Tim was really expecting a letter when he opened Damian's gift. But those were the only words on the slip of paper tied to the gigantic wrapped object that was obviously a new sword for Damian's collection. So problem one: possible encrypted messages or threats that made the child feel bad, solved. The sword would be revised later. Tim and Bruce were concentrating on the disk that came inside the box.
"What do you think is there?" asked Dick, sitting next to Bruce and a little nervous. Alfred, now standing behind Bruce and watching carefully as they put the disk in a separate and secure computer, had told them on the way down that Damian was still sleeping and would surely wake up in a few hours. "Because I swear to you, if Talia tries something ..."
"We should see" Bruce replies and now both Tim and Alfred are in the same attentive state. "If not ... Well, let's see."
"Let's hope and it's nothing questionable" Alfred mentioned as speaking on air. "Young master Damian would have his heart broken on his birthday."
'Maybe' Tim thought, watching the machine read the disk and the only folder with the letters "D. W." in them. 'Because he definitely wouldn't find out about this until tomorrow. Or never, if Bruce decides that. '
A tanned baby with lovely big green eyes, plump red cheeks and a cute, childlike smile. He was sitting on the ground, his karate clothes large for such a small body and a wooden sword larger than his body at his feet. There was someone holding him, but it was only his legs and hands that were seen in the image, surrounding the child as if he wanted to protect him from the sun or something else, but treating him with care. The baby was lovely. Tim could recognize that face anywhere.
“Shit” he said out loud, covering his eyes with one hand and rubbing the bridge of his nose.
Dick and Alfred seemed to recognize him instantly as well, both straightening in their places and raising their eyebrows in a futile attempt to open their eyes even wider. Dick's mouth was open and his expression went from confusion to shock, to surprise to confusion again and to a rage that made Tim close his eyes again. He opened them again when Dick began to speak as if he were screaming, only that he could barely be heard.
"What" he said "means this".
"I can't tell you if Miss Talia is being nice to us," Alfred commented, his eyes excited and angry at the same time, "or just rubbing off what we didn't have."
Bruce was good at hiding his emotions, but Tim had spent his childhood trying to understand that he wanted him to be like Robin and that entailed knowing how to read his father quite well, years of observation enough to catch the little tremor in his eye. He reacted rather slowly, absorbing the image of little Damian, the only child he could have had from the beginning, during one of the many years where he ignored his existence.
And then came the grief, and then came the rage.
Now he was Damian, small and innocent Damian, still being trained and surely with blood on his hands and scars on his body, smiling at the person behind the camera. His small legs had grown and made his face look less large for his body, but he was still measuring less than Bruce's hips (and if that wasn't nostalgic. His son at eight was still small, and now at 15 he was showing more chances of inheriting his mother's graceful body and not Bruce's gigantic, muscular one. He seemed really happy, to be so tired. He was training as in the previous one, comfortable with the sword and comfortable with the fight. Bruce wondered, seeing Talia standing behind Damian staring at the horizon, who exactly was his son smiling at. Some of his keepers, he supposed. Despite being a capable child, Damian had also grown up with maids and servants around his former home.
The next, smiling. The next, smaller again, probably from previous years, holding the sword. The next, he was dirty and tired, with blood where he held the sword, small and with sweet eyes behind the camera again. The next, only his eyes sticking out under water in a large bathroom where nannies walked behind, with sheets prepared to cover their young master when he decided to leave. The next, a young man hugging him, his face covered by the League’s clothes. Damian looked comfortable. Trusted.
"It's not fair" said Dick "that she took that away from us and now sends us pictures. I mean, I appreciate it" he said, and if they didn't understand. Surely Bruce and Alfred were prepared to print them and hang them or put them in the album where Bruce had put all the photos he had found with his detective father powers over the years (Including one of him with Tim as a child at a gala, something that no one remembered but apparently had happened). "But this still seems cruel to me. And he looks so cute and innocent. He didn't act like that when he came in. He must be five there, maybe six."
"Hn" said Bruce and Tim thought that would be it until "She knew we would see this. I still don't trust, is there something else?"
"If I may, Master Bruce, there are some things to see" Alfred pointed out and it was true. There were a few left. Both Dick and Bruce looked extremely sad.
This was a video.
"Akhi" Damian said with a foreign accent, one that he definitely didn't have when he arrived in Gotham. "Stop recording and help me train, my birthday is soon and I need to beat mother."
"The little prince doesn't need to beat anyone" answered a voice that made the three of them straighten up and try to hear her better. It was there, on the tips of their tongues, so close and so far. "He's a very strong and charming little boy who doesn't need to beat anyone" she said, laughing like it was a little joke. And maybe it was because Damian made that same face that he made to them when they treated him like a little boy.
"I am not a little boy"
"No, you are not. You are a very cute young man and ..."
"Akhi!" Damian yelled, obviously insulted. But the man with the camera pulled him by the arm and started making kissing noises to which Damian responded by throwing a tantrum, shoving him and eventually laughing. The camera recorded his face, ashamed but happy, while the man - young, boy - hugged him affectionately.
"This is humiliating," Damian said, this time in Arabic, before switching back to English. Probably because the cameraman spoke it like a native. "I am the heir to ..."
"You are my little prince" said the boy. Bruce, until the previous year, had seen that face only angry with him and with the world. "And I'm going to hug you and give as many kisses on the cheek as I want."
"I'm going to tell mother" Damian said.
"I’m ging ti till mithir-" A small angry scream cut through the video, Jason's laughter filling the cave.
Oh God, Tim tought. "Oh shit" Tim said out loud, covering his mouth and noticing that this time neither he, nor any member of his family could hide their expressions. The noise of a motorbike rang through the cave as they were still in shock and Tim watched the Queen of England remove his helmet and climb down, carrying a bag in one hand and a stuffed animal in the other, both pulled from his backpack.
"Where is the little demon?" Jason said and Tim would have giggled thinking how silly that was, Jason arriving just then. But maybe they had been there for five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five minutes, in silence, in shock. "I have his gift" Jason said and stopped dead in his tracks, watching their expressions. "What happened? Did someone die?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. He couldn't see it but the final image of the video, him and Damian hugging, was still there in front of them. (He and Damian, now that Tim thought about it, sometimes had little conversations during patrol or monthly dinners. Sometimes they played around but never seemed offended, huging or tossing of hair). Him and Damian, who apparently met before ... Before.
"Oh shit" Tim said again. Dick's expression said it all.