“Where the hell did you get popcorn anyway?” Damian asked as I popped a handful in my mouth.
“Does it matter?”
“Yes,” he snapped. I ate another handful and watched as his expression tightened and he turned to face me. “Can you not?”
“Can I not what?” I asked innocently. I thought I had a kernel in my teeth.
I shrugged. “Sure, I can not eat. But it tastes really good.”
“You’re distracting me,” Damian said. “I thought you wanted me to learn this stuff? Shouldn’t you be trying not to distract me?”
“Yeah, like when you’re out there in the real world and someone’s coming at you with a knife, I’m sure you’re just going to be like, ‘Excuse me sir, but can you maybe not threaten my life? It’s a little distracting, thanks,’” I said mockingly. “Get used to the distractions.”
Damian sighed and turned back to the table with the vase on it. I had instructed him to break it using only shadows, and so far it hadn’t moved an inch. I, of course, could think of a dozen different energy efficient ways to break that vase, but I wasn’t about to help him. I popped another piece of popcorn in my mouth. “Let’s go, get at it!” I urged. “We don’t have all night.”
“Well we do, but I’d rather not waste it by sitting here watching you stare at that vase and look constipated,” I said.
Sighing in exasperation, Damian crossed his arms. “How about you actually tell me how to do this then?”
“What do I hear?” I asked, holding butter-covered hand up to my ear mockingly. “Is that the smart ass asking for help?”
Damian was not amused. “I thought the point of this was for you to teach me, not for you to sit there laughing when I can’t figure out how to do something that’s near impossible with no instruction.”
“Feisty,” I muttered. “And really, the point of this is for me to do whatever I want while making you do whatever I want you to.”
“Looks like we’ll be here all night then.”
I conceded, setting aside the bowl of popcorn. “Listen, champ… I know you idolize me and look up to me and respect me-“
“I do none of those things,” Damian interrupted dryly.
“-but the truth is, I don’t know everything there is to know,” I continued, unperturbed. “And one area in which my knowledge is lacking is knowing what it’s like to be a helpless human being without the instinctual ability to control shadows. Can’t you just do it like you do with energy?”
“It’s not working,” he replied, then studied me, scowling. “So how do you know I’m even going to be able to do this?”
I lifted my legs and placed them on the foot rest, crossed at the ankle. It was going to be a long night. “Simple,” I said, then pressed my hand to the place where my heart would be if I had such a human weakness. “I believe in you.”
“Bullshit,” Damian called.
Giving a half shrug, I replied, “Ok, you got me. I don’t know if it’ll work. I just figured I’d try.”
For whatever reason, Damian looked appalled. I didn’t know why. I mean, it can’t have come as that much of a surprise to him that I had no idea what I was doing. “So, wait,” he began. “Let me get this straight.”
“I didn’t even ask a question yet.”
“Well, there’s a fifty fifty chance that the answer is yes, so I was just chancing the odds,” I explained. “But never mind. If you insist on asking the question, ask it.”
Damian was scowling. I swear, that was the only expression that kid ever had on his face. “So you made my sister’s recovery dependent on something that you’re not even sure I am physically capable of doing?”
“Oh, look! I was right,” I said with a grin. “The answer is yes.”
“So what’s going to happen if I can’t figure out how to do this?” Damian demanded.
“You know, you’re starting a lot of sentences out with ‘so.’ I can’t help but think maybe you should vary your sentence structure a bit-“
“Just answer the question.” Damian wasn’t in the mood for a grammar lesson, apparently.
I rolled my eyes. “Fine. If you can’t master this, then I wasn’t planning on fixing your sister. To be honest, I don’t give a shit about her.”
“Fuck you,” he spat. Again, I wasn’t sure why he was surprised.
“I thought you didn’t consider me attractive?” I replied cheekily.
Damian kicked at the nearest chair, toppling it over and causing Mr. Skullcrusher to lift his heavy head for a dog-glare. I stood up. “You know what?” Damian shouted in my face, his fists balled in anger. “This is complete bullshit. Why us? What did we ever do to you?”
“That’s none of your concern,” I said, my voice losing its sarcastic edge and becoming eerily calm instead.
“Yes it is! This is my life you’ve ruined; how is that none of my fucking concern?” Damian demanded, his face growing red in his anger.
“You were chosen for reasons beyond your control, but that doesn’t matter. You’re here now, I’m not giving you up, and that’s that.”
Damian fumed for a minute, and when he spoke again, it was in a quieter tone, more tense, but not shouting. “And what happens if I fail? What happens to me?”
I hadn’t considered that. All Sirio wanted was for me to corrupt him; he didn’t say I had to train him. That was all my doing for the eventuality of defeating Sirio. “I don’t know,” I admitted. Honestly, I kind of liked the kid. Sure, he was sassy and rebellious to me, but that energy could definitely be channeled in the right direction. I could see us becoming a good team. “How about you don’t wait and find out?”
“Break the vase,” I commanded.
Damian shook his head, his hair falling into his eyes. “I can’t.”
“Break the vase.”
“I’ve been trying for the past hour; I can’t.”
“Break the vase,” I said again, my tone level and final. Damian glared at me.
“Break. The. Vase.”
“Break the vase.”
“BREAK THE VASE,” I shouted at him, even though he was standing only a few feet away.
“BREAK THE GODDAMN VASE!”
“I CAN’T!” Damian shouted back at me, his eyes wide and a vein in his neck throbbing. His voice almost drowned out the tinkling sound of china hitting the floor. In unison, we looked over at the table. The vase lay in pieces on the hardwood floor, the water that had been inside was seeping down into the floorboards.
There was a long moment of silence, before Damian asked, “Did you do that?”
“No,” I said honestly. “You did.”
“I broke the vase,” he breathed.
I smiled ever so slightly. “Yes, you did.”
“I did,” Damian grinned, and I matched his smile. That grin on his face wasn’t just one of achievement; it was one of pride and excitement. He was relieved, happy even to have been able to break that vase, to have been able to control he shadows. And that, of course, was just what I wanted. I needed him to be excited about what he could do, because that was the first step in getting him addicted. By the look in Damian’s eye now, I could already tell that he wanted more. I could give him more. All I needed was a little time.