It starts in his hands.
Damian notices it right away. How his fork shakes when he eats, his fingers miss keys when he types, and his writing trembles more every time he signs his name. Drake can barely hold a pen let alone a staff; he’s managed to drop both repeatedly in the past week.
Across the cave, Drake tries and fails at applying adhesive to the back of his domino. Damian doesn’t offer to help him, only watches as it falls from his hands. Drake curses under his breath, picks it up, and tries again.
Tries being paramount.
It’s truly ridiculous how everyone has yet to notice what a disgrace Drake is being.
His appearance though unhealthy can be considered normal. Memories in which Drake doesn’t look like a corpse are rare, most of them centered in a time before Father’s ‘death.’
The sickly skin and permanent bruises around his eyes are nothing of note, something Damian has come to expect. His movements are not.
Jerky and senseless, full of stumbling and mistakes that not even Drake would make. Opening after opening that neither of their training should let them dismiss. As it is, Damian leans back in the computer chair and curls his upper lip, it’d be easy to kill him. Almost a mercy.
Drake drops the domino again. He doesn’t curse or move to pick it up. He stands there, staring down at it blankly. He stands for over three minutes. Damian counts while the silence drags on, and his hand finds the pommel of his knife. Drake’s lips stretch into a grin.
He laughs. It starts as a giggle and grows. His legs bend until Drake is sitting on the floor shaking all over with his head in his hands, echoes of laughter bounce off the cave walls. Damian pulls out his knife.
Just as suddenly as it started, it stops. The silence returns, Drake sits in it, perfectly still for a long time, then he takes his mask off the floor and stands. Lines of tears run down his cheeks and Drake wipes them away. His face is vacant as he finishes applying the adhesive and smooths the mask over his eyes.
He walks out. Only after he’s gone does Damian put away his knife. The hairs on his arms settle and Damian spins the chair around to face the computer. He checks over his shoulder.
That’s the second last time Damian sees Drake.
A week passed. Drake didn’t return. Damian doesn’t care. There are more important matters than Drake’s declining mental state.
The Joker has returned. Father always refused to tell Damian how he died.
Only an hour ago he watched his father change the deceased status back to alive. His hands didn’t shake or miss keys, but his face had been set into a frown deeper than any Damian had seen. The cave was quiet with only the sound of typing and equipment being checked filled the gloom.
Now Grayson is off trying to reason with Todd, Cain is out of country, Brown is looking for Drake, and Father is going after the Joker himself.
Damian is benched. Unfairly.
Left with Pennyworth on the premises that it is too dangerous for him. Since coming to Gotham, Damian’s heard all manner of foolish things, but none as aggravating as ‘too dangerous.’ A child’s reasoning. Nothing that Damian would let stop him.
Father is long gone. The Batmobile moving faster than Damian could ever with grapples. It’s not of consequence, Damian didn’t set out randomly after sneaking away from Pennyworth. He managed to overhear the Joker’s location.
Traffic roars on his left and quiet streets and quieter alleys stretch beneath him and to his right. Criminals and civilians alike choosing to remain at home. The entirety of Gotham is waiting to see what the Joker will do.
His hands don’t shake.
He shots his line to the next building and runs to swing across. The shadows move. Damian stumbles and catches himself before he goes over the edge. A few feet away from him Drake sits on the building with his legs dangling over the edge, smiling.
Drake looks straight ahead, almost concealed in the shadow of the billboard, still as a statue. The smile on his face doesn’t match with the dull look in his eyes as he stares down the brick siding of the building opposite them.
“What are you looking at?” He doesn’t answer and Damian stalks over. He follows Drake’s line of sight to the wall and there’s nothing, it’s just a wall. As expected of someone of Drake’s level of intellect. Damian looks down at him, a number of insults waiting to leave his mouth. And it’s not a smile.
Only an inch long, short and deep, it cuts up from one corner of his mouth and through the tissue of his cheek. It stretches and pulls when Drake speaks. “I don’t know.” He laughs like it’s the most amusing thing he’d ever heard and the cut tears. Damian can see a flash of teeth. Fresh blood runs down Drake’s chin, he wipes it off. More takes its place.
Damian steps back when Drake stands. The hand he uses to push himself up leaves a red print on the roof, so do his feet when he walks to the edge, Drake squints at the wall and a shudder wracks through his entire body. Damian tenses. Drake rubs the side of his face again. He considers telling him to stop when Drake takes a few steps back, fires his grapple at the other building and swings across.
Drake stands on the other roof, looks back and beckons to him with a hand.
Damian joins him and his father is out of sight, but Drake heads in the direction of Arkham without a word. Damian starts after him and doesn’t question how Drake knows where to go. He must have met with Brown.
They arrive at Arkham late. In front of him Drake steps over the bodies of unconscious men, Father has been through here already. Their footsteps are the only sound besides their breathing, it echoes and bounces off the walls of the passageway leading them under the asylum. The light dims until they’re walking in near pitch black, it’s a long walk before the tunnel lightens again.
Drake reaches the end first and freezes in the doorway. Typical. “Move, Red Robin.” Damian shoves past him when he doesn’t.
His father stands in the center of the room held at gunpoint by the Joker. Damian doesn’t hesitate to throw himself across the room with a growl and knock the gun from his hand. Father is right behind him punching the Joker in the face. The Joker stumbles and falls to the ground clutching his nose. His eyes flick to the side and his grin gets impossibly wider, he starts laughing as Father picks him up by the front of his obnoxious purple suit.
“Junior, I was wondering when you’d show up.” Damian spins around. The room is empty except for the four of them. “Be a lamb and grab the brat for me.”
“You’re dead.” Drake. The clown is speaking to Drake. Damian has seen nothing in his files that mention him previously going by Junior. Only Robin.
“Don’t be like that, we talked just yesterday.”
Drake shakes his head. “I don’t—" A door bursts open and a dozen masked men run in guns spraying the room with bullets.
Father drops the Joker and grabs Damian by the arm. He tosses him behind some rubble near the room wall. Seconds later he returns, Drake hangs limply in his arms and barely manages to stay upright when Father sets him down. Damian scoffs as Drake presses himself against the concrete that shields them. His father puts a hand on his shoulder and pushes him down next to him.
“Robin, take Red Robin back to the Cave.” Father leaps over the rubble without waiting for a reply.
“Tt.” Damian glances scornfully at Drake, curled up, staring at yet another wall. He has more important things to do than play babysitter for the imposter. Drake’s not moving anyway.
His father has already taken down four men when Damian scales the rubble to join him. Damian receives a warning glare that he chooses to ignore in favor of stabbing an attacker in the leg. The man drops with a shout.
On the ground, a few paces from him the Joker is crawling away. Damian’s intercepted before he can give chase. It takes a minute then another man is down. Every chance to follow is blocked and if that man got up one more time Damian is going to behead him. Finally, the last man is beaten and securely tied.
“Where’s Red Robin?” Father turns to him and Damian bristles. The Joker’s gone and the corner that once held Drake is empty. Damn him.
Three gunshots interrupt before Damian can answer and his father is already across the room, taking the door the masked men entered from. Damian hurries after him.
The Joker is a corpse lying in a pool of blood. Drake sits in it next to him holding a gun. He looks up when they enter, a tormented grin on his face. Damian can’t speak or move. Father freezes ahead of him briefly before running towards Drake.
He killed the Joker. Drake killed the Joker. Damian clenched his hands into fists to suppress the tiny tremor in the tips of his fingers. He’s killed and been forgiven. Father will forgive Drake for this.
Damian stiffens, but his father isn’t talking to him.
Drake’s hands don’t stop shaking, but the gun is steady, pressed against the underside of his jaw. His fingers take too few moments to find the trigger.