Before Damian met his father, he had precisely two marks.
Though he had no memory of the event, his mother told him the story of his first mark many times. When she removed him from his artificial womb, his mother lifted him up under his arms, raising him high over her head and leaving a pair of blood red handprints along his sides. The marks grew as he grew, stretched and distorted down his ten-year-old frame.
Talia already had a few marks on her palms – Damian left only a faded green mark in between, on the uncovered patches of skin. He asked her once, why he had not left as deep a mark on her as she had on him. She had smiled and answered by engaging him in another duel. It was really his own fault for distracting her during training, he decided, and he never asked her again.
The second mark, Damian could only see with the use of multiple mirrors. It was a handprint on the back of his neck, also gifted to him when he was too young to recall. The acid green was the same color of the Lazarus Pits. He did not need to ask his mother whose mark it was.
Damian never found out how deep of a mark he had left on Ra’s.
The thought that anyone who took saw the back of his head could tell someone had once had a profound impact on his life was … quite disturbing. He compensated by never allowing another person to touch him skin-to-skin. It became a habit of his to wear shirts with long sleeves, hoods to cover his neck and ears, long pants with thick boots. Often he kept a pair of leather gloves with him as well.
But when he met his father for the first time?, he controlled the interaction. It was his territory, his fight--and with his father helpless before him, his choice to leave a mark. The Batman mask did not expose much skin, but Damian knew where he would prefer to leave it.
With a quick movement of his sword, Damian cut through the fabric around his father’s throat. Then, with a single hand, he reached out to that spotless neck and placed his fingers on the carotid artery.
Damian counted the swift beats beneath his hand, feeling the elevated heartrate. He reveled in the power that he had in that moment, the choice to destroy his father or be merciful. He chose mercy, pulling his hand away.
Damian told himself that he was not disappointed at the intensity of the mark left on his father’s throat. It was not a faint mark, not at all – but neither was it very deep. It was quite average, really, for the mark of a child on a parent.
His own fingertips were stained a vivid blue-black, as intense and dark as a soulmate’s.
He wrapped his hand back around the hilt of his sword, obscuring his fingertips from view.
Even once he was living in his father’s house and among his father’s strays, Damian had yet to see the extent of his father’s soulmarks. As Batman, he left no marks exposed, and as Bruce Wayne he wore very long sleeves and sometimes gloves.
Damian had only seen four of his father’s soulmarks, and that was only because three were on his hands and Bruce could not always wear gloves. The fourth was the one he had left himself.
The first was strong cobalt blue on his left hand, in the shape of what looked like fingers. It was an odd shape – possibly from his father laying his hand over someone else’s. Vivid enough to be a significant relationship, perhaps even a soulmate.
The second was on his right hand – a yellow stain of thumb and forefinger, as though he had pinched someone’s skin. The color was so intense it practically glowed – this one had to be the mark of a soulmate, someone who had meant the world to his father. A lover, probably, though not his mother (and that thought did not sting, not at all).
The third was an unusual two-tone mark – red edged with gold. Damian knew such marks existed, but they were uncommon, and he wondered what sort of person left a soul characterized by two different colors. The mark was bold, but not extremely so – a good friend, then. It came in the form of a handprint wrapped around the outside of his father’s left hand – the result of a grasping plea, most likely.
It took Damian an embarrassingly long time to realize that the two-tone soulmark belonged to Drake.
Because one of Drake’s soulmarks was his father’s blue-black, as bright as the two-tone he’d left, on the inside of his right palm.
Damian envisioned a pathetic Drake, groveling on his knees, grasping at Batman’s bare hands like a dog pawing for its master’s attention. For of course Drake would do such a thing, and only this artificially dark stain could have convinced his father to take the ignoramus as Robin.
He chose not to dwell on the fact that Drake’s soulmark on his father was stronger than his own had been.
Damian had been Robin for quite some time when he discovered the identity of his father’s second soulmark.
(His father was dead and gone, but Damian had not forgotten the marks he’d seen – could not forget them.)
The first time the Red Hood had lost his helmet in a battle, Damian’s eyes had been drawn to his ear. For there was the blue-black of his father’s soulmark, vivid and deep against the tip of Todd’s ear. Apparently, the first time the two had touched skin-to-skin, Bruce had been chastising Todd.
Damian had thought that that mark belonged to one of his father’s lovers. Why? What could possibly have made Todd’s mark so vivid on his father’s skin?
After the fight, Grayson answered the question Damian had not voiced aloud.
“Jason’s death really changed Bruce,” he said, and it truly did sound like he was answering a question. “It changed how he thought about crime-fighting, who he was as Batman. I’ve always thought that’s why Jason’s mark was so bright. I think it might have been Bruce’s brightest mark.”
Damian did not think about the lack of intensity of his own mark on his father. It only made sense that he would leave a lighter mark – he hadn’t had the chance to get to know his father before he died.
Losing his father before he’d had the chance to make a difference didn’t bother him. It didn’t.
The first time Damian had met Grayson outside of the Nightwing uniform he almost did a double take.
Richard Grayson was covered in soulmarks.
The short sleeves of his shirt showed off arms indiscriminately spattered with color, like some kind of abstractionist painting. Greens and blues and yellows and reds and purples, of all shades and intensities. Damian could probably have counted them all, but only if he had a notebook to record them with. Some of the stronger soulmarks overlapped, obscuring fainter marks.
But what was perhaps even more astonishing was that his face was covered in soulmarks as well. There was a bright patch of tomato red on his right cheek, a partial handprint in lemon yellow on his left, and a streak of brilliant purple on his forehead.
More significantly, his lips were Day-Glo orange.
One of Grayson’s soulmates, the first time they touched him, before even shaking hands, had kissed him on the lips.
Or possibly covered his mouth, but if that were the case, Damian imagined there would be a handprint across his mouth rather than just glowing lips.
That was also when Damian realized that Grayson had to wear cover-up – and lipstick – to remain anonymous as Nightwing.
Damian couldn’t imagine allowing so many people to touch him – both literally and metaphorically. That Grayson would bare his arms to so many people, knowing the marks he would give and receive, seemed almost dangerous. Even when he was among people he knew, Damian had rarely permitted anyone to touch him, and certainly never skin-to-skin. It was unthinkable.
And on a deeper level, Damian could hardly imagine allowing so many people to have such a deep effect on his soul. So many of Grayson’s marks were vivid – soulmates, best friends, beloved mentors – and so many more were at a stage of friendship beyond mere acquaintance. The sheer number of people who had changed Grayson’s life was almost disturbing.
His father’s mark was on the back of Grayson’s left hand, completely covering it, soulmate-level intensity. Eventually, that was how Damian worked out that Grayson’s soulmark had been the cobalt blue fingers on his father’s left palm.
For some reason, it really did not bother him that Grayson had left such a strong mark on Damian’s father. He would never say that Grayson was worthy – but perhaps he was less unworthy than others.
When Damian started changing into his costume in the same locker room as Grayson, he saw more and more of Grayson’s soulmarks.
They weren’t just on his arms – he had many (though fewer) on his chest and torso. But there was one mark that stood out, that Damian could not fail to notice.
Just over Grayson’s heart was a mark as vivid as a soulmate’s, but it was a sickly gray-purple, a color unlike any Damian had seen before. It was in the shape of a perfect handprint. Around the side of it, Damian could see other soulmarks – although he could not tell for certain, he suspected that Grayson had tried to get other people to cover up the ugly mark.
He didn’t ask for a very long time. It wasn’t until he had been Robin for months, until he had developed a trust for Grayson he would never admit to but could not deny, that he finally asked.
“Tell me about that mark,” Damian said one day in the locker rooms. He nodded towards it with his head.
Grayson did not need further clarification. He sighed, and fingered the edges of the handprint on his chest. “The Joker gave this to me,” he said quietly.
Damian raised an eyebrow. “The Joker? But his skin is perfectly clear. I didn’t think he’d ever marked anyone.”
Grayson nodded. “The Joker always leaves a mark on everyone he touches,” he said. “Usually soulmate-level darkness. But no one ever leaves a mark on him. Not even Bruce.”
Damian considered that for a moment. “He changes the lives of everyone he comes into contact with,” he said, slowly. “But no matter how much anyone else tries to interfere, his life remains unchanged.”
“I think so, yes.” He looked off, a soft, humorless laugh escaping. “I keep trying to have someone else cover it up. No one’s been a big enough influence yet.”
Damian gestured again to the Joker’s mark. “He wanted to mark you there. To claim you.”
“Yes,” said Grayson. “I know he did the same thing to Bruce, and to Tim – and I don’t know for sure, but I think Jason, too, just before he died. And if he ever has the chance, I’m sure he’ll do it to you.”
“Then I will ensure that he does not have a chance.”
They left the conversation there, but it left Damian with new insight. He had never before considered the possibility that soulmarks could signify a negative influence on his life.
It shouldn’t have happened, but it did.
Damian was captured. By the Joker. He’d had his Robin vest removed. And he had been marked with a hideous purple handprint, just over his heart.
(He wanted to cry.) He was furious.
(He wanted curl up in a ball.) He chafed at Grayson’s rules about violence and revenge.
(He wanted Grayson to hold him and tell him everything would be okay.) He wanted to wring the Joker’s scrawny neck.
None of that would remove the mark on his chest .
Grayson found him in his room that night, after. After Grayson had… taken him away from the Joker. Damian was wearing his sweatshirt with the hood up, leather gloves on his hands. Lying on the bed and staring up at the ceiling and emphatically not trying to hold back tears. There were no tears to hold back.
Grayson sat down next to him. “I’m so sorry, Damian,” he said. “If there was anything I could do, I would. I know what it’s like.”
“You do not know,” Damian snarled, twisting away from him. “You have no idea what it’s like. You let people touch you all the time, everywhere, marking you all over your body. What’s one more mark to you? It must have come as a great shock to you, watching someone leave a mark so much stronger than the mark you left on him. You change everyone, don’t you? You don’t know what it’s like to get a mark as pure and bright as oil paint and leave nothing but a watercolor wash in return.”
He snapped his mouth shut then, before more incriminating thoughts could escape. Grayson was looking at him too closely, he’d said too much. Damian curled away from that gaze, wrapping his arms around himself.
There was a long silent moment, and Damian willed Grayson to leave, to go away and leave him alone and stop interfering in his life.
“Do you think you could do me a favor, Damian?” said Grayson.
Damian frowned and did not look back. “What kind of favor?”
But Grayson was already pulling off his shirt, and Damian found his eyes drawn to the Joker’s mark, the twin of the one that now burned on his own chest.
“Do you think you could try covering the Joker’s mark?” said Grayson.
They looked at each other for a long moment. “Do you really think I could?” Damian finally asked.
Grayson nodded. “And I’ll cover yours at the same time. That is, if you’d like me too.”
Damian shrugged. “It doesn’t matter to me whether you do it or not.”
With a quiet smile, Grayson turned to face him. “Thanks, Damian. This means a lot.”
With great care, Damian pulled off his sweatshirt, exposing his body and his new mark to Grayson. He didn’t know whether Grayson had paid any attention while they changed, whether he knew or cared about Damian’s other marks, but he didn’t ask any questions. The gloves came off soon afterward, placed together on the bed.
He held his right hand out, palm facing Grayson, and Grayson mirrored him. They sat like that for a long moment, watching each other.
“Ready?” Grayson asked.
“Ready,” said Damian. “On three.”
At the count of three they both leaned forward and pressed their hands to each other’s hearts.
Grayson’s hand was warm over his heart, warm and calloused, so unlike the Joker’s clammy hands. Under his own fingers, Grayson’s heart beat, steady and sure. Damian didn’t know how long to hold his hand in place, and so he watched Grayson’s eyes, trying to follow his lead.
They pulled away eventually. Damian immediately glanced down at his own hand and chest, not ready to see whether he’d made any impression on Grayson at all.
Grayson’s cobalt blue covered his palm, intensely bright, a soulmate mark. His fingertips were the only part of his hand untouched, still marked with his father’s blue-black. And on his chest, a blue handprint overlapped the Joker’s, almost making the sick purple disappear altogether.
For a moment, he could not gather the courage to look up. Then, swallowing, he lifted his eyes to Grayson’s chest.
In the center of the purple handprint was a vivid forest green, as bright as the cobalt blue on himself. His hand was too small to cover everything the Joker had left behind, but it covered enough, enough that the villain no longer had any claim on Grayson.
He met Grayson’s gaze. “Thank you, Damian,” said Grayson.
Damian put his sweatshirt back on. “You’re welcome,” he said.
He decided, that night, that as far as platonic soulmates went, Grayson wasn’t the worst person he could have had.