Batman: The Salem Protocol


Two days later…

"You don't have to go, you know," Dick said. The two were walking down the gravel path, which led from the manor to the large hill that camouflaged the hangar.

"Yeah and you don't have to fly me. I can always hitch."

"Over my d—HEY!" He blocked Jason's punch almost instinctively.

Jason turned aside. "Don't joke like that. You have no… just… Don't." He took a few angry steps forward, then stopped.

Dick waited.

After a few moments, Jason doubled back. "If you're taking me, get a move on, G-d!"

"Seriously," Dick said as they continued. "Bruce wants you here."

"He's got my old costume in a trophy case." Jason sniffed. "Good enough."

"You don't believe that for a minute, and neither does he."

Jason sighed. "I know he doesn't… now." He grimaced. "Look, no matter what the plaque says, I was never a 'good soldier'. The longer I stick around, the faster he'll remember that. And the first time someone dies on my watch—and it's going to happen—he'll start wondering: did I or didn't I. Even if he doesn't ask." He looked down. "He won't ask. He'll just… think it." His eyes locked on Dick's. "Ever since I got back from… last year, I've been playing by his rules." He nodded at Dick's expression. "I haven't been killing. Just making the mooks wish I was. But it's a hell of a lot easier when nobody expects me to follow his..." He turned. "Crap. Look, I just want to start fresh. New city, new partner, new ballgame. You got a problem, you can go f…" He stopped. "You can get bent."

Dick raised an eyebrow. "You know," he said, "Roy's probably not going to let you talk like that around him." He grinned. "Too unimaginative. No, I give it a week before he's got you swearing in Spanish, Cantonese, and Inuktitun. You'll need to learn fast if you want to keep up."

"Vate a la mierda."

"Oh, good." Dick's eyes crinkled. "You already know Spanish. However," he added seriously, "you'll have to learn when to rein your vocabulary in, too, or Roy's never going to let you meet his daughter…"

"Sir, perhaps I could ease the…"

Bruce shook his head. "Thanks, Alfred, but I think I can handle this."

The elderly man sighed. "Very well, Sir. He's in here, I believe." Alfred pushed open the door to the study. "I ought to be helping Master Tim transfer his belongings to the Tuscan bedroom, as well."

"Tim can manage. You rest."

From overhead, came a thud, and then the sound of something being dragged along the floor. Alfred went pale. "Sir! He'll tear up the carpeting…"

"I'm on it, Alfred." Bruce dashed up the stairs.

Alfred took note of the small boy, huddled in the window-seat, watching the plane clear the manor grounds. "Master Damien? Is there any way in which I might be of assistance?"

Damien shook his head. "Why does he care so much about them? He has me, now."

The elderly butler sat down in a nearby armchair. "I'm not entirely clear as to what impact your recent arrival could have upon Master Bruce's emotions."

Damien brightened. "You mean he just hasn't known me long enough?"

Alfred sighed. "Suffice to say, Master Damien, that for your father, family ties are not necessarily forged in blood. You have three elder brothers, as well as one sister, whom you have yet to meet."

"But he has me!" Damien protested. "I understand that he took in others, but now that he knows of my existence, surely, he'll…"

"…welcome you into his home," Alfred finished. "As he has his other children, and they are his children, in every way save biology. Perhaps, Master Damien, when you've lived a little longer, you'll realize how unimportant that factor is, when weighed against others."

"But I'm the only son who shares his blood!"

The butler sighed once more. "Given that Master Dick once saved his life by giving him a full-body blood transfusion, Sir, I'm not even certain that's true."

Damien seemed to shrink into himself, a bit more. "Then, it's hopeless," he whispered. "The others don't want me here, and he's just keeping me out of some sense of duty…"

"People don't always take kindly to attempts on their lives," Bruce broke in dryly. He sat down in a second armchair, which faced both Alfred and Damien. "For what it's worth," he said quietly, "you're wrong. I do want you to stay. And it isn't just because you're my son. I'm… sorry if I gave you reason to think that."

Damien looked away. "That's the most you've ever said to me."

"I tend to let actions speak, rather than words."

"You barely stay in the same room with me."

Bruce winced. "Point."

"Why do you want me here, anyway? If it's not because I'm your—"

"I did say, 'not only'," Bruce reminded him.

"Well, then, why else? You don't need me for your crusade. You don't want for an heir—your servant has made that abundantly clear…"

"That's something else we'll need to set straight," Bruce mumbled, casting Alfred an apologetic look.

Alfred smiled. "Slowly, Master Bruce. There's no point trying to change a person's worldview in one afternoon."

Bruce nodded. He leaned forward in his chair and steepled his fingers. "It's difficult to adjust," he began haltingly, "to having your life ripped away from you in a moment. I had to make that adjustment when I wasn't much younger than you are right now. It's not the sort of thing that I'm comfortable seeing someone else endure."

Damien flushed. "You mean you pity me. You don't even know me! Am I supposed to be grateful that you're giving me a home? I hate this. I hate this place, and I hate my so-called siblings, and I hate Gotham, and I hate YOU!"

Without another word, he stormed out of the room.

Alfred hesitated. "Should I…"

Bruce shook his head. "No, Alfred. Let him cool off." He coughed. "He reminded me, though, old friend. I believe that I owe you an apology for saying something similar, over thirty years ago."

"Not at all, Sir. I'd clean forgotten, myself, until this moment." Alfred smiled. "You understand, then."

Bruce nodded. "He's just had his life changed, virtually overnight, and he's lashing out because he's angry about it. You and I just happen to be in range." He sighed. "How long did it take me before I stopped going off on you?"

"To tell the truth, Sir, I don't recall."

Bruce grimaced.

A moment later, the study door swung open, again. "I'm going upstairs," Damien announced.

They looked at him. "That's… fine, Damien," Bruce said.

Damien nodded curtly and exited. A moment later, he was back. "I don't hate you," he said softly.

He bolted out of the room, slamming the door behind him, before either of them could frame a response.

Bruce blinked. "What do you make of that, Alfred?"

The elderly butler smiled. "A start, Master Bruce," he said softly. "A start."

The Beginning

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