Author's Notes: Merry Christmas all! I wrote this fic in response to the contest at the totally kick ass Teen Titans Forum (http/ xsorbit29. com/ users5/ teentitansforum/ index.php)...
I also warn you now that this is definitely angsty, probably more than you'd expect during this lovely holiday season. You have been warned.
Disclaimer: I do not own Teen Titans or any other recognizable characters in this chapter. They are all property of DC Comics.
It wasn't supposed to happen this way. All he had wanted was to help them. That's all he'd ever wanted. But, as usual, he had messed up again. Robin closed his eyes as he sank to the hard stone ground of the cliff, head buried in his hands.
He should have known that there would be something major on Christmas Eve. There always had been and nothing was different about this year. As the Titans got simultaneous calls, Robin had thought it best at the time to split up the team. He sent Beast Boy, Cyborg and Raven to a bank robbery on the other side of town while he and Starfire investigated a disturbance in town center.
Upon arriving, the duo learned that a bomber was threatening the square, armed with enough TNT to blow up the entire holiday display. Even worse, there was a large group of orphans visiting Santa and having a party, which Wayne Enterprises sponsored every year.
"What are his demands?" Robin questioned the police chief when he and Starfire arrived on the scene. Other officers were trying to maintain crowd control.
The man glared in the direction of the antagonist, who had the ammunition strapped to his chest. "He wants three million dollars delivered to him by Santa Claus."
Robin shook his head in disgust, grabbing a megaphone from a nearby cop. "I'll give it right back." Turning towards the growing crowd he ordered, "I know that you're all worried, but we have the situation under control. I'm going to have to ask everyone with a cell phone to leave. Any use of the device could trigger the bomb. Thank you."
As most of the throng departed, Starfire put a hand on Robin's shoulder. "Should we attack?"
"No!" From behind his mask, blue eyes narrowed at the bomber. "We need to go about this carefully." Maybe it was the idea of orphans in danger; perhaps he took it personally. "I'm getting in there."
As he hopped over the police car barricade, Batman's former partner inched forward. Once he realized that a certain alien was behind him, he stopped. "Starfire, I want you to stay here."
She blinked in surprise. "But, Robin…"
"Please, Star," he pleaded softly. She visibly gave in, and he continued towards where the bomber was.
"Well," the man smirked. "Even the big bad Teen Titans are here. What are you gonna do, Robin?"
He put up his gloved hands in a signal for peace. "Listen, you know you don't want to do this. What's the point in killing some innocent children?" The steel-toed boots took another step forward.
"Of course I want to!" The bomber screamed psychotically. "Wayne Enterprises is going to rue the day they fired Zachary Taylor! And Emily, oh, she's gonna be sorry she broke up with me! That god damned bitch!"
Robin held back a groan. Way to go, Bruce. He attempted to move closer. "This isn't proving anything to them. All you're doing it hurting yourself and innocent others."
A shaky hand fingered the trigger. "Stay back!"
He scuttled back a few steps. "Come on, this won't solve anything. Just calm down. Everyone has bad days, but there are people who want to help you." Taylor seemed to relax slightly. "I speak from experience that Wayne Enterprises can be a bitch sometime. So take your talents and go elsewhere, prove to them that they were wrong to get rid of you! I hear Queen Industries is looking for some new faces with fresh ideas."
Taylor seemed to like that idea. "Yeah! I'll show them! I'll put Queen on the map!"
Robin took a few more steps back so that it wouldn't seem threatening when he brandished his mini-torch. "All you have to do is let me help you take that bomb off."
The man hesitated for a second before completely letting go of the trigger, hands dropping to fall at his side. "…ok…"
There was a sigh of relief throughout the area. That is, until Starfire shouted, "Robin, look!" He glanced to the side where the others were speeding towards them in the T-Car.
"Star, get them back!" He ordered, seeing her fly towards them as a bright red flash.
"What are they doing?" Taylor demanded, paranoia settling in.
"Nothing," Robin promised. "They won't come anywhere near here. Let's just get that bomb off you." He stopped for a minute, then continued towards Robin as the young superhero heard a familiar ringing on his suit; someone was calling him.
Robin hadn't known that using the communicator could set off a bomb. Maybe he should have.
Flying backwards from the force of the blast, he slammed into one of the buildings he had been standing at least a couple hundred feet in front of him. A scream ripped from his throat as his skull was buried in the concrete of the structure until he slid down to land on his hands and knees on the sidewalk below. Over and over, he reminded himself that he'd taken worse, even after gingerly touching the back of his head. His glove showed a heavy amount of blood and the scene before him swam in front of his eyes.
Robin struggled to his feet, fighting a wave of nausea. Despite the pain coursing through his body, he stumbled forward. "I…I have to help…" Though he wasn't sure whom he was talking to, someone answered.
"You've done enough!" From what he could see with his blurred vision, it was one of the on-duty officers. The bulky man pushed past him, knocking shoulders in a way that made Robin lose his balance and fall again.
He told himself that he just wanted to move away to get some fresh air and clear his head, but as the first bird-a-rang propelled him out of the area, he didn't stop. By the time he was almost too dizzy to breath he was by the waters, a shallow cliff overlooking the sharp rocks below. Despite warnings of erosion, he remembered it as a popular picnic or make-out spot for local teenagers.
No one was there tonight and that suited him just fine. Robin wanted no one watching his shame. "Again…I messed up again!" he groaned, unable to move from the position of his hands and knees. "Dammit! I'm…I'm not good enough for this! Just like he said…All those kids…I couldn't even protect the tears."
Several tears leaked from under his mask, dripping onto the stone beneath him as he pounded it in frustration. "He was right. I don't deserve to be Robin. I don't deserve to be here! Maybe…Maybe I should have never been born…" Again he punched the rock, as if it would release the tension from his body.
A release of tension there was, but not his. There was a cracking and suddenly he was falling. In all his desperation and wooziness, Robin couldn't remember where his grappling hook was. Or maybe he just didn't care. He continued to fall, consciously realizing that he was going to die the same way as his parents.
A strong hand grabbed his arm, pulling him back on to the ridge. When another moment of nausea passed, he opened his eyes, expecting to see Starfire or one of the other Titans.
Instead, the most beautiful blue eyes he had ever seen greeted him. "Are you alright?" a soft voice asked.
"I'm ok," he lied, but couldn't bring himself to thank her. She continued to kneel in front of him, those gorgeous eyes filled with concern. The moon silhouetted her form, causing what seemed to be stars to sparkle in her long, wavy black hair. As much as he blinked to clear her vision, the mystery did not change, and neither did her confusing outfit. A toga? In the middle of winter? Especially on a night like this, which was surprisingly cold. "Who are you?" There was something distinctly familiar about her, but whenever he felt he knew the result, it pulled away.
"Oh, I'm Donna," she smiled at him and his mind jumped in an almost remembrance of the name. "I'm your guardian angel."
He stopped pondering her familiarity for a second to sigh. "Um…ok." Robin had the decency to look away before rolling his eyes. "Another crazy out on Christmas…No offense, but just because you may have just saved my life doesn't exactly make you my guardian angel."
It looked as if she was holding back a laugh. "Whatever you say."
With a deep breath, Robin tried to get to his feet. "Thank you and all, but I need to get back." His vision went black for a minute and he felt her support him as he fell.
"Dick, don't try to get up, you're hurt!"
His eyes snapped open. "What did you call me?"
She blinked at his reaction. "Dick? Would you prefer Richard?"
"H-How did you know my name?" Had someone leaked out his secret identity?
A giggle escaped her throat. "I'm your guardian angel. That's the least of what I know; that's in your basic stats. Let's see," she recited from memory, "Richard John Grayson. Nicknamed Dick, or Short Pants to a select few. Black hair and blue eyes when he doesn't hide them behind a mask. Son of John and Mary Grayson. Born on the first day of spring, which is why your mother called you her little robin."
He gulped, knowing that his face was pale. "Alright, Miss Guardian Angel, what are you doing here?" Although he still didn't believe her, he didn't want her wandering through the city where she could share this precious information with anyone else.
"Please, just call me Donna," she smiled, though he could tell she knew he didn't believe her. "And I'm here because you said the magic words. 'I wish I had never been born.'"
"I didn't say that."
She rolled her eyes. "Well, you said something like that, and the bosses were bored so any variation works these days. I'm supposed to show you what would happen if you were never born."
A wry smile formed on his face. "What? So you can get your wings?"
"Are you kidding me?" she laughed. "After keeping you alive on these years I have my platinum pair. I'm getting an award later this week."
He couldn't help grinning; there was just something comforting about her. "Well, as good and fine as that may be, I have to be someplace." Robin turned to look, eyes rounding in horror at the sight of smoke over the city.
"Don't you want to see what it would be like?" He heard her whisper. "Everyone does. We can go now."
"Go?" He choked out, turning around to look her straight in the eye. "I'd rather be anywhere but here right now." His hand clasped her outstretched one as she smiled.
"Good. Let's go."
There was a sudden jerk and he felt like he was going to be sick again before his feet were flat on the ground. It was a soft, soil floor beneath him and a sudden smell of manure. The sun was bright and all of the sudden senses made him lose the pathetic lunch he'd eaten at his feet.
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" Donna apologized. "I forgot about your concussion."
He felt a hand on the back of his head, then a tingling before his head cleared. When he reached back, his hair had settled into it's natural position and there was no wound. She had healed him. "How'd you do that?"
She winked at him. "We angels have a few tricks up our sleeves."
"Whatever," he rolled his eyes. "Raven can do that too, but she's no angel." Robin shielded his eyes from the brightness. "It's really hot. Where are we?"
"Don't you remember?" Donna glanced at him out of the corner of her eye.
Glancing around, the realization came to him. "It's Florida. We came here every winter…after we finished our traveling. It's…it's exactly the same as it always was." Suddenly his eyes focused on a tall man with black hair walking past.
"Merry Christmas, John!" a few people greeted him and he responded with similar wishes as he continued on his way.
"Oh my god…" Robin realized, a lump growing in his throat. "That's my dad." Without his concussion to worry about, he bounded after the older Grayson. "Dad!"
There was a sudden hand on his shoulder, stopping him. "Dick, he can't hear you. Where we are now, you don't exist. You can only watch." Donna looked pained as he stared at her in desperation. "I'm sorry, those are the rules. I don't make them up."
He looked at her for a moment, then nodded and followed his father into a nearby trailer. "Hi, honey," John Grayson greeted his wife. Robin's heart jumped upon seeing his mother, immediately noting her roundness.
"I'm going to be a big brother!" He grinned, urging to rub his hand against her stomach.
"No, you're not," Donna replied. "You don't exist."
Robin glanced sharply at her, then turned his attention back to his parents. "How was your practice," Mary smiled. "I'm sorry I can't be up there with you."
"Don't be, Mary," John gave her a sweet kiss. "You're a little busy with other things. So how's our little guy today?"
"What makes you think it's a boy?"
He grinned at her in a way that mirrored Robin. "Just kind of hoping. I've always wanted a son."
As John Grayson continued to fuss over his wife, Dick looked at Donna. "How…how are they alive? Didn't Zucko…?"
She shrugged, but her face wasn't nearly as happy as his was. "Circumstances were different."
"So I shouldn't have been born." He wasn't sure whether this was a good thing or bad thing. "It was because of me that my parents died."
"Just keep watching," Donna told him, voice coated in sadness.
He turned just as Mary grabbed her stomach in obvious pain. "Dear, are you ok?" John asked, frantically, helping her sit down.
"It's ok," she held up a hand to stop him, sheen of sweat appearing on her face. "It's just indigestion. I knew I shouldn't have eaten those chili dogs." Her husband didn't seem satisfied. "Really, John."
The aerialist hesitated a moment before nodding. "Well, if you're sure you ok I promised Haly I'd help set up Christmas for the kids. It is tomorrow, you know."
"I know," Mary grinned. "And I know you love those kids."
"I'm just happy I'll have my own soon," he leaned over and kissed her. "I'll be back as soon as possible." Robin strained for one last look as his father ran back out into the bright Florida sunshine.
Then Mary grabbed her stomach, once again doubled over in pain. "Mom!" Robin stared in horror before looking at Donna for answers. "What's wrong with her?"
"This is her fifth pregnancy," the angel explained. "She had a miscarriage with the first four. The baby is in its fifth month, which is good for someone with so many miscarriages."
"Does she look good to you?" Robin demanded, pointing to the woman who had started to breathe heavily. "What's happening to her? What's going to happen?"
Donna looked as if she wanted to cry. "They'll have to do an emergency delivery tonight. Neither she nor the baby will make it."
"Mom…" Robin decided that he didn't want to be Robin anymore, not right now. Just her robin. Slowly removing his mask, he tucked it into his utility belt, blue eyes dark with fear as he watched his mother. "But Dad will still be ok, right?"
"He…" She took a deep breath. "He won't need anyone to cut the ropes for him this time. He'll let go himself." Dick put a hand on the side of the trailer to steady his weakening knees as she continued. "All they ever wanted was a child so they could be a real family. Even when they knew all the dangers, they kept trying. At least with you they had those years to be the best parents they could be."
Dick stood there, not sure what to think. "I…I don't want to be here anymore. You're the angel, make it go away."
Donna held out her hand to him and he knew what he had to do. With one last look at Mary, he whispered, "I love you, Mom." Taking the outstretched hand, there was another jerk from beneath his feet and his mother's pain faded away.
When he opened his eyes again, Dick knew where he was. "Gotham…it never changes, does it?" He wasn't really asking Donna, so she didn't answer. He found himself faced with a place he had called home for several years: Wayne Manor. Dick recalled how he first felt when he came as a child and for some reason thought the mansion looked just as scary today.
He looked at Donna, addressing her. "I don't want to see him."
"You shouldn't worry. He can't hurt you." While this would have been condescending and patronizing from most people, she spoke the truth, targeting his fear at the simplest level. There was no protest as she led him into the house, phasing through the solid material as if it wasn't there. Or as if they weren't.
Dick drank in all the sights, recalling what was new and what was there as it always would be. "There…there are no Christmas decorations." Though he remembered Alfred coating the inside with festivities, none were in sight. Not even a Christmas tree, which he had helped deck each year. He'd always try to make it perfect. Bruce liked perfect.
Donna continued down to the Bat Cave, where Bruce expectantly was. This was not the man Dick remembered though. While he should be a still youthful looking in his late twenties, the billionaire before him looked to be in his forties. His cheeks were gaunt, skin sallow and eyes sunk, rimmed with bags. His handsome mouth was set to a hard line, as if it had been a long time since he'd smiled.
"What's he doing?" Dick asked, disgust coating his voice. "He looks terrible."
"And why shouldn't he?" Donna replied, obviously wanting to see what Dick would think of her brush off.
"What does that mean? He shouldn't take care of himself?"
She considered this. "He does enough, I suppose. Obviously his body is in good enough shape to keep up what he's doing every night, even with the lack of sleep and food."
Before Dick could ask a question, Alfred Pennyworth came down the stairs. "I have your coffee, Master Bruce." The young man blinked in surprise; he didn't think he'd ever heard the old English butler sound so cold.
He took the mug, chugging the hot, black liquid down before eyeing the plates scornfully. "Christmas cookies, Alfred? I thought I told you we were ignoring the excuse for the psychopaths of Gotham to act worse."
The servant turned up his nose. "Well, I thought for once you might want to actually ingest something besides caffeine. I guess I was wrong." With no further word, he walked back upstairs.
"C'mon, Bruce, what's wrong with you?" Dick insisted. "Alfred's cookies are the best! Why are you acting like such a bastard!"
"Why shouldn't he?" Donna repeated.
The young man glared at her. "He's..he's…God, he's practically killing himself!"
"And why not?" The angel shrugged. "He has no one to live for."
Dick was blown away by the answer. "What are you saying? He has tons of things to live for! All the promises to himself, his destiny as a savior, and everything he's worked for, and—"
"And he has no one to live for."
"Th-that's not true! There's Alfred and…and all his friends…all the friends that he always called phonies," Dick said quietly.
"And all the thankless people that he saves day in and day out, correct?" she added.
"He doesn't do it for the thanks!" he screamed. "He does it for-"
She silenced him with a raised hand. "For the hope that one day the people he cares about will have safe streets to wander. For a boy that he saw himself in and selflessly took into his home because there was someone there who understood the need to justice, understood him. With you gone, he doesn't have that.
"Even if he gave up being Batman, Bruce always had you to worry about. He cared about you. Knowing that there was someone at home who needed him to take care of them—not Batman, but Bruce—it helped push him along every day. You brought joy and innocence to a place that had lost it long ago. Without you…" she glanced at the man who threw the ceramic mug across the room in frustration, "Well, you see."
Dick looked on in disgust. "I don't have to watch this anymore." Now that he realized that he didn't have to worry about the parameters of having a real body, he marched through the house to the street, crunching angrily through the browned snow.
It was several minutes before he realized that she was following him. Dick looked around, realizing he was in the Narrows. "What…? I didn't mean to get here."
"No," Donna agreed. "But I did."
He took a moment to glare at her, then continued until something—someone—caught his eye. "No…no, it couldn't be. Jason?"
The boy was a few years younger than himself, hanging with others several years older than him and smoking a cigarette. "That is him. It's Jason! He's alive." Dick couldn't keep the relief out of his voice. "I can't believe it." He suddenly noticed that Donna wasn't saying anything; from what he'd learned so far, that was a bad sign.
Dick saw the car coming. The other boys did not. Dick saw the hand hold out the gun through the window. The boys did not. "Jay! Jay look out!"
Dick saw the blood spurt from their body as all three fell down with anguished cries.
"Jason!" Taking off at a dead sprint, he reached his young friend in but a moment. While the others were merely wounded, he noticed right away that Jason had taken one to the heart and was already gone. "Oh, god, Jay…" Dick felt Donna's presence behind him and glared at her in contempt. "Is this what you wanted me to see? That whether or not I'm alive, Jason still dies!"
She sank to the bloody snow next to him. "Oh, no, honey. Oh, no. I wanted you to realize how sad a death could befall him. Getting mercilessly shot down because he decided to stand on a street corner."
"Yes, because being blown up by the Joker is so much better!" Dick spat.
"Jason died as Robin, a hero. But without the first Robin there can be no second. Before he had a chance to realize that there can be people who love him before he died; that he could have made something of himself! That there are people, people like you who actually care." She took a long, shuddering breath. "Now he's just another statistic, another street rat shot for being in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"Shut up!" Dick ordered. "He wasn't like that! Maybe…maybe he could be a little rough around the edges, but Jason was a good kid. He wanted to help and to do what's right. He was smart and funny and…he…he was my brother." He hung his head over the body, letting his salty tears mix with the blood.
Without protesting, Dick leaned against Donna as she held him to her, stroking a comforting hand through his hair. "I'm sorry, Jay. God, I'm so sorry. I should have been better. I could have done better. I should have been there for you, been a better big brother because I could have been! I was angry and I took it out on you, but dammit you didn't deserve that. You deserve so much better than me, than this. I'm sorry, bro, I'm so sorry…"
There was another light jerk, and while the scene faded away, the tears did not.
A/N: There is going to be at least one more chapter, but I don't think it's as angsty as this one, though that could be up for debate. I did warn you, after all. But I hope you liked it anyway. Oh, and this was posted very early in the morning with no editting, so please excuse any spelling/grammar mistakes. If there are a lot, let me know in a review and I'll replace it with a better copy.
Questions, comments, reactions and reviews are greatly appreciated.