Summary: After the Joker shoots Robin, Batman arrives at an earth-shattering decision that forever changes Dick Grayson's life.

Disclaimer: All the characters are owned by DC Comics and Time/Warner; this is an original story that does not intend to infringe on their copyright. Feedback is welcome!

Copyright 1999


Broken Promises
by Syl Francis

The atmosphere in the room was tense. Dick's fever had risen almost three degrees in two hours. What had he been thinking to allow the boy to accompany him against the Joker? Allow him? Wayne paused in his reflections. What choice did Dick give him? Robin simply appeared just as Batman was about to confront his archenemy.

Since he started college, Dick didn't have as many opportunities to join Batman on his evening patrols. The boy had seemed so eager when the call came in that the Joker had broken out of Arkham Asylum . . .

". . . Absolutely not!" Wayne said, his hand making that familiar slashing motion he did when ending a conversation with his ward. "You have a paper due in your Economics class and you're nursing one of the worst colds I've seen in a while. No way are you dressing up as Robin. I'll handle the Joker . . . you go to bed!"

Of course, Dick disobeyed his guardian. He was no longer the absolutely obedient little boy of yesteryear. Dick was a young man of nineteen, and he was as stubborn and full of pride as the man who'd raised and mentored him for over half his life. There was no way that Robin was about to let his "father" face the Joker alone.

The sounds of the Batmobile's supercharged engines were still reverberating through the seemingly infinite underground caverns that comprised the Batcave when Robin revved his motorcycle and followed. Knowing every one of Robin's moves almost as if he himself had been there, Wayne recreated in his mind what must have happened . . .

. . . Robin activated the stealth-tracking device he'd recently installed on his motorcycle and followed the Batmobile to the warehouse district. He tracked at a distance that safely precluded a counter-surveillance device from being activated in the Batmobile that showed it was being trailed . . .

. . . Wayne paused to allow a moment of pride swell through his chest. The boy was damned good! He's almost as good as I am now! In a few more years, he'll be doing a solo. Wayne stopped himself.

What am I thinking? Dick could've been killed tonight! What would I have done then?

Wayne peered over Dr. Leslie's shoulder as she administered yet another inoculation. Dick looked so pale. His dark hair was matted from the profuse amount of perspiration from his fever. His face showed that he was in terrible pain . . . probably from the gunshot wound . . . his breathing sounded labored. The boy's shoulder was heavily bandaged. Wayne could see where some red had still managed to seep through the layers of gauze. Dick's whole left side showed a deeply spreading discoloration.

The Joker's "toy" gun had packed an impossibly large caliber bullet. Dick was lucky to still have his arm . . . no, Wayne amended, Dick was lucky to still be alive.

For the first time in a long time, Wayne was frightened. He remembered Robin's sudden appearance . . .

". . . Excuse me, sir, but is this 'the long way to Tipperary . . ? To the sweetest girl I know' . . ?"

Batman whirled around, a batarang immediately in his left hand ready to throw. Robin! He was so intent on the Joker that he'd dropped his guard. Robin grinned through his mask and held up his hands.

"Whoa!" he whispered. "You must be getting old, partner. Used to be a time when the Bat's omni-directional radar would never have allowed a little bird to sneak up on him."

Batman didn't bother to answer. He gave his junior partner a look that could freeze a perpetrator's blood in his veins. It was a look that Robin recognized and which instantly brought a knowing smirk.

"So, what say, 'you take the high road and I'll take the low'?" Robin suggested. His voice was raspy from the cough he was nursing. He immediately turned, and covering his mouth, coughed helplessly for several seconds. He used his cape to inelegantly wipe his mouth. Alfred would be mortified at such an uncivilized action!

Oh well, Robin thought, one used what was available during a stakeout.

Forcing his body to obey him, Robin turned and faced Batman defiantly, daring him to send him home. Batman glared at Robin for several seconds. Man and boy stood in identically stubborn postures: arms crossed, capes billowing in the freezing rain, chins jutted in mirror images of each other. Batman and Robin . . . mentor and student . . . father and son.

Knowing that it was useless to state the obvious . . . that Dick was sick and should be in bed . . . that he should concentrate on his studies because one day he would run Wayne Enterprises . . . that he should try to lead a normal life while in college . . . meet young people his own age . . . date . . . go to parties . . . football games . . . everything Dick had missed during his most unusual childhood . . . Batman chose instead to give his junior partner a brief nod.

"Let's go, partner!" Batman said. Robin gave him an answering nod. The time for humor was over. They were about to face the Joker . . . possibly the most dangerous criminal in the Batman's rogues gallery. . .

. . . Standing respectfully to the side, Alfred studied his first charge. Wayne's closed inscrutable face did not fool Alfred. Wayne was worried for the young man whom he considered his son. And rightfully so . . . congested lungs . . . rampaging fever . . . viral pneumonia compounded by exposure to sub-freezing conditions . . . and a gunshot wound on top of all that!

Dr. Leslie took out her digital thermometer and placed it gently in Dick's ear.

"One hundred two!" She called, sounding relieved. "His fever's going down, Bruce." Dr. Leslie looked up at the man whom she considered a son. She had tears in her eyes. "He's going to be all right." Wayne closed his eyes in silent prayer. Dick was going to be all right.

Dr. Leslie stood up and Wayne immediately sat down next to Dick. He felt a sudden need to touch his adopted son, and gently traced the back of his fingers from Dick's cheek to his chin. Dick still felt unnaturally hot to the touch. So much courage in one so young! Sometimes Wayne regretted his decision to allow Dick to become the Batman's partner. His heart stopped whenever he let himself dwell on the dangers Robin might be exposed to in the course of a single night.

But would it ever be right to deny the boy that which he was so obviously destined to do? Having come this far, could he ever deny Dick the right to be Robin? Wayne didn't think so, yet the previous hours' incidents . . . Wayne hadn't felt this helpless since . . . not since that night so long ago when his parents were gunned down in front of him . . .

He closed his eyes at the remembered pain . . .

. . . He again hears the sound of the bullet impacting in his father's chest . . . his mother's screams . . . a second gunshot . . . his mother's string of broken pearls falling in slow motion . . . the red roses she's holding falling as her hands, unable to hold onto them any longer, release them . . . his parents' blood spreading in a growing stain . . . mixing with the dirty rain water from the previous night's storm.

The scene of horror changes to one of garish lights, trumpets, elephants, and clowns . . . the Haly Circus is in town and giving a benefit show for the Wayne Foundation Children's Fund. The Flying Graysons stand proudly in the spotlight in center ring . . . a young family of aerialists, with the youngest Grayson, Richard, the star of the show. Wayne watches as the boy performs his death-defying quadruple spin . . . the Grayson boy is one of only three people in the world who can perform this feat. Wayne is duly impressed . . . the young aerialist could teach him a thing or two, he muses.

As soon as the boy's performance is completed, his parents take center ring to demonstrate to world that the boy still has a few things to learn. When the man catches the woman, the trapeze wires, suddenly overburdened with the added weight, snap! The boy's screams . . . "NO!" . . . echo in Wayne's mind . . . his broken-hearted sobs bring an answering response in Wayne's own heart. As the boy kneels between his parents' broken bodies, lying in center ring where they fell, Wayne vows that he'll do everything possible to bring those responsible to justice.

Without even trying, before he even meets him, the boy has already wedged his way into the Bat's frozen heart . . .

The scene changes again . . . to a few hours ago . . . this time the screams are his own . . . as he watches helplessly while the Joker shoots that ridiculous gun . . . and Robin is the intended target. . !

. . . The Dynamic Duo split up . . . acting as a well-oiled machine, each knew what the other was doing and planned his own moves accordingly. Robin was approaching the Joker from his exposed left side. Batman would approach from the front.

Robin brought to bear every stealth trick he'd learned in his ten years as the Batman's partner. His movements were those of a silent phantom flitting through the deeper darkness of the rain-induced shadows. The freezing rain was beginning to affect his muscles, though.

He and Batman had already discussed a new-improved costume for him. One that was a little more practical . . . thankfully with long pants and possibly with an underlying protection of Kevlar weave. The costume was still in the design stage, but Robin was definitely going to push his mentor into completing it. The old joke about Bat long underwear was just that a joke . . . he was freezing!

Robin reached his position. He waited knowing that Batman still needed another thirty seconds to get into place. He instinctively counted off the seconds . . . Time! He waited an additional ten seconds, then sprang into action. Or at least, that's what the Teen Wonder intended, but his muscles were slightly cramped from where he'd been crouching in the freezing rain. When Robin moved, his leg muscles failed to respond with their usual athletic grace.

As he stood, Robin's legs moved stiffly and as a result, he inadvertently kicked a loose stone that was lying on the rooftop. Robin froze in position. The stone barely whispered across the black tarmac on the roof . . . the increasing wind and rain that was pounding them now probably masked the noise. He couldn't take the chance though . . . the Joker wasn't one to whom they could afford to give even the slightest edge.

Robin took out a grappling line from his utility belt. He squinted through the deepening gloom, and took out his night vision goggles. The NVGs suddenly turned night into day . . . there! By the roof access to the warehouse . . . the Joker was standing calmly in the rain. What was he doing?

Suddenly the madman started laughing . . . that disturbing maniacal laugh that used to give Robin nightmares when he was still a boy.

"If it isn't my old pal, Fatman . . . and his little Toy Wonder!" the Joker mocked. "I've been wondering when you'd make your appearance!" The Joker laughed again, throwing his head back, opening his arms out to the sky! "So predictable . . . so perfect!"

Robin heard the familiar sound of a batarang flying across the rooftop towards the Joker. However, the Clown Prince of Crime was no longer standing near the rooftop access! Where'd he go? How'd he move without Robin being able to see him? Robin felt, rather than saw movement to his immediate left. Instinctively, he dove and rolled. Where he'd been standing, he saw a hissing, melting black spot growing. He swallowed. The Joker had spewed one of his deadly corrosive acids at Robin.

"Whoa!" Robin whispered. His chest and throat decided at this moment to let him know that he still had the cough from hell! He fell into a severe coughing fit . . . worse than before . . . a real hacking, lung-congested, hold your sides because you feel your abdominal muscles tearing from the effort of trying to keep what's inside from choosing this particular moment to come outside, type of cough.

Robin collapsed onto his knees and held his sides helplessly as his body racked from the violent hacking cough that overtook him. He looked up as an evil shadow descended upon him. The Joker unmindful of exposing himself was pointing a ridiculous-looking old-style blunderbuss at Robin, the kind with a bell-like, flaring muzzle at the end. Robin's eyes widened as he realized that he was completely open and too helpless to seek cover.

Several things suddenly happened at once. First the Joker gave the Teen Wonder one final laugh of triumph, and pulled the trigger pointblank! Robin dove in one last desperate attempt to get behind some kind of protection. Over the roar of the Joker's gunshot, Robin heard the familiar, comforting sound of a small pistol-like shot going off followed by the whirring sound of something flying through the air.

As Robin felt the sudden unexpected impact of a giant hand striking him, he saw the Joker being helplessly trussed up with one of the Dynamic Duo's patented grappling hooks and heavy nylon ropes. Strangely, the Joker didn't seem to mind in the least; instead, his laughter seemed to increase in volume, almost triumphantly.

Robin couldn't understand . . . why was the Joker so happy when he had obviously just been captured? Furthermore, what was that roaring in his ears? Why did he feel so tired? Why was the Joker so far away? Batman . . . where was Batman . . . Had to find him . . . needed his help . . . So strange . . . it was freezing outside, but he felt so hot . . . so exhausted . . . he wanted to go to sleep . . . couldn't . . . had to help Batman . . . the Joker . . .

". . . Got to help . . . " Dick croaked. "Batman . . . got to help Batman . . . " Dick mumbled in his sleep, upset over whatever was occurring his dreams. "Batman . . ! The Joker! By the rooftop access . . . be careful . . . be careful!" He started coughing. The force of the hacking causing his body to sit up in bed. Wayne immediately held his boy until the coughing fit passed. He gently lay the boy back down again onto his pillows. It was obvious that although the worst had passed, Dick still had a way to go before he became a hundred percent again.

Dr. Leslie left sometime after 3:00 a.m. Alfred saw her to the door. Wayne remained oblivious to everything that was going on around him. Both Leslie and Alfred were worried about how this would affect him. Leslie hadn't exaggerated. Dick would recover fully. However, both she and Alfred knew about Wayne's obsessed fear of losing those who were close to him. His closed face had them both extremely concerned.

As Dick slept fitfully through the night, Wayne sat next to him, never leaving his side . . .

. . . As soon as he'd tied up the Joker and ensured that he wouldn't be able to escape, Batman checked on his junior partner. The spreading red stain mixing with the dirty rainwater pooling on the rooftop almost unhinged him. He froze for an instant, again the seven-year old Bruce kneeling between his murdered parents. The Joker's insane laughter rang throughout the night.

"HA! HA! HA! I did it! I killed the Boy Blunder! I took the most important thing in the world from the mighty BATMAN . . . the little junior Birdman! HA! HA! HA!"

The Joker's taunts and laughter finally snapped Batman back to reality. He stemmed the blood flow as best he could; contacted the GCPD and told them where they could find the Joker; then immediately picked Robin up as if he were still a small child and brought him home. Enroute, he had the presence of mind to call Alfred and inform him of Robin's condition.

"Call Doctor Leslie . . . tell her I'm on my way home . . . ask her to meet us there," Batman paused, looking over at his unconscious partner. The boy's wound started bleeding again and his breathing was extremely labored. "And Alfred . . . tell her to hurry."

Batman gunned the Batmobile's engines to an even higher RPM. His usual reckless driving reached a new pinnacle. Gothamites watched in horror as the big, black Batmobile tore through the city's darkened, rain-soaked streets, unmindful of pedestrians, other cars, or stop lights. Batman jerked the wheel to the left, narrowly missing a young mother pushing a pram through a crosswalk . . . he immediately turned the wheel to the right to miss the oncoming traffic that he was suddenly driving into.

As Batman drove, he kept his face impassive. He barely noticed except to feel relief when he finally left the city's boundaries, because now he could finally push the Batmobile to even more impossibly higher speeds. By the time he whipped the car through the hologram that protected the entrance to the Batcave, the speedometer's needle was in the red zone and off the scale . . .

. . . As Dick felt consciousness returning he immediately wanted to go back to whatever warm darkness he'd been in. His left side felt like it was on fire! He tried moving it and instantly regretted it. He felt bone shift on bone, a certain wet stickiness suddenly resumed, and a lightheadedness that made him feel as if the world was operating a split second behind him gave a strange feeling of dissociation.

"Uh-h-h," Dick groaned, squeezing his eyes against the overwhelming pain. He felt himself about to lose consciousness again, but fought valiantly to hold onto reality. At last, the room stopped spinning, and the rainbow strobe light that was tormenting his eyes coalesced into a single bright morning sunbeam peeking through his very own open bedroom window.

Last night's storm had passed. It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day. Dick smiled. He was home and he was safe.

A movement in the shadows caught his eyes. He blinked, his eyes temporarily dazzled from the morning sun.

"Bruce?" Dick whispered, his throat raspy.

Wayne stood and walked over to stand at the side of the bed. He gave Dick his usual half-smile; only his eyes gave away his obvious relief. Wayne sat down carefully on the bed, mindful of Dick's injuries. Almost nervously, Wayne began to tuck Dick's covers around him, something he hadn't done since his ward was about ten years old.

Uncharacteristically, Dick didn't protest against being babied. He had worked so hard for so long to be accepted as an equal partner and not just a junior sidekick. But, he figured, just this once . . .

Dick knew that he had been extremely lucky. He couldn't remember much after the Joker pulled the trigger. If Wayne was relieved that he was still alive, his relief was only half of what Dick was feeling at this moment. Besides, it wasn't often anymore that Dick just allowed himself to be fussed over by either Wayne or Alfred. It felt nice . . . warm . . . safe . . . Dick felt himself slipping off to sleep again.

"Dick . . . " Wayne's voice broke through Dick's warm darkness. Confused, he blinked his eyes open. Where was he? He suddenly remembered. Last night . . . the Joker . . . the blunderbuss . . . the explosion . . . then blackness. Dick concentrated for a split second until his surroundings came into focus. He turned his head slightly and was met by Wayne's worriedly determined countenance.

"Bruce . . ?" he whispered. "What time is it?" He had an eight o'clock Calculus class . . . major test today, he remembered.

"Don't worry about school, chum. I called the Dean of Students and told him that you have a serious case of viral pneumonia, and that it'll be awhile before you can return to your classes. I gave him Doctor Leslie's number in case he needs to confirm the information." Wayne paused. "That bad cold you've been nursing all week long was a bit more serious than any of us thought. Really took a lot out of you, chum . . . probably slowed your normal reflexes . . . resulting in . . . " he shrugged, his face shutting down. ". . . you know."

Dick nodded. He felt confused and a little frightened. He didn't like the look in Wayne's eyes . . . more intense than normal . . . which was usually pretty intense . . . and fear! Dick thought he saw fear in his guardian's eyes! Feeling suddenly afraid to ask the next question, Dick resolutely pushed on. The question had to be asked.

"Bruce, what is it?" Dick asked in a small voice. Then, in a stronger voice, he asked again, "Bruce, what's the matter? I'm okay, Bruce . . . look at me . . . I'm fine!" Dick gave his best lop-sided smile, his dark blue eyes anxiously searching out his guardian's.

Wayne finally stood up in a fit of anger.

"NO! You're not fine!" he yelled. "You were almost killed last night! Do you hear me? I almost lost you last night!" Wayne turned his back to Dick, unable to look into those eyes that somehow always made him think with his heart instead of his head.

"You disobeyed me last night! I ordered you to stay home . . . you were obviously too sick to go out, but you stubbornly refused to listen!"

Swallowing and breathing several times, Wayne struggled to get himself under control. He had to do this. No matter what the consequences . . . his mind was made up. Dick Grayson was going to become a full-time college student . . . no more Robin, ever!

One day Dick would inherit everything and take over Wayne Enterprises. That's what sons did, didn't they? They grew up and took over the family business . . . they didn't die before their fathers . . . fathers weren't supposed to outlive their sons. Well, he'd be damned if anything happened to keep his boy from growing up and getting married and becoming a father and outliving the old man.

He wouldn't outlive his own son . . . God help him, he would not!

Wayne whirled around and faced Dick.

It was now or never.

Holding Dick's eyes steadily, Wayne started to talk. As he spoke, he felt as if someone else was doing the talking. Who was this man who would dare put that look of abject hurt and rejection in his boy's eyes? Who was this stranger who was speaking so coldly, so relentlessly?

"You are never to wear the Robin suit again! Do I make myself clear? You will instead concentrate full-time on your studies at Gotham State University. On your school holidays you'll start coming to Wayne Enterprises to learn the business from the bottom up. You'll be taking it over one day, and you'll have thousands of employees all over the world who'll depend on you for their livelihoods." He paused, and then gave the final verdict.

"There will be no more Robin ever again. I can no longer . . . NO! I will no longer be responsible for a child's safety anymore! Do I make myself clear?" Wayne waited for Dick to nod his head, yes. "Do you have any questions?" Dick shook his head, no. "Good because I want you to give me your word right now, that you will never again put on the Robin suit. Do I have your word?"

Dick nodded. Wayne shook his head.

"NO! I want you to say it! Give me your word that you will never again put on the Robin suit!"

Dick cleared his throat, unable to speak. He felt hot tears start to spill, but he didn't care. His whole world was coming undone. The man, who had promised him all those years ago to always be there for him, no matter what, was breaking his word and Dick's heart as well.

"I promise that I will never wear the Robin suit again," Dick managed to croak somehow. Unable to look at the man, whom he loved more than anything else in the whole world, Dick turned his head away. When he heard his bedroom door being shut softly behind him, Dick suddenly felt the tears spill uncontrollably. It was all over . . . everything!

Whether Dick liked it or not . . . it was . . . for Batman and Robin . . .

The End. 1