The circus is like a family, you live together, work together, laugh together, and mourn together. And when you leave, you leave part of yourself behind. I thought my life was over when my parents died, not just because they were gone, but because I lost my entire family as well. And when Bruce took me in, I thought everyone outside the circus was like him, too busy to take notice of a young kid with nobody to care for him. Not many people know that, that Bruce Wayne was a horrible father. I don't think he knew what he was doing. He never had a real childhood, and was raised by Alfred. Maybe he thought ignoring me like that was how a child should be raised, though I doubt very much Alfred treated him that way all those years ago. Plus, I know he remembers his own parents- there's no way they treated him like that. It's strange to think that he simply had so much on his mind that he didn't really consider me. I mean, this is a guy who could put together a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle in just a few hours. Then again, you could drop a bomb on the house and he probably wouldn't notice it until the puzzle was done. I wonder, sometimes, what would have become of him had his parents survived that night.
Anyway, I'm not sure just why he started to take an interest in me, whether it was Alfred finally sitting him down and telling him he needed to look after his young ward, or when I tried to track down Zucco on my own. I never really thought about it, but I guess it would explain a lot about our relationship. Does he look on me as a son or an ally?
It took me a long time to realize what he meant to me beyond a benefactor. Until my life was taken from me for the second time, when I allowed Slade to turn me against everything Bruce had taught me, to protect my team, my friends. That's when I realized Bruce was a father to me, someone I looked up to. I realized that every fight we had was the same any son would have with his father when he's ready to be a man.
I never told Bruce what happened, but I think he has an idea that something happened. He called me a few weeks after that, totally by chance. I almost didn't recognize his voice, because it wasn't Batman calling his protégé. It was Bruce Wayne, calling his ward, like he has this sixth sense and knew something wasn't right with me.
How could I tell him? What words do you use to tell Batman, the force that keeps crime at bay in Gotham City, of all places, without losing his own humanity, that Robin, the boy he raised and trained, had joined the very crime element he had sworn to bring down in order to save a bunch of friends who, by rights, would never have allowed such a decision to be made in the first place? That's not to say I think I made the wrong decision. If their lives were at stake, I'd do it again in an instant.
The problem is, sometimes it's hard to make a distinction between the man and the cowl. Batman would have been disappointed, but Bruce? What would he have done? I guess I'll never know.
I guess I'm looking for the wrong thing. I'm trying not to disappoint Bruce, and I'm forgetting to make him proud. Maybe in the end, that's what he really wants, not a sidekick, not a protégé, but a son to pick up where he left off.
I had this Uncle Slappy once, not a real uncle, but a clown in the circus who was close with my parents and used to let me tag along with him when my parents were rehearsing. He's the one who actually taught me gymnastics. It was for fun at first, jumping on the trampoline with the rest of the Laughter Brigade, singing some silly song and doing flips in the air. I didn't realize he was preparing me for the trapeze and highwire.
When I was six, Uncle Slappy left the circus. He had a daughter somewhere and was going to find her. I saw him just before he left, his face clean of makeup, which was strange because I rarely saw him without at least a smudge behind his ear that he missed with his rag. And he wasn't smiling, wasn't singing. Didn't even have a squirting flower on his lapel. It was strange, like he was a whole different person. He was just a normal guy in a cheap suit, trying to pull his life together.
Batman is like Uncle Slappy, but with a more expensive suit. He's spent the last eight years getting me ready for the center ring, teaching me the basics I'll need to get there so he can take a break, maybe pull his life together. The question is, which arena does he see me performing in? Real life? Or crimefighting?