Title: Live Without - Chapter One
Continuity: Teen Titans animated series, mostly, cobbled together with bits inspired by the comics verse and Batman: The Animated Series, and stuff I just made up from scratch. Sort of an AU? Takes place after the end of the Teen Titans series.
Characters: Robin (Dick Grayson), other familiar DC characters that shall go unnamed for now. Spoilers!
Rating: PG-13 this chapter, and probably in general.
Word Count: 3178
Summary: The unthinkable has happened. Dick must learn to live without.
Notes: Un-beta'd. ...Welcome to my epic. I don't know how many chapters this will turn out to be, but it's going to be a monster. Here's hoping I can actually finish something for once.
Rooftop. 1:46 a.m. Robin crouched in the jaundiced shadows, the tone of the sickly half-darkness cast by yellow streetlamps and molding brick buildings matching the musky smell of Gotham City at night: the dank, acrid stench of rotting newspapers, greasy tires and motor oil, and the metallic tang of approaching rain.
For Dick Grayson, this night should have been special. If Dick had at any point remembered the occasion, however, Robin immediately forgot it. It was irrelevant.
For Robin, this was a night like any other night, unremarkable in a hazy string of forgotten, slept-through days and interchangeable late-night missions, a dark smear across the pattern of his life that still felt, maybe would always feel, like a nightmare.
Movement below. Robin shifted weight just slightly, angling for a better view of the warehouse. A black sedan was turning into an alley, pulling up to the side door, killing the engines and the lights. The muscle stepped out of the car first: large, ugly, dressed in dark sweaters and knit caps, hands conspicuously shoved into their bulging pockets. A brief, furtive investigation of the alley, and then their boss stepped out of the car: neatly-pressed suit, hat with brim, briefcase. Robin struggled for a moment to remember his name–Enzo. Frank Enzo. He was small-fry, mid-level syndicate scumbag here with his goons to make a drug deal. Frank Enzo. …There were so many of them. It was hard to keep track.
The door was opened from the inside. Enzo and two of his goons disappeared into the building, leaving one to skulk, nervously watchful, in the doorway. Robin reached up to touch the transceiver in his ear. “Party’s starting. What’s your ETA?” he murmured. There was no need to speak any louder. His partner could hear him.
“I’m running a little behind schedule,” came the voice in Robin’s ear, raised to shout over the background whoosh. He sounded as tired as Robin felt. “I had to wrap up a little business with the Prankster. Give me ten minutes.”
Robin snorted in dissatisfaction, a frustrated huff of air. He thought for a moment, licked his lips, shook his head. “No good. They looked nervous. They’ll be in and out as soon as possible. …I have to move now.”
“Robin…” A warning tone, which Robin ignored as usual. Robin didn’t know why he still tried. He was no good at The Voice, never would be. Not enough menace. Not enough command.
“I’m going in,” Robin told him.
“I’ll be fine, I’ve got this. See you in ten. Robin out.” The abrupt sign-off was a cheap shot, but it worked. His partner knew better than to distract him.
While Robin’s hands reached for his utility belt, Robin’s eyes narrowed in contemplation, sizing up his target, judging the angle. He fired the grappler down the roofline, watched the door guard turn to face the clunk of metal as the claw caught on the gutter, and Robin was already falling through the air. Free-falling until the cable caught his weight, swung him at just the right trajectory so that when he let go he was bearing down on the goon like a guided missile. One steel-tipped boot to the back of the head and the man went down like a sack of potatoes; Robin flipped neatly off of him, landing like a cat on his feet before the man hit the ground.
Robin wasted no time in disarming and trussing up the recumbent ruffian, then fired a second grappler, pulling himself up to one of the narrow windows high up on the warehouse wall. Clinging to the grappler cable one-handed with his feet propped against the wall, Robin eased the window open, squeezing into the small space to crouch on the narrow sill.
In a warm pool of yellow light Boss One faced Boss Two over a low, rickety table, lonely in the center of the warehouse floor. Goons on both sides stood back in the shadows, each competing to be the most imposing and impressive silhouette. Enzo was talking. “All right, ‘nuff of this, let’s get things movin’,” he snapped, sharp, impatient.
Boss Two was younger, rougher, a scrawny white guy pretending to be black in a wife-beater, sagging brand-name jeans, and expensive bling. Jay Dodge. Started out cooking up meth in the basements of condemned buildings and selling it on the street; now he was a middleman for high-end buyers and rare, expensive imports. Dodge blew out a cloud of cigarette smoke. “You in a hurry, Frankie?” he smirked with lazy impertinence.
“They’s cops on the other block, over on Division, a break in or somethin’. I don’ wanna hang around.” Enzo rolled his shoulders, shifted his grip on the handle of his briefcase.
“Shit, if there’s a break in, the cops are busy, they won’t bother us,” Dodge countered.
Enzo shrugged, fidgeting. “Yeah, well… and the signal was on earlier.”
Dodge gave Enzo an incredulous look, letting out a short bark of laughter. “What are you, superstitious? That means he’s busy too.”
Enzo scowled. “The hell do you care, Dodge? You wanna stand here havin’ a damn conversation all night? I got places to be!”
The drug dealer rolled his eyes. “Fool, don’t get your panties in a twist.” Turning his head a little he let out a short, sharp whistle then jerked his head toward the table. “Let’s see the dough,” he said, fixing lazy, insolent eyes on Enzo.
Still scowling, Enzo hefted the briefcase he was carrying onto the table, opened it, and spun it so Dodge could see the stacks of crisp bills inside. “Ten thousand,” he said.
Dodge nodded, looking satisfied. One of his guys had, at Dodge’s signal, retrieved a similar suitcase from a small office in the back of the warehouse; now he laid it on the table, opening it for Enzo’s review. It was filled with paper-wrapped bricks of some illicit substance.
Enzo did not look satisfied. “What is this?” he growled. Every goon in the room shifted position, hands inching nearer to poorly concealed weapons; tension crackled in the air like electricity. “This ain’t the amount you agreed on with–”
“The price gone up, man.” Dodge’s voice remained careless and unconcerned, but is muscles were tense and his eyes were hard. He shrugged as if to say, What can I do? “Take it or leave it.”
Frank Enzo flexed his meaty hands, glancing between the dealer and his goons. His face flushed red, and shoving the money toward Dodge, he yanked the briefcase full of drugs across the table and snapped it closed. “You’ll get what’s comin’ to you, Dodge. Tony ain’t gonna like this–”
“I’m thinking that’s your problem, Frankie, not mine,” Dodge said, picking up a stack of bills and flipping through it idly.
Enzo’s face got even redder. “Jay Dodge, you’re a dirty, scum-sucking son of a bitch.” He grabbed up the briefcase full of drugs, preparing to leave.
Dodge sneered. “Yeah? You know what’s worse than a dirty, scum-sucking son of a bitch?”
“Me.” Cape fluttering, Robin bore down on them from above.
“Shit, it’s the kid!” someone yelled. Half a dozen hands reached for guns simultaneously. Neatly disarming the thugs with a rain of Birdarangs, Robin landed on Frankie Enzo, his boots connecting heavily with the back of his head. The mobster collapsed in a heap, unconscious.
“Get him!” The assorted muscle rushed forward, hands curled into fists. Robin flipped off of Enzo. Pulling out his bo-staff and extending it, he twirled it once and then laid into the goons as they came within striking distance.
Robin became a small whirlwind of pain, landing faster-than-sight precision blows, to the temple, the groin, the solar plexus. As he fought, his mind kept a running tally. One man down for the count… Dodge is running, can’t let him escape… two and three down… four down, but he’ll be up in a second… where’s five?
Five was in the corner of Robin’s eye, pistol in hand, finger already pulling the trigger. Robin was shifting weight, turning, grabbing one corner of his cape. He felt the force of the bullet like a sledgehammer to his shoulder, but he’d changed the angle just enough; the bullet ricocheted off of the titanium weave of his cape. He heard a cry of pain from behind him.
He rushed the shooter, disarming him with a jab to the wrist and putting him down with a solid thwack to the skull. Robin spared a glance for the man who’d been shot. He was curled on the ground, clutching his leg. He’ll live, Robin decided, and turned to chase down Dodge.
Jay Dodge was running toward the door of the small office. The now-open door, out of which was pouring a small army of thugs armed with an assortment of automatic weapons.
Robin’s eyes widened, his boots skidding with an ugly scrape on the concrete floor as he changed direction. A moment later Dodge’s goons opened fire. Make yourself a harder target… move at an angle, change your tack…. Robin cut toward the table, grabbing the edge and tipping it as he leaped over, huddling behind it amid a hail of bullets. This table won’t last long… need cover… smoke…. He reached for his utility belt.
The immense CRASH of a shattered skylight announced the arrival of Robin’s backup. “He’s here! It’s the Bat!” Panicked cries accompanied erratic, ineffective gunfire as the face of every Gotham criminal’s worst nightmare landed amid a shower of glass.
Robin smiled darkly. Through the skylight. Classic. “Smokebombs,” he said quietly, under his breath, then chucked them over the edge of the table. He waited two seconds for the coughing to start then rejoined the fray.
By the time the smoke cleared, the fight was over. Robin frowned at a man-sized dent in the corrugated-metal wall of the warehouse. He’s punching too hard again, he thought. Pulling out a handful of zip-ties, he started securing their groggy opponents. “Gotham’s finest?” he asked.
“On their way.”
Robin yanked the last zip-tie tight. He straightened, raising an eyebrow at his partner. “Was that ten minutes?”
“I put a bit of hustle into it.”
“Heh. Glad you did.”
Below the Bat-mask, lips tightened into a stern and disapproving line. “Robin–”
“Save it for home,” he said, looking pointedly at the semi-conscious criminals surrounding them. He headed for the door. “We should go. Cops are on their way, remember?”
His partner followed him into the alley. “Need a lift?”
“Nah, I’ve got the R-cycle.”
“I could take that, too,” was the dry response.
Robin turned, raising an eyebrow. “Bit conspicuous, don’t you think? …Look, don’t worry about it. I’ll meet you there.”
Robin turned his back and headed for the dark, trash-cluttered opening of a narrow alleyway across the street from the warehouse. A puff of wind, heavy with the scent of rain, lightly tousled his hair; there was no sound, but he knew his partner was already gone.
As Robin approached his bike, half-hidden in the shadow of a dumpster, he touched a button on his utility belt, deactivating the R-cycle’s security systems. Crouching next to the bike, he did a quick and redundant check for any evidence that the vehicle had been tampered with. Satisfied, he reached for his helmet… and all his senses went on high alert.
Someone was watching him. There had been no noise, no movement in the corner of his eye– none that registered on a conscious level anyway– but Robin could feel eyes on him.
Robin’s hesitation was so small it would be invisible to all but the most practiced of eyes. He completed his motion, picking up the helmet. His posture remained relaxed and easy, but he was straining his ears for any out-of-place sound, and his eyes were on the R-cycle’s mirrors. No one behind me…. Cradling his helmet in one arm, he ran a hand through his hair, giving his surroundings a brief, casual glance. As he slid his helmet over his head, he carefully reviewed the snapshot his mind had taken.
Nothing seemed amiss. He frowned, going over possibilities and options as he swung one leg over his bike. It could be that it was nothing– a paranoid hallucination brought on by sleep deprivation and stress. Not likely, but possible. Or maybe one of the homeless that slept in the abandoned garage across the street was awake.
Robin decided the danger was minimal. Nonetheless, as he revved his engine and tore out of the alleyway, he was plotting out a route that would lose even the most determined tail.
~ ~ ~
Twenty minutes later Robin roared into the Batcave on the R-cycle, soaked to the skin from the downpour that had finally burst over Gotham. His partner was there waiting for him, holding a fresh towel. The cowl was thrown back, exposing the earnest face and that ridiculous curl of hair on the forehead. There was still something that felt so very wrong about seeing that face framed by the black and gray of the Batman uniform.
Robin pulled off his helmet and peeled off his mask, letting the vigilante fall away and becoming Dick Grayson once more. Peeling off the top half of his sopping-wet uniform as well, he made a face at the bruise that was blooming on his shoulder. He poked it gingerly, then fetched an ice pack from the infirmary before accepting the proffered towel.
“Got shot,” Dick replied distractedly, holding the ice pack in place with one hand and toweling his hair with the other. He glanced over at his partner, then raised an eyebrow. “Clark, if you keep that frown up your face is going to stick like that.”
Clark merely frowned deeper. “You could’ve been killed.”
Dick sighed. “So, what else is new? It kind of comes with the job. …Anyway, you’re being dramatic. I was handling it.”
The frown didn’t go away. “You should’ve waited for me.”
“I waited as long as I could! Another second and Enzo would’ve been out the door.”
Clark crossed his arms. “Dick–”
“Clark.” Dick tossed the towel aside. “One of these days Superman is going to be busy in Metropolis or on the other side of the world and something big is gonna go down here in Gotham, and I’m going to have to take care of it by myself. And I will. It’s important that the bad guys see that Batman’s still around, but I don’t need a babysitter. You have to let me do my job.”
“And you have to take care of yourself. You need to be more careful.” Clark’s voice softened. “Gotham can’t afford to lose you, too. Neither can I.”
Low blow. Dick looked away, running a hand through his hair and sighing. “…I’m not going anywhere.”
“I worry about you, Dick.”
Dick met Superman’s concerned gaze. “I know. I’ll be careful, I promise,” he told him.
“Master Dick, you’ve returned.” Alfred was coming down the stairs, carrying a plate of sandwiches and two steaming mugs on a tray. “I trust this evening’s exercise went smoothly?”
“…Matter of opinion,” Dick replied, glancing at Clark. He snagged a sandwich. “Thanks, Alfred. Chicken salad? Mmmm.”
“You’re very welcome, Master Dick.” Alfred turned to Clark, who had removed the black gauntlets and picked up a mug. “Master Clark, I’ve prepared the guest suite for you.”
Dick’s eyebrows went up, and he swallowed a bite of sandwich. “You’re not flying back to Metropolis tonight?”
Clark smiled. “Well, I thought I ought to stick around, considering what day it is.”
Dick blinked. “What day…?”
“Your birthday, I mean.”
Dick stared blankly for a moment, then turned his head to look at the time and date in the corner of the Batcomputer’s screen. Halfway through the motion he knew it was a mistake, but it was too late; Alfred and Clark would’ve already noticed.
…Huh. Look at that. I’m seventeen. He turned back to Clark and Alfred. Annoyingly, both of them were starting to frown, a touch of concern in their eyes.
“You forgot your own birthday?” Clark asked incredulously.
Dick pasted a sheepish smile on his face. “Heh. Wow. Is it spring already?”
Clark just looked sad. “Dick….”
Dick felt a flash of irritation. “What? Don’t look at me like that, it’s not a big deal. I’ve just been busy, that’s all.”
“Uh-huh. When was the last time you’ve taken some time off to just relax?”
“He hasn’t,” interjected Alfred, arching an eyebrow in elegant disapproval.
“Exaggeration, Alfred,” Dick grumbled, shoving the rest of his sandwich in his face.
“Only slightly, sir,” Alfred replied dryly.
Dick decided to ignore that. Grabbing a mug and taking long, slow sips of peppermint tea, he turned his eyes to the Batcomputer. It was just past four in the morning; there was still time for him to review the police reports from Englewood and analyze the pattern of muggings in the Sharks’ territory to determine where–
But Clark was stepping in front of the Batcomputer, shaking his head. “Uh-uh. No, Dick. No more work tonight. Go to bed.”
Dick rolled his eyes at him. “Yes, Mom.” It wasn’t worth arguing; Dick didn’t feel much like hanging around with Clark and Alfred fussing over him like hens. Stealing another sandwich, he took it and the tea to go as he started the long trek up the stone steps to Wayne Manor.
~ ~ ~
As Dick stood in the shower with his eyes closed, washing the grime of Gotham’s streets from his skin, the weariness that always lurked just beneath the surface began to steal over him. There were very definitely parts of him that were glad he was being forced to stop working and rest.
He denounced those parts as traitorous. With Bruce gone…. Dick let out a long breath, resting his forehead against the tiles of the shower wall. With Bruce gone, and Clark spending most of his time in Metropolis or with the League, Gotham City was Robin’s responsibility. To shy away from that, to shirk his duties would be to dishonor everything Bruce had worked for….
Dick twisted the tap and stepped out of the shower. When he emerged from the bathroom wrapped in a lush terry robe, Alfred was waiting for him. Dick handed over the rest of his soaked and soiled Robin costume; he knew it would be cleaned, pressed, folded neatly, and waiting for him in the Batcave by the time he woke. Good old Alfred. “G’night, Alfie,” he said softly.
The eyes of the old butler– father, friend, and ally to Dick as he had been to Bruce– crinkled fondly at the young master of Wayne Manor. “Goodnight, Master Dick. Sleep well. And… happy birthday.”
Dick smiled for Alfred, shutting his bedroom door after the old man. Crossing the room, he flopped down on his bed and lay on his back, staring bleakly at the ceiling. “Yeah,” he said to the empty room. “Happy.”
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