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You learn to breathe

Chapter Text

Bruce hadn’t been expecting a punch in the face to be the first thing he received upon exiting the Batmobile, but he’d gotten one all the same.

Instantly he growled, whipping around to face whoever’d hit him only to be met with the sight of a very ticked off Nightwing, chest heaving and eyes aflame in anger.

He relaxed, muscles loosening, and Bruce realized that was the wrong thing to do when Dick flung himself at Bruce, body language screaming the violent intent as he started yelling. “What the fuck was that?!” his eldest screeched.

“What was what?” Bruce gritted back, ducking and dodging the relentless and powerful attacks.

Dick laughed mirthlessly. “Oh, so you’re gonna play dumb?” A solid kick caught Bruce’s jaw and he stumbled back, already a tad worn out from his brief spat with Jason. 

He’s getting aggravated now. “Play dumb about what Dick?”

His eldest froze and stared at him, expression blank.

“You really don’t know.”

Bruce scowled. “I don’t have time for this.” Jason was still missing, and Roy Harper was to thank for that. Damn Arrows.

He started to move around Dick, only for Dick’s hand to shoot out and grab his shoulder with vice-like grip.

When he spoke again, Dick’s voice was venomous and dark. “You don’t find anything wrong with what you just did, do you?”

Bruce grunted, not going to dignify that with an answer.

Dick gritted his teeth and next thing Bruce knew he was staggering back from a powerful punch to the jaw.

He touched the tender spot, turning to glare daggers at his son who glared right back with extreme intensity in his royal blue eyes.

Dick bared his teeth a little as he spoke, back straightening and muscles tensed. “You didn’t have the right. Jason is my brother and your son. You don’t get to kick him out of the family because your girlfriend left you on the altar! You don’t get to beat him to a bloody pulp and drag him like you’re taking out the trash! You don’t have the right to speak for us.

Bruce growled, straightening. Dick didn’t understand; this wasn’t about Selina. It wasn’t. “He broke our deal.”

“I don’t give a flying fuck, Bruce!” Dick shouted back, radiating fury as he marched right up to his father and glared up at him. “Jason is your son! Your son who died then came back to life and had to claw his way out of his grave! And you just treated him like he was the dirt beneath your feet,” he seethed.

Dick let his head hang, breaking eye contact as he took deep breaths in an attempt to calm himself.

After a minute he spoke again.

“You don’t get to touch them ever again.”

Bruce stared at Dick with shock, now, as he continued to speak.

“You don’t get to raise your voice at them. You don’t get to scold them.”

He lifted his head to glare into the lenses of Bruce’s cowl. “You’ve lost the right.”

Then Dick turned, slapping his domino on his face, and headed for his motorcycle. Over his shoulder he finished with, “And if you even try to look for Jason, I’ll make sure you don’t find any of us, Bruce. Count on it.”

Chapter Text

This probably went without needing to be said, but actively trying to find every tracker in his uniform wasn’t how Tim normally spent his patrol time. The comm he’d ditched the second he’d gotten the text from Dick. He was standing on a building that stood to the left of Wayne Enterprises, pulling his gloves on after making sure there weren’t any trackers hidden in them, shock rendering his mind blank as he opened the thread he had with Dick. His brother had sent a photo, and Tim wasn’t sure if he wanted to see it or not.

He tapped the download icon and waited as his phone loaded the image.

What he saw made him take a sharp breath.

It was Jason, helmetless and shirtless, unconscious in the backseat of a car. Ugly bruises were scattered across his chest, an eye was swelling, there was blood smeared across his forehead and chest, and Tim could make out at least three broken ribs, even with the quality of the picture.

Dickwing: I’m with Jason and Roy. Where are you? We’ll pick you up before we get Damian.

Tim took a deep breath to clear the lingering horror from the image seared into the back of his eyelids, only thumbing out a response once he could breathe and think properly.

Timbin: I’ll call you.

Dickwing: Don’t you have your phone encrypted?

Instead of texting a response, he called. Tim indeed did have the best encryption he could possibly have, but there was always the possibility of Bruce enlisting Barbara to help him find his sons. And, as much as it pained him to admit, Barbara would help him. Without a second thought, really, after the initial question of why.

The phone was answered before the first ring could finish.

“Where.” A question phrased as a demand. Here Tim was thinking only Bruce could pull that off.

He rattled off his location.

There was some shuffling on the line and Tim heard Dick’s voice distantly as he repeated the address presumably for Roy. He listened, holding the phone to his ear, as he sat down and ran a hand through his hair.

“Bruce really did that?” Tim’s voice came out small, like a scared child’s, and he hated it, but he was having a really hard time believing it. Bruce beat Jason into a bloody mess. The same Bruce who put Joker in a body cast for months and nearly died every night after Jason’s death because of his grief. The same Bruce who hadn’t wanted Tim to be Robin because of Jason. The same Bruce who’d been torn to pieces when he’d found out Jason was Red Hood.

He’d done this to the very son he’d grieved.

Dick’s sigh drew him from his thoughts, and he remembered that he was on a phone call.

“I know it’s hard to believe, Tim. Bruce… he’s not in his right mind right now.”

There was a long silence when it clicked. The instantaneous fury that surged throughout him nearly choked him, but Tim swallowed past it to find his voice.

“Selina?”

“High possibility.”

He sucked in a sharp breath, squeezing his eyes shut, crouching and putting his face in his free hand. Tremors shook his shoulders with repressed emotion, and Tim tried to collect himself.

Licking his lips, and finally composing himself, Tim cleared his throat to ask, “How bad is he?”

“We… we’re not sure. Damage looks bad, but we don’t know how bad yet.”

In other words, ‘I don’t know but am afraid to check’. Tim hissed a little, straightening when he heard the sound of—presumably—Roy’s car pulling up in front of the building. He checked to make sure he saw Dick, who was stepping out of the vehicle—a dirty black civilian Jeep—as soon as it parked, before dropping down beside him.

His hand hit the ‘end’ icon to drop the call as he looked up at Dick. Their eyes met through the domino lenses and they stood apart for several seconds, silence thick with meaning.

The air left Dick’s lungs when 125lbs of little brother crushed him in a hug, and he wheezed, but was quick to return the gesture just as tight, resting his cheek on Tim’s head as Tim buried his face in Dick’s shoulder.

“It’ll be okay, Tim,” Dick murmured.

He was given no verbal response because Tim couldn’t come up with one, so he hugged his eldest brother tighter to make up for it. In all honesty… He wasn’t sure if it was true. God knew the extent of Jason’s injuries—psychological and physical—and the effect it would have on all of them. Even if Jason made a full physical recovery, they had no idea how bad Bruce hurt his psyche, and this event would forever stay with them. There would be no forgetting this, for any of them.

A minute passed before Tim forced himself to let go. Jason needed to be taken care of and fast. The image of his bruises and all the blood were engraved into the front of his mind, details unforgettable.

With a quick squeeze, Tim released his brother and ducked into the backseat of the car, freezing for several seconds when he saw Jason strewn there, blood dripping from his cuts and bruises coloring ugly. Swallowing past the cork in his throat, he slid to the floor of the car, knees bent uncomfortably, and closed the door. Once the door was shut, he started pulling out bandages and alcohol wipes to at least clean up the superficial wounds.

“Hey, Tim.”

He looked up to meet gazes with Roy in the rear-view mirror. The archer’s emerald green eyes shone with concern, fear, and rage, lacking their usual bright mirth. The sight made something twist in Tim’s chest and he nodded in greeting.

Dick climbed into the car, shutting the door gently.

“Damian and Duke are going to meet us at the safehouse. We can head straight there,” he said, typing away at his phone.

Roy nodded and Tim returned to his previous task. He strong-armed his emotions away—there simply wasn’t time to deal with them, so he wouldn’t.

As Roy drove off, Tim found himself checking Jason’s pulse periodically as he tended to the cuts. It was weak, but there. Jason was still alive.

Which left one thing…

“Thank you, Roy.”

The archer glanced back.

“For what?”

Tim lifted his head, looking to Roy seriously. “For watching out for Jason. He wouldn’t let us, but you… You he trusted with his life. And you didn’t let him down.” His gaze was steady as he repeated what he’d said the first time. “Thank you.”

Roy snorted softly, eyes going back to the road and staying there.

“He’s like a brother.” Then, softer, “It wasn’t a problem.”

Pain flashed across Dick’s face at the first sentence, but it was gone as soon as it appeared. Tim’s brows furrowed at that and he made a mental note to try and figure it out later. For now, Jason still held priority.

As he turned back to Jason, Tim just kept wiping blood away. And when he would, more would sluggishly ooze from the cut if he wasn’t quick in patching it up, which was frustrating, but he remained emotionally disconnected, hard as it was to be as his hand brushed over a fist-sized bruise on Jason’s cheek. A fist-sized bruise that would probably match Bruce’s.

Not now.

In total, it took them a mere four and a half minutes to reach the safe house. Tim had done the best he could, but he still held a bandage against Jason’s hairline. A bandage which was steadily dampening with dark crimson. The cut there needed stitches, and so did one on the left side of Jason’s ribs.

Roy opened the back door, and Tim helped move Jason out of the car and into the arms of his brother’s best friend. He paused, then, at the thought. Roy had said Jason was like his brother. The feeling was probably mutual.

Roy Harper was no longer at best a pseudo-family friend. He was family. A new brother.

He’d talk to Dick, Damian, Cass, and Duke about it but, in his heart, Tim knew that they’d readily agree with him, even Damian though the kid would make it seem like he was forced to accept it.

Tim exited the car quickly after Jason, shutting the door without bothering to mind the force behind the shove, and rushed after Roy. Dick was already holding the door open, and when he stepped inside, he saw Duke and Damian there—just like they said they’d be.

Only, there was someone standing next to Damian, tight-lipped and serious. A woman; someone he recognized in milliseconds.

Doctor Leslie Thompkins. She’d saved all their lives on more than one occasion, and Tim was no exception to that truth.

He nodded in greeting, and she returned the gesture before briskly moving after Roy, who’d said that this safe house had the best medical equipment of the ones nearby and told her to follow him. He’d been polite about it, of course, and Doc Thompkins didn’t ask any questions.

Tim went to follow and help—he’d assisted Alfred enough times to be useful—and nobody stopped him. Dick moved to but Duke grabbed his arm and subtly gestured to Damian, who looked shaken to the core of his being, and Tim felt a flash of sympathy for him as he went after Doc Thompkins. God knew this whole thing might just affect Damian almost as much as it would Jason, because Bruce was his dad, same as Bruce was Jason’s, and he’d done this to his son, so would he do the same to Damian?

It ached to think about, so Tim didn’t as he shut the door behind him, Dick’s murmurs of reassurances and comfort muted by the barricade. He almost regretted coming in to help, because he could be where Damian was, being held and comforted by someone who he needed it from the most, then he immediately dismissed the thought. He’d made the choice he had for Jason’s benefit, not his own. As much as he wanted to be selfish… He just couldn’t. It wouldn’t be fair to his brother, and if any of them deserved at least one fair thing, it was Jason.

Taking a deep breath, Tim made up for the precious seconds he’d wasted as he hurried over to Leslie’s side.

The time passed in a blur of bloody bandages and clipped instructions and commands.

Chapter Text

Duke was sitting on the couch, leg bouncing as he tapped away on his phone. Tim was still in The Room with Doc Thompkins and Roy, and Dick was over in a bedroom trying to calm Damian down (he felt bad leaving Dick to deal with it alone, but he was really new to this whole having siblings thing and he was still trying to get used to it), which left Duke alone in the living room.

He sighed, putting his phone down, and rubbed at his brow with a hand.

This was a side of Bruce Duke had never known about. He’d known about the cold, quiet side. He’d known about the eccentric, loud façade. He’d known about the gentle, kind personality. He hadn’t known about the rage-fueled abuser. For as long as he’d known Bruce, all he’d really seen were the Batman and dad sides of him. The older man had always been there for him.

But this…

It just meant that Duke didn’t know what to do. Bruce had been one of the only people he could trust he had left. Now, though… Now he wasn’t sure.

The sound of a door opening had Duke looking up and to the hall. Dick walked into view and gave a weak half-hearted smile, collapsing into the cushion beside Duke. He looked tired to the marrow in his bones.

“Where’s Damian?”

Dick sighed before he spoke, voice even more exhausted than he looked.

“Asleep, thank God. It took a while to calm him down, though, and he crashed as soon as he wasn’t hyperventilating.”

He’d freaked that bad?

Duke frowned and put a hand on one of Dick’s shoulders. “You did good, D.”

The older of the two looked over again, fatigued grin on his lips, and Duke squeezed the shoulder for good measure.

“Thanks, Duke.” He paused. “Still nothing?”

Both boys looked to the hallway at the question, the air of the room turning somber.

“No,” Duke muttered. “Nobody’s come out yet. Not Roy, not Doc, not Tim.”

“Time’s it?”

Duke checked, picking his phone up again.

“One a.m.”

Dick made a noise of concern.

“They’ve been in there over two hours.”

“Well, maybe—”

A body clad in red armor stepped into the room, Roy’s face drawn in concern and resignation, and Duke immediately cut himself off. Right behind Roy was Doc Thompkins, looking better than the archer was as far as emotions went. Physically, she looked tired.

Duke nudged Dick with an elbow.

I almost told you so.

“Jason’s going to live,” was what the Doc had to say. The choice words made something twinge in Duke’s chest, and his eyes flicked to his oldest brother.

The look on Dick’s face belonged to someone who’d had their soul crushed before their eyes.

Duke squeezed his shoulder again.

The doc continued to talk, pushing her glasses up her nose. Roy sighed as he sat down on Dick’s other side and buried his face in his gloved hands.

“His recovery is going to take months, I’m sorry to inform. Jason suffered head trauma nearing severe levels, and his motor functions will need to readjust. His arm was severely damaged, broken in four places, and a muscle was torn. The ribs on his left side were broken, but not as extremely as his arm. His left knee was bruised—expect him to have a limp for at least a month. Timothy informed me of his Lazarus syndrome, but I’m afraid that even with the accelerated healing Jason’s recovery is going to take two to three months. And that’s being generous.” Her gaze softened, and she looked to each inhabitant of the room.

“I’m sorry, boys.”

Then she was walking out, no goodbyes, no nothing. The door shut gently behind her, and nobody moved.

Roy was gazing up at the ceiling, his hands balled into fists on his thighs, breathing through his mouth. Dick was hunched in on himself, elbows on his knees and hands linked behind his head and he rocked back and forth in silence, shoulders trembling. Duke was unmoving, back still and straight, eyes locked on the door.

Doc Thompkins words were bouncing around in his skull—they rang in his ears.

Months. Jason’s recovery was going to take months, and that was still being generous.

“I’m going to kill that Bat,” Roy said in a trembling whisper.

Duke’s eyes snapped over to the archer, narrowing.

“No,” he started, “you’re not.”

The archer was on his feet and standing over Duke in an instant, face a mask of rage. Duke stayed where he was, head tilted back to look Roy in his green eyes, arms crossed.

“Tell me what I’m going to do again, kid,” the redhead spat.

Duke opened his mouth to respond but Dick was up and shoving Roy back faster than either could blink. His muscles were tensed, his chest heaved, and he hadn’t lowered the arm that had pushed Roy yet.

“No.” His voice cracked on the word, but Dick remained unwavering and rigid. His eyes were hard with determination, but watery with emotion.

“No,” he repeated, his finger pointing at Roy, voice still shaky. “I won’t let it happen again. Don’t touch him.”

Surprise rendered both Duke and Roy speechless.

The pause let Roy breathe—take a minute to think—and his eyes went from Dick to Duke, regret clear in his gaze.

“I’m… I’m sorry. Duke, was it?” Roy took a shaky breath and extended his hand around Dick for a shake.

Duke promptly returned the gesture, clasping the archer’s hand

“Yeah.” He offered a hesitant smile—Duke wasn’t as good at the whole reassurance thing as Dick so naturally was. “Nice to meet you, Roy.”

Roy nodded, apologized again, and said, “I need to get some air.” Then he hugged Dick and slipped out the window to climb the fire escape.

Duke watched him leave before steeling himself and facing Dick, who now had his face in his hands.

Concern struck Duke like a bolt to the chest and he put his hand on Dick’s shoulder in mimicry of the earlier act.

“Dick?”

He received no response.

“Dick.”

Nothing.

Frowning, Duke moved closer. “Hey, Dick? Bro? You there, man?”

Again, he didn’t get an answer, so Duke was about to move Dick’s hands when he heard a near-silent sob.

Startled, Duke noticed—for the first time—the moisture around Dick’s hands.

He hesitated.

“…Dick?”

“I should have been there,” came a trembling whisper. “I should have stopped him, should have kept Little Wing safe, but I didn’t—I wasn’t the brother I should have been, and I never have been, and now… Bruce beat him within half a millimeter of his life, and it was my fault.”

Dick started sobbing, then, but in silent jerks of his shoulders and trembling hands. Otherwise there was no sound—no loud hiccupping, no gasping, no hyperventilating; nothing.

Shit.

Duke had no idea where to start, so he pulled Dick into a hug—which was returned with alarming strength—and rested his chin on Dick’s shoulder as he spoke.

“It wasn’t your fault, and it’s not fair to yourself if you beat yourself up for it.” One point down, too many to go. “You can’t be what he won’t let you be, either. We both know how hard you’ve been reaching out—I’m surprised your arm isn’t broken yet—and we also know that progress was slow to nonexistent. He wasn’t ready to have you as a brother yet, Dick, and he didn’t let you be one.” Not recently, anyways. Not touching the subject of Jason’s first life with a ten-foot pole. “And you didn’t know. None of us did. If we had, we would have gotten to Bruce before he could even breathe in Jason’s direction, and you know it. It wasn’t our fault, Dick—it wasn’t your fault, and you couldn’t have been there to stop Bruce.” If I can convince you it wasn’t your fault, maybe I can get rid of some of my own confusing guilt. It wasn’t your fault, Dick.

Finally Dick caved, and he started crying. Not loud, but not silent either—some medium in between. He was crying into Duke’s shirt, the tears dampening the fabric, and taking in sharp breaths, his hands fisting the cloth, but Duke didn’t mind. He was getting a chance to be for Dick what he always was for all of the family for once. Dick needed a shoulder to cry on and, damnit, Duke was going to be that shoulder for once.

Dick cried and cried, shaking harder than an earthquake, and Duke kept whispering the same thing over and over.

“You’re a good brother; it’s not your fault.”

And Dick kept crying.

Chapter Text

Damian wasn’t asleep, but he was a good enough actor to fake it.

Or Grayson was just too disquieted to notice.

Either way he lay there, in Todd’s bed, staring up at the concrete ceiling above his head after rolling onto his back, mind still reeling once Grayson had exited the room.

Father wasn’t supposed to be like Mother was, but he’d…

He’d…

He’d hurt Todd.

Todd, the very same person who Father told him to have patience with, the person who Father confessed to mourning so intensely it changed who he was, the person everyone insisted was his brother despite unrelated blood.

It reminded him far too much of Mother and Grandfather.

He wasn’t sure how long he lay there, trying to wrestle his emotions and compose himself.

Because Father wasn’t like Mother. He couldn’t be. He was supposed to be better—he was better. Damian was truly happy with Father. Father had never raised a hand against him. He’d never been unnecessarily hard or cruel.

This wasn’t Father.

It couldn’t be.

Sometime during his private session of reassurance he heard voices from beyond the closed door and sat up, pulling the cozy comforter up with him as he stared at the wooden barrier that separated him from Grayson, Thomas, Drake, Harper, Thompkins, and Todd; he stared at the divider keeping him away from his family.

Unease pooling like bile in Damian’s stomach he slid off the bed, bare feet touching the cool concrete ground. He had the brief thought that he might not want to hear what was on the other side of the imposing door but ignored it. He was Robin. Robin didn’t fret over mere words, nor did he concern himself with something as trivial as a door.

Quickly, before he could lose his nerve and think twice about what he was doing, Damian pressed his ear to the door and closed his eyes to focus on the words.

The voice he recognized as Thompkins’, and the worry and fear he refused to spare a thought to surged to choke him.

“—head trauma nearing severe levels, and his motor functions will need to readjust. His arm was severely damaged, broken in four places, and a muscle was torn. The ribs on his left side were broken, but not as extremely as his arm. His left knee was bruised—expect him to have a limp for at least a month. Timothy informed me of his Lazarus syndrome, but I’m afraid that, even with the accelerated healing, Jason’s recovery is going to take two to three months. And that’s being generous.”

A pause that let the ringing in Damian’s ears dissipate, then, “I’m sorry, boys.”

There was the sound of a door opening and closing before silence fell like a blanket to kill flames of hope or conversation.

Breath hitched and quick, Damian was just about to stumble away from the cursed door when he heard murmurs.

He hesitated again and eased back to press his ear to the door, eyes open this time and flicking around the room to give his mind something to be distracted with.

The room seemed lived in, was a way to put it. Clothes were tossed in a hamper by the bathroom, there were a few bullets and mags scattered on a small table against a wall, a charger plugged into the wall beside the nightstand that stood beside the bed on the right side, some running shoes tossed in a corner haphazardly, a book with a worn spine open on the same nightstand that was near the charger with a lamp on it.

Damian noted that Todd took care of his belongings, the way everything was meticulously placed. The guns were all on the table with his other weapons, all sorted into categories of ranged, close-quartered, and long-distanced (there were two sniper rifles), he had his clothes organized by color and hanging in his closet, the bed had been made well before Damian ruined the neatness, the shoes seemed to be organized by use frequency, and on the dresser was a bottle of cologne (wow), a necklace that Damian had never seen before, and three picture frames.

Abruptly he heard the sound of voices being raised. They weren’t much louder than they’d been before, but Damian heard the words spoken clearer.

“Tell me what I’m going to do again, kid,” a voice that sounded like Harper’s challenged.

 “No,” Came Grayson’s trembling voice with hard finality. “No. I won’t let it happen again. Don’t touch him.”

Grayson’s vulnerable and raw tone was what slapped Damian in the face.

Was Grayson struggling more than he’d seemed to be? Was Damian failing to notice just how hard the night’s developments were hitting his eldest brother? Was…

Was he failing to serve his purpose in being Robin?

Tears blurring his vision Damian wiped at his eyes furiously, making his way to the window he’d noticed beside the dresser. When he reached it, Damian sniffed and checked for any alarms or traps to disable, and his search revealed the window to be completely unarmed.

He wasn’t sure what to think.

Exiting out to the fire escape, Damian climbed it as fast he could, a few tears leaking from his eyes that he wiped at with a gauntleted hand. It occurred to him that he’d left the domino on the sink of Todd’s master bathroom, but he surprised himself with his indifference. So what if he wasn’t wearing it? Nobody would see him here because nobody would be looking. In the Narrows it was watch your back or get stabbed straight through it, so nobody would spare a glance at a boy on a rooftop.

Damian was grateful for the communal psychology as he made it to the roof and wandered to an edge. Crouching on the eave of the roof, he sniffed, pulling his cape tighter around him and the hoodie of his uniform low over his face.

As he sat there, breathing the putrid but now-familiar smog-tainted Gotham air, Damian closed his eyes and thought about it. He thought about whether or not he was doing his job as Robin; he thought about if he was being the light to Batman’s darkness.

Perhaps the evets of the night had unfolded so because of Damian’s time as Robin? He seemed to thicken the threatening darkness that followed Batman, not relieve it. Whenever petty thieves and low-lived thugs spoke of Robin, they never spoke with a light air of self-confidence, they spoke with fear laced in the undercurrent of their voices.

Something twisted in his gut at the thought, and Damian felt a little sick.

…though, was it really his fault? He’d first been Robin to Grayson’s Batman, and Grayson’s Batman had been marginally different that Father’s, at least in the early days, from Damian’s perspective. He hadn’t needed to bring much to any light.

Transitioning from Grayson’s Batman to Father’s was simple in the same ways it was difficult. Grayson was softer—gentler and a bit more upbeat and energetic—than Father. Father was much darker—much more brooding and cold—by comparison, and Damian found that he longed for a private joke or pun though he loathed the latter.

Frowning, Damian sniffed once more and wiped at his eyes with a palm.

“Y’know, kid,” came a drawl from behind him, “you remind me of your dad when you do shit like that.”

Damian whipped around to face Harper, who stood there in his eyesore of a uniform and green trucker hat, general body reading calm but the subtle tightness to his shoulders made it seem faked. The look in his eyes even more so.

He bristled, sneering, “Tt. At least my father is still alive for you to make the comparison.”

It was a sentence made to stab deep, which it apparently did. Harper twitched, a jerk of his left shoulder, and tightened his lips.

Good. He shouldn’t have mentioned Father, much less compared Damian to him, especially considering recent developments.

Eyes narrowed, Harper took a step closer to Damian, who tensed ready—so ready—for a fight. He needed an outlet right about now, and what better way did he know of than a spar?

“That was rude, you little shit,” Harper hissed.

Damian mocked surprise as he stood, cape still wrapped tight around him. “Was it? How appalling—that was me trying to be nice.”

Harper stepped forward, pointing a finger at Damian, and said words that made Robin freeze.

“Now look here you undeniable Bat,” he spat, eyes furious, “I can see what you’re trying to do here, but guess what? I tried that shit too once. It didn’t work for me then—and I really fucking wanted it to—and I sure as fuck won’t let it happen to you now. I get it, kid. You’re frustrated, upset, confused. We all are. You don’t see us picking fights, huh?”

Mouth dry Damian swallowed and tried to clear his throat softly before speaking.

“I seem to recall you raising your voice at Thomas and Grayson intervening before things escalated. Or was that not you enabling?”

Roy blinked, frowned and lowered his finger to put his hand on his hip.

“That was different. I was upset and Duke didn’t help my anger any. Yeah, it was my fault, but no I didn’t go looking for a fight.” He ran a critical gaze up and down Damian. “You’re begging for one, though. There are better outlets for your anger than punching people in the face. You do know that, right?”

Damian rolled his eyes. “Of course I do, Arse. None of the other activities are as satisfying.”

“I highly doubt that.”

“Tt. I don’t hear any suggestions, yet, that would suggest otherwise.”

“Gymnastics?”

“Only succeed in further frustrating me.”

“Target practice at a gun range?”

“I find pointless.”

“Archery?”

There was a pause as Damian considered whether or not archery would be an activity worthy of his time.

His arms fell to his sides from the crossed position he’d had them in, and Damian hesitated in his answer. Harper waited, unfairly Grayson-like in exhibiting patience and care.

Care, and Damian had insulted his dead father.

Lately life seemed to enjoy knocking Damian off his feet and make him question things he’d previously held to be factual.

“I… practiced, using a bow and arrow, while in the League. Since I came to live with Father I have neglected to maintain proficiency, meaning I may be a little… rusty, so to speak, and would appreciate your aid in mastering the weapon.” Every word of that was like pulling teeth. Damian hated admitting when he needed help; he utterly despised it, but Grayson and Father encouraged him to inform them when he required assistance with anything.

He still detested it.

When he lifted his eyes from the ground to meet Harper’s gaze, Damian was surprised to find no smugness in the archer’s face, nor did he see any superiority in his body language.

Harper instead reminded him so much of Grayson when he placed a hand on Damian’s shoulder and squeezed it, that soft, gentle expression still on his face.

Then a few seconds later he smirked and pulled Damian into a headlock, giving him a noogie. “So, the squirt wants my help?”

Damian made a noise of surprise and removed himself from Harper’s underarm.

Robin frowned. “Not if you will exhibit behavior such as that,” he muttered.

“I was kidding, you little demon. Yeah, I’ll help; it’s no skin off my nose.” Harper shrugged, replacing the hand on Damian’s shoulder. He eyed it warily but accepted the gesture. “God knows I’ll have time to.”

Gradually Damian relaxed under the firm weight of Harper’s gauntleted hand, sighing a little and letting his posture slump as he looked down at his bare feet.

A beat passed in silence before Damian whispered, “Am I failing?”

When there was no answer Damian hunched his shoulders and looked to the right of his foot. It was as much a confirmation as the verbal reply.

“Failing at…?”

“What?”

Harper shrugged. “I dunno. That’s what I need you to tell me.”

Damian frowned down at the ground, confused.

“Tt. Speak what you mean and cease the banter.”

“What are you asking me about, Damian,” the archer cleared up. “I can’t tell you whether or not you’re failing if I don’t know what it is you’re talking about.”

He hated that it made sense, kicking at a pebble.

“Robin,” he murmured. “Am I failing in my duties, symbolic and realistic, as Robin?”

There was a longer pause, but Damian—for some reason—felt it was more of a thoughtful one. Harper was considering the question and his answer. He was thinking about his answer, which implied that he hadn’t dismissed the question and took it as seriously as any other question. He knew Damian cared about the answer, and wanted to provide an honest opinion.

A feeling of warmth spread from his chest throughout the entire cavity and he was caught by surprise.

Harper distracted his mind when he spoke, the thoughtfulness of his silence evident in his voice.

“I wouldn’t say so,” he mused. Damian looked up at him and Harper tilted his head as he met Damian’s green gaze with his. “I think you’re doing just fine, kid. Why?”

“I disagree with your evaluation, but accept it as your opinion nonetheless. Thank you, Harper.”

That the archer didn’t think he was failing relieved him for some reason, and Damian was getting uncomfortable, so he shook the hand on his shoulder off and cleared his throat.

“Grayson will check on me soon. He believes me to be resting in Todd’s room.”

“He will.”

“I am leaving, then.”

“Alright.”

Damian hesitated as he searched for disappointment or anger in Harper’s eyes. He found none and was relaxed, sighing a little.

“Thank you,” he repeated.

Harper smiled a little and offered a thumbs-up. “Sure thing, kiddo. I’ll be up here for a while longer, then I’ll head inside and talk with your brothers about the archery thing. Don’t want to have everything behind their backs, after all, do we? You’ve all got a lot of pain already being aired out. Don’t need to risk anything.”

Damian nodded and walked down the fire escape, slipping back in through the open window. The door remained shut, everything was as when he left, and it suddenly seemed a lot more welcoming.

He slid into the room silently, shutting the window and locking it before flopping down on the bed and scurrying under the covers he’d grabbed from the floor.

When he closed his eyes and fell asleep, he wasn’t faking it anymore.

Chapter Text

Roy slipped back inside not long after Damian did, only Dick left in the room on the couch, looking like he’d lost twenty years off his life.

One thing Roy was grateful for was that he was nothing to the Batman. Not a son, not a friend, not an ally, and not someone to ever count on. Roy had a distance from Bruce that none of the others he was sharing a roof with did. He could do whatever the fuck he wanted to without any emotional baggage holding him back, and none of them could say shit about it.

But he wouldn’t do anything yet. For the family of his best friends.

“Dick?”

Nightwing looked up from his phone and flashed a tired smile. “Hey.”

“What happened with Duke?” He asked, walking over, taking his hat off and leaving it on the table.

“He’s with Tim and Jason,” Dick answered, focus returned to his phone. “Went to go for his shift.”

Roy raised a brow. “Shift?”

Dick hummed in confirmation, swiping and tapping something. “Yeah. Whenever one of us gets hurt, the others set up a rotation so that if we wake up we’re not alone, and we know we’re being protected and cared about. It helps.”

It actually made sense, and Roy found he liked the idea.

He sat down next to Dick, looking at the phone, and slung an arm over the younger’s shoulders.

“What’re you doing?”

The response was delayed as Dick passed Roy the phone, chewing his lip.

“I’m looking for somewhere to go.”

Roy grabbed the phone, scrolling through hotel listings, and noticed all of them were in Gotham. It was weird to him that Gotham had hotels—who’d be crazy enough to book one here?

A door opened and closed, and a minute later someone flopped into the cushion on Roy’s other side.

Frowning a little, Roy looked up from the phone and over at Dick, turning it off.

“Dick…” Roy had no idea how to say it, so he just ripped the metaphorical band-aid off. “You guys need to leave Gotham.”

“And go where,” came Tim’s muffled voice.

Roy turned and saw that the person who’d situated himself to Roy’s right was Tim, the kid with an arm over his middle and a hand covering his face. Only one of Tim’s light baby blue eyes was showing, but it bore into Roy’s emerald green gaze with intensity.

Looking back to Dick, Roy said, “Don’t you guys know anyone outside of your family?”

Dick and Tim met eyes and had a silent conversation that Roy couldn’t follow with subtle twitches and headshakes or nods.

He waited, turning the phone back on and scrolled through Dick’s contacts.

“I’m sure Ollie and Dinah wouldn’t mind having us over,” Roy absently offered, still scrolling through contacts.

“The Kents.”

Pausing, Roy looked over at Tim, who’d been the one to suggest them.

“You’re sure?” he checked, raising a brow.

Tim nodded and closed his eyes, seeming to decide that he was done with conversation for the night, so Roy looked over at Dick. “When do we leave, then?”

Dick hesitated. “We’d have to check with Leslie before moving Jay, but we’ll be leaving as soon as we can.” Roy nodded, and started discussing the plan with Dick, deciding transportation, stops, and the like for the trip.

When everything was decided, Dick stood and Roy handed him the phone back for Dick to call Clark, and Roy noticed Tim’s soft snores when Dick stepped outside to make the call.

Sighing, Roy stood and slid his arms under Tim’s knees and under his shoulders, lifting the light teen into his hold. Tim’s head rolled onto Roy’s chest as he walked to the bedroom, and Roy carefully opened the door. Damian was asleep in the dead center of the bed, so Roy put Tim on the left side of the bed and pulled the covers over him.

He snorted a little when asleep Tim’s first course of action was to slide an arm around Damian’s waist and hug him close.

Returning to the main room, Roy looked around and sighed, carding a hand through his hair. The last three or four hours had been the most stressful ones of Roy’s life. Concern for his friends, anger towards Bruce, and overall exhaustion were taking their tolls, but Roy refused to rest until everything was confirmed, and with Jason’s blood on his hands.

Mind made up, Roy grabbed his towel from the closet in the hall and entered the bathroom for a quick shower.

The water was warm on Roy’s aching and tired body, feeling like a massage especially on his head, and he rested his head on a wall as the water hit his shoulder blades and ran off his body. Beneath him the water was a pinkish red sort of color as the blood was washed off, and Roy closed his eyes.

He stayed in the shower for about fifteen minutes before he actually started washing himself off and stepped out of the room with the towel around his waist.

Dick was sitting on the couch again when he walked out, head on the cushion to his back, eyes closed, phone still in his hand, chest rising and falling steadily.

In case Dick was sleeping, Roy silently grabbed his clothes from his closet and dressed himself in the bathroom, only walking out as he pulled a grey shirt over his head.

“Clark says we should go to the Kent farm,” is what he’s told when he sits down beside Dick, the younger resting his head on Roy’s shoulder, leaning against him with his eyes still closed.

Roy hummed and slouched back on the couch, shifting Dick’s head from his shoulder to his chest and sliding an arm over his best friend’s shoulder. “Okay. We’ll have to adjust the plans a bit—because isn’t the Kent farm in Kansas?—but that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. I can get us a private plane or something—Ollie wouldn’t mind.”

God was Roy glad he and Oliver were on good terms.

“Okay,” Dick mumbled in an answer, going a little more boneless. “I’ll call Leslie when it’s my shift with Jay.”

Nodding, Roy found himself drifting off to sleep just after he felt Dick’s breath even off.

They’d have a solid plan in the morning.

Chapter Text

Dick held Jason’s free hand in his, eyes on his little brother’s face, as the phone in his hand rang.

“I’m sorry, Jay,” he whispered, not for the first time.

An ugly bruise had bloomed on Jason’s cheek, the mark touching the corner of one of his eyes, there was a cannula in his nose, one of his arms was in a cast and sling, strapped to his chest as tight as possible without agitating the broken ribs he had, and Dick couldn’t see it under the thin blanket over him but there was a brace on Jason’s knee.

You should have been there, the air whispered. This is your fault.

“Hello?”

Leslie’s voice saved Dick from dealing with his self-loathing.

“Hey, Leslie,” he said, voice cracking a little. “Sorry for calling right now.”

Sounding less than pleased she said, “Dick. What can I help with? Any more injuries I need to patch up that I should have been told about when I was there?”

Dick huffed a short laugh.

“No,” he answered, still looking at Jason. “Nothing like that. I just wanted to know how long we should wait before moving Jay.”

There was a pause before Leslie spoke.

“Why?”

Taking a breath, Dick said, “We need to leave, Leslie. We can’t… we can’t stay here, not with him. It won’t help Jason’s recovery.”

Leslie hummed then asked, “How far are you going?”

“Sorry Leslie.”

“I understand.” There was the sound of rustling papers and a door opening and closing before she said, “You can leave by tomorrow, earliest, but I’m going to have to strongly recommend you be as careful as possible while handling Jason.”

Tomorrow? That… They needed to keep out of Bruce’s radar for an entire day, then.

Worrying his bottom lip between his teeth, Dick prompted, “We can’t leave any sooner…?”

“Unless you’re willing to risk compromising Jason’s health any further, no. Tomorrow is pushing it as-is, Dick. I’m sorry.”

“No, don’t be sorry,” Dick quickly replied, words coming frantic and thoughts a confused mess. “It’s okay. We’ll be—we’ll figure something out—thank you Leslie, for all of this. I—thank you.”

“Stay safe, Dick.”

“You too Leslie.”

She did him the favor of hanging up first.

Lowering his hand to his lap, Dick’s mind blanked out. His eyes stared without sight. His ears rang without sound. His brain fired neurons that weren’t processed.

They were going to have to manage to evade Batman for an entire day.

How were they supposed to be able to avoid Batman for an entire day?

The door opened and Tim stepped into the room, now dressed in some of Jason’s clothes. The shirt fit him too big and sagged a bit, and Tim was practically stepping on the pant legs to the sweats he was wearing, even with them rolled up a bit, but he looked better.

Better than he had yesterday, anyways.

“Hey, Dick,” he greeted, plopping into a chair beside Dick’s. He passed Dick a plate with eggs and a slice of toast on it.

Dick held the plate in his free hand but didn’t speak, gaze sliding to the food slowly, mind still frozen.

Shifting a bit lower in the seat, Tim crossed his arms and buried his nose in the collar of the black t-shirt.

“None of us cooked it,” Tim said. “Damian and Roy left to get it.”

Making a noise of concern, Dick lifted his eyes and flicked his eyes to Tim. “When?”

Tim shrugged. “A few minutes ago? Apparently, Jason and Roy picked this specific place because of the food options.”

Dick snorted and slipped his hand out of Jason’s to eat.

It was quiet for a while, as Dick ate, but he knew it wasn’t going to last long. Silence never did in their family.

“What’d Leslie say?”

And there it went.

Sighing a bit, Dick finished chewing and swallowing the food in his mouth before replying.

“Tomorrow. We have to wait at least until tomorrow, to be safe.”

“Tomorrow?”

Dick nodded, shoving more food in his mouth.

Tim chewed his lip, anxiety slowly creeping into his body language, and muttered, “How are we supposed to stay away from Bruce for an entire day?”

Once again silence lapsed over them, each lost in their thoughts.

“We could call in favors,” Tim finally spoke up as Dick finished the food. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was until it was all gone.

Brow furrowing, Dick asked, “What favors?”

“Well, Barry owes me one for me not telling Bruce about something—I can’t remember what, don’t tell Barry—and Bart owes me for him taking my chips. Kon would help if I asked him to, and so would Cassie.” Tim nudged Dick’s arm a little. “I know for a fact that you can count on your Titans, too.”

Dick nodded and Tim did too, standing and taking the empty plate from Dick.

“Okay. I’ll call and see if anyone can keep Bruce and the others busy.”

Dick nodded again and Tim walked out, leaving Dick alone with Jason again.

Burying his face in his hands, Dick took a deep breath and tried to focus. He needed to collect himself. Fix himself. Whatever. One of them, all of them, he just. Needed to take a minute.

Dick ended up taking about ten minutes, sitting there, trying to collect himself so he could be the pillar his brothers would need him to be.

But it was hard. Everything was crumbling around him and he didn’t know what to do, didn’t know where to start, didn’t know how he was supposed to just—just function. Go back to normal. He’d been punched by Bruce before, yes, but he thought it started and ended with him. It had only happened two times, and he’d have heard of it if Bruce had decided to hit either Tim or Damian.

This, though… This was the furthest Dick had ever seen it go. It hurt, God, it hurt.

He was broken, and he didn’t know what to do, where to start, what he was supposed to do—he didn’t know how he was going to be a pillar for his brothers if he was cracking apart as it was, he just knew he had to be okay for them. He couldn’t afford to be anything else.

It’s what he had to do. He had to.

Dick took one last shuddering breath then let tension bleed from his body as he stood and stared at the door.

He’d taken hold of his emotions and forced them into a bottle, but he wasn’t anywhere near ready to go outside and face his brothers. Not at all.

Regardless he forced himself to walk out of the room.

In the living room, Roy and Tim were talking, Damian was sketching something at the table, and the TV was on for some reason. Tom and Jerry played at an acceptable volume, the cat and mouse warring against each other by increasingly ridiculous means.

“Dick.”

Tim’s voice called Dick’s attention and he drew his gaze off the TV to look at his little brother.

“Yeah?”

“Roy called some of the other Titans; Wally, Garth, and Donna are all going to make a point to attract Bruce’s attention in Gotham today.” He walked over, tapping away at his phone, and continued, “And I contacted Hal, Barry, and Oliver to ask them for help too—I’d ask Dinah, but she’s working with the Birds right now—and they’ve said they’ll do the best they can. Bart, Cassie, and Kon are in too.”

Dick couldn’t remember being more relieved in his life.

“Kid called the cavalry alright,” Roy snarked, approaching solely to muss Tim’s hair up.  “I had to basically hold him back from calling the entire League.”

“So, how many is that?” Dick asked, frowning as he thought. “Flashes one and two, Garth, Donna, GA and GL, Bart, Cassie, and Kon…” He ticked off his fingers as he said the names, looking down at his hands when he was done. “So we’ve got nine metas to distract Bruce for the day.”

“Unless you can’t count,” Damian said, voice barely loud enough for anyone to hear him, “yes. That is nine metahumans.”

Would it be enough to throw Bruce off their tail?