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A New Prize

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Damian misses the League. He misses the days of fighting and training. Not for the reasons that some people think. And only a little for the reasons that some other people believe.

He used to tell them about his old life. He used to brag about it. When they failed to be impressed, his reminders became a condescending ironic commentary meant to induce shame. When that failed to produce the desired result as well, he stopped, except for offhand remarks to their enemies, just to keep them in line.

Sometimes, he still slips. Sometimes, the craving for even some small acknowledgement of his past trumps the knowledge that said acknowledgement will no doubt be negative if not entirely dismissive. Disappointment and frustration are better than the emptiness (weakness) he is occasionally overcome by.

He never expected this to be easy. He does not need to rely on anyone. But sometimes he feels his aloneness pressing in on him, and he wants to scream and rage and kill. Which is exactly what he can't do. This was his choice. His.

Some of them try to tell him that he was brainwashed. Or even 'mistreated'. The fools. Why can't any of them understand?

His mother could have coddled him. She could have crowned him with a cape and cowl as easily as she had provided nourishment and shelter, and she could have declared him the Batman and made it the truth. He could do these things for himself now, in fact. He has the skill already, and the materials and tools are not difficult (for him) to acquire.

But it would mean nothing. Nothing. He would not have earned it. His father would not have deemed him worthy, and so it would be exactly like the stupid children here who are told (indiscriminately, irresponsibly) that they can be astronauts or fire chiefs or movie stars simply by putting on an over-sized hat, or a nylon and velcro costume, and saying, "When I grow up, I want..."

Damian is already as grown up as he needs to be. He knows exactly what he wants, and it has nothing to do with plastic badges and rubber stethoscopes and crayon pictures on the wall. It has nothing to do with wax candles decorating a tri-layer cake and garish colored streamers that will only have to be taken down at the end of this farce.

It's all frivolous. Pointless. His mother would never have approved. His mother had taught him to be practical. Efficient. Purposeful. Even her stories that had so entertained and excited Damian had had meaning. She hadn't given him hugs and empty platitudes and unrealistic promises that he would be great. His mother had raised him -- trained him -- to be great. She--

His mother--

"This is ridiculous." Damian ignores the stunned expressions around him, Grayson's exasperation and Pennyworth's frown and Drake's insolent eye-roll. He slides out of his chair. "Come," he commands. The click-click of Titus' toenails on the tiles behind him as he stalks out of the room is soon overridden by a flurry of whispered discourse.

"I told you he wouldn't appreciate all this."

"We still have to try."

"Oh, please. What's the point?"

"Gentleman, this is hardly the time--"

Damian shuts them out and closes himself in his bedroom.

He isn't tired, but he lays down on his bed anyway. Titus jumps up. In his straightforward manner, he has quickly learned the types of behaviors that Damian will tolerate. His warmth is useful in the cavernous room, and Damian has trained him always to sleep between Damian and the door, to act as his guard and shield. The fact that Damian enjoys the sensation of the furred body next to him is entirely irrelevant.

It's a few minutes before he feels a whisper of air wending through the newly opened door, and the accompanying flicker of light as the darkness of the room is disturbed. He doesn't hear the figure as it approaches his bedside, though he does feels the slight ripple in Titus' skin as his companion pricks his ears. He considers opening his eyes, but doesn't. Is this carelessness? Naiveté? The rules are different now, and he's trying so hard. Always trying. He's exhausted. He keeps his eyes closed.

"We never asked. What did you use to do on your birthday? With Ta-- With your mother?"

Damian continues staring into the blankness of the backs of his eyelids. His father is a motionless shadow blocking the light from the hallway. He hears the clock ticking away several rooms over, but his internal time sense is enough to measure the sands trickling down in the empty corners of the room.

"We used to duel. My mother would choose the scenario and I would choose my weapons, and we would fight a single bout."

His father considers this. He is a thoughtful, intelligent man.

"What was unusual about this particular bout?"

Bruce Wayne does not ask useless questions. Often. Damian's father frustrates him with his rules and his lack of trust, and his refusal to be what Damian wants him to be, but at the same time, Damian finds him... restful. In many of the important ways, Damian understands him, perhaps more even than his mother did. That, he's come to realize, is rare.

"If I won, I would get a prize."

"What was the prize?"

"She would finally tell me about my father."

There is a brief silence.

"You must have felt very proud on your tenth birthday."

"Yes." He frowns. "No. I was... satisfied. And impatient for my prize. I knew before it started that I would succeed that day." Perhaps the word 'knew' is just a tiny bit of exaggeration, but certainly Damian had felt a cool confidence that morning that had turned out to be prophetic.

"I see. And what would you choose for your prize now if you had it?"

Damian's eyes fly open of their own accord. Titus jumps slightly next to him, and he realizes that he's tensed up in anticipation... for what? He keeps his voice even. "What do you mean?"

"There's no point fighting for something you already have. What prize would you choose now?"

Damian's mind races. Is this a test? A trap? Maybe it's merely another foolish birthday custom, like making a pretend-wish over a frosted confection. He snorts derisively. "And you would give it to me?"

"No. Not unless I approve. And unless you win, of course."

The careless appendage of the latter sentence signifies how unlikely his father believes the occurrence to be. Damian sits up and faces his father head-on. His father has his hands in his trouser pockets. The lines and muscles of his body are deceptively at ease. Shadows mask his expression. Shoes hide the flex and position of his toes.

"If I win," Damian says slowly, and notes his father's absolute lack of response to that, "you would make me--"

"No. Not that."

Damian has to fight now to quell his excitement. "All right. What would you deem a suitable prize?"

"Why don't we leave that up to you? You'll have plenty of time to decide." His father's sense of humor is quiet and sharp. Damian smiles. His father gestures towards the door with his chin. "Downstairs and in your gi in ten minutes."

"I can make it in five," Damian promises.