Fandom: DC Comics
Pairing: Damian Wayne/Stephanie Brown
Word Count: 11,000+ words.
Disclaimer: All characters belong to DC comics and are used without permission. No profit was made from this work. Non-beta'd, so all sleep-related errors are mine.
Warnings: Violence, gore, language, strong sexual content, character death.
Previous Parts: Part One * Part Two * Part Three 1/2 * Part Three 2/2 * Part Four * Part: Holy Glowing Genitals * Part: Holy Cats * Part Five * Part Six
Alternate Archives: at Archive of Our Own and Fanfiction.net
Notes: There will be an alternate ending. In fact, I've written a bunch of pointlessly fluffy drabbles about the alternate future here. Additionally, there has been so MUCH gift art, that I've had to compile it all here. Go tell all these beautiful, creative people how amazing they are. BECAUSE THEY ARE. Thank you all for sticking with this to the end ♥
It felt like he was sleeping, but everything was too crisp to be a dream. He'd lived this dream before, maybe more than once: the dream of being five years old and living in Uzbekistan. He had never met his mother, but his handlers and trainers told him stories of her, keeping him informed of where Talia was at all times. She was like some kind of benevolent goddess, someone who loved him, though he had never seen her and sometimes disbelieved that she actually existed. He was expected to love her back on faith alone, and for the most part he did.
Damian's early years had mostly been spent in stasis. He was a weapon, but one that had to be grown. Talia had considered his early development to be non-essential, so he'd slept through most of his first three years of life. Childhood was clumsy, fraught with dangers, and was a learning experience for most children. Most children needed many years to assimilate speech and social cues, to be indoctrinated, but Damian did not. He was a genius, so he didn't require the endless repetition of a normal childhood.
His earliest memories, then, only stretched back to age five. He didn't know if that was because he'd only been free of the tubes he'd been matured in for brief stretches before then, or if it was because that was when his life's purpose had been introduced to him. It'd been his time of firsts, when he'd been fresh clay that a whole team of his mother's hired help sought to mold. He had many tutors and trainers and nannies, but they were all his mother's. He had only one servant of his own.
His name was Sunnat, and he was a seven year old Uzbek boy. His skin was darker than Damian's, but he had hair the color of an old copper coin. It was very red in sunlight. His nurse had told him that his mother had hair like that. Damian would find reasons to play outside with Sunnat, just so he could memorize what his maybe-real mother's hair looked like.
Sunnat's English was very good. He spoke with an accent, but so did Damian. All of his nannies and caretakers had been British. His mother had demanded upon English being the first of his many languages---it was the most useful language internationally, and he would be eventually living in America. She would have had him taught American English, but she did not care for American hired help. Spoiled and lazy, the other nurses said: all Americans were spoilt and shiftless.
Damian didn't understand that, because his father was American. His father was Bruce Wayne, and he was the male aspect of Damian's parthenon. Mother was Goddess and Father was God. He prayed to them sometimes, when Sunnat was praying to his God. His servant was one part help, one part babysitter, and one part friend. He was the only child that Damian had ever talked to, so he was important to him, despite his common birth.
But one day, Sunnat changed. He didn't smile. He didn't laugh. When he looked at Damian, his eyes were wide and shiny with fear. He barely said two words to him all day, playing with him mechanically. That night, Damian awoke to someone lying on top of him, holding a pillow over his face. He screamed and kicked, scared out of his mind. He was positive that it was some kind of monster in his room, the kind that his nannies said didn't live underneath his bed, but he recognized the voice sobbing "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," again and again.
He managed to push Sunnat away from him and off the bed, but by that time he was so scared and confused that he was crying, too.
"I huh-have to," Sunnat bawled from the floor. "If I don't kill you or you don't kill me, the assassins will kill m-my family. Please."
"They wouldn't," Damian said, shaking his head and crawling away until his back hit the wall. He hugged his knees and whimpered. "You're my servant. I'm supposed to take care of you."
Sunnat's sobs were so harsh and loud, they rang in his ears. He crawled to the opposite corner of the room and faced the wall. He eventually stopped crying, but Damian did not go back to sleep. He couldn't. He kept staring at the other boy's back and wondering what he had done to deserve it. Was he telling the truth? Or was he lying, because he was jealous of Damian's wealth? One of his nannies---one that hadn't lasted long---had said that. His mother and grandfather were wealthy and powerful. The weak resent the mighty.
Dawn cast a tangerine blush across the floor of Damian's room, but neither he nor Sunnat moved until the door opened. It was Sensei, one of the men Damian was meant to listen to. He looked at Damian, then at Sunnat, then sneered and closed the door again.
He returned, not five minutes later, with a woman's severed head. He had her long red hair fisted in his hand. He shook the head at Sunnat, who wailed like a dying thing, like an animal, like nothing Damian had ever heard in his life. He covered his ears with his hands, but he couldn't block he sound.
"Next time," Sensei said. "You will do as you are told, worm."
The rest of the day was a blur for Damian. He was exhausted, shell-shocked. He couldn't eat, couldn't focus on his lessons, couldn't think past the terror that had coiled and buried its teeth at the base of his skull. He needed to sleep, but he couldn't. He knew what would come tonight, when he slept. He knew that Sunnat would want to kill him now.
And he was afraid, because he didn't want to hurt him. He was his only friend.
As the day wound down, he found himself becoming more hysterical. When he refused to eat his dinner and started to cry, he was slapped until his cheeks felt hot and swollen. It didn't stop his tears, but it silenced them.
He laid on top of his bedcovers, curled into a defensive ball, and watched the dark room unblinkingly. Instead of the usual warm goat's milk and umm ali that they had as a nighttime treat, the nurse had left two long kitchen knives by their beds. Damian had the knife in his small fist, listening to the dark for any tells of movement.
It could have been just minutes before Sunnat got up, or it could have been hours. It felt like an eternity.
"Please," he whimpered, and a thread of moonlight spooled over the edge of the knife he held before him. "Papa is next. I have four sisters. Please."
He knew that he had no choice.
"I'm sorry," Damian whispered, for one of the first and only times in his life.
And then, using his keen ears to zero in on his servant's sobs, he started stabbing blindly.
It wasn't easy. He'd watched the assassins, and they made murder seem effortless. He had the knife, but not the strength to wield it properly. It'd been a full day since he'd eaten and two since he'd slept; he lashed out again and again, but the boy just continued to shriek. He cut, and he cut, but they were all too shallow. Sunnat screamed and bled and Damian struggled desperately to make it stop.
Sunnat tried to get away from him, driven by instinct and panic, but Damian reacted with his instinct: he struck a wide, solid hit that sliced his belly open. Everything soft and necessary inside him spilled out in knots and loops.
The smell was unbearable. He couldn't hear his own sobs over Sunnat's broken, hoarse howling.
After a few moments, the howl dropped into a wet gurgle, then was gone. He stopped moving. He died.
Damian wadded his tiny body up in the corner furthest from the sticky, salt-and-copper pool around Sunnat's corpse, trembling and weeping. He didn't let go of his knife; his knuckles felt frozen around the handle.
Sensei came into his room at dawn. He was slapped for crying, but then he told him he'd done admirably. He told him it'd get easier, and he was right. It had.
The first lesson that his mother taught him was an important one: emotional attachments were dangerous. Anyone could betray you. Anyone could be used against you. If you wanted to love something, you had to be prepared to destroy it with your own hands.
Damian had resisted his mother's tutelage, but he could not bury her teachings. He still carried the lessons, the truths of the House of al Ghul etched into his bones. In every other relationship that he'd had, he'd asked himself if he loved them enough to either kill them or be killed by them. Trusting meant arming those he cared about; love meant baring his throat.
After Sunnat, he hadn't thought himself capable of giving anyone that power over him. But, against his own wishes, there had been a parade of people in his life who he'd allowed to hurt him---Mother, Pennyworth, Father, Grayson, Colin, Stephanie. Love, he'd realized by the time mother had abandoned him and Pennyworth had passed away and Father had died and Grayson had disappeared, was an emotion that was good, but always ended up making him want to die in no small way. Love only lasted until the day it could be weaponized against him.
But, at least he'd gotten out of half of his mother's law. Nobody could kill him, now. Not even if he wanted them to kill him.
And that's why, even though he'd been shot in the face at close range and had died, he came to again. It was always hard, always painful, always like clawing up through hundreds of leagues of dark water. The first gasp of air he dragged in seared his lungs. Most people only got to breathe their first breath once, at birth. Damian had had a hundred first breaths by now.
"Let him go. The GCPD will want us to turn over his body if we don't get him out of here now. Let him go, and I'll help you carry him."
Drake. Drake's voice, but it wasn't a tone he ever used with him. Red Robin was speaking quietly, soothingly, like he was trying to calm down a child. He didn't have to hear Stephanie's ragged, hysterical sobbing to know that he was talking to her. She thought that Tim's love for her had died years ago, but Damian knew better. It was one of the things that made him dislike Tim, however irrationally---he still loved Steph, and still had that gentle, kind voice reserved for her alone.
Her sobs were as desperate as the ones that'd wracked her after she'd woken up from nightmares. Damian struggled with consciousness, with lining his thoughts end to end in order to make sense of what was going on, because something was wrong. Stephanie didn't cry unnecessarily. It took him a few seconds to realize that it was him that she was sobbing over, that it was her face buried against his neck.
He'd died again. Fuck.
"Batwoman," Drake said, then dropped his voice to a tight little whisper and begged, "Steph. Come on. We have to hurry."
Damian coughed, wheezed, and opened his eyes.
"Shut up, Robin," he said, though it felt and sounded like he was talking through a mouthful of gravel.
They stared at him, the visible parts of their masked faces white as paper.
"Jesus Christ," Tim breathed. "What are you?"
A man without an excuse, for once.
Every other dead Robin had come back from the beyond, but he could tell that his trip was going to cause a fuss. Pointing out the hypocrisy wouldn't help him now.
Stephanie was speechless, staring at him with huge, glassy blue eyes. Her nose was red, her lashes clumped in wet darts. He couldn't read her complicated, stricken expression.
He'd tried so hard to keep this from her---and for years, he'd been successful. Once again, a bullet had killed the Batman. He'd have to answer her when she demanded how he'd come back and why he'd come back and why he'd never told her.
Damian didn't know what to tell her.
"Help me up. We---we have to go back to the party."
"You were just shot in the face," Tim said hollowly. "I will vouch for Damian Wayne having a headache. Go. Take care of the fatal gunshot wound that you apparently are just going to walk off. Jesus christ."
"You died," Steph croaked, and her voice broke his heart.
He had to tell her the truth. He had to hope she'd forgive him for what he'd done.
"Up we go," Tim said, grabbing his forearms and helping him get to his feet. His older brother was much smaller than he was, but he was still strong---especially when he was fueled by nerves and desperation. He was smart; he was stepping up to handle the fallout, because it was clear that Steph wasn't rebooting her composure anytime soon. "I'll handle this. Regroup, clean up, and then call me."
Oh, of course he'd want an explanation, too.
"Thank you," he said curtly, and took Stephanie's hand. Her arm was limp, and she followed him without a word.
The drive back to the cave was silent. All of Damian's apologies were stuck in his throat.
It felt like she was living out a nightmare. As someone who had her share of nightmares, the shifts were familiar to her. It all starts out rosy, lulling you into feeling good and safe. The evening had been dreamlike. She and Damian had been together in public like a real couple and it'd felt nice. But the bubble had burst, sharp angles of panic digging in until everything was horror spread with the thin film of what had been a dream.
It'd been so sudden, too. One second, dancing. The next second, the burn of Loveless' kiss. The next second, Batman falling backward. The next second, holding Damian as he bled out.
And the next second, Damian opening his eyes like a bullet hadn't bored through his head.
Stephanie was numb. Overwhelmed. Waiting to wake up.
But he kept driving, and she had to grapple with the idea that everything that'd happened was real. They went through the motions of patrol wind-down, trooping to the washroom and peeling off their suits.
When Damian took off his cowl, she swallowed a scream. His hair was matted to his head with coagulated blood, red rivulets worming down his neck and back.
"It looks worse than it is," Damian said calmly, hands raised in treaty. "I'm fine."
"Fine?" She squeaked between her fingers. She pressed a hand over her mouth to keep her nausea pent up. "How can you---how?"
Damian twisted the sink's water as hot as it'd go. He mutely watched it run.
Steph grabbed one of their throwaway rags, soaking it under the steaming hot water. She wrung it out roughly, then started mopping him up. He sat on the edge of the counter, leaning over so that she could scrub his hair. She wiped down his neck, his face, his back, patiently rinsing out the rag again and again. The water ran red, then pink, then finally clean. She was careful with his head, because his hair was literally plastered to his skull with blood. There had to be a wound somewhere. Nobody could lose that much blood and be as calm as Damian was.
"I heal," he mumbled finally, barely audible. He was staring at the floor, not making eye contact. "When injured, I heal. I cannot die."
She didn't say anything to that. Didn't know what to say. She'd seen it firsthand, but it still felt surreal.
Damian fished a switchblade out of his discarded utility belt. He dragged the tip down the inside of his forearm, from wrist to elbow; Steph screamed before she could stifle herself, but Damian didn't so much as wince. He held his arm over the sink, blood gushing for a second. Then it slowed to a dribble, then stopped altogether, and he wiped his arm off.
The wounds sealed up, visibly knitting together as she watched. Steph followed the disappearing scar tissue with her fingernails.
"Whoa," she said. "This is new. This is new and I'm kind of more than slightly freaked out. Why did you hide this from me?"
Damian didn't meet her eyes. Silence yawned between them, but he didn't so much as fire off a snarly response. She shoved him, hard, but he didn't react. That set off more warning bells and red flags in her head than she knew how to deal with.
"You had better start talking," she said, voice low. She moved to push him again---anything to get his attention, anything to get him to stop staring straight ahead like a statue---and he grabbed her wrist before it could connect. He squeezed, grinding fine bones together; her breath caught in her throat, but she didn't make a sound.
He did look at her then, blue eyes frigid and remote. There wasn't much that scared Steph, but the look in his eyes made her feel like she'd fallen from a great height and couldn't hit bottom.
"I don't have to do anything," he said, letting her go and leaving the room. Her wrist throbbed, hot, and she knew she'd have a bracelet of bruises shaped like his hand.
For once, she didn't go after him.
Steph was scarce for the next four days. Damian knew that he'd earned the cold shoulder and sleeping in bed alone---she had an ugly bruise on her wrist from where he'd grabbed her. It was a shameful reminder of the dangers of his own temper, so he didn't go after her when she pulled away. If she needed space, he understood. He would have apologized, but the questions she'd throw out as soon as they were mended would lead to yet another fight. He couldn't lie to her, so he was putting off the inevitable for as long as he possibly could.
She came to him the fourth day, when he was working on the computer, and she had a book.
Not a book. The book. The ancient, leather-bound book that was usually kept in a safe that she didn't know about, protected by a password she couldn't have hoped to guess.
"What the hell is this?" Damian asked, wondering if he could play it off.
The flat betrayal in her eyes said otherwise.
"You tell me," she said. "I've been your partner for years, now. Did you really think I haven't picked up on the types of encryptions you like to use? You shouldn't have wrote me off as computer illiterate. I found the coded journal you've been keeping, but obviously I couldn't figure out the whole story. So, you're going to tell me."
"No," he said sharply. "You had no right to invade my privacy like that. No right---"
"Tell me the real story," she repeated. She dropped the book on the desk; it fell with a heavy thud that just screamed finality. "This time, don't lie to me, Damian."
He knew that was a warning. It was don't lie to me, Damian. Or else.
Damian smoothed his hand over the cover.
"I did tell you the truth. My father was killed by a gunshot during a riot. The night he died, I came to a terrible realization: a single bullet was enough to kill Batman. My father, who had forever been larger than life to me in my mind, had proven his mortality. It rattled me. I think I went a little mad. As a child of the house of al Ghul, I have had a unique view of reality."
He paused, frown lines dimpling the corners of his mouth.
"As you are well aware, my grandfather has lived for hundreds of years. He has lived long enough to have experienced most of what the world has to offer. He's lived long enough to see liars and cheats to be mistaken for gods, and to see gods die. And I am one of the only living souls to have heard his story from beginning to end. Of course, that is because I was to be used as a vessel for my grandfather's spirit to be poured into."
Steph relaxed, just a little. Pity softened her.
"You didn't tell me about that."
"If I had gone into the details of my upbringing and discussed all of the questionable things I endured, you would have made it your goal to kill my mother years ago. There are days when I toy with the idea myself." Damian took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. "Because of this knowledge, I knew that there are ways to cheat death---ways more reliable than the Lazarus Pits."
He drummed his fingertips on the book cover.
"This is a book on demon summoning. The night of my father's death, I went to a crossroads and called to hell until it answered."
All the color drained from Stephanie's face. Her expression was every bit as horrible as he'd feared it'd be.
"You made a deal with a demon?"
"Yes and no." His mouth was so dry, it was difficult to swallow. "I made a deal with Satan."
Her mouth hung open. Damian glanced down at his hands. He rubbed his knuckles nervously.
"I made a bid for limited immortality. So, I cannot die, but I can age. When I have grown too old, I will die and my soul will be forfeit."
"You idiot," Stephanie breathed, her shock robbing the punch from her words. "You stupid, stupid fuck. You sold your fucking soul to the devil. Do the words Faustian deal mean anything to you, genius? I can't believe you. I can't believe you could be so stupid!"
That prickled him. His face burned with shame. In retrospect, he didn't know, either. He had been too afraid, too hysterical. It'd seemed worth it, then.
Damian couldn't look up at her. There was more.
"I didn't tell you because I was afraid. When Dick..."
Her soft, horrified "Oh, no. No, no." meant that he didn't have to finish the thought.
Dick had found out when Damian had taken two bullets to the chest that had been meant for him. His reaction had been almost exactly like Stephanie's. He'd grabbed him, strong-arming him into a tight embrace, and promised that he'd find someone who could get him out of it. He'd said he'd find help. And he'd never come back.
In trying to save him, he'd very likely been killed.
"I can't go through that again," Damian continued, eyes squeezed shut. "I can't lose someone else to the search for 'help'. It's not worth it. It's not possible. The deal was made, and now I must cope with it. If I hadn't made it, I would have died yesterday. If I hadn't made it, you would have died years ago. The night that Croc's gang got you, I used my own blood in the transfusion. If I hadn't been able to spare that much blood, you wouldn't have made it until dawn."
Stephanie lightly touched his face, tracing the path that the bullet had ripped through his cheek.
"That was before you were even...before you and I..."
He leaned into her hand, finally looking up at her. Don't hate me for this, he begged.
"I was thirteen when I realized that I was in love with you. I vowed to merely keep it to myself until I was old enough that you'd see me as a man, not a child. When Father died, I gave up those feelings. But then I came back, and you..." He closed his eyes. Each word was a struggle with his pride. "Finally saw me as acceptable."
She combed her short nails through his hair and kissed him.
"I've seen you as acceptable for a while, D. But you looked seventeen at twelve, so you cheated at puberty and I didn't want to end up in jail. This was the wise choice for me to make."
Steph was trying to smile, but it wasn't quite right. It was forced, because he'd told her he'd sold his soul and that meant something to her. And now she was scared. Now she pitied him. Now, he could only pray that she wouldn't get it into her head that she could succeed where Grayson had woefully failed.
She was back to being reasonable, but it wouldn't last. What had changed was not something that he could reset.
The Ringmaster had a very particular way of working. He sent out the advance, men in unmarked black vehicles, to paper the city. The posters were innocuous enough, proclaiming that there was a circus coming to town. The first sunny day that they had, the posters burst into flames. Hundred of fires, all over the city, and only one boss with that M.O.: Phosphorus Rex.
The Circus of Strange was back in Gotham. At least there wasn't any real need for detective work, for once. The Circus was a show, and it was well known that the GCPD were overwhelmed by the rising level of crime. They could get away with putting on a bit of a spectacle.
The GCPD were overwhelmed, but Damian was not. Now that Stephanie knew his secret, he no longer had to hold himself back. He could throw himself into the streets boots-first---he didn't have to worry about protecting the lie of his mortality. And when you didn't have to pretend to be afraid of death, you could accomplish so, so much.
Word was spreading quickly that Batman could be peppered with bullets and survive. The Bat had been elevated to godhood, and the nonbelievers wanted to test him.
Damian was more than happy to oblige their demands for a show. It was painful, of course, but the effect that it had on the criminals was more than worth it. Finally, the image of the Batman was once again an urban legend, deathless.
It would have done his father proud.
The Circus of Strange's arena was lit by banjo lights. They were fueled by gasoline instead of electricity, belching heat. It had to have been a hundred and twenty degrees underneath the bigtop. A masked man played a massive calliope; steam whistled and sang from it in wavering, haunting notes. The inside of the tent felt like being in hell. Even with his suit's insulation, his exposed face began to drip sweat.
In came the clowns. The flaming, screaming, burning clowns. It was a charivari of the damned.
The invitation had quite obviously been a Bats-only engagement, but the Circus kidnapped a few notable so-and-sos in order to make it seem less like a move of morbid curiosity. The hostages were trussed up in the second row of bench seats around the ring. The first row of seats was on fire.
"I've got 'em," Batwoman said without having to be prompted. They wanted to see his act, not his, so she could focus on the innocents while Damian headed off against the boss.
He'd been a child the first time he'd fought Phosphorus Rex. The meta freak was a man literally on fire, his body burning endlessly.
"I'm a heat merchant," Phosphorus Rex crowed, arms spread and corona wide. "Welcome to hell, Bats!"
Hell. Hell, where he would be eventually.
But not yet. No, not yet. He was still under contract, which meant that he would survive this earthly pit.
He was engulfed by flames.
Painful didn't cut it. Agony was too small a word. Torment was too weak.
There were no words. Just burning, and the incredible awareness of everything inside him melting and boiling and regenerating, only to burn again. It was the kind of pain that was ecstasy, just at the other extreme. It'd kill a normal man---instantly.
And it did kill him. Instant by instant, over and over. He hadn't been sure if his body would keep up, but it did.
It was a game, almost. Playing chicken with death.
How much could he endure?
When would he hit too much?
The calliope started wailing a rendition of "Stars and Stripes Forever" and his burning face pulled into a smile. The song reminded him of his brother, who had been as instilled with the secrets of the circus as Damian himself had been instilled with the secrets of assassins. Under the bigtop, "Stars and Stripes Forever" was a warning. It was what the band played when something had gone horribly wrong, when someone had fallen to their death or been trampled and everyone needed to evacuate or look away. Sousa's cheery notes only punctuated the fatal slips, the emergencies. The song had reminded Dick of loss and everything going wrong, an acrobat's funeral dirge. But for Damian, in that moment, it was a victory march.
As he stood there, a burning, grinning corpse, he finally knew for certain that he had no limits. Nothing could stop him. Not guns, not fire, not a nuclear fucking bomb. When he'd been a child, his mother had told him he was a perfect. And now, he knew that he was perfect. Brilliant, burning, unstoppable.
Men and women poured from the tent. Fire licked up the king pole. Damian grabbed Phosphorus Rex by the throat and started punching. Underneath the flames, the radiation, and the inflammable skin, were things that bruised and broke like any other body.
It didn't take much, thankfully. He wasn't a bastard who could take many hits---never had to. He was smoking when he drew away, his face regenerated but his hands still burnt. It wouldn't take long before they healed, thankfully. He could already hear the shrill sirens and fire trucks in the distance. It was time to exit stage left.
Stephanie had freed the hostages and was waiting for him outside.
"You smell," she sucked in a shuddering breath, ashen. "You smell like," she breathed hard through her nose. "Coo---hu---hnngh---"
She doubled over, hands gripping her knees, and threw up.
Cooked. He smelled like burnt meat. Everything considered, that was exactly what he was. He'd been cooked inside and out, and he'd survived. The hurt was dwarfed by the triumph.
"Sorry," Damian said gruffly. He reached out to touch her back as she panted and gagged, but she pulled away sharply. She staggered a few steps out of his reach and vomited again.
He'd never seen her react so violently to anything.
The realization that he'd crossed a line was slow-dawning, but it settled deeply. He knew, right then, that something had changed.
She didn't speak to him for the rest of the night.
She didn't speak to him for the rest of the week. Stephanie was gone during the days, and silent unless completely necessary when they were in the field. More often than not, she chose to split up. Once upon a time, he'd begged for her to shut up and leave him alone, but now that she actually was, he couldn't deal with the quiet. It was too much, endless reverberations in his ears accusing him wordlessly of ruining something he hadn't realized he needed.
At first, it annoyed him. He was angry at her for her childish reaction, angry at himself for wanting her to return to the inane chatter that he'd badmouthed for so many years. When she didn't stop, anger fell way to fear. She'd never punished him for anything before. This was new behavior, and he didn't know what to do to make it right.
Anger and fear chased each other around until he snapped.
"Are you going to talk to me ever again, or will I have to adjust to having a mute for a partner?" Damian demanded, his last nerve finally burned through. "Will you continue to treat me as anathema, or will you fucking get over yourself? I don't want to continue to hold my breath if you are intent on punishing me for saving lives."
"Was that what you were doing with Phosphorus Rex? Saving lives?" Steph asked, eyes fever-bright. She was angry. "Looked to me like you were getting your little boy martyr on. Daddy's not going to love you more if you keep killing yourself over and over to prove how invincible he should have been." She rubbed both of her hands over her eyes. Without the fire in them, her exhaustion showed. "I can't keep watching you do this, D."
Fights between them---true fights---were rare. They had to be. They knew each other too well for it to be any other way. Once one of them drew first blood, rationality went out the window. It devolved into who could push the most buttons first, who could completely punch the air from the other's lungs with the fewest words.
He'd started it, but she would finish it. She was every bit as tenacious as he was, and he knew that she understood where to strike to make him bleed. She couldn't kill him, but she could ruin him.
It was an epiphany. It was an epiphany, crowning at the exact wrong moment.
"Get out," Damian snarled, voice low. His hands tightened on the top of the chair.
"Run that one by me one more time, Boy Wonder. I didn't hear you."
"Get out!" He roared, kicking the chair over. It crashed; she jumped reflexively. It was the temper tantrum of a child, but attached to the body of man. He could have hurt her. He knew that. "Get. OUT!"
Stephanie didn't move. She didn't look away, chin lifted stubbornly.
"If you think that you scare me, get over yourself," she said calmly, evenly. "I wasn't afraid of your father, and I'm not afraid of you. It's not your fucking city. If you don't like what I have to say, suck it up."
"This is my cave, my manor! If you don't want to be a part of this, then go. Leave before I remove you."
"I said that I didn't want to watch you kill yourself over and over. Not that I wanted to leave, and not that I don't want to be a part of this," she said. His threats bounced off her harmlessly. He'd have to stop using the blunt edge of the verbal knife and apply a point. "There has to be something that we can do---some way to get you out of this!"
"I don't want to get out of this! If I hadn't made this deal, I would have died years ago. I need it."
The words need it made her stiffen. He could just see her digging in her heels.
"So what? You're just going to---going to go to hell after you get old and gray?"
"I can't say that I believe in hell," he murmured, carefully neutral.
"How the hell could you not? Something gave you these powers, and someday you're going to have to pay it forward. And that? It's not worth it. It's not."
"I disagree. And I could feasibly prolong the inevitable." Damian paused, held his tongue for a moment, and then decided that he couldn't dangle that out without finishing the thought. "I could use the Lazarus Pit as my body ages, and I will never have to worry about dying or aging ever again."
Her eyes widened. He couldn't name the emotion in her eyes, but it made him feel like everything warm and necessary inside him had been scraped out.
"Why be Batman if you can be Batgod, huh?" Steph said, her voice shaky. "Were you planning on telling me this before I died, or were you just going to surprise me with it after you revived me a couple of times?"
Didn't she want to be with him forever?
Had he been mistaken?
The thought made him feel like something inside him had loosened and pulled free. It hurt.
"If you don't like that, go. You will not change my mind with your incessant nagging. Nothing has changed, and nothing will change."
"Do you want me to leave?"
His shoulders sagged. He couldn't find words. No was so easy, but he couldn't choke it out. He'd just screamed at her to leave, hadn't he? Hadn't that been clear enough for her? If she didn't want to be with him forever, he didn't want to be with her at all.
It was a lie. She knew that. She sensed his hesitance. Pressed her advantage.
"Do you want me to go?"
Damian's features twisted up as he tried to decide whether he wanted to be furious or heartbroken. Both felt valid enough. He righted the chair, then sunk into it, face in his hands.
She leaned over him, tracing the line of his jaw and following it up to the peaks of the bat-ears before carefully removing his cowl.
"I'll always love you, D," Stephanie said softly, stroking the short, sweat-damp hair at his temple. "But I can't pretend that what you're doing is okay. I can't watch you do this. What would you do if I died, and you couldn't bring me back? If you love me so much, how could you take the chance that we might not end up together after we bite the big one?"
He didn't know the answer to that. That was the problem. When he'd made his deal, when he'd laid out his plan to cheat death indefinitely, he'd never anticipated falling in love with someone. It'd seemed impossible for a man like him. He hadn't imagined a life outside of his purpose, and now he had one.
And now he was stuck with the deal, and it made everything in him feel fractured.
"If you love me, you'll stand by my choices," he said, though when it came out of his mouth it sounded more like a question. If you love me? "A woman does that for a man."
"Maybe in harem-land, but in the real world," Steph snapped, sounding tired. "It doesn't work like that."
"Why not? Why can't you stand by me? You gave up everything to fight. I only did the same."
She drew away from him. "I didn't give up my soul."
"No," he agreed, sitting up straight and fixing her with an unerring glare. "But your mother died because you were Batwoman. In protecting the city, you sacrificed her, your home, any human relationship at all. You'd resigned yourself to being yet another spinster in a cape. Before me, you had nothing."
Stephanie flinched. The startled hurt in her eyes made him fumble with the desire to immediately apologize, to make it right.
But he didn't.
"You're right. You're so right!" she said, too loudly and too enthusiastically to mean what she was saying. Each word was a blunt instrument. "What would I have done if you hadn't swooped in to save me?"
He looked away.
"That isn't what I meant."
"Really? Then tell me, Damian. What did you mean? I'm all ears. I'd love to hear about how you're not actually a deceitful, manipulative asshole. For a while, you had be believing that you were a decent human being. My. Bad."
"Overreacting? I'm sorry, I just watched my boyfriend get turned into a walking barbecue!" Her voice broke there, and the sharp edges pressed into him. He hadn't ever thought what it looked like to her. She'd watched him die again and again. "It's a little difficult for me to wrap my head around you giving a single fuck about the future."
"I did this because I was ensuring the stability of Gotham's future. You and I are the same," he growled. He needed to make her understand. "When it comes to our duty to Gotham, all else is second."
She slapped him. The crack of her palm against his cheek resounded in the cave.
"We're not the same," she hissed, close to screaming or crying or slapping him again. "I believed you when you said that I wasn't expendable. I wouldn't give you up."
"I---" his face throbbed unevenly. "Neither would I. I wouldn't sacrifice you."
"But your soul's fair game? Is that it? Look, here's the facts. If you'd sell your soul, nothing else matters to you. You don't care about living or dying or anything else. You don't give a shit about anyone but dead old daddy. Don't kid yourself, sport."
The way she said sport made his senses buzz with angry, hectic static.
She was talking down to him. Not teasing him. Patronizing him, like he was still a child who didn't know better.
She'd never talked to him that way before. Not even when he had been a child.
"No," Damian snapped, his hands balling into fists. He didn't hit her back, but he wanted to. "I did what was necessary. It hasn't affected my quality of life, has it? No. I've traded heady maybes for conditional immortality, and it was worth it. I don't care if you respect that or not, but it was mine to barter. My life. You cannot just assume that I'd sacrifice you with any amount of levity. This is what I wanted."
"Do you still want me?"
And there it was again. It felt like a trick question. She took off her mask, and for once he couldn't read her expression; she wasn't letting him in. He couldn't tell what conclusion she'd come to, or if his explanation had been sufficient. He didn't know if he still needed to apologize, but if she was getting out of her suit it meant that she wasn't leaving. That was a staggering relief.
Damian hated her and he hated himself because he wasn't sure when was the last time he'd wanted anything more. He wanted her to accept this, let it go, and let things go back to how they'd been. He'd made the deal when he was fourteen---it'd been a part of his life ever since, and it hadn't hurt her when she hadn't known. He didn't say yes, but he pinned her up against the computer desk and fumbled with her suit's hidden zipper. That was close enough to yes. His hands shook with the plea he couldn't voice.
She didn't think he would protect her, that she wasn't cannon fodder to his father's endless crusade. He'd prove her wrong. He'd show her if he had to.
His soul was an abstract idea that he wasn't sure he believed in. But she was real, she was tangible, and she was touchable.
Steph wasn't being playful. Her kisses came with a scrape of teeth. She wrestled with his suit, pulling it down to his waist. She didn't even try to get it any further; not when she had bare skin to dig her nails into. The long, even welts she clawed down his back and shoulders disappeared almost as quickly as they appeared, so she had no reason to stop.
Something had changed. Damian tried to slow her down, tried to turn this into an apology, but she wouldn't have it. And, well, he'd never been one to take anything. He gave as good as he got. If she wanted it to be like this, it'd be like this. It was just a different kind of fight. After a brief battle with the tiny zipper, he got her suit peeled off of her. He had to be careful, because her skin kept and showed any marks.
"God, your breasts," Damian choked out, like he'd been keeping that pent up since he was ten years old. It wasn't a full thought, nothing careful or illuminating. It was just the uncomplicated reverence of a teenage boy. His rough thumb brushed over one of her nipples, curious hands gently---and then not so gently---squeezing her full tits. She had silvery little lines in them, stretch marks, and he remembered that she had been a mother, once. Stephanie had been younger than he was when she'd delivered her bastard.
It made him angry, and he wasn't sure why. Even though she'd given up the baby, it still had left marks. His mother had not carried him or suffered with him or been stretched and sullied by the shameful, ugly miracle of childbirth. He was not her child; he was her creation. Stephanie had more of a visible connection to the bastard she'd given up than his mother had to him.
He bit her nipple, sucking hard on a mouthful of warm skin.
"Not that hard," she warned, fingers knotted in his hair. Damian grunted, venting his displeasure at being told what to do with a sharp roll of his hips. He was still aching to fight, still angry. She hissed and arched.
He wished the stupid woman would just make up her mind.
The overhead lights were off, so they were lit only by the electric blue glow of the console's monitors. Her bare flesh was luminous, the contrast between her skim milk colored skin and his duskier tone more obvious than ever. She glowed under his hands, between his fingers.
Steph fumbled with his utility belt, jimmying the latch and letting it drop to the floor with a clatter. He kept one arm looped around her back, and used his other to help her get himself out of his jock and his suit's pants. As soon as they'd untangled themselves from their uniforms enough to do so, he held onto her hips and thrust into her. He didn't hesitate, didn't ease himself in; she huffed a breath that was one part whine. He knew he was hurting her, that she needed more time and gentleness before she could take all of him, but she was letting him do it. She was making him do it---grinding herself into him.
Maybe she was trying to make herself hate him. Maybe she was trying to make him hate her. He couldn't tell, but he hated it. He made himself stop, still and trembling, and tried to gather himself well enough to piece together an apology. She arched, hooking her boot around his leg, and pressed the heel into his thigh until he bottomed out. Damian's hips jerked in rabbity automatic thrusts, and he swore.
She fisted her hands against his back.
"Damian," Stephanie whispered as he found a rhythm and she hid her face in the crook of his neck. "I'm---I'm sorry."
He thought that she was apologizing for the argument. That it'd get better.
He didn't realize then that she meant goodbye.
She was gone when he woke up. Her side of their bed was cold.
The pillow smelled like him and her and he was suddenly so blindingly angry he couldn't breathe. He punched the pillow hard, snarling a curse without syllables.
She'd left nothing but the smell of her sex and her hair and her sweat.
Stupid, stupid woman. He hated her. He hated her so much, it was painful. He hated her so much, he shook and felt like he'd vomit from the force of it.
His mother's tutors had thoroughly indoctrinated him on the concepts of nature, on Darwin and biological imperatives. He'd been meant to be above such things, such base desires, and as a child he hadn't thought it would ever be a challenge. Love was chemistry: serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and phenylenthylamine. It could be replicated, could be synthesized. He'd scoffed at the idea of animals that mated for life, of swans that twined their necks together like the arches of a heart, of wolves that starved to death in mourning when their mate died prematurely. He hadn't been able to wrap his mind around loving someone so much, you couldn't imagine a future without them.
He understood it, now.
But, he reflected as he sat on the edge of the bed, staring blankly at the square of floor between his bare feet, he was not a son of Darwin. He was not a creature created by natural selection, a man possessing only his inborn gifts. He was an instrument, bred for a very specific purpose.
And that was why, instead of folding in on himself and dying like he wanted to, Damian reached for his cowl.
He was Batman. Justice. The son of his father, the inheritor of his burdens. He had given up his soul for this, so he had to make it worth his sacrifice. This was what his father, the Batman, would have wanted him to do.
That was what mattered.
That was the only thing that mattered.
He wasn't the first one on the scene four months later, when the GCPD found her body. The police got there before he did---even Barbara got there before he did, despite all the stairs that led up to the church and her cumbersome wheelchair.
Batwoman had been nailed to the cross, cape pulled wide like an actual pair of bat wings. Her cowl had been ripped off and her buttery yellow hair shaved. It'd been done messily, rusty cuts dried around the nape of her neck and ear. Ear, singular. They'd cut the other off. The entire setup was a mixed metaphor, too many ugly details to mean anything more articulate than die, Bat, die.
Commissioner Gordon saw him up in the rafters, long since trained to look for shadows that didn't quite blend. Her blue eyes were electric, furious; there was no question that this was the last straw for her, the final betrayal. She hadn't forgiven him for Dick and Bruce, and she'd never forgive him for Stephanie.
Damian ducked back further into the dark and watched as the GCPD began the deposition.
Whatever was left in him pulled tight and calcified.
His brother was already at the designated spot when he arrived. Jason had dyed his hair black again, though Damian could hardly understand why. Maybe he switched back and forth so that no one knew which was real, what about him was true and fact and what had been built up by the mythos of the Red Hood. Stephanie had understood him, but Damian did not. What tied them together was their shared legacy, the role of Father's Least Favorite Son, and the 'sister' that had existed between them.
"Aren't you looking sharp," Jason snorted as he stepped into the luminous circle under the street lamp, sizing him up out of the corner of his eye. "But what happened to the hair, chum? Or is this just your new look?"
He hadn't come as Batman. No domino mask, no cowl, no hood. He was dressed neatly, in a gray wool blazer, a button-down white shirt, and a tie. If not for his black leather gloves, he could have been going to a wedding---or a funeral. He'd shaved his hair, cropping it down too close-cut bristle.
Damian's throat worked, but he was outwardly calm. He didn't say anything, which made Jason's face pull into a cheshire grin. It didn't reach his eyes, so it looked more like a grimace.
"Started falling out, huh? Stress does that---believe me, been there. I could never tell if it was falling out 'cause I was dying it all the time or just fretting 'til it thinned. Might've been both."
"Do you have what I asked for," Damian asked icily. "Or am I wasting my time?"
"I got it. You're not gonna like it, but I got it."
He unzipped his leather jacket, pulling out a creased manila folder. It was thin, official-looking.
"Read it," Jason said, tossing it to him. "Then destroy it. I've already scrubbed the digital footprint."
It was the autopsy report. The Commissioner had made damned sure that he'd been locked out of the system, so he hadn't been able to retrieve the information himself---not as Batman, and certainly not as Damian Wayne. But Jason Todd had his ways, and a surprising emotional investment.
He'd volunteered to get it. He hadn't even had to ask for him to get involved. Jason had strong, strong views on wrapping up loose ends. They both had to know how it'd happened, what had killed her. It was a part of the mourning process.
Damian opened the file, and his stomach lurched violently.
He could have underlined what he wanted him to see, but he hadn't needed to. It jumped out at him, though he had to read and reread it. A wave of dizziness crested over him and he had to swallow down his nausea.
Jason looked at him sidelong. He took a pack of cigarettes out of his jacket's pocket, tapping it against the flat of his palm.
"What d'you know," he said smoothly. "You do have feelings, just like a real boy. I'm guessing this is news to you."
"I had no idea," Damian whispered. His face felt hot, his tie choking him. He wanted to rip up the report, but he couldn't make himself close the file.
"Think she knew?"
He shook his head, hard. "No. She wouldn't have been patrolling had she known."
Jason leaned against the wall next to him. He wordlessly offered him a cigarette and a light.
"So, I'm gonna be honest with you. He dies tonight---that's all there is to it. I'm giving you first dibs, but if you don't do it, I will." He lit his own cigarette, taking a long drag. The cherry lit up the curves of his cheekbones, then the Zippo closed with a metallic clack. "Fucker cost me the chance to be that uncle."
He handed him the lighter. Damian folded the autopsy report neatly, then skated the flame along the bottom edge until it caught fire. No one could know how badly he'd failed. Nobody else could ever know the extent of his loss. Todd wouldn't tell. It was on his head, too. They'd both failed her.
Damian took the lit cigarette. It was a small, sorry peace offering. He'd never smoked before, but he'd borrow any vice if it'd take the tremors out of his hands.
"Are you positive that it was him?" He asked, his voice pulled steely tight.
Jason nodded. "Yeah. The heads I kicked in were full of all kinds of legit info. They were reliable sources before their tragic skull fractures. It all checks out. Good enough for you, chief?"
"Yes. It is good enough for me," Damian murmured.
They finished their cigarettes in silence, watching the autopsy report curl up and burn out at their feet. Jason ground the butt of his cig under his boot, squeezing Damian's shoulder. It was reassuring, in a way.
Had this been his father's story and not his own, the night would have played out differently.
All of the Arkham regulars had changed since his father's death. Ivy had gone back to the Green. The Terrible Trio had turned themselves into true animals. Killer Croc had become an urban legend that lived in the sewers. Harley'd lost so much, she'd ended up Loveless. Jason had struck a balance, which was its own kind of fucked up.
And Zsasz had found God, or something like Him.
The way that Jason's informants had painted it, it'd gone down like this. After she had left him, Batwoman had been back on her own beat. She'd been fine, capable, but hunted. Zsasz had reevaluated some things, had traded in his old addictions for something new. He'd convalesced under the care of some Catholic nurses; they'd shown him the Light, using the way that Batwoman had saved him as an example of grace.
And Zsasz had assimilated all of that information, twisting it and warping it so that it'd fit into the dark, complicated corridors inside him. He'd decided to return the favor, saving Batwoman from the night itself. That was why the crime scene had been so busy, so desperate and confused---he hadn't known how to provide a true sacrifice, so he'd pulled from his old life.
Stephanie hadn't stood a chance on her own. When Zsasz had knocked on her door to share the good news about his Savior, she'd been four months pregnant. Weakened, overextended, and without a friend in the world to watch over her.
He'd condemned her. Barbara had refused to work with her if she aided him, and he---stupid, arrogant fool that he was---had pushed her away. She'd died alone. He'd assumed that she would go back to her, that she'd return to how she'd been before he had returned to Gotham, but he should have known better. Assumptions were stupid. Assumptions were messy. Assumptions killed.
His fault. All his fault.
Damian couldn't make that right. He couldn't apologize, but he could do the one thing that his father had not been able to: he could get even. He could choose not to forgive.
Zsasz wouldn't be allowed to live. Not like Joker. Not like Black Mask.
For better or worse, Damian was not as kind as his father had been.
Mr. Zsasz was living in a church-funded halfway home. Serenity House, it was called. There was a little cross on the door, a Bible visible in every room. The plump worker at the door had smiled at him, her dimples deep, when he'd introduced himself as Mr. Zsasz's nephew. He'd spun her a bright tale of familial obligation and pride, or wanting so badly to connect with his uncle now that he'd turned over a new leaf. She'd fallen in love with him a little, told him she'd pray for a good, dear boy like him, and then left him alone in a room with the monster who had killed his partner.
Damian smiled as he closed and locked the door behind him.
"Who are you?" Zsasz asked, an unvoiced threat braided into the question.
"An old acquaintance," Damian said, still baring all of his teeth at him. He sensed him on an animal level; an addict knows an addict, always. "We had a mutual friend. The Batwoman."
"God bless her soul," the monster intoned gravely. Damian's nostrils flared.
"You sort of forced God's hand in the matter, don't you think?" He asked, circling closer. Zsasz's hands twisted the cane he was leaning against. "You did send him her soul before her time."
The first time he'd fought him, he'd been astounded at his speed. His strikes had been automatic, so natural he hadn't left many tells. The blade had been a part of him, so this time, he'd known that he'd have his sharps on him somewhere. He wasn't disappointed. He twisted his cane one last time, and that was enough of a tell. He grabbed the cane; half of it pulled free with a singing metallic note.
The cane had a false bottom. It separated, revealing a long, slender blade. The old sword-in-a-cane trick. Damian clucked his tongue reproachfully.
"What happened to doing God's work, Mr. Zsasz? Don't you believe that he'll protect you? You wouldn't be carrying a blade if you had true faith."
"I am a man of God! I fear nothing! I saved her. This---see this? This, here?" One of Zsasz's long fingers drummed a still-healing cut on his chest, over his heart. "This is her. This is where I saved her. When God reads me, he'll know where to find her."
"You," Damian snarled. It was the only warning that he gave.
In one swift, smooth movement, he skewered Zsasz straight through the belly. His mouth opened and closed like a puppet's, teeth clacking.
"I just stabbed you in the stomach," he informed him coolly, though he was surely aware that he had a blade poking out his back and a ridiculous length of cane jutting out of his front. "You know what that means? Gastric perforation. As we speak, the hydrochloric acid of the peptic juices is mixing in your bloodstream. This will lead to toxemia---agonizing, isn't it? You have about fifteen minutes to live. How will we spend them, Zsasz? On a confessional? Please, allow me to begin with one of my own."
Damian pulled out the blade, then pushed on his abdomen. Hard. Acid seeped and spread.
"I gave you that cut because you were missing a mark, you foul piece of shit, and I know how important it is that you keep score. You see, when you 'saved' Batwoman, you killed the child she was carrying."
He pushed harder. Zsasz howled.
"My child," Damian snarled, lips pulled back to bare his teeth. "I thought it only right that I catch you up on your hatchmarks."
Zsasz vomited blood. It bubbled out of the corners of his mouth, streaking his uneven teeth a filmy pink, and stained his shirt with fat drops like red coins.
"Ah, there we are," said Damian, ripping off a length of his sleeve, balling it up, and stuffing it into his mouth. "Hematemesis. Lovely. Your punctured stomach is filling with blood. How is dying? Everything that you dreamed it would be? Have you transcended the pain, or has the pain itself become transcendental? How the fuck is martyrdom, Mr. Zsasz?"
The scarred-up man's eyes rolled until the whites showed balefully.
"Do you know who I am?" he asked, since his victim wasn't giving him the satisfying fifteen minutes he'd hoped for. He didn't get it yet. He didn't understand the poetry behind it all, the cyclic reason he was giving him those fifteen minutes in the first place.
He wanted him to know. He wanted him to know exactly what he'd done and exactly why he couldn't be forgiven, but he wasn't showing any hints of having picked up on the punchline. So much for subtlety.
"No?" Damian jammed his fingers into the wound, then very deliberately smeared his bloody hand across his eyes. It left warpaint, a dripping slick domino mask. "How about now?"
Recognition lit in Zsasz's eyes, chased closely by horror. It had the manic fire of a stupid, trapped beast. He'd expected more than a man who fell apart like a stuck pig.
"How about now?" Damian repeated, this time in his father's voice.
He'd never seen Zsasz scared before. The animal knew that he was dying, then; knew it on a level he could not ignore.
"You took everything that I had. I will not forgive you for that."
He watched as the monster moaned and bled and slavered. It was an excruciating, ignoble way to die. When his end was near, Damian didn't beleaguer it. He might have, not so long ago, but he truly just didn't want to be near the man long enough to torture him for any considerable length of time. He wanted to make him die, and to make it hurt.
But he did not torture.
He had his own lines that he wouldn't cross. Torture was what separated him from the true psychopaths. Didn't it?
He cut off Zsasz's head, ending his subhuman whines and pleads. He left it there---it was no trophy to him. Keeping the proof of his victory wasn't important, not this time.
As he left, he placed an anonymous tip. He knew that the Commissioner would recognize his handiwork.
Maybe she'd realize that he was to be left alone and allowed to work however he chose. Her father had let his father rule the city. Now, she would step aside and allow him to do the same.
Of course, his father wouldn't have been there, wouldn't have done this.
He'd finally buried him.
He was Batman, now.
The trophy case was empty, but not for his lack of trying. The Commissioner had been adamant that he couldn't have any part of her---not her body and not her costume, not as Damian Wayne and not as Batman. The GCPD had barred him from her funeral, claiming that he was a person of interest in her murder. He could have killed them all for that, for that one cutting insult, but she wouldn't have wanted it.
He'd sat in his car and watched the procession from a distance. There couldn't have been more than ten people there. Tim gave the eulogy; he could have read his lips, but he didn't want to hear what he had to say, what kind of friend he'd paint himself as. He didn't want to know if Barbara had told him about the second child that she had lost. Drake hadn't come in on his white horse to save her, so he had no right to talk about her.
He knew why Barbara wouldn't let him near her remains. She thought he would try to bring her back.
Oh, and he would have. He would have bartered, begged, and laid himself prone at his mother's feet for access to the Lazarus Pit. He would have done anything.
But Barbara ordered her cremation. He could have killed her for that, too.
So the trophy case was empty, and he couldn't change that.
He'd keep his promise. No more Robins, no more Batgirls, no more Batwomen. No one would replace her. No one.
Alfred trilled a question, headbutting his thigh. When he didn't give the cat the attention he was looking for, he pushed against his hand. He licked the blood from his fingers, a soft rasp of pink tongue. Damian didn't shove the cat away, just silently allowed him to lick his hands clean.
From then on, there would only be Batman. An undying, unstoppable Batman with blood on his hands.
Damian had never felt closer to his parents, nor had he ever hated them so much. He'd become exactly what they wanted him to be.
Long live the Bat.