"Damian, we should play DDR!" Jon tugged on his arm, pointing over to the other side of the arcade, where a small crowd of older teenagers were gathered around one of the arcade machines.
Damian turned away, starting over towards the fighting games. "I would rather cut my own arm off."
Jon caught up and bounced off ahead of him. "How about if I beat you at Cheese Viking, you have to play DDR with me."
"I will do no such thing," Damian replied. "Not that you have any hope of beating me."
Jon pulled a face. "Are you too scared, Damian?"
"I have too many brothers for such petty attempts at coercion to work." Damian pulled out his wallet for coins to put in the machine. He was the one who had summoned Jon away to Gotham for the day, so it was only fair that he paid for their expenses. Not that a trip to the arcade was even going to put a dent in what Damian had available, but the principle remained.
Jon let out an exaggerated sigh and took his place next to Damian at the controls. "Fine, fine. I bet Kon would play DDR if I asked him."
The odds were fairly likely. Drake's best friend had returned from a long absence and treated his younger half-brother with bemused tolerance.
"What time are your parents expecting you home?" Damian asked absently as they started the game. "You told them what I suggested?"
"They want me home by nine," Jon replied. "I still can't believe they believed me about spending the day with Kon."
"Your skills at deceit have improved. I suppose my influence is finally having a positive effect."
Jon beamed. "That's really nice of you to say."
Damian clicked his tongue as on-screen his character finished a combo that sent Jon's character flying into a wall and draining the last of his health. "I win."
"Best two out of three," Jon said, rocking back and forth on his heels and grinning widely.
"Get ready to lose, Kent."
"You're on, Wayne."
Five games later—two of which Damian had graciously allowed Jon to win—they finally left the fighting games and moved further into the arcade. Jon was just starting to pull him over towards the DDR machine when there was a loud sigh behind them and then a familiar voice said, "There you two are!"
Damian whipped around, scowling as Drake and the older Superboy pushed through the crowd towards them. "Drake."
"Damian," Drake replied, with a slightly mocking lilt to his voice that made Damian want to grind his teeth together. During that brief period of time Drake had been presumed dead Damian had thought he'd missed him. But no, that had just been a momentary lapse of sanity.
"What the hell, Jon?" Kon's eyebrows were pinched together in a mild frown. "Can you not use me as an excuse when you're lying to your parents? I just got interrogated for twenty minutes about where you were, which is twenty minutes longer than I want to speak to Clark on a good day."
Jon winced. "Sorry! I didn't think they'd ask. How bad is it?"
"He went from confused to worried to angry and back again," Kon replied. "Good job, I guess."
"Kon." Drake placed a hand on his friend's shoulder. "You probably shouldn't encourage him."
"Most Kryptonians draw power from sunlight," Kon said. "But I'm half-Luthor so I draw strength from Superman's bitter tears instead."
Damian was not aware of the exact circumstances surrounding Kon's return. As far as he was concerned it was simply a good thing that it wasn't his family drama this time. He thought perhaps Father felt the same, as Batman had not said a word about Kon's near constant presence in his city.
"Is he coming here?" Jon whispered.
"I said I'd get you," Kon replied. "Come on, if I don't get you back home soon he really will show up."
Jon sighed, waving to Damian. "It was fun while it lasted. See you around, Damian."
Damian turned his attention to Drake once the Kryptonians had left the arcade. "I do not need an escort."
"Too bad," Drake replied, with a hint of a smirk. "I have instructions to bring you straight back to the manor. Guess who Clark called after Kon? Bruce wants to talk to you."
He was grounded.
He. Damian Wayne. Grounded.
He'd given his father the silent treatment all through dinner to no avail, had stormed through the manor in a seething rage, slamming multiple doors and had no reaction, and trying to force his way down to the Cave to prepare for patrol had gotten him exactly nowhere.
Robin was also grounded.
"How can I be punished when it wasn't me who lied to Superman?" Damian had demanded after his father had sat him down and frowned at him and delivered his sentence.
Father had simply stared back at him, unmoved. "We both know it was your idea, Damian. Jon informed his father of the whole truth."
Of course Jon couldn't yet hold up under pressure. He'd not become advanced enough for Damian to feel the training on resisting interrogation would sink in.
"This is an injustice," were the last words Damian had spoken to his father all day.
The worst thing—the absolutely worst thing—had been Drake, standing behind his father's shoulder and smirking at him the entire time. Richard at least had the courtesy to look sympathetic to his plight. Cassandra had been elevated to the lofty position of 'favorite sibling' by virtue of not being present at all.
Jason had also been absent, as his presence at the manor remained unpredictable at best. But he had also stolen Damian's Red Hood toy and as Damian had yet to manage to retrieve it—curse his mother for having Jason so well-trained—there was a black mark against his record.
A knock sounded against his door.
Damian looked up from his sketchpad and glared at it. "Go away."
The door opened. Jason leaned in, propping his shoulder against the frame and frowning at him. "What the hell are you doing shut up in here and sulking like an emo kid? Shouldn't you be on patrol?"
The urge to stab his pencil through the sketchbook was strong. Damian took a calming breath through his nose. If Jason laughed at him, he would stab him. "I have been grounded."
"And you really let that stop you?"
"Father was insistent, and Pennyworth agreed."
Jason scrunched his nose up. "There's no fighting Alfred, I get it."
A thought occurred to him, watching Jason in the doorway. "Shouldn't you be on patrol?"
"Nope." Jason pushed himself upright and turned to go. "I'll be in the Cave if you want to stop sulking and spar."
Damian grunted, turning his attention back to the sketchbook and staring at it until he heard Jason's footsteps fade away. He turned the offer over in his mind. It was true that he did not have a lot of experience sparring against Red Hood. He shook his head and focused determinedly on the sketchbook once more, drawing out aimless patterns as his brain refused to be lured towards inspiration.
There would be no one else in the Cave to observe the spar.
Damian closed his sketchbook and slid off the bed, decision made. He hurried out of his room and downstairs to the entrance to the Cave. Who knew how long the offer would remain open before Jason grew bored and withdrew it, disappearing from the manor and Gotham again for potentially months on end, leaving Father irritable and worried in turn.
The Cave was quiet and empty, his father and the others already out on patrol. He found Jason stretching on the practice mats, clad in sweatpants and a tank top that revealed why Red Hood was not spending the evening on patrol; his left shoulder being heavily bandaged.
"What happened?" Damian asked. He'd not heard anything about Red Hood being injured in action and he generally always knew, because Father got a particular look when it was Jason, different from the rest of them.
Jason glanced at the shoulder, shrugging stiffly. "We were teaching Bizarro how to play football."
Damian frowned. "He did that to you?"
"No," Jason replied. "Artemis takes competitive sports very seriously."
"Can you even spar with that injury?"
"Well enough." His brother rolled the shoulder with a small grimace. "If you could avoid hitting it as a courtesy, I'd appreciate it."
Damian would scoff at the idea of not taking advantage of his opponent's weakness, but Pennyworth was lurking around somewhere and he was unlikely to approve of the spar in the first place, let alone Damian using such tactics against family.
Damian started to do his own exercises, but watched his brother closely. Jason was careful with the limb and while his movement was restricted somewhat he did not appear to be in much pain. Damian chewed his lip, thoughtful, before straightening up. "You completed all of Mother's training."
Jason glanced towards him, shrugging again. "She outsourced most of it."
"I did not have time," Damian said, looking away toward the rack of practice weapons in the corner.
His brother made an acknowledging noise. "You going somewhere with this?"
"Teach me something," Damian requested, eyes flicking to Jason's face to gauge his reaction. "Father is not around to disapprove."
Jason snorted, rising to his feet. "I'm not teaching you shit here. He could be on the moon and he'd still know exactly what happens in this cave. Pass."
He was careful not to show his disappointment. Only Richard could be swayed by such displays. Damian would not allow Jason to detect any weakness in him. "Very well."
A hand landed on his head and Damian grimaced as his hair was ruffled.
"I think the shoulder's too stiff for a spar," Jason said, walking past him towards the lockers. "Sorry for wasting your time. Come by my place and I'll make it up to you."
He frowned, reaching up to flatten his hair down. "Which place? You have several and they change."
Jason looked back with a smirk. "If you find it I'll teach you something."
"All right," he agreed. He watched his brother walk away before turning his attention to the Batcomputer
Father kept tabs on Jason, and he was careful about it.
Damian had never failed a test in his life and he certainly wasn't planning to start now.
His father's files had been of limited help. It still took Damian two hours and three different safe houses to find the right one, and the entire mission had been compromised from the outset by Pennyworth notifying Father that he'd gone missing exactly fifteen minutes after Damian had fled the manor.
In all likelihood Pennyworth had noticed immediately and had just given him a head start. It was either a kindness or to give him enough rope to hang himself with.
Either way, Damian had been glad he'd decided not to wear the Robin costume. It would have taken far too long to rid it of the trackers and Father would have been extremely angry at the attempt.
Robins did not go anywhere without trackers.
The communicator had been the only piece of equipment he'd taken and he was extremely glad to have it when Batman had immediately ordered Red Robin to find Damian and return him home.
"There are trackers in the communicators, Damian. I know you're listening," Drake had said, and even as Damian had known it was not true—the earpiece was too small and there was too much interference to be reliable—he'd still crushed it out of paranoia and spent the rest of his mission looking over his shoulder. Red Robin had gotten close at least twice and had been been visibly smirking each time Damian had caught sight of him.
It meant that once he'd climbed in through Jason's window and sat on the couch he had complained about Drake and the rest of the family for fifteen minutes straight while his brother sat beside him playing a PS4 game called Dragon Quest Builders and occasionally deigned to acknowledge his existence.
"Why are you playing that?" Damian demanded, once he'd finally run out of things to complain about. "I didn't know you even played games."
"I like building games," Jason replied, serene. "I find them soothing. Do you think the castle needs a moat?"
"Yes," Damian replied. "You should make it taller, too."
"Knock yourself out." Jason handed the controller over and got up off the couch. "Have you eaten?"
"I'm on a hunger strike until Father releases me from my unjust sentence." Damian briefly pondered destroying the castle before deciding it would be too petty. "Do you play games with Drake?"
"No," Jason said from the kitchen. "I haven't really played games at all since I was a kid. I got it for Bizarro but he and controllers don't really get along. You good with pizza? I can't be bothered cooking."
"Pizza is fine," Damian replied, glancing over briefly as his brother closed the fridge before returning his attention to the game. Night had fallen and now skeletons were attacking Jason's small town. "I thought this was a building game?"
"Mostly building." Jason shrugged. "Some siege warfare for flavor."
Jason disappeared into another room, phone in hand, and came back five minutes later and sat back down beside him. He did not demand the controller back. Damian defeated the skeleton army and then turned his attention towards adding another tower to the castle. "You were going to teach me something."
"Patience, grasshopper." Jason jerked his hand, thumb pointing towards the window. "I'm waiting for our stalker to decide whether he wants to leave or confront me."
Damian scowled. "Drake?"
There was a knock at the window Damian had originally entered through. Red Robin was hovering out on the fire escape. The smirk was gone now, and Damian couldn't decide if that made him want to punch him more or less.
More, he decided, as Jason got up off the couch and sauntered lazily over to the window. His posture was loose and he saluted Red Robin before grabbing the curtains. Damian had a brief glimpse of Red Robin's face contorting in annoyance before Jason drew the curtains closed over the window and blocked him out.
Jason's phone started ringing. Damian smirked as Jason pulled it out of his pocket and answered.
"What kind of weirdo hangs out on someone's fire escape? Learn some manners." Jason walked back over to the couch and flopped down, phone held to his ear. "Damian? No, he's not here. You must be mistaken. I don't care who you think you saw, I'm telling you he's not here. Why would Damian be here? You're delusional."
A sound like a fist banging against the window pane came from beyond the drawn curtains.
"You break into my place and you'll have a fight on your hands," Jason continued, slouching down further into the couch and motioning for Damian to keep playing the game. "I have Damian with me, you're outnumbered and outclassed, Red." A pause. "Damian? Who? I don't know what you're talking about."
Damian couldn't stop the grin spreading across his face.
Beside him, Jason snorted. "'Call Bruce'? That's your big plan? I'm disappointed in you. Do your worst."
There was a scraping sound as the window was jostled and then Red Robin was pushing the curtains out of the way and climbing into the apartment. Damian paused the game, folded his arms across his chest and scowled at Drake.
Drake ignored him and held his communicator out to Jason. "He wants to talk to you."
"Uh, no." Jason didn't move a muscle, remaining slouched on the couch. "I'm allergic to fathers."
"Are you really going to make me repeat that to Batman?" Red Robin asked, before he held a hand up just as Jason opened his mouth to respond. "Wait, stupid question. Of course you are." He sighed, putting the communicator up to his own ear. "Batman? He refused...Okay. I'll tell them." He pulled his hand away from his ear and smirked at them. "He says he'll be here in ten minutes. I'm going back to patrol. You know I'll always call your bluffs, Jason." He turned in a swirl of cape and ducked back out through the window.
"Burn in hellfire, Red," Jason called. He continued to stare out the window as the fading sound of footsteps on the fire escape disappeared and the faint sound of a grappling gun signaled Drake's departure. Then he turned to Damian. "First lesson, stripping down a safe house in five minutes and fleeing the scene with Batman on your tail. Up for it?'
Damian set the controller aside. "Of course. We're going to miss the pizza, though."
"You don't want the one I ordered, trust me." Jason stood up, stretching. "We'll pick up something after we're done here. I don't think either of us fancy a pizza with just anchovies. Batman can have it."
"Father hates anchovies."
Jason grinned, gleeful. "I know."
Father did catch up to them eventually, but at least this time Damian didn't have to be grounded alone.