Awkward Misunderstandings

"I can't believe you would ruin a cookie that way." Jason's voice carried from the kitchen to the living room where Alfred was doing some light dusting. The butler paused in his work. He had left Damian alone in the kitchen at the boy's request. Alfred wasn't sure how Damian would react to Jason's intrusion or his criticism. The butler listened closely to see if his intervention was needed.

"Who says it is ruined?" Damian said crossly. Alfred breathed a sigh of relief. That was 'Annoyed Damian' not 'Murderous Damian.' He pulled the stepstool over to the chandelier. When Dick had been a child, the boy had offered several times to clean it himself. Alfred had held firm to the idea that young boys shouldn't be hanging from the ceiling fixtures.

"You put poison in it!" Jason accused. The butler stopped so suddenly in his climb that the step stool wobbled under him. He made himself calm his racing heart. Those cookies were for the bake sale at Damian's school. Surely Damian wouldn't put poison in them?

"You didn't have to eat one. In fact, I specifically told you not to eat one." Alfred climbed down from the stepstool and headed to the kitchen. He would not panic. Proper butlers did not panic. If Damian had indeed put poison in the cookies, he would also have an antidote on hand. Alfred had to ask himself what life choices he had made to land himself in the position of wondering first if a ten year old had poisoned cookies and then if said boy was responsible enough to have an antidote prepared.

Alfred had just reached the door to the kitchen when Damian added, "Peanut butter isn't poison."

"It is to me!" Jason retorted. The moment of relief at Damian's words vanished at Jason's reply. Was Jason allergic to peanut butter? Alfred hadn't thought so, and he would berate himself for the next several weeks if his oversight led to Jason's hospitalization. Did they still have an epi pen somewhere in the house? Alfred thought frantically if he should try the medicine cabinet in the hall or the Cave first.

"Don't be a drama queen, Todd. I've seen your medical file. You're not allergic to peanut butter."

"No, but it's still disgusting. Like I said, who would ruin a cookie that way?"

"I like peanut butter cookies. Besides, I have labels and a sign prepared for students who are actually allergic to peanut butter. And those who lack taste in the cookie department." Damian glowered at Jason.

Alfred retreated from the doorway without either boy seeing him. Maybe there was another corner of the house that could be cleaned, one far away from young charges who made his heart race in fear at their over-dramatic words.

Damian was training in the Cave when the elevator dinged. Stephanie and Barbara exited the elevator, chatting with each other. He ignored their presence and continued with his katas. The two women didn't stop to greet him as they moved over to the computer. Stephanie sat in the chair and Barbara moved her wheelchair next to the teenage girl.

"I don't think I should patrol tonight," Stephanie was saying.

"Not if you aren't feeling up to it," Barbara replied. Damian tutted quietly. Of course Stephanie would be trying to get out of patrol. The girl was not as dedicated as he was. He would never willingly skip patrol, not even if he were in physical pain.

"Maybe I should try though. I mean, you've been through the same thing," Stephanie continued.

"Yes, and sometimes I have skipped patrol because of it. Don't worry, Bruce will understand."

"He'll understand if it were you. He's not a fan of me," Stephanie said.

'Neither am I,' Damian added silently.

"Stephanie, on a scale of 1 to 10, how bad does it hurt?" Barbara asked.

"It feels like someone is twisting a knife in my guts, so a 5, I guess?"

"This family and their interpretation of the pain scale," Barbara muttered to herself. "So, basically, it would be a 8 to normal people. Have you taken medicine for it?"

"Yeah, but it hasn't kicked in yet. I don't know if the drugs will be strong enough to get me through even a shortened night of patrol."

"You'd be a liability if you went out like this," Barbara said.

"Thanks," Stephanie said sarcastically.

"You know what I mean," Barbara said more gently. "You know your limits. Don't hurt yourself worse. Stay in tonight. There's always another night for patrol."

"Thanks," Stephanie said, this time sincere. "You'll tell Bruce?"

"Sure thing."

When Damian turned towards the two women, he saw the pain in Stephanie's face. Guilt came over him for mentally criticizing Stephanie when she was in pain. He decided to try 'empathy' since Grayson had insisted on its importance lately. He marched over to the two women. "I am sympathetic to your plight," he said.

Stephanie looked at him in surprise. "You are?"

"I also have had experiences with being stabbed. It is most uncomfortable when the location of the injury is in the torso or abdomen."

"Um, that's sweet, Damian, but-"

"If you require stitches, I would be willing to accommodate." Damian was satisfied with his attempt at empathy. He had showed remorse for another's suffering and offered assistance. Grayson would be pleased with him.

"Damian, that's nice and all, but I don't need stitches."

"You have already been seen to?"

"No, I- I don't need stitches for what I have." Stephanie was trying to look serious, but Damian could detect the slight mirth in her voice. He glared at her. He was trying to be sympathetic; was she making fun of him?

"You said the pain was like a knife in your guts. You are going to skip patrol because of the pain."

"It is. I am. It's just..." Stephanie turned to Barbara. "Is he old enough to know about, you-know-what?"

"I am old enough for whatever you are referring to. I'm not a child."

"As you keep reminding us," Barbara said under her breath. In a louder voice, she said, "If you want to tell him, go for it, Steph."

"It's, um. You see, when two people-"

"I don't think he needs background on the whole topic, Steph!" Barbara interrupted. "She's on her period, Damian."

Oh. "I see." His face was not turning red. He was more mature than his peers. This would not unnerve him. "Then I assume you know how to deal with this without my assistance. I have work to get caught up on upstairs." Damian walked toward the stairs at his usual pace. Of course if it was a little quicker than usual, it was because he detested Fatgirl and wanted to leave her presence immediately. He heard Stephanie's voice from behind him.

"That was actually pretty nice for him, wasn't it? When did he start showing compassion?"

"Do you want to see a magic trick?" Jason asked as he entered the living room. Dick was sitting on the couch watching TV and Tim was lying sideways on a chair, with his legs draped over the arm of the chair.

Tim looked up from his book. "If it doesn't take long," he replied.

"Don't get overly excited or anything," Jason said.

Dick turned off the TV. "Okay, I'm watching." Since Dick was paying attention, Tim took that as a sign that he could go back to his book.

Jason shuffled the cards seven times. Then he divided them into three piles, and he immediately combined them again. Then he shuffled the cards one more time.

"Hurry up!" Dick said.

"I am hurrying. Keep your shirt on, already!"

A mischievous grin crossed Dick's face. "Keep my shirt on?" he asked innocently, then pulled his shirt off.

"Dick, really? No one wants to see that."

"Are you kidding? There are loads of people who want to see this."

"Well, I'm not one of them," Jason said.

"You know, we have these playing cards already out..."

"That's a no. A strong no. What weirdo plays strip poker with his brothers?"

"Something else is coming off," Dick said in a sing-song voice. He sat on the floor and messed with the cuff of his jeans.

"It had better be a shoe. If it's not a shoe, I'm leaving," Jason said.

"This is getting ridiculous," Tim muttered. He hadn't looked up once during their conversation..

Dick triumphantly pulled off his shoe and held it aloft. "Now it's your turn! I took something off and now you have to!" He accidentally kicked out when showing off his stockinged foot. The cards were swept off the table and fell to the floor.

"I don't think that's how it works," Tim said. He sighed and started collecting the cards on the floor.

"C'mon, guys. It can be a shoe. Then I won't look so weird."

"There is literally nothing we can do to make you less weird. Believe me, I've spent many countless nights thinking of ways," Jason said.

"Someone take off something!" Dick protested, taking off another shoe just as Bruce walked into the room. The three boys froze.

"Um. It's not what it looks like?" Tim said, realizing the cards in his hand and Dick sans shirt or shoes make the situation very suspicious.

"Uh huh," Bruce grunted.

"I swear! We're not playing strip poker!" Tim said more forcefully.

Jason face palmed. "You realize saying that makes it look like we really are doing it, right, Tim?"

"Uh huh," Bruce said again. He left the room.

"This is your fault," Tim accused Dick.

Dick shrugged, unashamed. "Some people are just jealous of my good looks."