Teen Titans: Never Alone
A super special double-the-length chapter, just for you guys! It's the series finale! (That's right - series. No sequels this time, so SAVOR IT!)
Chapter 25: Reflection
The storm outside drummed against the enormous old house like a tribal chant. Electricity streaked through the sky, casting through the windows, illuminating the enormous main hall as Bruce stumbled around a corner, sprinting with everything he had toward the enormous main stairway. Thunder roared ominously as he bounded up them as fast as his legs could carry him, grappling for the banister as though pulling himself along would get him up there that much faster.
He was panicking. He was legitimately panicking. It'd been so long since he'd experienced this level of fear…
And that only worried him more.
The door to Dick's room was open as he barreled down the hallway toward it. He slammed into the doorframe to stop his forward momentum, gasping for breath and clutching the wall for support, afraid to lift his gaze.
But he felt the draft of wind through the window. Heard the unhindered sound of rain pouring outside. He finally forced himself to look up, and his chest seized up tight, crushing his ribs.
The room was empty, save for one person. Alfred had beaten him there. The old man stood in his dressing gown beside the shattered window, his back to Bruce as he stared out into the stormy darkness. Bruce felt his legs grow weak beneath himself, but he forced them to work, forced them to carry him across the room. He reached Alfred's side, and his eyes widened in horror as he noticed the blood dripping on the jagged edges of glass. He weakly reached out and clutched the curtain dangling beside him, already soaked through from the moisture the wind swept in the broken window.
…blood… Dick's blood…
…good God, it can't be…
Bruce gritted his teeth, clutching the curtain even tighter. The way Alfred's voice sounded… it was shaking… Alfred's voice didn't shake…
…this isn't happening…
He turned to the broken hole and frantically looked out. But it was dark, too dark to make out anything as the rain poured harder. He squinted hard, as though to force his eyes to work, to make out something, anything.
And as he desperately tried to see, a memory clawed its way into consciousness. The snap of a rope… the sickening sound of two bodies hitting a cement floor. Cheerful music vanishing in an instant, replaced by a chorus of screams and cries. Mothers and fathers grasping their children's faces, to shield them from the terrible sight.
But there had been no one to shield his eyes… and no one to shield Dick's…
Even in his memory, he could pick out Dick's scream of anguish over the cries of the crowd. And even now, so many years later, he could recall with perfect clarity the way those two figures looked sprawled on the ground… surrounded by blood… their lives extinguishing so fast…
Was that how he would find Dick now…? …was this…?
…no… it just couldn't be…
A streak of lightning cut through the sky. It illuminated the whole world, and Bruce's eyes widened as suddenly, he was able to see…
"…where… where is he?" Alfred gasped incredulously, leaning partway through the gaping hole in the window.
Bruce's heart leapt. Dick wasn't there. He wasn't lying dead in the mud fifty feet below them. But what did that mean? Had he simply survived the fall – he knew how to roll and avoid injury from a height like this, but in his condition would he have been able to…?
His mind frantically worked. He glanced around the room, glanced at the blood on the jagged glass. Glanced back outside as lightning lit the world again.
"Sir, we should go outside and look for him!" Alfred gasped, holding a hand up to block the rain splattering through the hole.
Bruce stared out as lightning flashed again. Far below, in perfect trajectory, lay the broken remains of one of the old chairs that had adorned the room, covered in mud. Bruce took in the blood once more, then leaned through the window, inspecting the walls of the manor. Vines… a rainspout…
"Don't bother, Alfred..." he muttered darkly, just loud enough for the butler to hear him over the sound of the storm.
"He's a circus performer, Alfred… So, he went up…" Bruce was already clamoring onto the windowsill, carefully trying to grab a handhold without cutting himself as well.
"…oh, that is so worrisome…" Alfred mumbled, his voice thick with a rare amount of emotion.
"…yeah…" was all Bruce could say, and he leaned out the window, one hand clutching the curtain to prevent himself from falling to his own death. He grabbed hold of the network of ivy clinging to the wall beside the window, and tugged, to see if it would hold his weight. It seemed like it would. With his heart drumming in his ears, he released his grip on the curtain, grasping to the ivy, and to the rain pipe. Water poured off the roof in thick streams, pounding on his head as he started the trek up to the roof juts above them.
"What should I do sir?" Alfred called as one of his hands grabbed hold of the rain gutter.
"She won't have made it home by now!"
"She has a pager, doesn't she?" Bruce growled in irritation, as he struggled to pull himself up onto the rooftop. The rain made everything slippery, he was constantly in threat of losing his grip.
"…she should really get a cell phone…" Alfred muttered to himself, vanishing from the window as Bruce finally pulled himself over the drainage pipes and onto the rooftop.
The roofs of Wayne Manor were enormously steep, rising high above the walls like the peaked heights of a cathedral church. Bruce grappled at the lines of roofing tiles, made slick from the rain, water cascading down in rows of beautiful rivulets. The rain poured even more viciously, soaking him through already, causing his hair to stick in his eyes and only make his climb up the steep grade that much more difficult.
After what seemed like hours, he made it to the very peak of the rooftop. He paused, panting hard, cursing the rain that made his clothes heavy on him, but realized it would've been that much worse in the Batman costume. He swept the hair from his eyes, took a moment to pull his shoes and socks off so he could get better footing, and stood, like a trapeze artist, balancing on the roofline as he looked around.
Lightning broke the air again, and the hairs on the back of his neck prickled. The storm was right on top of them. If he wasn't careful, he could get struck up here…
But that really didn't matter… all that mattered was finding Dick…
He took a breath, calming himself. He took a few steps, feeling the surface of the rooftop, the ridge, the tiles, the water, searching for his balance. Once he felt steady, he took off, his years of training allowing himself to hurry along the ridge of the roof without teetering once, without worry of falling.
"Dick!" he shouted as he leapt onto a dormer, glancing around the enormous expanse of Wayne Manor, the vast range of steep peaks and towers that made up its rooftop. His skin prickled as he glanced out towards the edge.
If Dick did come up here… could he have fallen…?
…maybe he should have sent Alfred out there after all…
He straightened again, panting softly, more out of fear than exhaustion. He blinked through the rain clinging to his hair and face, wiping it away as lightning lit up the world again.
"Dick!" he called again, hurrying back up to a taller section of roof, to get a better look of the whole area. He clasped a rod sticking up from a peak, then realized how stupid of a move that, and quickly hurried away from it, sliding down a valley to a corner of roof and up again.
He froze. As electricity cracked through the sky again, as thunder rolled after it, he saw him. A little figure lost against the enormity of the mansion, hunched in a ball beside one of the many chimneys sticking from the roof. Bruce leapt forward a little too eagerly, nearly losing his footing as relief replaced all the fear that had clutched him this whole time.
But as he approached, he knew something was wrong. Dick's knees were pulled to his chest, his face down in his hands, just as Bruce knew they'd been for much of the past week. He shook noticeably, though it was unlikely it was because of the rain. The whole scene made his skin break out in goosebumps, and intuition told him he had to be gentle with this. He slowly approached the boy's side, and crouched down, like he were about to talk to a child much younger.
"Hey, Dick…" he spoke up in a gentle voice. "Whacha doin up here?"
Lightning flashed again, and the thunder was almost right on top of it, snapping through his eardrums and causing him to wince. Dick pulled up into an even tighter ball, clutching his face.
As the light illuminated him, though, Bruce was able to see the blood dripping from Dick's hands. He could picture it now – the distraught boy clamoring through the window, grasping the ragged edges and slicing his palms open. That was where the blood came from… and by the looks of what was on his face and arms, he'd cut them really badly. Bruce slid down the roof, just a little, just so he were a little below Dick's level, trying to see past those hands to that face.
"You're soaked through," Bruce went on in a calm, comforting tone. "And it looks like your hurt. Come on, Dick, let's get you…"
Bruce fell quiet. The boy spoke so feebly, he almost didn't hear him over the rain. He swallowed hard. "Why, what, Dick?"
"…why did you follow me… why can't you… why can't you just leave me alone…?"
His mouth was growing dry, even with the rain soaking the rest of him. "I just want to help you, Dick…"
"No you don't…" His voice was growing more strained, and his nails dug into his forehead, drawing more blood. "You made it quite clear… you're better off without me… you don't want me…"
Bruce gaped at him, stunned senseless. "I… Dick, I never…"
""Yes, you did!" Dick twisted his head, pulling his hands down so his fingers were like a cage between him and the outside world. "You… you did…"
The realization struck Bruce just as it seemed to strike Dick, flashing through his wild, frenetic eyes before his hands moved back to cover them. Bruce frowned sorrowfully. "You were just hallucinating, Dick… I would never…"
He reached out to grab Dick's arm, to either comfort him or insure he didn't fall from the roof – he didn't know. But the moment his hand connected with his sleeve, the boy wrenched away, snapping back against the chimney.
"DON'T TOUCH ME!"
Bruce froze as light flooded the world again, thunder bursting through the air. Dick staggered to his feet, clutching the chimney with his bleeding hands, staring down at Bruce with a truly manic expression as he wheezed shallow breaths in panic.
And Bruce lost his ability to breathe at the sight before him. He almost didn't recognize the boy. His thin, starved appearance. The sallow, sunken lines on his face that had never been there before.
But it was the blood on his face that chilled him to the core. It was smeared where his hands had clutched him, giving the sickening impression of a mask… a horrible red, dripping mask…
"Dick…" he began, taking a slow step forward. He was horribly aware now of the steep grade of roofing lying on either side of them, and the sheer falls just beyond that. "It's okay, Dick. Just calm down…"
But Dick was already moving, clasping the chimney with his shaking hands as he moved around it, as though to hide behind it. "NO! STAY AWAY—JUST STAY AWAY FROM ME!"
"Please, Dick." Bruce was growing more apprehensive, glancing out at the fall just yards away. "Please, just calm down."
"Why should I listen to you?" Dick spat through a grimace. He was still moving around the chimney, clumsily stumbling over the rise and fall of the angled roofs and converged there. "You could be just another hallucination… you probably are another hallucination!"
"Dick. Please believe me, I'm not."
"HOW CAN I TRUST YOU? HOW CAN I TRUST ANYTHING?"
Dick's hands left the chimney. Panic struck Bruce's chest, and he pitched forward. But Dick was moving away from him, his well-trained feet following the peaked ridge of the roof behind him.
He's going to fall…
"Dick please!" he gasped. But Dick had spun around, tearing off down the roof, balancing along the top ridge at an astonishing speed. Bruce leapt after him, slipping almost immediately and managing to catch himself before he slid past the eave. He quickly recovered his footing and took off after him, overwhelming dread gripping him once more.
"Dick!" he shouted frantically, but his cry was lost to the thunder. Panic clutched him even stronger as he saw the edge of the roof drawing close. He was going to run right off of it…
But Dick slid to a halt, staggering back from the roof edge. Bruce hurried to catch up with him, lurching to an unsteady stop just yards behind him, not wanting to scare him off the edge. Dick turned, slowly. The rain was dribbling down his face, spreading the blood so it covered most of it.
"Dick…" he gasped weakly. "Dick, please… please, let me help you…"
Dick shook his head. He took a step away from him, back, back towards the edge. "…you can't…"
"I can try. Please, please let me try."
He was still shaking his head. Another step closer to the edge. "…you're too late… you can't help me… no one can…"
Another step. Bruce was already sprinting forward. "No!"
One last step. His foot sailed through the empty air, his body falling after it. Time seemed to slow to an agonizing crawl as Bruce threw himself forward desperately, reaching out to try and grasp one of those swinging, flailing hands.
Please, please no!
His fingers clasped hold to one bloody, mangled hand. He gripped for dear life, but Dick's weight had gone too far over the edge, and his own forward momentum was too much.
They were both falling.
He threw out a hand with a cry of desperation, reaching blindly for something, anything, to break their fall.
And then a cry of pain as his hand seized a windowsill, nearly wrenching his arm from its socket. He swayed dangerously, his hand shaking to keep a grip on the water-soaked ledge, and on the hand beneath him. He looked down, at the boy dangling limply below him.
Horror struck the Dark Knight. Dick's soaked, bloody hand was slipping in his grasp. He tried to reestablish a firm hold, but it just wasn't going to happen. Panic gripped him fully as he stared at the fall just beyond them.
"Dick!" he screamed. "Dick, please, grab on to me!"
At that moment, Dick looked up. Their gazes caught, and Bruce could see everything behind those eyes… all the fear… all the pain… all the desire to fall the rest of the way…
"No!" he gasped, as his hold slipped a little more. "Dick, please! Grab onto me! Please!"
Time seemed to slow once again. Bruce's heart was shattering inside his chest. "I can't lose you, too, Dick! Please!"
There was a flash of something beneath that blood-stained face. Recognition… understanding… something he couldn't put a finger on.
And Dick suddenly swung his free arm, grasping onto Bruce's wrist with a cry, his wounds stretching open more.
"That's it! Just hang on!" Bruce gasped, almost laughed with relief. Then, he took a moment to glance around.
They were still trapped up there. He couldn't pull them up to the window ledge his hand clasped to – his grip there was beginning to fail as well. But maybe the window just below them. He looked down at the boy. "Dick!" he gasped. "The window!"
Dick looked up at him, then at the window. It took longer than it used to, but understanding seemed to leap into place, and he gave Bruce a familiar nod. Bruce swung his arm, grimacing as his other hand began to slip again. But as Dick swung himself around, lifted his feet and kicked through the windowpane with perfect form, Bruce felt, just for a moment, that the heavy clothes around him was his disguise, and the boy diving through the glass was in his old red and green costume again.
…just like old times…
His weight vanished as Bruce released his grip. Wayward shards of glass mingled with rain, showering to the darkness below. Bruce swung himself, now, just as his hold was beginning to fail, and leapt down onto the window ledge, falling into a squat, like a gargoyle on a gothic building.
Adrenaline and endorphins pounded through his system as his clamored down into the room, sliding to the floor, back to the wall with a strange little laugh. They were okay… Dick was okay… he was safe now…
He swept the water from his face, his bangs from his eyes, and looked out into the dark room. It was a room they never used anymore, full of furniture draped with white cloth, giving the appearance of strangely shaped ghosts in the otherwise deserted room. The dusty ground was littered with glass, and just beyond that, was Dick, crouched over his knees on the floor, head resting against it as he trembled, fiercely shaking.
Bruce got quietly to his feet. He stepped across the lake of glass, his years of training allowing him to ignore the way the shards popped and bit at the bottoms of his bare feet. He felt anxious again as he reached Dick's side, and he slowly crouched beside him, concern sweeping its way into his system at the sight of all the blood.
"Dick…" He reached out carefully, grasping the boy. But the boy jerked away again.
"D-don't touch me…"
Bruce's broad shoulders slumped, as he frowned remorsefully. He sat back on his ankles, watching the boy silently, then glanced up at the room.
A few moments later, he knelt back down, draping a sheet from one of the musty pieces of furniture over Dick's shaking form. It covered everything but his head, and he looked up as it settled around him, glancing up at Bruce with an almost confused look. Bruce just sat down, watching him silently.
Finally, Dick slowly sat up a little, grasping the sheet with his bleeding hands, pulling it tight around him. A shiver passed over Bruce's spine – that shade of white was just too familiar…
A long silence marched through the room. Bruce didn't speak, and didn't move. He just watch Dick carefully, ready to help when he needed to, certain he'd know when the time came. Dick slowly sat back on the ground, his knees drawn up before him, leaning against them as he wiped the white sheet over his face, wiping some of the blood away.
Then, finally, after what seemed like half an hour, Dick finally spoke. "Bruce…? Can I ask you something?"
Dick's eyes remained glued to a spot away from Bruce, and for a moment, he wondered if he was seeing something else… but as Dick glanced around, it was clear he just didn't want to look at him. He took a deep breath, drawing the sheet tighter around himself. "Bruce, if… if you were to go back… knowing all this would happen, knowing how much trouble I would be… would… would you still have taken me in?"
Bruce wasn't sure what question he was expecting, but that wasn't it. His mouth fell open a little as he watched the young teen, who still avoided his gaze.
But it didn't take much thought at all. It really didn't take any though. "…in a heartbeat…"
Something between a laugh and a sob broke through the teen's throat, and he dropped his head, pressing his hands to his face through the sheets. "You're such a goddamn liar…"
"I wouldn't lie about that, Dick. I would never…"
"You don't want me here…"
"Sure I do."
"Then why didn't you come after me before?"
Bruce froze. Dick shot him a bitter, seething glance. "When I ran away… when I went to Jump… why didn't you…?"
Bruce dropped his head a moment, a sigh drawing through his chest. After a slow moment, he looked up again.
Dick's head snapped up in shock, and Bruce's face softened into a strange sort of reminiscent smile. "The moment I figured out where you'd run off to, I followed. I hung back, to see what you were doing, what kind of trouble you'd get yourself into, and telling myself that the moment you couldn't handle it, I'd jump in, and demand you come home."
"…so why didn't you…?"
"…because I was there when you met her. And the others. I watched everything. I saw everything. I saw how well you worked together with them. I saw how much you learned even from that short time with them. And… I decided that maybe that was where you needed to be. To become stronger, to become your own person… I dunno…" He rubbed his head. "It seems really stupid now… and I realize I made that decision as your training master, your crimefighting partner… not your guardian…"
He looked up at him, at the horrified expression still stuck to that blood-smeared face. "That wasn't the last time I checked in on you, either… I was there on your birthday… on the anniversary of… of your parents' deaths… when Slade had captured you… when Terra took over the city… I was there, hidden… ready to help you. And I did – I mean, you didn't think it was some stranger who helped you after Terra struck you down, did you…?"
Dick looked even more dumbstruck, gaping at him in silent disbelief. "But I never wanted to destroy what you had built. If the people of Jump knew you needed Batman to save you, they would never trust you, and your team wouldn't trust you. I didn't want to ruin that. But, if you ever really needed me… if you ever reached out to me… I was prepared to drop everything to fly over there to help you. …and I did, when Cyborg finally called me."
Dick looked away, absentmindedly wiping the blood and moisture from his face with the sheet as he tried to take in all this new information, his face screwing up a little as emotions built up. Bruce settled against his own knees, feeling like weights were being lifted from the burden on his shoulders. He glanced at the boy carefully. "I'm sorry, Dick. I…I haven't been the best to you… but, if I were to go back, knowing what I know now… I would still do it."
"Why…?" Dick's voice was strained, like he was close to crying. Bruce looked at him tenderly.
"Because of everything else, Dick. You're sick, and we don't know what the future holds for you now, but… I can't imagine a world without you in it. I don't know what I would be now if you hadn't stumbled into my life. You give my world a whole new meaning, give Batman a whole new meaning. Before I think I was just saving people to stop my own pain. But now… I dunno. I think I do it because of you. I don't want anyone else to deal with the pain I had to watch you go through… and I only wish I could do more to take that pain away for you…"
Dick was watching him again. There was moisture around his eyes that Bruce was certain had nothing to do with the rain. Bruce forced him a careful smile. "I'm glad you're in my life, Dick. And I'll be here, for as long as you need me to be. Even if it's in my own awkward, uncomfortable, uncertain way. You never have to feel alone..."
Somehow, that's what did it. Dick curled up against his knees, choking a strange sob as his shoulders bobbed. Bruce found himself reaching out, gripping the boy around the shoulders in a sort of hug. Dick leaned sideways, resting against him as he pressed his hands to his eyes, drawing himself up tighter as he fought not to cry.
It's okay to cry every once in awhile… he thought, but couldn't say. You don't have to always act strong in front of me… I'm not always like Batman…
Something caught his attention, and he lifted his gaze in time to see Leslie and Alfred appear at the door. The woman looked mortified at the sight of blood, pitching forward with hands snatching open her medical bag, but Alfred grabbed her shoulder and wrenched her back, shooting her a scolding kind of glare. Bruce felt his face grow red a little, as he rested his chin on Dick's drenched black hair.
"Everything's going to be okay…" he murmured softly. "It's going to be okay…"
Weeks passed… months passed…
Dick didn't remember much of it. It was all kind of a hazy blur, a strange collage of broken memories and feelings. Much of it nightmarish. Much of it that made him glad he couldn't remember more than he already did.
But the few memories that really stuck, that he really remembered, were good memories. Like how surprised and elated he felt when he realized he'd gone an entire day without seeing Slade – knowing for certain that it was from the new antipsychotics, and not just his mind playing tricks on him again. And the day when he realized he felt like Dick again – not trapped in the role of Robin, not trapped under the burden of his worries and his pressures… Just Dick Grayson… That was a wonderfully freeing moment, as well… he felt like he could carry on again…
…and he still remembered everything Bruce had told him… He still remembered that…
The spring sun shone through the enormous windows of his room, warming him where he sat, flipping through pages in yet another book. Pretty much all he did now was read books. It wasn't like he could go to school yet – if he were to enroll now, it'd only raise suspicions of his true whereabouts to the tabloids. As far as they knew, he was going to a private school in Europe….
A bird chirped outside his window, and he looked up in spite of himself. It fluttered on the window ledge just outside the surface of the glass, ruffling its feathers and chirping its little song.
And Dick gave an ironic little smile as he noticed the bird's brilliant red breast.
A robin, huh…?
He looked away, trying not to feel anything as he flipped another page in his book. He drew his feet up beneath him on the enormous armchair, and reached for his teacup as he let himself be drawn into the words again.
A sound startled him. His fingers froze on the handle of the teacup.
…was it already…?
His eyes roamed the room, falling on a familiar yellow device lying on his nightstand. He closed his book and got unsteadily to his feet, walking between patches of sunlight to the side of his bed.
…the golden metal plating… the stylized letter T…
He picked it up. It felt so strange under his grasp, like he'd forgotten how much it weighed, or how smooth its surface was.
When there's trouble you know who to call… a voice sang from his own memories… but just from his memories…
His hand shook as he stared down at it. His face grew cloudy, eyebrows furrowing in sorrow.
…this happened every week. Every week… they called him. At the same time, every week.
…and he still could not answer… he didn't know if he could ever answer…
He set it back down on the nightstand, still listening to that ringtone chime. He took a few steps away from it, staring out into his room, at the light from the windows, at the book sitting abandoned on his chair.
"…is this really what you want…?"
He startled, glancing behind him.
But there was no one there.
"Welcome home, sir."
"Thank you, Alfred. Good to be home."
Bruce straightened out of the back of the car, readjusting his suit jacket and brushing the wrinkles out of his pant legs. The pink hue of sunset cast over the world as Alfred moved to the trunk, opening it and pulling Bruce's luggage from it. Bruce would offer to assist him, but he already knew Alfred's scolding answer.
"No you don't, Master Bruce," he would say. "You have other things to busy yourself with. But I? Not so much."
"You're an angel, Alfred."
"Yet I still don't have my wings, sir."
"Now that's a lie – I know you've got a pilot's license."
A twitch of a smile beneath that mustache. "How did I forget."
Bruce hurried up the front steps into the house. He paused in the old entryway, looking around. He'd only been gone just a little more than a day, but it felt like he'd been gone much longer. He looked around, up the staircase and then to his side, toward the side parlor that led to the secret grandfather clock entrance.
Indecision wracked him. Say hi to Dick… or check on the state of the city…
He frowned deeply, casting a look up the stairwell, then passed it completely.
…he could say hello later… right…?
He felt a little heavy as he made his way through the parlor, through the secret passage to his command center. He hit a light, flooding the ancient cave. Bats screeched and fluttered in annoyance somewhere high above him, as though demanding he shut that darn light off so they could rest. He chuckled just a little at this thought, but his mirth was short lived as he shoved his hands in his pockets and casually wandered down the stairs.
…maybe he should go back and say hi to…
Halfway down, his steps faltered to a stop, and his hands fell to his sides.
The boy didn't answer. He stood off to the side of the Batcave, looking up at something on the wall. Bruce made his way the rest of the way down the steps, skipping the last few and rounding the corner, to see what was going on.
Dick still didn't speak. He didn't move. His back was to Bruce as he approached, and Bruce realized what he was staring up at.
…the Robin suit, in the display case.
Bruce looked from the costume, to the boy before it. He then noticed the yellow device in his hand, clutched so tightly that his entire arm shook.
"Dick…?" he asked carefully, grabbing his shoulder.
Dick startled, as though he hadn't realized Bruce was there. He snapped away with a cry, leaning over just a little as he fought to regain his breath.
"Sorry," Bruce gave a small, apologetic smile. "Didn't mean to startle you."
Dick didn't respond. He recovered quickly, then turned back to the display case. Bruce looked him over closely. The boy looked so much stronger than he had just a few months ago, but there were still signs of what he'd just overcome. He was still unnaturally thin, his face pale, eyes sunken. He knew of the scars on his palms from the night on the roof, and the scars elsewhere from earlier attacks.
But he was better now. For the most part. Leslie was of the opinion that what happened to Dick wasn't full-blown schizophrenia, but an acute psychotic episode due to stress and other factors. It'd started so quickly, and ended so quickly, that it was unlikely to be full paranoid schizophrenia.
…though she didn't rule it out completely, and said his chances of developing it or another mental condition later on had increased substantially…
A chill passed over his spine as he watched the look on the boy's face. He looked withdrawn into himself, as he had during the worst of those days before. Bruce gripped his shoulder again.
"Whacha doing down here…?" he asked carefully, watching him with vigilant eyes.
Again, Dick didn't respond. Bruce noticed his hand gripping the communicator tighter. He glanced out at the batcave, at the computer that was flashing messages for him.
He swallowed hard, and suddenly turned to the young teen.
"…I was… going to go on patrol. If… you wanted to come along."
Blue eyes snapped to him, round in disbelief. "Are you serious…?"
"I didn't just think this up on the spot…" Bruce murmured, pulling out his keys and moving to the display case, unlocking it. "Leslie and I have talked about it, and we think the only way we will truly know if you're better is if you put the mask back on…"
He reached up and pulled the mask off the mannequin and turned. But Dick wasn't there. He'd begun backing away, looking mortified. Bruce felt his heart fall. "I'm not saying you have to right now, but…"
"Y-you'd actually let me go back out? After everything that happened?"
Bruce frowned a little. "You don't have to. I would never force you. But… do you really want to live in fear of that part of you?" His eyes flickered to the communicator, still clutched in his shaking grasp. "And don't you want to talk to them again?"
Dick's face paled a little more. Bruce gave a small smile. "I know they've been trying to call you. They've been calling me too. I know why you don't answer… you're afraid you're not better… and you're afraid of them seeing you without your mask."
He held the dark fabric out, watching him carefully. "Robin and Dick… Batman and Bruce… they're different, and yet it's still you, and it's still me. We just need to find a way to balance them both."
Dick took a step back, still looking very uneasy. "I… I can't…" he whispered weakly, watching the mask with unblinking eyes. "I just can't… not yet…"
Bruce lowered his hand. He gave a slow nod. "Okay. Not until you're ready…" He moved back to the display case, returning the mask to its spot, and locking the glass shut once more. He turned from him, heading to the computer. "No pressure. You can be Robin again when you want to be… if you want to be…"
He couldn't speak. He listened silently as Bruce shuffled away to get into his own disguise… into his own mask. His whole body trembled, alight with something caught between dread and desire. His fingers clasped the communicator, his thumb following the contours of the letter T…
…to be Robin again…
…to face that part of him… the part that had so very nearly destroyed him…
…to face the memory of Slade… to face his friends…
He looked down at the device in his hand, then back up at the display case.
He could see his own reflection staring back at him through the glass. It was positioned just right in the pane, so it seemed to wear the costume on the other side…
"…wait…" he found himself croaking, weakly, as though it was forcing its way through his throat against his will. But as he swallowed, as he looked up at that mask, he felt a familiar, welcome rush of adrenaline and excitement… a kind of elation he'd long since forgotten.
He suddenly turned, giving Bruce an eager, goofy smile – another thing he'd forgotten for so long.
"I'm in, Batman. I'm in."
…and sometime, when I'm trained up… when I am comfortable being both Robin and Dick again… He looked down at the communicator, still smiling wistfully. I'm coming home. I promise…
…and maybe this time, I'll share with you guys who I really am… trust you as you all trusted me… because I shouldn't be afraid of who I really am… I shouldn't have to hide it from you…
"Everything's going to be all right," he said with a grin, as though reassuring the communicator, and his friends that were connected to it "I'm all right. I'll be home soon."
"If you're going to keep talking to inanimate objects, I might reconsider my offer."
"Augh! Sorry!" he gasped, nearly fumbling the communicator, as Bruce laughed behind him, opening the display case once more. He held out the mask, and this time, Dick grasped it eagerly, and held it to his face.
Welcome back, Robin… he told himself silently, pulling the mask away and looking down on it with a sense of nostalgia. It's good to be back…
or is it... DUN DUN DUN
Yes. Yes it is.
OH MY GOD I FINISHED ANOTHER FANFIC, YOU GUYS! D: And this one? LESS THAN A YEAR! LESS THAN A GORRAM YEAR! SUCK IT!
I... hope this ending was good enough. It felt right to me. I mean, I could've kept going another five chapters, but all that would've happened was a lot of "How do you feel, Robin?" "A little better today." "Any hallucinations?" "Some, but I can manage" "Okay, see you tomorrow!" xD Seriously, not much... But what do you guys think? Is it a fitting ending?
Also, I have two very important matters to discuss before you review this awesome story!
Thank you all so so SO much for everything!
Thank you to all you readers who read and reviewed!
Thank you to my betareader - sorry I was so impatient lol! (and likewise, sorry to everyone else for grammar errors and stuff... again, impatience).
Thank you to my two friends who were there to read things and tell me to stop worrying so much and just post the freaking chapter already.
Thank you to my best geek friend, who was the one who asked the question that started this plot bunny to begin with.
Thank you to WB for making the Teen Titans series.
Thank you to Slade for being such a great source of inspiration.
Thank you to Robin for being so fun to torture!
and again, thank you EVERYONE for loving this story and reviewing and being overall AWESOME! And not killing me! I like not being dead!
And now, secondly...
IT'S PARTYING TIME!
Those of you who were with me for the end of RotJ know about my fanfic parties. :D I'm an artist of sorts (goin' to school for it and all, so I can be an animator and ruin people IN CANON!), so I draw pictures on ustreams! This Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011, starting at 5pm PST, I will be hosting another such ustream! The link is in my profile (as are links to my deviantart, my tumblr, my twitter, my formspring... meh, you get it). Come see me draw epic pictures, and watch me officially mark this story as COMPLETE! :3 It'll be a blast, I promise! (If you miss out, watch me on twitter or deviantart - I always do more!)
Thank you all again, so much! I never would've gotten here without so much love and support!