In the beginning, Damian hesitated to call the time with his father better or worse than the times before, though there was no denying it was different, that it was dark and colorless in contrast with what preceded it. Bruce Wayne played the role of Batman with brutal efficiency, but it had been a lifetime since he’d done it with joy. Gotham prospered for it, but sometimes in the dead of night, when Damian heard his father’s restless footsteps finally cease out of pure exhaustion, he would slip out of bed and down to the Batcave to rest his palm flat against the last glass tube. Then, slowly, he would kneel down and ran his thumb along the small, neat plaque labelledBatman & Robin.

The first evening Damian had gone to punch out a thug only to see a flash of silver batons, his breath caught in his throat and his body reacted instinctively, twisting and jumping and ducking in tune with Dick’s movements. There was a smile, and a stupid pun, and it didn’t make any sense, all of it, it made even less sense than the day Dick had packed all his things and refused to look Damian in the eyes. Damian wondered if this is how his father felt even now, with all the Robins that had come before him. He wondered, as he pushed off Dick’s back to kick a thug in the face, if this is how Dick felt about Damian’s father, even now.

When the fight was over, Dick slipped away into the night before Damian could say anything, though he did not know what he would have told him even if Dick had given him the chance. Batman came up behind him, and asked him if it was Nightwing he’d been fighting with, and Damian realized that Dick had not said a word to his father, and he couldn’t help but smile. One of them had to, he reasoned.

The night before Dick left, Damian had gone into his room and laid his head on Dick’s chest listening to heartbeat and feeling the rise and fall of his chest. Damian couldn’t say why he did it. Dick’s pulse was quick and heavy, his breathing uneven. It was far from soothing, but it was something not unpleasant, and neither of them said a word, then or after.

Once, Damian went to Blüdhaven, alone, and he sought Nightwing out in the dark alleys and the crumbling rooftops. It was three nights before he found him, hanging off someone’s fire escape. Damian had expected to find him in battle, and he didn’t know how to handle him there, looking out sadly across the scum-ridden city he’d made his own.

Damian almost left then, unsure of how to approach, but then Dick was looking at him, and Damian’s feet moved to the edge of the roof, and he leaped nimbly to the platform below. His hood was pulled up, and all he could see beside him was Dick’s black-gloved hand gripping the railing. Black gloves, black spines, like before. Suddenly, Damian was back in Gotham, he was ten years old again and Dick Grayson was cracking terrible jokes and smiling too much, sullying the good name of Batman. He was ten years old, and looking at Dick Grayson with a longing he wouldn’t understand until much later.

There was a tug at his hood, and a flash of red streaked across Dick’s chest, and it was the present again. Dick smiled sadly at Damian, and told him to go home.

It was years before Dick came back to Wayne Manor, to sleep in the room next to Damian’s, the one that had always been his. For three nights Damian laid in his bed and strained to hear the rustle of sheets, the soft creak of the bed as he moved. On the fourth night, Damian threw back the covers, and he walked next door, his feet slapping noisily against the wooden floor. Dick was standing at his window, staring out at the distant lights of the city. Damian put his hand next to Dick’s on the windowsill.

“I’ve missed you,” Dick said, and Damian brought a hand up to softly cup Dick’s cheek. He wondered if his mother had known she was creating him for this one moment, as their lips came slowly together.

It is morning. Bruce Wayne stands alone in the Batcave, his palm pressed flat against an empty glass tube. Batman & Robin, the small bronze plaque says, with a date that means nothing to him.

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