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A Thousand Different Ways

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Damian heard the door from where he was sitting, laptop on his lap, Titus laying at his feet. The dog perked up first, before getting to his feet and trotting off towards the very loud hey, anyone home! that came from the doorway. Damian knew the voice. He’d know it anywhere.

Heaving a sigh, he shifted his laptop off his lap, getting up and padding out in his bare feet, crossing his arms when he found Dick attempting to close the door with his shoulder. His arms were occupied by a large box, which he was clutching rather tightly.

“Grayson,” Damian stated, rather flatly. Dick grinned at him, taking a few careful steps, as Titus was still by his side, looking up at him, expecting attention. “What are you doing here?”

“What? I can’t stop by and say hi? Nice to see you too.” His smile didn’t disappear, and Damian glanced at the box he was holding.

“Do not tell me you are moving back in.” Not that it would be even shocking. Dick spent plenty of time at the manor, it was a wonder he even kept his apartment in Gotham. And, for all his scowling, Damian preferred his company to anyone else’s. Perhaps that was why he was scowling.

“Wouldn’t that be fun? Think of it, pizza after patrols. Movies ‘til dawn. We’d have a blast.” He bent down, finally setting the box down, and taking a moment to scratch Titus behind one ear. “But no, sorry little D. Why don’t you look inside?”

Damian raised one eyebrow, glancing from the box to Dick, who was watching him expectantly. “Grayson I do not have time for games. I was working on an assignment, and I have reading to do before patrol tonight-“

“Dammit Damian, just open the box please?” Dick batted his eyelashes, and Damian cursed him. Years spent with this man, and there was just something about his pretty face that Damian couldn’t exactly ignore. Especially over the past few years, as he’d grown up.

Damian settled down on his knees, grasping at the floppy edges of the box and opening it. For a moment, he simply stared, sure he wasn’t seeing correctly-

Then there was a small meow, and he was sure it wasn’t a trick. Three kittens were looking up at him, two big sets of blue eyes, one green, and he glanced up at Dick.

“Look, they’ve been outside the apartment for a while now. They’re pretty skinny, and well...I can’t exactly have pets. I mean, I probably could, but...you’ve got more room here.” He shrugged a shoulder. “I gave them a bath. They didn’t like it too much.” Dick rubbed at his arm, covered by his jacket, hiding the multitude of angry red scratches the kittens had given him.

“Grayson, I already have a cat.” Not that Damian knew where Alfred was in that very minute, most likely stretched out in one of the windows, catching the early afternoon sun.

Dick frowned. “Well, I guess I could try to find them a home, or take them to a shelter, if you don’t want them-“

“I did not say that.” Damian reached into the box, hand hanging limply for the kittens to smell. There was a brief pause while they did, before all three began mashing their faces against him, nuzzling up into his palm. The corner of his mouth twitched up into a smile- one that Dick definitely noticed.

“Well good. Because I don’t want to deal with that.” He crouched down, reaching a hand into the box and letting them sniff it. Of the three, the small grab tabby hissed at him, puffing out her little tail. Damian began chuckling while Dick frowned. “Well jeez, sorry you found the bath so insulting.” He stood back up, brushing his hands along his thighs. “Make sure to tell me what you name them.”

Damian glanced up at him. “Are you leaving?” Dick shrugged a shoulder.

“Well. Yeah. That’s what I came over to do. And you even said you were working on something. School’s important and all kid, I know.” Dick grinned at him, sheepishly. Hard for him to believe that Damian was doing the whole college thing, had been for a while, actually. No surprise to Dick that the kid started early, that he’d be done soon. Have a piece of paper proclaiming he was smart. Not that any of the family doubted that- but it looked good, considering he was, after all,Bruce Wayne’s son.

“Will you come out for patrol tonight?” he asked, standing up, and Dick shook his head.

“Sorry. Bruce already knows I can’t tonight. Got my hands tied already with a few things.” Damian nodded, ever so slightly, and Dick almost got the impression the kid missed him. Almost. If he didn’t know Damian better then that. They had been busy, as of late. “Some night soon though, okay? Maybe the big man will let me steal you away.” He walked around the mask, throwing his arm around Damian’s shoulders. “Just you and me, like the old days. Maybe I’ll steal Bruce’s cowl.”

“I don’t believe father would enjoy that.” Dick expected Damian to pull away from his arm, and was shocked that he didn’t. Once, there was a time he might have struggled away from him, until he was simply too tired and was passed out right against Dick. When he was little.

Which was mind blowing now, considering Damian stood taller then him by a few inches, now. Scary, how they grew up.

“Yeah well, he’ll get over it.” He squeezed Damian’s shoulders, before pulling back. “Take good care of them, okay? Actually, you know what, I don’t even need to say that to you. You like animals better then you like the family.”

Dick was walking away before Damian could respond, a choked except you in his throat. He was thankful for it. There was no reason for him to say such a thing to Dick.

Once Dick had left, he picked the box up, carefully carrying it back to the sitting room he had been in. Titus followed, waiting until he had settled the box on the floor, and Damian had folded up on the couch, before sticking his head in, sniffing at the new family members. One pawed gently at his muzzle, and he pushed the kitten over, sweetly. Damian watched for a minute, before reaching in, lifting the little grey tabby and settling her on his lap, scratching behind her ear. She started to purr, looking up at him with big blue eyes-

And openly, he smiled.

*

Dick was half way through buttoning his shirt when his phone started ringing, settled on his nightstand. He walked over, grabbing it, seeing Bruce’s name, and sighed. Oh, boy.

“Hey-“ he started, cut off immediately.

“Three cats, Dick. Three? You do understand that I spend every damn minute with Damian reminding him the Manor is not a zoo, right?” Dick sighed.

“Look, they didn’t have anywhere to go-“

“There are shelters, Dick.”

“Yeah, and the Manor is big enough for a zoo. Relax, it’s not like I brought him a pack of wild dogs. It’s a couple cats. It’s not like Alfred gives you a problem.” There was a pause, and Dick grinned. “Alfred is there, isn’t he? Curled up in your lap?”

He heard Bruce huff a breath, then, “Ask me next time, please?”

“Yeah, alright. Sorry.” Dick cradled his phone against his shoulder, working on the buttons of his shirt. “So if that’s it, I’m going to be late.” He couldn’t see Bruce perk up, or the serious line of his lips, but he knew it happened. He knew the man well enough.

“Update me in the morning.”

“Yeah, sure thing. Don’t tell me to, you know, enjoy my date or anything.”

“It’s business, Dick.”

“Doesn’t mean I can’t have fun?” Dick grinned, kidding, but Bruce still sounded serious.

“Just let me know.” The line went dead, and Dick sighed, setting his phone back on his nightstand.

“Yeah, bye to you too.”

*

Damian woke up the next morning to the feeling of little paws walking along his back. He pressed his face deeper into his pillow for a minute, before a small paw was swatting at the back of his head, another set kneading against his shoulders- and one small body settling at the small of his back.

“Okay,” he whispered, pushing up carefully, dislodging the kittens. The sprawled out on his bed, looking at him expectantly, before scurrying off, leaping off the bed fearlessly the bound around the room. Off on his desk, sitting next to his laptop, Alfred watched with the angry, aged eyes of a cat that simply did not have time between naps to deal with kittens. Damian swung his legs over his bed, rubbing his eyes for a minute before stretching, getting up and padding towards the door, to get the animals breakfast.

Damian missed Bruce somehow, the teen disappearing to shower when he appeared to get a mug of coffee and head out to the office. Some days, Damian didn’t see him until patrol that evening. Bruce disappeared to make an appearance at the office, and Damian settled in to cram his schoolwork. The perk of being a rich boy, he managed to get away with online classes. He hadn’t been overly thrilled at the idea of sitting in a room crammed with fellow students. Too much interaction.

Bruce had been more then willing to not have to deal with the consequences of Damian being in said situation.

He was settled on one of the couches, book in hand, that early evening, when the door to the manor opened. He heard it in the distance, heard the voices- two. Too far away to know exactly who, they were speaking too low. At his feet, Titus lifted his head, but didn’t stand.

Must not be anyone strange, then.

He continued reading his book, even as the voices grew louder, coming his way. He needed to get this done, and preferably before patrol that evening. He didn’t like the idea of coming back, only to have to sit up for hours more, finishing a book on something he wasn’t even interested in. He’d be glad when this whole college thing was done. He had other important matters.

He was pulled back from his thoughts when an arm hooked down over his collar bone, and Dick was leaning over the couch, staring over into his book. “Whatcha reading, little D?” Damian clicked his tongue, a soft tt, and thought to shrug his shoulders, to remove Dick from his person.

Instead, he let him cling.

“Nothing of interest,” he admitted, and Dick frowned.

“Aw, well, I guess that’s good, because I’ve got plans for us!” Dick let go of him, walking around and carefully stepping over Titus, flopping down on the couch next to him. “I’m thinking we start with that Godzilla movie that came out, you know, always good to start with giant lizards. Devour a few pizzas, pop in Pacific Rim-“

“Grayson, what are you rambling on about?”

Movie night, little D. Just you and me. I mean, unless Bruce wants in for a while. But you and me. It’s been way too long.” He grinned, and Damian made a point to look away, to stare back down at his book. He could feel his pulse elevating, ever so slightly, and tried to remind himself there was no rational reason for it.

“I do not have time for that,” he finally said, “I have to finish this book. And father and I will be leaving for patrol-“

“Bruce gave you the night off,” Dick said, still grinning. “You’re already in the clear. And hey, just read the conclusion of the book. You’ll get all you need. So c’mon, veggie supreme right? I’m ordering now.” Dick was pulling his phone out, already on the website, and Damian heaved a sigh, shutting his book rather dramatically.

“You seem to leave me no choice.”

“That’s the spirit!” Dick sprawled back, tapping on his phone, and Damian stood up, leaving to go put the book in his room. He hadn’t even reached the stairs when he found Bruce, coming down them.

“Grayson tells me you do not want me on Patrol tonight.”

“You need a night off,” Bruce said, raking a hand back through his hair. “Spend some time with him. You can’t spend everyday locked up here, alone.”

“It has worked well thus far.” Bruce sighed.

“Look just humor him, okay? Jason is coming into town, he’ll keep me company.”

“Todd isn’t fully adequate. But you could have done worse and called Drake.” Bruce glared at Damian, frowning.

“I’m not listening to this, Damian. Lay off, or I’ll sideline you all week.” Bruce brushed past him, and Damian shrugged a shoulder, continuing up to his room to toss the book onto his desk. He took a moment to change out of his jeans, into a pair of grey sweatpants, before heading back downstairs. He found Dick no longer sprawled on the couch, but leaning over one of the larger plush chairs in the room, making little noises at the pile of sleeping kittens he had found.

“Can’t hate me if you’re sleeping,” he teased, and Damian furrowed his brow.

“Are you attempting a conversation?” Dick turned, reaching up to rub the back of his neck.

“Uh. No. Of course not.” He shrugged a shoulder, before turning, stepping closer to the television and crouching down. “So the pizza should be like, a half hour. I’m popping in Godzilla. You’ll dig it, I promise. Giant monsters. Destroying cities. Cool shit.”

Damian clicked his tongue, his tt, and flopped down on the couch, not believing Dick for a moment. Titus glanced between the two, before getting up, lumbering out of the room, and leaving Damian with absolutely no company except his almost-brother. He had one leg casually thrown over the arm of the couch when Dick walked back, settling in and resting his arm up above the cushion, starting the movie.

Damian was more or less following the movie when the pizzas arrived- and he could only stare and wonder how much Dick truly intended to eat. He didn’t bother to help him, let Dick hunt down plates- which he was shocked Dick even bothered with- and settle everything off on a small coffee table.

It could have been worse, if Damian was honest, the evening. The movies weren’t terrible, and he could admit that sometimes, Dick’s commentary was enjoyable. That maybe it wasn’t bad to have him settled on the couch next to him. Almost like when he was a kid, and the four of them would stay up all night, when Bruce sidelines them all for an evening. Those nights had dwindled, stopped entirely- as everyone moved on.

Maybe, in a weaker state, Damian might have admitted to himself that he did miss them. Slightly.

He wasn’t sure what was on the television now. It was dark outside, had been dark for quite some time. The majority of his pizza was gone- Dick had actually started eating a second one, and Damian really had no idea where he stored it in his body. He seemed though, at this point, satiated, and was more focused on the movie on the screen.

By now, the kittens were up from their nap, chasing each other around the room. The little grey one jumped up onto the couch, pawing her way right onto Damian’s belly and settling in, looking up at him. He reached down, trying to hold in a yawn as he scratched behind her ear. Faintly, he could hear the other two, their little claws digging into the carpet as they ran.

He was still petting the kitten when he felt it, that itch at the back of his neck because someone was watching him. He glanced over at Dick, who was openly staring. “What?” he asked, frowning.

“Did you name them yet?” he was smiling, and Damian made a point to not look at him, pretending to be more interested in the kitten in his lap.

“Yes.”

Dick waited a second, before waving his hand. “Okay? Sooo, they are...?”

Damian rolled his eyes. “The orange tiger is Micah, the orange and white is Lana, and this,” he said, scratching right under the kitten’s chin, “is Sasha.”

Dick grinned, reaching out, ruffling Damian’s hair, who huffed out his breath, annoyed. “Cute,” he said. “Did you have help with the names?”

“Pennyworth was more or less involved in all of it.” Dick was sure it leaned far more towards the more side. “But his suggestions were adequate.” The other two kittens appeared, jumping up onto the couch and crawling onto Damian was well, all three attempting to nuzzle his hand, pawing at it. Damian watched for a minute, before glancing back at Dick, whose grin seemed so large it might split his face. “What?”

“Just. It’s cute.” He shrugged a shoulder. “You’re pretty precious sometimes kid.” Damian felt heat rising to his cheeks, and made a point to look away. Then, in a rush, sat up, gathering all three kittens into his arms and standing. “Hey, you don’t have to-“

“I’m putting them to bed,” he said, making quick strides to get out of the room, and pointedly, away from Dick. He took the stairs two at a time, aware of the kittens kneading at his shirt, and managed to open his door. He closed it with his hip, leaning back against it and heaving a sigh, closing his eyes for a moment.

He didn’t blush. As a rule he did not, not at this age. That nonsense had been rare enough when he was a child, but now? It should not even be a reaction. To anything.

Especially not Dick insinuating that something involving him was cute.

And definitely not because of that idiot’s smile. Definitely.

Taking another breath, Damian pushed off his door, walking across the room and bending down to settle the kittens into a plush bed he had had Alfred pick up. The three of them pawed around, looking as if they might jump right out- before settling in.

Damian took a second to rake his hands back his hair, trying to collect himself. He didn’t feel like himself, felt almost twitchy. Which was definitely not normal. He was far too controlled for this. But his pulse felt elevated, slightly. In a way it used to-

He stopped himself. No, he would not think about the way his heart used to hammer, a few years ago, in the height of his teenage years. The way it used to go wild when he’d see Dick, whether he was flying through Gotham in full costume or showing up at the Manor in jeans. Whether he was speaking to someone, or actually staring right into Damian.

He heaved a sigh, fisting his hands for a minute. Silly, whatever it had been. He had told himself at that age, at fifteen when he had been perhaps a little too curious, too intrigued by his former Batman. Perhaps a bit too interested.

He had thought he had gotten over that foolishness. Three years later, though, and he had no explanation for the fact that he felt the need to remove himself from Dick’s presence, because the man had used such a simpleton's endearing term. Cute.

Damian was not cute.

Another breath, and he walked back to his door, opening it. Alfred rushed in past his feet, heading straight for the kitten’s bed and crawling in- seeming to have come around, if only for the fact that he now he three little bodies to keep him warm at night. Damian left them, heading back downstairs, composed by the time he was back in the dark room, where Dick sat, entranced by the TV. He settled back on the couch, leaning onto the arm away from Dick, who glanced at him, then back at the movie.

“All good in cat land?” He nodded, trying to distract him with the images on the television. He wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, or even what film this was, but there was a rather large amount of destruction going on to a cramped city- which meant it would only be one of thousands of films. Still, he could almost fall into it, except that suddenly Dick had a hand around his ankle, tugging him. Damian slid down on the couch slightly, glaring down at him.

“What the hell, Grayson?”

“Come back over here,” he almost whined. Damian raised an eyebrow, then, with his countless heavy sigh of the night, shifted, so that he was leaning into the curve of Dick’s side, his legs thrown out towards the opposite arm of the couch. Dick grinned, his arm going around his shoulder, squeezing. “There, better. Now it’s really like old times.”

Except that Damian wasn’t ten anymore.

Except that he was inches taller then Dick with one hell of a pretty face.

Except that really, Dick had probably noticed one too many times just how good Damian looked now, but he could ignore it. He was getting good at it.

Damian, on the other hand, couldn’t ignored that, this close, he could smell Dick’s soap, the scent of his skin, the laundry soap he had used on his tshirt. Couldn’t help but relax against him, because he always had, even as a kid.

Especially as a kid.

Dick was warm, and without much thought, Damian shifted closer, reaching up to stifle a yawn. He’d been up early, despite Patrol the night prior, and he was rather comfortable, as he was.

They were barely into the next film, when it faded into the background, and Damian slipped into sleep.

Dick didn’t notice, at first. Sure, he noticed each time Damian shifted closer, gave him the occasional squeeze. He really did like cuddling with the kid, even if he was sure Damian would have scoffed at the idea. Would not have called what they were doing cuddling. He didn’t think Damian hated it as much as he let on, either.

He was about to comment on the movie, glancing over at Damian, and the words died in his throat. The boy was fast asleep, leaning into him, nestled into the side of his chest. Dick’s mouth curved into the softest of smiles, and his arm around Damian reached up, brushing some of his hair back.

He’d wait until the movie ended to wake him up. Not that he particularly wanted to, but he was pretty damn sure he couldn’t carry him to his room, like he could eight years ago.

It was startling, how time changed things.

When the end credits finally ended, the television screen going black, Dick shifted, his arm squeezing around Damian. “Hey,” he whispered, getting no response. He leaned over, pressing his mouth into Damian’s hair- could smell his shampoo, couldn’t help the way it made his stomach tie in knots. He was sure that was definitely not the reaction he should be having. “Little D,” he whispered, giving him another squeeze. The boy shifted, scrunching up his face for a minute before opening his eyes, blinking into the darkness. “Hey kiddo. You passed out on me.”

Damian was quiet for a second, and Dick mosty expected him to throw his arm up, pull away to the other end of the couch. Instead, after a moment, he simply pressed in closer, yawning. “Which movie is next?”

Dick felt his heart thud once, against his ribs. He swallowed. “Nothing. Probably time for bed kid. It’s late, and if you’re falling asleep on me, you obviously need some sleep.” Damian finally pulled away, sitting up and stretching, arms up over his head. It was dark, but Dick could see the muscles along his arms pulling, the ones working at his shoulders, beneath his tshirt. It definitely wasn’t an observation he was sure he needed to be making.

“Will you be staying?” Dick stared for a second. He hadn’t thought about it- hadn’t planned out driving home in the middle of the night. Granted, it wasn’t like he didn’t crash at the Manor from time to time- wasn’t like his room wasn’t always waiting for him.

Part of him didn’t want to go to his room though. He wanted to crawl right in bed with Damian, curl up around him. It was startling, how nice it was to have the kid pressed against him when he was asleep.

He kept referring to him as a kid, as if he was trying to make that a reality. Truth was, he wasn’t. Not anymore.

“Nah,” Dick finally said, standing up. He stretched himself, making sure to look away. “Alfie doesn’t need to deal with me in the morning. I’ll just hike on home.” He turned, found Damian was watching him. And for a second, Dick was sure it was the kind of look that was taking layers off him, clothing and skin and muscle, down to bone. He nearly shivered.

Damian finally stood up from the couch, silently nodding, moving to actually pick up the room. Dick wondered if he was alright.

*

Damian needed to do something. He still felt drowsy, wanted to burrow back into Dick and fall back asleep. And that wasn’t alright. Hell, he had openly watched him stretch, the way muscle worked along bone, had wanted to see it without his stupid tshirt in the way. That wasn’t alright, either.

It was so far from it.

The pizza boxes gave him something to hold onto. Something to do with his hands. He had this nasty desire to fist them in Dick’s tshirt, or better yet, touch his feathery hair. His stupid feathery hair.

“Take these with you,” he said, shoving the boxes towards Dick, who took them with a casual shrug. He needed to get him to leave. He needed him to right now. Before he asked him anything else stupid. Was he staying.

Had it been an invitation?

He walked Dick to the door, waited for him to open it, before shuffling the pizza box off to him, everything that was left crammed in the one. Dick took it with one of his sheepish smiles.

“You know, I can’t hug you while holding this.” Damian scoffed, knowing that was the point. He was free of possible physical contact-

Except Dick set the box on the ground, openly throwing his arms around Damian and pulling him into a hug. Damian kept his arms firmly at his sides, staring off into the dark outside, over Dick’s shoulder. Even as those hands clutched at his tshirt. Even as Dick’s face pressed down into his shoulder.

“Thanks for humoring me,” Dick whispered, and Damian felt his heart skip one beat. Perhaps he would simply go into cardiac arrest, and this would all be over.

A moment later, and he felt his hands twitch. He sighed, reaching up, his own arms loosely locking around Dick, as he lowered his head, rested it on his shoulder. The older man squeezed him tighter. If the man joked about it, he would counter that he was simply only humoring him still.

Not that he was enjoying how warm Dick was. Or the fact that he smelled almost like a woman, whatever soap he enjoyed was far too fruity. Or the fact that he wanted Dick’s hands to be rubbing along his spine, that if he turned his head slightly, his mouth could press directly to Damian’s neck.

Those were definitely none of the reasons Damian had indulged him in the embrace.

Damian pulled away a moment later, and Dick followed suit. He gave him one more dazzling smile, before he stooped to grab the pizza box and was off, into the night.

Damian wouldn’t admit he waited at the door, until his car was a blink of headlights in the distance.