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a few new tricks

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At eight.

Damian sits up in bed, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, blankets slipping from where he had it pulled up to his shoulders. 

He blinks at the unfamiliar weight that isn't his own just to find his mother's gift right where he left it: Curled up at the end of his bed and on top of the sheets. In the early morning light, hair in its eyes already opened in slits. 

"You're a bit big for a pup." Damian mutters in disappointment, nudging at its cheek with his foot from beneath the sheets.

It grunts, disgruntled, pulling just a fraction of an inch away, saying nothing in response. Here, but not entirely so.

 

At ten.

Knocked down to the ground, with blood in his eyes, Damian is staring up at his puppy with the sweep of sand at their feet. His puppy is a big one, taller and stronger, and far deadlier than anything he's ever had this close to his throat. Leaning over Damian, pinning him to the training grounds.

Breath knocked clean out, Damian plants one hand to the center of its chest and tells it with all the authority a child as relentless as he knows. He seethes. "Again."

It obliges, practiced as it falls back on its haunches to rise up to its full height once more. Its movements fluid, like the slide of silk.

It doesn't hold out a hand to assist as Damian gets up on his own, it holds still in its ready stance, prepared to go through the motions of knocking the heir of the al Ghul name right back down. 

 

(Tell me your name, Damian asked once.

His puppy stared at him with its eyes dark and wide. Comprehension in the rings of blue. Defiance in the specks of hazel and what could almost be green. It pulled a grin without mirth, stretching wide enough to show all its teeth before it started to cackle in sharp earnest rasps. It is raw rubbed out noise, like used sandpaper that scratched and scratched and scratched, and it was an answer as telling as any other sounds that it could make. 

Damian never asked again and it didn't show him that same expression without flinching.

It felt like a fair enough trade to get to keep it at his side. It was probably not the opposite of unhappy but it was close enough to content.)

 

At twelve.

Damian is a child, growing out of his protector. His puppy a bloodhound, crowned as the mad dog. They make a particular pair in their brutal efficiency. Damian the latter while his puppy the former.

"Stand down." He orders, and it steps back from where it leans over a man with a mess for a face. Its spine curling out of the bow it drew into, blood speckling across its cheek, eyes watching him from the sidelines as Damian takes his place to deliver that killing blow. It is hardly a fight when the odds are never even to start.

Damian is standing, hands holding steady at the first draw of blood, it is a slaughter and it is neither his first nor his last. 

It picks at its knuckles all torn up until Damian is taking its hands into his own to get it to stop. It does, because that's what it always does, taking Damian's word for what it is.

It has long since become a he, and he is a companion.

 

At fourteen.

Damian is sitting up in bed.

The muzzle. The collar. The connecting leash.

Damian glances down, and he never really thought his puppy could have grown into such a wild card until now when presented with a collection like this on the spread of his silk sheets. It is the same bed, the same room, the same two people left alone to their own devices. 

"Father would not like this." Damian says, picking up the collar to feel the soft leather between the pads of his fingertips.

He stays at his spot at the end of Damian’s bed, still curled up, cheek pressed against the sheets, eyes blinking slowly and looking thoroughly amused by the way Damian hesitates at that first word.

When his bloodhound tilts his head back, baring his throat just for him, the skin is even softer there beneath Damian's fingertips.

 

(Your name is Jason Peter Todd, Damian told him once. A hint of insistence to his voice.

Tried to establish It as a Him, over and over again. Returning humanity where there was none when he only came back in bits and pieces from where he was buried six feet under. 

Because Damian had done all of his own digging until his fingers came away with blood and dirt and all the answers no one bothered to share with him. Working out the tangles in the branches of his own family tree just to come full circle to an older brother lying sprawled at his feet keeping him in check.

Jason Todd wasn't laughing but he was smiling something that wasn't just all teeth, looking like he was saying you're only figuring this out now without saying any of those words.

Damian bit out a grunt as Jason stretched out, his long legs kicking at Damian's feet from atop the sheets.)

 

At sixteen.

On his back with his bloodhound above him, Damian maintains an easy grip on the leash wrapped twice around his hand.

Peering down at him with a heavy-lidded gaze is Jason. 

It is never startling but it still feels like a revelation, the way he unravels, unspooling danger at every turn. His teeth could be buried in his throat too if it isn't for the muzzle over the bottom half of his face, the straps pulled taut to tighten around the back of his head. Drawing the association that the companion he's had with him for years now into the visceral image of his very own attack dog.

Damian's command is absolute, nothing else is that simple. 

Damian brings a hand up, threads his fingers through the metal wire of the muzzle and drags Jason closer.

“Good boy.” He murmurs, and Jason’s eyes go wane, dilating down to just thin rings of blue, soft at the corners where they go downturned.

 

At eighteen.

Damian is an al Ghul. He is also a Wayne.

Gotham is not home even if this is where his mother found his companion. He is of age and given permission to learn of a world that is bigger than what the Demon's Head rules.

He brings Jason with him.

"Father is not going to let me keep you." Damian tells him the day before they are due to leave. Jason is not just lying on his bed but in it with the sheets pulled up to his waist. “Not like this.” The only things left on him are the leather collar at his throat and the soft clink of each link in the connected metal leash as he shifts. "He's going to think the worst of me." 

Except Jason has seen the worst of what Damian is capable of. What’s more, he has seen exactly what Damian isn't capable of, and he still hasn't taken off. Instead choosing to present him with quite the literal ball and chain to have him stay. Jason moves across the bed, putting a hand to Damian’s cheek. It's like he is saying, over and over again, 

I think the world of you.