Continuity: Teen Titans animated series
Characters: Robin (Dick Grayson), Batman (Bruce Wayne); Slade and the Titans sort of wander around in the background.
Rating: G? PG? I'm really bad at this sort of thing.
Spoilers: Teen Titans Season One
Word Count: 2133
Summary: Robin's deviant behavior attracts some attention.
Notes: This is perhaps less a story and more a daydream I had on the bus about what should've and would've happened in the Season One finale if Teen Titans had the rights to the Batman character. (It's always been my opinion that the only thing that could possibly improve that show would be increased levels of Batman.) Dunno that it's my best work, but I really enjoyed writing it... on pen and paper, at bus stations and at work, on breaks and between phone calls. Completely un-beta'd; pulled a title out of a hat. Quality!
“I already have a father.”
At the time, when he’d said it, he’d been defiant, self-righteous. It was only much later, when he was alone, that the despair, the shamefulness of it set in. What would he say if he could see me?
Robin kept tabs on Batman’s activities and Bruce Wayne’s public appearances– business as usual for both Bat and billionaire– but he hadn’t spoken to his mentor since he’d left Wayne Manor. Had never even tried to contact him. Bruce hadn’t tried either. Robin assumed he was furious with him for disobeying orders. For his part, Robin hadn’t forgiven Bruce for his lack of faith in him. After all of his hard work and brutal training, Bruce’s dismissal felt worse than a slap in the face– it felt like a betrayal. All those endless nights on the streets of Gotham, the Dynamic Duo, watching each others’ backs; he’d thought they were partners. And then Batman turned it around, told Robin he couldn’t trust him to do his job, told him he wasn’t good enough. Fired him.
Robin had left and never looked back. He swore to himself that he would be his own man; that he would prove to Bruce he was as good as Bruce expected him to be, better than; that Robin didn’t need Batman. He swore to himself that he would never need Bruce’s help.
He needed it now. Lying there on the cot Slade had given him, he felt fully the cold, hopeless truth of that, the disgust and self-loathing at what he was being forced to do, and it was all he could do not to forget he was a man and break down and cry alone in the darkness. (He couldn’t do that. Not here, not where Slade might hear him.)
He wracked his brain again for a plan, a scheme, even an idea of how to get out of this. He couldn’t fight Slade on his own– not that he would stop trying. He couldn’t contact the Titans or Bruce or anyone without alerting Slade and signing a death warrant for his friends. His hands were tied.
…Ironically, it was Slade who provided the solution. Robin could’ve laughed when Slade gave him the address for the next job, a building in Jump City’s tech sector– a Wayne Corp building. It was so easy– all Robin had to do was intentionally get himself caught on the security tape. A brief pause on his way into the building, a few seconds staring through the camera lens to Bruce Wayne. There was no way he could ignore that. …And, of course, the massive damage incurred to the Wayne insignia due to the arrival of the Titans and the ensuing battle on the roof. That probably helped too.
~ ~ ~
As it turned out, Robin’s plans were extraneous. He hadn’t accounted for the Titans, for their refusal to lose faith in him, for their resourcefulness in divining Slade’s plan, for their fearlessness in facing death to come rescue him. He hadn’t accounted for his own recklessness when confronted with the sight of his dying friends, implanting himself with the nanoscopic probes in a desperate gamble on his belief that Slade would rather allow the Titans to escape than lose his Apprentice. A gamble that paid off. Slade got away, but so did Robin and his team. They were home now, and Cyborg had managed to remove the deadly probes from their blood. They were safe.
It had been an exhausting twenty-four hours. The Titans had taken the day off for celebration and relaxation, rewarding themselves for escaping Slade’s vicious trap and enjoying being alive. Now, forty-two hours after Slade had called them, setting the trap with the chronoton detonator as bait, Robin was the only one awake in the Tower. Feeling restless, he’d wanted to get right back to work tracking down Slade. The others had long since gone to bed, giving him concerned looks but relenting when he promised to wake them if he found anything and get some sleep if he didn’t.
And so far he had found nothing. Slade had well and truly vanished without a trace; he had gone to ground, and Robin doubted they would be able to find him unless he wanted to be found.
Robin was about to go to bed when an indicator light flashed red, the alarm beeping shrilly for two seconds before abruptly shutting off. Someone had tripped a motion sensor on the roof and then immediately disabled it. Sloppy, Robin thought; then, …No. A message.
Robin swallowed, frozen for a moment before rising to his feet and swiftly making his way to the roof. He opened the door and was unsurprised to see, silhouetted against the glow of the city lights, a shadowy form as familiar to him as his own reflection.
“Batman,” he said; then, “I see you got my message.”
“I see you got mine,” came the stony voice.
There was an awkward silence. Batman’s expression was inscrutable. “What happened.” It was not quite a question.
Robin felt a flash of resentment. Same old Batman, always demanding, never asking. But the overwhelming feeling Robin had was shame. His eyes slid away. Feeling like a little kid caught doing something naughty by a stern parent, he struggled to find the words.
He told him everything. Everything he knew about Slade, how he had appeared on the scene, using others as mouthpieces to subtly introduce himself to the Titans. How he had left them tantalizing clues, leading them towards him but always staying just out of reach, playing his private game with the Titans, and most especially with Robin. He explained, shamefully, the Red X incident; how he had lost perspective in the hunt for Slade, taking on a criminal persona, stealing for Slade and deceiving his friends. He told him about the trap Slade had set, luring Robin away from his friends, holding their lives hostage so that Robin was forced to become Slade’s Apprentice, to steal for him, and to fight against the Titans. And he told him how Slade’s plan had fallen apart when the Titans had confronted him and Robin had gambled his life to save them.
It felt like a confession. Batman listened silently, expressionless. When there were no more words Robin stumbled to a stop and waited, holding his breath.
After a brief but uncomfortable silence, Batman spoke, his voice cold and without emotion. “Your friends are a liability. They are your greatest weakness, and your enemies will continue to use them against you.”
Robin scowled, flushing angrily and opening his mouth to speak. Batman cut him off.
“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have them. Friends. Their strength makes you stronger,” he said, more gently.
Robin frowned bemusedly at his mentor. “…I don’t need you to tell me that,” he said.
Batman’s posture and expression changed subtly. To Robin’s eyes he seemed… smaller, somehow. Conciliatory. “…I know,” he said. “…I guess I gave up the right to lecture you a long time ago, didn’t I.”
Robin’s frown was confused now. For Batman, that was dangerously close to an apology. He cleared his throat. “I don’t need you to lecture me, either,” he said softly.
“…No,” Batman agreed just as softly, “you don’t.”
This conversation was much too confusing. Robin swallowed. “Thank you for coming,” he said. “Even if it turned out we didn’t need your help.” I’m glad you came. “…I appreciate it.”
Batman nodded. “Of course.” He paused. “I’ll see what I can find out about Slade.”
Robin struggled with a childish urge to refuse, to insist that he could take care of it himself. “…Thanks.” It came out a bit short.
A small, fondly knowing smile appeared briefly on his mentor’s face then faded away. He drew in breath and seemed about to speak then hesitated, as if recalling oft-rehearsed lines.
“I’m sorry,” he began. Robin’s jaw dropped. “When I fired you, it was for the wrong reasons.” There’s a right reason? a part of Robin’s brain thought numbly, but he was too much in shock to say anything. “I imagine you must’ve thought I was angry with you. For… for making a mistake, or something. And… I said some things….” He swallowed, shook his head briefly. “I was afraid. You got hurt and I was afraid of losing you. I was trying to keep you safe. …But that was wrong, too. It… wasn’t entirely my decision to make.”
Robin exhaled softly, a small puff of air, the barest hint of a wry snort at this small concession on the part of his mentor. But he didn’t interrupt, holding his breath as he watched Batman hesitate, seeming to be searching for just the right words. …Only this wasn’t Batman talking to him, he realized, it was Bruce; nervous Bruce, hiding behind the mask, wearing the cowl like a security blanket. …Emotions had never been Bruce’s forté.
“You left,” Bruce continued, “you went off on your own… you grew up. And I missed it. I’m sorry for that, too. I’m sorry for that and I’m sorry for how it happened.” Bruce’s voice strengthened, ringing with a note of conviction. “But I’m not sorry for any of the rest of it.”
Robin’s brow wrinkled and Bruce hurried on, forestalling any interruptions. “It’s good that you left. I was holding you back. I was standing in your way.”
Robin was shaking his head now, opening his mouth to protest. Another one of Bruce’s tiny, subtle smiles flickered across his face. “I’ve been keeping tabs on you,” he said, cutting Robin off. “You’ve done good things in this city. You have a good team. You’re a good leader. …That’s not something you learned from me.” The elusive smile was back briefly, this time with a bit of a wry edge to it. There was a short pause as Bruce eyed Robin appraisingly then gave a small nod, as if he approved of what he saw. “You’re your own man,” he said. “I’m proud of you.”
As Robin had stood listening to this uncharacteristic and unexpected outpouring of words, the numbness of shock had slowly faded, replaced by an almost painful pressure constricting his chest and throat. The conclusion to Bruce’s speech left him stunned, unable to move or speak. His eyes burned.
Something must’ve shown on Robin’s face, or perhaps he had made a noise suspiciously akin to a sniff, because Bruce frowned a little, stepping closer. “Dick,” he said softly– almost a question– and laid a hand on the teen’s shoulder.
The tension between them snapped like a guitar string. It was hard to say if Robin stepped forward or if Bruce pulled him in, but Robin found himself clinging to his mentor, face pressed against armored chest. To his horror Robin found tears pouring from his eyes, leaking out from the edge of his mask. “Dammit,” he choked.
A gauntleted hand weighed heavily on the back of Robin’s head. “Shhh, Dick, it’s all right,” Bruce soothed.
Face flushed and feeling like he was nine years old, Robin took a step back, removing his mask and swiping shamefully at his tears. Bruce’s hands gently cupped his shoulders. Robin swallowed, not quite able to meet Batman’s gaze. “All I ever wanted was for you to be proud of me,” he said, and his voice sounded small.
He looked up to catch another sad, fleeting smile– it was weird to see Batman smiling– and Bruce said, “I’ve always been proud of you, Dick.”
Robin could feel a helpless smile stretching across his own face. He sniffed loudly, chuckling ruefully as he scrubbed again at the moisture on his cheeks, then replaced his mask. Batman let his hands fall from Robin’s shoulders.
“You should come home. To visit, I mean,” Bruce said. “Alfred misses you.” A sheepish look crossed his face, and he hastily amended, “I miss you.”
Robin laughed a little; apparently Alfred’s stern look need only be imagined to scare Bruce into good behavior. “I’ll do that,” he promised, and smiled wider, feeling a weight lift from him. He cleared his throat. “You, uh, wanna come in?” he asked, jerking his thumb toward the door. “It’ll be morning in a few hours… you could meet my team. …Cyborg makes the best waffles west of Alfred’s kitchen.”
Batman smirked briefly at this, then nodded. “I’d like that,” he said.
“Great! Then, uh, follow me. …Welcome to Titans Tower.”
Walking down the stairs with Bruce at his shoulder– where he should be– Robin began to grin, his shoulders shaking with silent laughter. He glanced over at Bruce, who somehow managed to convey the sense of a raised eyebrow through the cowl.
Robin grinned wider. “You’re Batman,” he explained. “The Titans are gonna flip!”