Cass walks into the library, looking for a place to sit, and stops short when she sees Damian. He sits at one of the many desks, feet barely skimming the floor as he swings his legs back and forth. She almost turns around and walks out – the Manor (especially with Jason and Dick and Tim all home, like they are now) and Gotham just get to be too much sometimes, too many sounds and words flying over her head, sometimes sharp and sometimes chewed off and sometimes too confusing. She’s found the library to be a wonderful place to just…sit and not think, to surround herself with the smell of worn paper and the occasional creaking of the decades-old mahogany shelves.
Damian’s presence is a surprise, one she realises is not-altogether unpleasant, and Cass suddenly finds herself struck with a desire to get to know him better, this littlest brother who is sometimes the most transparent of them all, and at other times utterly impossible to understand.
“Damian,” she greets, her tone carefully light as she walks into the library, making a beeline for her favourite armchair, conveniently situated not too far away from the brother in question.
(Dick and Tim think it’s hideous, the sky-blue chair with bright yellow splotches that may have been meant to be daisies stamped all over, garishly out of place among the rest of the tastefully-matched furniture, but Cass loves it.)
(She’s always had a soft spot for things that don’t belong.)
Damian looks up from whatever he’s doing at the desk, and his eyes narrow imperceptibly before he returns the greeting, nod stiff and aloof.
Wayne, Cass almost corrects him, but thinks better of it – an argument for another day.
She floats over to her armchair, gratified to find that the unfinished book she last left on it is still sitting in the same spot, her place in the book undisturbed. She picks it up, but is distracted before she even begins. Cass holds the book in front of her, open to the page held open by Steph’s purple (Eggplant! she hears Steph’s voice correct in her head) bookmark, but her eyes are on Damian as his pen scratches away at the paper in front of him, his brows pulled into a little v that she doesn’t think he notices.
“I can feel you watching me, you know.” He sounds annoyed, his tone perfectly conveying a classic Damian Wayne upturned nose and downturned mouth even as he doesn’t look up from his work. Cass doesn’t reply immediately, just shrugs and hum noncommittally.
“What’re you doing?” she asks eventually.
“Writing, obviously,” he replies, and because this is Damian, he adds, “I do hope your powers of observation are stronger in the field. I must say, I would have expected such behaviour of Todd or Brown, but not of you.”
Cass, again, doesn’t say anything right away, but just watches him for a moment longer.
Damian tuts at the interruption, that hard, familiar “tt” sound pushed out between his teeth.
“If you must know, it’s an assignment. For school.” His tone is curt, evidently one of dismissal. He turns to give Cass a pointed look before he continues to writing. The sound of the pen nib going scritch scritch scritch against the paper continues to fill the room for a few long minutes, and Cass just continues to watch.
Damian’s shoulders are hunched, drawn tight, his jaw clenching ever so often, these moments coinciding with those when his pen freezes in his hand, the jiggling of his right leg becoming ever more pronounced.
Her youngest brother carries frustration – frustration, and impatience – in the set of his spine, and Cass decides to go out on a limb.
“It’s difficult. To find the words.”
Damian’s hand stops moving immediately. The pen clatters to the desk as his small fingers release it, and he turns to face her with an expression that scream affront, but the indignation is not quite enough to hide the surprise in his bright blue eyes.
“English,” she waves a hand vaguely, “It’s not – no – the words, they don’t – hmm,” she hums again, but this time it is heavily tinged with annoyance as she struggles to find the words. “English. Language. It doesn’t happen – not easily.”
“Tt.” Damian sniffs. “I’ll have you know, Cain, that I have been learning English since I was born. My mother hired me only the best, of course-”
He is interrupted by an impatient noise issuing from Cass’ throat, and she waves her hand more fiercely.
“No, no, I mean – English – it’s not,” she pauses, tilts her head to one side, “first nature?” Her brow is furrowed; the words don’t quite match up with the shape of the feeling, but she makes do.
Damian scoffs, before replying, “For you, perhaps, but I am prone to no such weakness. I am, after all, a perfect genetic specimen. Everything is – is-”
Cass gives him a Look, one that has been known to silence even Bruce on occasion, a single eyebrow ever-so-slightly raised, and it is enough to quell Damian. He falls silent, but the pout on his face remains of epic proportions.
“I started with bodies,” she says, gesturing a hand to herself, “You started with Arabic, yes?”
She trusts Damian is intelligent enough to understand what she means to say, and so she sits back, satisfied that her point has been made. Damian’s frown, if possible, grows ever deeper, and his posture shifts, one that brings to Cass’ mind images of enemies in the dark, of shields, and, strangely enough, Bruce.
Defensive. The word jumps out at her, and Cass softens her expression, leans forward slightly again.
“Dami,” she is reminded, in that moment, of the childhood that Damian had, of the childhood that she had, filled with an endless string of training and tutors and tests, “There is no shame.”
No shame in what, she does not say – Cass herself is barely even certain of what she is referring to. Damian’s face hardens at the nickname before giving way to barely-masked conflict. He seems to be struggling with something, and Cass lets him. They sit there, in the silence of the old Wayne library, the muscles in Damian’s back held tight as he sits ramrod straight in the desk chair, Cass’ expression clear as she watches him carefully.
“Tt.” Damian finally breaks the silence, and his face scrubs clean of the tumult from a few minutes ago. His expression returns to its usual cool disdain, but the corners of his mouth are a little less pulled down, the lines in his brow less deeply etched than before. He turns back to his essay without another word. Cass waits a while longer before picking up her book, again, nestling deep into the armchair to start reading, properly this time.
Cass comes back to her room after patrol, hair wet from her shower, and immediately freezes.
Someone has been in her room.
A package sits, wrapped in nondescript brown paper, on her desk. Next to it is her phone, with a bright yellow post-it attached. She walks over cautiously, muscles coiled and ready to spring, listening hard for the tell-tale sounds of an intruder as her eyes adjust to the darkness. Scrawled on the post-it are a few short lines in familiar handwriting, and all at once relief slips into the space between each joint.
Your passcode was shamefully simple to crack.
There is a new dictionary app installed on her phone, and unwrapping the brown paper reveals an antique, 19th-century edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.
Cass holds the book carefully in her hands, and smiles.