walls, Grandfather’s rule was absolute. If Grandfather had – done something. to Hound. Then – Damian swallowed uneasily and forced his thoughts away from that path.

He knocked on the door to Grandfather’s study. His nails dug into his palms, white-knuckled and shaking.

“Come in, Grandson,” and was it his imagination that insisted dark satisfaction lined that voice? Damian opened the door a crack and slid inside, closing the door behind him. The room smelled of fresh spilled blood.

“Grandfather.” What have you done? Where is Hound? Where is my friend? He swallowed back his plaintive questions. He’d known the answers as soon as he set foot in this room. His heart hurt. “May I see him?”

The look on Grandfather’s face was terrible to behold. There was a cruel anticipation to it that chilled Damian to the core. Grandfather nodded, not saying anything more. Damian slowly approached, near paralyzed by the sudden knowledge of how close he was to a vastly superior predator. He skirted around the desk and took a breath to brace himself. He looked.

“Oh, Hound.” Damian’s throat went tight. He knelt next to his injured tutor, hands skimming the air above Hound’s injuries. Grandfather had torn out the stitches Damian had put in. The gash was already puffy with infection, oozing blood and clear yellow pus. Hound’s back was covered with dozens of long, narrow welts and his throat was marked with vivid purple bruising. His expression blank except for the sharpness of his eyes as he knelt beside Ra's' desk. Damian reached to brush blood-tangled hair from his eyes, to examine what injuries were hidden beneath his tangled hair.

Grandfather caught his wrist in a crushing grip and pulled him away from Hound. “I’ve been merciful with you, Grandson, because you are young and of my blood. Do not test me.”

Grandfather prodded Hound with his shoe, unmindful of his injuries. Hound made a noise of pain low in his throat, like a beaten dog. When he rose to his feet, his face was emptier than Damian had ever seen it. His eyes were closed and shuttered, flat and featureless as dull stone.

Damian choked down a sob. Hound. Hound, what has he done to you?

“Your lessons are over.” Ra’s said. No! “Damian will be taught by a new tutor and you are to return to your normal routine.”

Hound bowed subserviently. “As you command, Master.”

In that moment, Damian hated his Grandfather more deeply than he had ever hated anything in his life.


“I am sorry, master,” Hound murmured, after Damian had left, not looking up at Ra's. “I overstepped.”

Ra's raised an eyebrow, indulgently amused. “Are you, pet?”

Tension slide from Hound's shoulders, and he shook his head. “No. Not truly. I accept the consequences of my disobedience.” As did his master. Such were the realities of their long acquaintance. Punishment had been dealt, and now Hound was forgiven. Grudges and remembered mistakes were not their way.

“Your soft spot for my grandson is noted. How has he earned such loyalty?” Ra's asked, tapping Hound's shoulder in absent command. Hound made a noise of assent, and leaned against the desk so Ra's could untangle his bloodied hair.

“He is your heir. He has potential to be great.” Hound looked at Ra's from beneath his lashes. “But I am in your service, I have not forgotten that.”

“You never do, my Hound.”