If omens of the future are to be believed (and these days he believes in very little), Damian will, at some point, sell his soul to the devil in return for the mantle of the Bat and burn along with Gotham in hellfire. Well, “omen” may not be the correct word. But it is more concise than “a future version of my brother that traveled back in time and is also apparently responsible for my unhinged future self’s death.”
Damian paints the last rune on the protective sheeting covering his closet floor with his right hand, checks it against his notes in his left hand, and stands.
There are other ways to do magic, to bend the rules of reality, without swearing fealty to a higher power.
Around him is an array of symbols in language after language from his travels around the world. He rarely interacts with spells, preferring to study them from a safe distance, but he has every confidence that his planning and execution will be sufficient for success.
If not, then, well. ( Do it correctly the first time or not at all , he hears in his mother’s, father’s, grandfather’s voice. It’s okay to mess up. Then you learn something for next time , he hears in Richard’s voice.) If he fails, he will try again.
Any witch worth their salt bears some symbol of protection. Whether summoning spirits or not, it is always wise to be prepared for contact with the supernatural. Damian is wearing his Robin suit. The way he sees it, being Robin was his ticket to resurrection. If anything he owns gives him spiritual standing, it is this symbol.
Damian ensures that all elements are present: the blossoms of dogwood, rosemary, and yarrow, devil’s shoestrings, the tempered iron, the moonstone and copal, the burning ceremonial incense. A patchwork assortment for a patchwork spell.
In the center of the circle is a dead bat. Damian carefully arranges the creature’s limbs.
Bats were (are?) used for all sorts of spells in traditions all over the world. In Europe, they were added to witch’s potions for flight. In Haiti, bat blood was imbibed for strength and vitality. Sicilians used bat corpses to ward away evil, and Samoans followed the bat as a symbol of war. Damian is using this bat as a symbol of liminality--a mammal, yet capable of flight. With this, he plans to open a liminal space of his own and to end the liminal state of another.
Bat corpses, thankfully, are close to hand in his father’s cave. He wonders if the man knows how good bats are for spells. Probably.
Damian pins his work to the ground to keep the bat firmly in place.
Satisfied with his handiwork, Damian checks the time. Timothy will not be home for a while, surely preoccupied with tying up his role at Wayne Enterprises. Since Timothy never enters Damian’s room anyway, let alone his closet, there should be no risk of an interruption.
From the landing outside, Damian can hear Titus whimper and paw at the door.
“Titus, quiet,” Damian calls.
Damian kneels in the center of his array, sits back on his heels, and flips through his Cheese Viking notebook to the page where he constructed the incantation, painstaking translation notes in the margins.
Now for the final step.
Damian removes one of his gauntlets, pulls his one of his favorite knives--an antique kukri--from his waistband, and draws it across the meat of his palm, hand steady. He watches with detached fascination as the flesh parts and fills with beads of blood. He flips his hand and holds it over the center of his arrangement. A drop of blood splashes into the center of the circle, on top of the dead bat.
The candles flicker in unison, and Damian thinks he hears a faint whisper, but he knows this isn’t right, isn’t enough. More, then. He rolls up the sleeve of his uniform, baring his wrist. Damian draws blood again, his blade locating a vascular but non-lethal area with ease.
Now, with a steady flow dripping onto the circle, smoke begins to rise, and the room around him seems to creak and twist. The whispers are clearer now, seeming to come from all directions. Damian can hear Titus barking and whimpering two rooms away.
This, finally, is the moment. Damian holds his notes in his free hand, takes a deep breath, and begins to speak.
“Are you sure you don’t want to take your name placard with you?” Tam asks, hands shoved in her skirt pockets.
“Nah, it would just sit around the house and collect dust.” Tim adjusts his grip on the box in his arms.
Tam gives a pointed look to the matching set of Wind Waker Nendoroids peeking out of the box. They were the single thing that Tim ever had on his desk that hinted at any kind of personality or personal interest, and even then, he usually arranged his desk so that only he could see them.
Tam carefully sets the placard in the box. “Here, just… take it, alright? We’re going to… well, most of the board won’t, but I’m going to miss you.”
Tim huffs. “Thanks, Tam. You deserve to be more than a PA. I’ll see you around, alright?”
He starts to back towards the door.
Tam sighs. “Yeah. Just--promise me that you’ll take care of yourself, alright? And your brother, too. Go finish your education or find a hobby or something. Other than the one you already have.”
Tim nods. “Of course,” he says, with as much sincerity as he can muster.
On the drive home, he wonders if he should pick up some pizza or something to celebrate being home more often. Building security apps from home isn’t the most glamorous of jobs, but it’s more than sufficient to keep the two of them running and won’t keep Tim away from Damian as much as being a CEO did. And yes, he needs to work, because with the Drake fortune long since dried up and with Tim not wanting to take money from Bruce, he needs something to fuel their extremely expensive nighttime lifestyle. Damian never complains about anything more serious than Tim’s decór or dietary choices, but if Tim is going to be any better than Damian’s other… mentors… he has to spend time with Damian outside of any training or crime crusading. Dick, Jason, Cass, everyone else is gone, driven away from Bruce or just busy with their own problems. It’s just the two of them now.
Pizza for sure, Tim decides.
He stops at a local pizza shop a couple blocks from home and orders a couple of their vegetarian pizzas. He’s getting better at understanding Damian’s palate, but it can’t hurt to be safe (or to have leftovers).
As he fiddles with his phone in the waiting area, Tam’s parting words come back to him. Even though he usually has a lot of respect for Tam’s thoughts, Tim doesn’t think he’ll bother with his education.
Tim understands that taking advice from deranged alternate-future versions of oneself is a terrible habit to get into, really. A hyper-controlling omniscient Orwellian Batman completely drained of all hope or humanity should be completely off Tim’s list of people to take life advice from. But he can’t help but remember the warning his future self gave him: When you go to university, everything falls apart .
It’s a surprisingly easy thing to reason himself out of, anyway. What purpose could a former Robin have for going to college, anyway, when his connections and experience are more than enough to get him any opportunity he wants?
For now, though, Damian is staying in school, even if he’s miserable doing so, considering he knows all the material and has no friends. But it’s a mandate from Bruce, so go to school he must. Tim pities him, but he doesn’t think advocating for Damian to join him as a highschool dropout is a good look.
“Tim?” The worker behind the counter calls.
“Here,” Tim says, and is sure to tip extra.
The food smells amazing. Tim may or may not sneak a slice on the way home.
“Devilman crybaby,” Tim calls as he pushes open the door, carefully balancing his box of stuff and the pizzas. “Where you at? I come bearing gifts.”
Titus barrels into Tim’s legs. “Whoa boy,” Tim says, just barely managing not to drop anything before he sets his burdens on the couch.
Tim turns around to pet the dog, but Titus isn’t wagging his tail like he usually does. Alarm bells go off in Tim’s head, and he drops the pizzas on the coffee table. He rubs Titus behind the ears as he looks around the apartment. It’s quiet. Calfred (Cat Alfred) is nowhere to be seen.
Titus whimpers and runs halfway up the stairs before turning and giving Tim a pleading look. Tim follows, shedding his blazer and loosening his tie, preparing for the worst.
Security here is top notch, of course, since Tim created it all from the ground up himself. Nothing and no one should be able to get in. But Tim’s life always has a way of throwing him curveballs. A tight ball of anxiety forms in the pit of his stomach.
Titus runs the rest of the way up the stairs and makes a beeline for Damian’s bedroom door, which lays across the landing from Tim’s. The dog paws at the door and gives Tim another look.
Tim listens, his ear almost against the door, and thinks he can hear running water.
Tim knocks softly. “Damian?” he asks, using his Basic Civilian voice.
The running water stops.
“I got pizza, if you want any,” Tim continues.
Tim is debating whether he should continue his docile facade or just kick the door in, his own security measures notwithstanding, when the door swings open.
Tim surveys Damian in a picosecond, his mind still in crisis mode. Damian looks fine, if tired--his hands and the cuffs of his hoodie seem a little wet, as if he’d just been washing them. No injuries, no one in the room behind him, at least going by what Tim can see through the door.
Damian looks up at him with a suspicious expression. “Can you afford me any privacy without assuming that our home has been invaded?”
Tim relaxes and starts unbuttoning his cuffs. “Your dog scared me.”
Titus licks Damian’s hands and nuzzles his size. Damian’s hands find their way to Titus’ scruff.
Damian doesn’t offer an explanation, so Tim says, “I wasn’t lying about the pizza. It’s downstairs,” he says, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.
The glint in Damian’s eyes is barely there, but Tim still catches it. “That is acceptable.” He slides past Tim and bounds down the stairs. Maybe it’s Tim’s continued suspicion, but he could swear that the kid is moving slower than usual.
Tim would almost, almost write this all off as nothing if it weren’t for Titus.
The ball in Tim’s stomach continues to eat away at him as he settles on the couch and flips the two boxes open. Damian grabs a piece and curls up against the armrest. Tim nibbles on a slice, his appetite somewhat abated.
“It went well, then?” Damian says between bites.
Tim nods. “It was fine. Bruce is helping everyone with the transition.”
“That’s good,” Damian says primly, then falls silent.
Tim turns on the TV and finds something on YouTube to fill the space. An LP of the latest Resident Evil will do. Now that he’s on the couch, Tim can feel his eyelids drooping, the exhaustion of the past--when did he last sleep for eight hours?--catching up with him.
Tim was already operating at full capacity before he went and took in a whole teenager, and he’s suffering for it now. But the criticisms of Bruce’s parenting style float around in his head. He refuses to slack. Having Damian around helps Tim to remember to eat at least once a day, anyway.
Throughout the meal, Damian messes around on his phone, giving only passing attention to the TV. Tim strokes the top of Titus’ head, determined to stay awake. Their half-eaten pizzas begin to congeal.
In what Tim estimates as less than an hour, Damian drops off, nuzzling his face into the armrest. Tim turns down the volume on the TV and starts to put the food away.
When everything is stowed in the fridge, he comes back to the living room, hovering over Damian, giving him another scan.
Everything seems the same as before, though Damian’s skin looks ashy in the artificial light from the TV. Tim is about to find a blanket to drape over his little brother when he freezes, noticing something peeking out from under Damian’s sleeve.
He leans close, careful to remain silent and hold his breath, knowing that Damian will wake at the slightest provocation.
It looks like a bandage, white gauze. When he leans in just a little further, as close as he dares, he can see bright red blood seeping through in a straight line.
He knows for a fact that that wasn’t there at breakfast. If Damian was injured at school, surely he or Bruce would know about it by now. Clearly, Damian doesn’t want Tim to know about it. Did Damian sneak out as Robin? Tim wants to say yes, but his gut doesn’t agree. From the angle and precision of what he can see of the wound from where he stands, it’s unlikely that it happened while Damian was wearing his armored gauntlets. On top of that, it’s unlikely that Damian would have had time to change into his Robin suit, sneak out, get injured, sneak back in, and change into civilian clothes, all after he got home from school and before Tim got home.
And that leaves...what, exactly?
The only thing Tim can think of is self-harm, and almost reflexively he looks at his own faded scars along his wrist where he’d rolled up the cuffs of his button-down. They’re white and barely visible, especially beneath all the much more noticeable scars from Robin-ing. No one has ever noticed them, or if they have, they’ve never commented.
Tim perches on the opposite arm of the couch from Damian. He leans forward and rests his elbows on his knees. He swallows.
Tim isn’t exactly guardian of the year if Damian is struggling this much and this is the first he’s hearing of it. He knows what it’s like.
Is this an ongoing problem from before Damian moved in with Tim, or is this a new development? If it’s the latter, Tim isn’t sure he can keep having Damian here in good conscience. Tim would have to ship him back to Bruce. And where would that leave Tim? How can he explain this to Bruce? And Damian would be right back where he started, in a house where he’s long since realized he feels unsafe and unhappy.
Tim stops. He breathes. He’s getting way ahead of himself, he thinks in Steph’s voice. The most straightforward thing to do would be to ask Damian instead of assuming. It would give Damian a chance to talk about how he’s doing and keep Tim from taking drastic and/or unnecessary measures.
That said, Tim can’t see what other explanation there could be. And it even makes a little sense, too--Damian has been a little quieter, a little more subdued lately. Tim has been chalking it up to missing his dad, or Alfred, or even his cow. But maybe it’s worse than Tim thought, or maybe it’s something else entirely.
Tim shakes his head, clearing it again. He can’t get sucked into a downward spiral. He has to do something, fix this. It’s good that Tim will be home more often. He can help.
He focuses on Damian again. Titus is curled up against the couch right beneath Damian, snuffling in his sleep. Gotham lights shine faintly through the bulletproof glass, and the TV continues to cast an odd light on Damian’s slack face, the faint noise of the video echoing off the high ceilings.
Tim decides to find a blanket to drape over Damian, wake the kid up in a couple hours for patrol, and then bring this up in the morning. Tomorrow is a Saturday, so Damian will be around the house, unless he has other plans, which he has increasingly fewer of these days (Tim should have noticed before now). Despite his anxiety, Tim yawns. He’ll need to lay down for a bit before he can come up with a suitable plan. He hauls himself off the couch, his muscles aching.
Tim is across the room digging a blanket out of a linen closet when he hears a jumpscare in the YouTube video, loud even with the volume turned down, accentuated by a screech from the letsplayer.
Tim snickers through the sleep-deprived fog, even as he feels a twinge of sympathy for the kid getting such a rude awakening.
Titus barks in alarm, and Tim jolts, his vision laser-focusing on the couch. His blood turns to ice, jolting him alert in an instant.
Damian is surrounded by a haze, like heat distortion over asphalt. He scrambles to his feet, his hands moving helplessly through the whatever-it-is.
Tim rushes over, his mind racing. It looks magical if he had to guess. He can feel a sort of gravity pressing down on him--as if he were having sleep paralysis--the closer he gets.
“I don’t know,” Damian says, clutching at his chest.
Then suddenly, it’s over. And Damian has a slender black band around his neck.
“Are you okay?” Tim asks, heart still pounding.
Damian hesitates. “Yes, I… I’m fine.” Since he’s watching for it, Tim notices Damian pulling down the sleeves of his hoodie.
Calfred comes back from whatever pocket dimension he went to and rubs against Damian’s legs. Tim takes this as a good sign.
Damian reaches up and runs his fingers along the necklace. When he grabs the necklace and tries to raise it over his head, the haze comes back and Damian yelps, yanking his hands away. He wrings them, taking deep, steadying breaths. Tim takes this as a bad sign.
“Oh boy,” Tim says.
He reaches out to touch the choker when Damian twists away.
“You don’t know what touching it could do to you,” Damian protests.
Tim purses his lips. “Fine. But at least let me see it up close.”
As Tim leans close, leaning a hand on Damian’s shoulder for balance, his eyes scanning for details, Damian speaks.
“We should get help.”
Tim nods absently. Across the board, Robins tend to avoid dealing with magic, at least on their own.
“I’ll call Raven,” he says, stepping away and pulling out his phone. Damian has his own phone out, typing slowly.
Out of the corner of his eye, Tim can see Damian give him a nervous glance. Tim pretends not to notice, hoping that Damian will bring it up himself.
“Raven says she can come by in a couple days to look at it,” Tim reports. “I think we should go down into the Nest to run some tests on it.”
“Father wants us to come to the cave,” Damian says. “He says that Zatanna is willing to look into it.”
This makes Tim irrationally angry, but he sternly tamps down on the emotion.
Damian has been meeting with Bruce semi-regularly. From what it sounds like, Bruce is trying really hard. Tim can even see some of this on patrol--Bruce has been more courteous, more even-tempered than usual.
Bruce has only reached out to Tim once since that morning he came by Tim’s apartment, and Tim turned him down. Tim is already struggling to stay on top of everything. He fears that another Bruce-related breakdown will make Tim drop one or all of the plates he’s juggling, and he can’t afford that now that he’s responsible for Damian.
“Why did you tell him?” he says in the most even tone he can manage.
“I didn’t,” Damian says. “I told Jon, and he told Father.”
“Snitch,” Tim mutters. This is the first he’s hearing that Damian still talks to Jon. Although maybe he doesn’t, and for whatever reason Damian decided now was the perfect time to rejuvenate that particular relationship.
Tim wonders if Jon knows anything about the cut on Damian’s arm.
“Let’s go then,” Tim says, defeated, and looks around for his keys.
As he looks, he remembers that Bruce will definitely, definitely want to run a scan on Damian to make sure he’s unharmed. There’s no way he won’t find out.
He isn’t sure he wants to outright admit to Damian that he knows about the arm, because he would much rather Damian divulge that information (and any other wounds and how he got them) on his own, because if Tim tries to pry, that’s the surest possible way to get Damian to shut down. On the other hand, if Damian is found out by Bruce, that would probably be much, much worse than if Tim confesses to his discovery.
Then again, Damian knows as well as Tim that Bruce will want to do a full physical, and he seems willing to go to the cave. TIm wonders if all of this is part of some scheme of Damian’s. While Damian is more than capable of schemes, it isn’t his preferred MO.
Tim decides that if Damian has opened this can of worms, he’s going to have to lie in it, but Tim will be standing by in case he needs to pull Damian out.
Damian is standing by the door when Tim is patting himself down for phone, wallet, and keys. The memory of the cut Tim found sends a pang of actual pain down Tim’s own arm, shocking him a little.
“You’re okay?” Tim asks again, a last ditch effort to get Damian to fess up on his own before Bruce inevitably susses him out.
“Always,” Damian sniffs.
Well, that’s that then.
Damian has a plan, but it’s not a very good one.
He knows that once his father heard of the magical incident, it was over. He should have known better than to try and talk to Jon about it. Now Bruce will demand to inspect Damian and do his own investigation into the cause. His protectiveness of his Robins never fails.
Thus, even though Damian absolutely does not want Father’s help, he knows resistance is pointless. Much like his own foreboding future, he cannot prevent this visit, but he can try to control it. Thus, he plans on debuting a new app he’s been developing to override the cave’s computer systems remotely. He originally figured it would be to get into files that he doesn’t have access to, but now he plans to use it in a way that he didn’t originally intend, but should still work.
He’s going to fake the medical scans.
As he and Timothy drive to the cave, Damian stays on his phone, carefully adding line after line of code to his app.
Damian spares a glance at Timothy, who hasn’t spoken since they left the apartment. His eyes are locked on the road, his face an unreadable mask.
Anxiety tightens Damian’s chest. He can tell that Timothy suspects something, but he’s not sure how much. There’s layers of information that Damian has been hiding, and for good reason. He doesn’t like his prospects of hiding his activities from both his father and Timothy, arguably the two of the best investigators among the Bats, but he doesn’t have any choice in the matter.
When they arrive in the cave, Bruce is already there, dressed in sweats and wearing an expression of grim focus.
“Damian, Tim,” he greets eloquently, and walks to the medical bay, clearly expecting them to follow, and they do. “Zatanna will be here shortly. In the meantime, I want to check Damian for any problems.”
Bruce is already booting up the medical scan. Damian, under the guise of sending a text, activates his hack as he hops up onto the cot.
The medical scan program crashes entirely. Bruce makes a sound of annoyance. He reboots it, but it crashes again.
This was not Damian’s intention. Because now…
“Tim, look into the software and see what’s wrong. Damian, stay there,” Bruce says, walking over to where they keep the supplies. He stops, then, and presses a hand to his face, and turns to Tim, who has started to move towards the main computer. “I mean, Tim, can you check the software?”
Tim gives Bruce a strange look. “Sure,” he says neutrally, and walks off.
Damian knows that this isn’t good. Timothy will be able to find the foreign program easily and realize they were hacked. While Damian has measures in place to ensure that the hack can’t be traced to his phone, the unfortunate truth is that Timothy is so well-versed in programming languages that he can recognize each of their individual styles and would probably realize that Damian was behind it.
Bruce returns to Damian, carrying a box that Damian knows has various diagnostic tools in it. He pulls out a stethoscope and pulls up the back of Damian’s shirt to press the cold metal into his back.
“Inhale,” he commands, and Damian does.
He can only hope that Bruce will be satisfied with measures that won’t require baring more skin. Damian fights the urge to pull his sleeves down further, since he knows it would be a dead giveaway to Bruce that Damian is hiding something.
Unfortunately, Damian does not get his wish. Once he’s satisfied with listening to Damian’s heart and breathing, Bruce pulls out the blood pressure cuff.
“Roll up your sleeve,” he orders. He is standing on Damian’s left side. To roll up the sleeve on his right arm would get Bruce’s attention that something is being concealed.
Damian decides his only choice is to gamble. He angles the inside of his wrist to face toward his side and grabs for the hem of his sleeve as well as the edge of the bandage underneath. He slides both of them up as smoothly as possible, bracing himself for the stinging pain of ripping the bandage off, but he’s relieved that it doesn’t come.
He manages to get his sleeve all the way up his arm. Thankfully, the bandage partially unraveled on the way up, so it’s not cutting off his circulation. Bruce wraps the cuff around his arm, seeming not to notice that Damian is carefully keeping the inside of his wrist out of view.
“Fixed,” Timothy says from the computer.
Damian hides his relief and surprise. Either Timothy didn’t notice anything, or he did notice, but was choosing to keep his discovery to himself for some reason.
Bruce grunts and notes Damian’s blood pressure, then removes the cuff. Damian pulls his sleeve back down as casually as possible.
“Go ahead and run the program again,” Bruce says. “If you would,” he adds.
Timothy seems to roll his eyes slightly but launches the program. Damian waits, wondering if Timothy has actually set the program to rights, ensuring Damian’s downfall, or if he saw what Damian was trying to do and has given him a free ticket out.
The program runs, scans Damian, and declares that he has no detectable injuries.
Damian watches Timothy.
His brother looks bewildered for a second.
“Let me run it another time just to make sure,” he mutters, barely audible from across the cave, and runs the program again.
Once again, Damian is cleared by the machine.
“Thanks, Tim,” Bruce says.
Damian lets out a sigh of relief internally. It seems he’s eluded discovery for now, at least from Bruce. Timothy is another matter, but that could be dealt with separately.
“Are you sure that there was nothing that triggered this?” Bruce asks. Damian’s hands grip the edge of the medical cot underneath him. The last thing he wants is for his father to become dissatisfied with his verbal interrogation and start looking for physical evidence again.
“Yes,” Timothy replies in a deadpan. When Bruce grunts and looks away for a moment, Timothy’s eyes flit to Damian’s sleeves, then up to his face, before returning to Bruce.
Bruce looks to Damian for confirmation, and he nods in agreement.
“It just happened,” Damian says levelly.
“Zatanna should be here any minute,” Bruce says, after determining that neither of his sons are withholding any information.
Damian nods and runs his fingers along the choker again, letting the heel of his hand press in a grounding way against his sternum. He can sense Timothy analyzing him yet again, but he ignores it.
As soon as he can shake Timothy and Bruce, he’s going to find his mother. As far as Damian can tell, the only mistake he made was in getting the target wrong. The spell he cast was very specific, referring only to those that shared either covenant or biological blood with him. Damian has only made a covenant with two people, and he knows he didn’t impact those people, so the only options remaining are blood relatives. On top of that, his mother tends to keep useful magical artifacts around (or at least knowledge of them), and might have something on hand that could help him.
He knows it’s a risk to go to her, but he’s been rewarded by mutual effort with his father. She’s been turning over a new leaf in her own way, changing her methods of operations and goals. He’s willing to give his mother a chance to prove herself again.
A jet black motorcycle roars into the cave.
Zatanna is all business. She marches straight over to Damian.
“Gentlemen,” she greets primly. “No new information?”
“No,” Bruce says grimly. “He seems unharmed, thankfully.”
“That’s good,” Zatanna agrees. She turns to Damian. “Get comfortable, this may take a while,” she says as she raises her hands.
Damian scoots back on the cot, centering himself. He can see Bruce looking on anxiously over Zatanna’s shoulders, and Tim peering from his perch at the computer.
“You’re crowding me,” she says, pausing and looking back at them.
“Sorry,” Bruce says, and walks off to the main computer area.
With the distractions gone, Zatanna’s hands begin to glow, hovering just above Damian’s collarbone. Her eyes close in concentration.
Out of the corner of his eye, Damian can see Timothy sit at the computer and run a search while Bruce walks up behind him, clearly uncomfortable. The two of them have a whispered conservation devoid of eye contact.
He fights the urge to sigh.
He knows that Timothy has been ignoring Father’s calls.
“Empty your mind,” Zatanna orders.
Damian does, obediently, closing his eyes and relaxing. He’s not worried about her finding out anything that she shouldn’t. Spells, from what he knows, aren’t traceable like hacks are. And any information she has should be... enlightening.
He’s not sure how much time has passed when Bruce’s voice pulls Damian out of his meditative state.
“What else have you been hiding?” Bruce demands.
Damian’s eyes snap open.
Bruce is holding Tim’s arm in a vice-like grip. Tim’s eyes are wild, confused, and angry. The sleeve of his white button-down, spotted with blood, has been pulled down to reveal a weeping slice. Damian can see from the blue light of the monitors above that the cut is straight, methodical.
Damian’s blood runs cold, time slows down as his chest tightens with fear.
Has Damian been too wrapped up in his own problems to notice that Tim is struggling that much? What kind of team were they if they could not communicate? Damian knew that Timothy had some kind of ongoing issue, but…
Then he places the exact placement and size of the cut. Left arm, just away from any tendons or blood vessels, and the matching small cut on the meat of his palm.
“Damian, focus,” Zatanna says, her eyes still closed, her hands inches away from the sides of his head. A blush is barely visible on her cheeks. Damian suspects she’s trying not to listen to what is clearly none of her business.
Damian takes a deep breath and closes his eyes again, tuning out his father and brother. As he does, his right hand wanders to his left wrist and slides under his sleeve.
There’s nothing there.
Damian loses time again.
“Bruce,” Zatanna calls.
Damian blinks his eyes open.
Then Timothy and Bruce rush back to the cot. They look upset . Damian wonders how the rest of that conversation went. However, in proper Bat fashion, Damian can see them both refocus on the issue at hand.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Zatanna explains, either ignorant of or uninterested in decoding Bat facial expressions, “I believe a spirit was bound to him, and I believe that whoever bound this spirit to him used some form of blood magic.”
Damian can see both his father and brother turning this information over in their heads. Timothy, especially, gives Damian a calculating look that Damian does not like.
“How is blood magic different from regular magic?” Timothy asks in a pointedly innocent tone that does not match the devious look in his eyes. “I’ve always wondered, since the only answers I’ve been able to guess are ‘any magic involving blood’ and ‘magic, but scarier’.”
Damian gives Timothy a blank look, trying to guess what he’s thinking.
“In this case, it means that magic was performed with someone who shares his bloodline,” Zatanna explains.
Timothy meets Damian’s eyes now, something resigned in his face. Damian gives Tim a look that dares him to say anything.
“Well that narrows things down,” Timothy says. “He doesn’t share blood with a whole lot of people. Not ones who are living, anyway.”
“Ra’s,” Bruce growls. “He was sighted recently in South America. I should have known he was after Damian again.”
Bruce turns to the computers, and then turns back to Zatanna for a second. “Thank you.” Then he turns to Tim, puts a hand on his shoulder and gives him an impossibly sad look. “Tim.” Then he turns to Damian. “I’ll find him.”
And then he’s walking away, wholly focused on finding answers.
“I guess my mother doesn’t exist now,” Damian mumbles grumpily.
Timothy turns to Zatanna, who looks a bit lost without Bruce. He avoids looking at Damian, whose chest tightens even more with dread. Damian, unfortunately, seems to have failed in concealing his spell from his brother; Timothy, fortunately, does not seem interested in snitching.
“Is this spirit dangerous?” Timothy asks. “What does it do?”
“I’m afraid I can’t answer those questions for sure,” Zatanna says regretfully. “But I don’t think it will have any ill effects unless Damian tries to remove it or break it, as he has already discovered. Of course, if you notice anything new, good or ill, call me. I’ll pass this on to other sorcerers and psychics and see if they know anything.”
“Cool…” Timothy says. “Will anything bad happen if someone else touches it?”
“Probably not,” Zatanna says with a shrug.
“Good enough for me,” Timothy says, stepping forward.
Damian feels his hackles raise, and he twists away. He can’t risk this. “No! What if it passes to you instead?”
Timothy shrugs. “Then I’ll have a black choker, I guess. Become an e-boy.”
“You practically are one already,” Damian grumbles, but lets Tim get close. He figures that Zatanna is trustworthy enough for this, at least.
“Doesn’t make sense anyway,” Timothy says. “If it’s caused by your blood or whatever, I don’t think I’m at any risk.” His fingers brush the choker. Nothing happens.
Damian lets out a whoosh of air.
“Hmm,” Timothy says, his face uncomfortably close.
“Hmm,” Zatanna echoes. “I suppose that is a good sign, even if it’s not a surprise.”
“What way forward do you see for breaking this… enchantment?” Timothy asks, stepping back out of Damian’s space.
“I wouldn’t recommend trying anything without knowing what about the spirit or spell that is bound to him. You wouldn’t perform surgery without knowing what needed to be repaired. Let a professional handle this.”
“But who do we get to do our metaphorical x-rays and CAT scans, if not you?”
“I’d recommend someone with more experience in dealing with spirits. You might also try finding out who did this--though it seems your father is already on that,” she says, with a glance at Bruce’s back some distance away.
“Makes sense,” Timothy says absently. “I’ve already called Raven. If she can’t help… I might have someone else. Bruce is covering the culprit angle for now. I doubt Ra’s is responsible, but I’m sure that Bruce will be able to follow other leads.”
Damian realizes that he hasn’t been nearly as active in this conversation as he probably should be. He should say something, ask something. What’s something practical?
“Should I just carry on as usual until a solution presents itself?” Damian asks.
“If you want,” Zatanna responds, clearly eager to get out of dodge. “I have to be in France by morning, so I’ll be going now.”
“Cool,” Tim says. “Bye, and thank you.”
Her motorcycle’s loud exit does not rouse Bruce from his furious typing and clicking at the computer.
“Let’s go home,” Timothy says, holding a hand out to Damian, who ignores the help and gets to his feet on his own.
“Yes, let’s go home,” Damian echoes, dread blossoming even larger than before.
Tim stews in anger and confusion the entire way back to the car. Damian runs on ahead of him, probably because he’s a little coward.
The look on Bruce’s face when he saw the cut on Tim’s wrist was awful in every way imaginable. Pity, guilt, a touch of disgust, confusion, all of it makes Tim want to melt into a puddle forever and ever amen. He doesn’t want to make eye contact with Bruce again any time soon. Maybe he can ask Zatanna to wipe the memory from Bruce’s mind.
It sucks so bad, because this obviously wasn’t him. Tim was never this messy and careless when he engaged in self harm, even at his most unhinged. And now that it’s something that’s firmly behind him and handled, Bruce finds out in the stupidest way possible and does it even count as “finding out” if it’s a fluke?
How can you take care of Damian when you can’t even take care of yourself? Bruce asked.
That’s kind of the worst part. Now Bruce is going to find more and more reasons why Tim isn’t suited to take care of Damian, and all the hard work he and Damian have done is going to unravel.
No, he’s getting ahead of himself again. He needs to focus on the present.
The present. He wonders if Damian knows what he’s done. He wonders if this is something that can only happen to him or if it can happen to others. Did Damian transfer the wound on purpose to keep from getting caught? When, exactly, did the shift happen? As far as he can tell, the most he can do is get him and Damian on the same page and work forward from there.
He comes back to the car where Damian is curled up in the passenger seat, typing on his phone. Tim gets the sense that he’s waiting for Tim instead of charging into a fight for once, which is refreshing. Or maybe he’s just tired. Tim certainly is. Though more likely, he’s waiting for Tim to reveal exactly how much he knows, which likely means that there is more that Damian is trying to hide.
Since Tim has already figured out that Damian did some kind of blood magic on himself that causes wounds to show up on other people, Tim doesn’t feel great about what else Damian might have up his sleeve. Ha. Up his sleeve.
“You owe me,” Tim says as he slides into the driver’s seat and puts the car in drive.
“Perhaps,” Damian says coyly. “You seemed confused by the scan clearing me. That means that you got it working properly and you were more than prepared to throw me to the wolves, had there not been supernatural interference.”
“Look,” Tim says, keeping his eyes firmly on the road, “I wasn’t going to snitch on you, but I wasn’t going to actively lie for your sake either.”
“Thanks a lot,” Damian mumbles.
“You deserve worse,” Tim snarls, surprising himself. “No, that’s not--sorry.” He sighs, trying to find his center again. “What is your plan, exactly?” Tim asks neutrally.
Damian looks over at Tim, his face blank. “My mother might have some answers about the spirit causing this,” he offers eventually.
Well, that’s fine then. Damian is likely not planning something with Talia, because if he was, he wouldn’t be telling Tim about it. That means that whatever is going on, Damian isn’t on top of it. “I haven’t spoken to Talia in ages,” Tim says. “I can’t remember if she has on ongoing reason to be pissed at me or not.”
“What?” Damian snaps. “You’re not going.”
Tim tosses Damian an annoyed glance. “Yeah, because I’m going to let you go see your mother, who has had previous success in killing you, by yourself.”
Damian’s face twists. “I’ve handled her plenty of times since without your help. And I’ve seen what a mess you are lately. I’m not sure what help you would be in this state.”
Tim barely restrains a full-body flinch. He focuses on the road, trying to decide which thing he wants to say isn’t a knee-jerk response.
“Sorry,” Tim says eventually. “Bringing up your death was probably...not good.” And that’s all he can manage.
Damian takes some time to formulate his reply. “I meant to say that you seem overworked, and I don’t want to add to that.”
Tim pulls into the apartment’s parking garage, and they pack up and head inside. When they’re fully inside with the door closed, Tim points at the couch. Damian huffs as he pets Titus, but sits, seeming to be hiding a nervous fidget by scratching behind the dog’s ears.
First, Tim pulls a basic medical kit out from the bathroom, and then sits gingerly on the edge of the couch and starts treating and wrapping the laceration on his arm. Calfred blinks at Tim from his hiding place behind the TV in a way that feels understanding, commiserating even. Tim wonders, briefly, if the cat can sense the magic stuff going on.
Damian seems to be getting more and more antsy. Tim figures he should just get this over with.
“Damian,” Tim grinds out. He clenches and unclenches his left hand, his eyes flitting over the bandage over and over. “Just answer yes or no: did you do blood magic on yourself?”
Titus huffs loudly and plops onto the ground in front of Damian, who looks like he’s swallowed a bug.
“I didn’t mean to do it on myself,” Damian hisses after a moment.
Tim exhales, some of the tension bleeding out of his body. “Thank fuck.” He finishes wrapping his arm and packs the kit away.
“This is ideal for you? Really?”
“Well when I saw you’d clearly taken a knife to your wrist, I came to the much more obvious conclusion that your mental health is tanked. Though I have to say, now that I think about it, I’m not sure blood magic is a good sign either!” Tim snaps, his words coming out in one breath.
“You think I would be so pathetic as to mutilate myself for no reason?” Damian hisses. “I would not stoop to such depths.”
He seems to think better of the words the second they’re out, and he snaps his mouth closed, but he doesn’t take it back either, his little fists clenched at his sides.
Tim takes deep breaths, willing himself not to lose his temper completely. “You scared the shit out of me, Damian. Just…” Tim sighs. “Blood magic. Why the fuck would you do that. Do you even know how?”
“Of course I do, I’m the heir to the mantle of the Bat. And I have my reasons.”
“Now would be a great time to come clean then, because we have to figure out how to fix this spectacular problem you’ve created.”
Damian snarls wordlessly, crossing his arms.
“Show me your wrist,” Tim commands.
Damian does without protest, thankfully. As Tim expected, it’s completely bare, healed up quite nicely.
“Did you mean for this to happen?” Tim says, holding up his own arm.
“No,” Damian says, and there’s enough guilt in his expression that Tim believes him. “I don’t… I don’t know what this is. Or how any of this happened.”
“I guess that’s good…” And it is. If Damian intentionally forced Tim to take punishment on his behalf…. Tim sinks back into the couch, wanting so, so badly to just sleep and stop thinking about this. “Damian… just… please, tell me why.” He waits, looking up at the dark ceiling, the shadows changing shape with the passing traffic outside.
“It...it was to help someone. To save someone,” Damian says quietly, after maybe a minute passes.
Tim nods, not looking at him. His anger from earlier is already fading, inaccessible and foreign and locked away once again, but he still doesn’t want to be around Damian right now. “Anyone I know?”
Damian doesn’t answer.
Tim figures this is probably the most he’ll get for now. Damian never responds well to being pressured. He’ll have to take his next step based on the information he already has.
Bruce is looking for an aggressor who cast the spell, so that’s him out of the way, and who knows, maybe he’ll find something useful even though he’s blind to a major component of what’s happening. Going off the whole “blood magic” context, Tim guesses that Damian wants to see Talia because it’s some kind of (blood) family issue. Or who knows, maybe Talia has hidden talents as a sorceress. She’s a powerful woman regardless, and probably has some kind of resource or lead for them. He just really doesn’t look forward to her special brand of mind games.
“So, when are you going to see your mom?” Tim asks.
“As soon as possible,” Damian says, which Tim guesses means ‘as soon as you release me from this uncomfortable conversation.’ Tim appreciates that Damian at least has enough respect for Tim to not go storming off in the middle of a conversation anymore. He’s come a long way.
Clearly not far enough, though, if he thinks fucking blood magic is an acceptable way to solve his problems. Or someone else’s problems, presumably.
“I’m going with you,” Tim insists. He cuts off a protest from Damian. “This is not optional. We don’t know enough about how this works, who else you can pass injuries to and when. And I’m guessing you want to keep all of this from Bruce?”
Tim glances at Damian, whose arms are crossed tightly around his torso. “Obviously,” he mumbles.
“Then I’m definitely going with you. You need backup, and as long as I don’t think it’s life or death and there’s no one else we can call, I won’t snitch on you.” The Robins are usually quick to help each other keep things from Bruce, and Tim hopes to induct Damian into that tradition if he hasn’t already. “Plus, since it looks like your injuries pass to me, it’s in my best interests that you get your ass kicked as little as possible.”
Damian harrumphs but seems to accept this. “It is settled then. I’ll pack us provisions and suit up.” He gets up off the couch, but then hovers near Tim.
Tim clears his throat, taking advantage of the hesitation. “And I need you to tell me everything. Any time you get injured, or stop being injured, and whether there’s anything else you haven’t told me about. I’ll figure this out.”
“If I don’t first.”
Damian scowls, ever the recalcitrant little bastard, but nods. “Of course. And… and you will tell me everything that you experience as well.”
“Sure thing.” Tim gets up, wincing at the sound of his knees creaking. He’s positively ancient these days.
Before he can step away, Damian stops him with a hand on his arm.
“I’m sorry about your arm. It was not my intention,” Damian says, eyes looking somewhere past Tim, his mouth carefully pushing out every syllable.
Tim nods. This much he can accept. “I believe you. Now let’s go get it fixed.”