Chapter 2

Seven. Two ran. Robin took out one. Went after the two. Four. Unarmed. No formal hand-to-hand training. And as always, they were afraid. If he'd had the time to spare the thought, Batman would have thought for the millionth time about the effect his costume gave. It had been a good decision.

Three were in front of him, one was at his right, trying to get behind him; but they were sloppy. They were not working as the co-ordinated team their formation tried to appear. They were all ready to run at the slightest provocation.

Batman continued to study them, and realized that he needed to end this quickly. Robin had followed the two leaders somewhere out of eyesight. Batman made a mental note to have another talk about the rules if the boy wanted to go out again. He quickly brought his mind back to the fight. Robin was well trained, and had unfortunately broken that rule more times than Batman wished, and was fine. Robin had more skill at some things than Batman ever would. Batman respected the boy's abilities, but Robin still had much to learn, and on occasion had too little discipline...

The man to his right started the foray, and by the time Batman had thrown his first counter, the other three were on him as well. Actually meeting them proved his earlier observation: no training; probably just barroom brawls and schoolyard scuffles.

Two were down quickly and Batman turned to the other two when a beeping noise rang out from his belt. His blood ran cold. No other tool made that noise. Robin needed him. Now. He didn't have time to finish these two. They could get away, fine. They would just end up committing some other crime he could bust them for. Hopefully they wouldn't hurt anyone before the Batman could catch up to them.

Batman hated to do it, it was against everything he knew, but he turned his back on his two opponents and ran in the direction he'd seen Robin take. He was extremely lucky, the two didn't follow.

If he remembered the plans correctly, there should be a back office, with a door that lead to an alleyway just around the next set of pallets...there was. Light colored smoke was slowly defusing out of the open door. Batman let himself inwardly smirk and slowed his steps. He'd be gruff and fuss about the proper use of the emergency button, but he was proud. Robin would come bouncing out with more energy than should have been humanly possible for a twelve year old at this hour, a huge grin on his face, asking what had taken Batman so long.

But it was taking too long. The room was silent. The earlier fear he had experienced returned, full force, and Batman slowly approached the entrance. Rage welled up inside along with disgust; he quickly grabbed the door frame and he turned his eyes away, fearing his boy was dead and not wanting to actually see it. He gasped and told himself to stop being to irrational and emotional. But he did not try to stop the rage. He turned back to the horrible scene and made sure he burned it into his memory.

One man was slumped on Robin's legs, one hand in the waist of the boy's pants, the other sprawled at an odd angle over his head where he had fallen after being knocked unconscious from the gas. The other man was laying over one of Robin's arms, his pants halfway down. And Robin...

The boy looked so small...his right hand was lying next to the broken pellet of knock-out gas, his arms had multiple wide blackening bruises, obviously made by large hands and crushing force. His face was turned to the door, nose and mouth dripping with blood, and his bright yellow cape had a seeping dark red stain slowly growing from under the boy's head.

In moments the initial shock was shaken off and Batman rushed for the closest man, the one with his pants down at Robin's head, and lifted him with brutal force. The piece of trash didn't even stir as Batman allowed his anger to lash out and he hit the man over and over, his hands shaking the entire time. When the disgusting pedophile was sufficiently bloodied Batman turned to the other. Batman gave the man the same treatment, though there seemed to be less force behind it. After that was done, Batman turned to Robin.

He pulled off a glove. Trembling hands brushed wild black hair from such a small forehead and slowly moved to a small neck in search of a pulse. After a few moments of terror, there it was, strong and steady. Batman pulled smelling salts from his belt and waved them under the boy's nose. Robin jerked his head away, without opening his eyes, and gave a soft moan before his face paled more than it had already been and he yelled, "NO!" and started to struggle with all the might his powerful twelve year old body could.

Batman cradled the boy close, trying to hold him as loosely and securely as possible, trying to calm him down, but Batman's throat was so tight, his horse whispers couldn't be heard over Robin's screams of, "No! Get off! Help! Batman! Help!"

Finally Batman was able to swallow and say loud enough to here, "Robin, it's okay. Robin...Richard, it's all right, Dick. I'm here, partner. It's okay."

God, the boy was trembling so hard...Robin's eyes opened, they were unfocused. "Batman?" He whispered, desperately.

Relief flooded him. "Can you stand?"

Robin still looked so frightened, "Yes."

Batman helped him to his feet, but the boy wobbled and clutched his head. "What's wrong?" The Dark Knight asked, catching Robin before he fell.

"My head..." he whimpered, "and I think I'm gonna throw up." A few deep breaths later, he continued, "I hit my head." His green gloved hand went to the back of his head and came back bloodied.

"We should get you home, that sounds like a concussion." Batman scooped him into his arms and couldn't help worrying if he should call Leslie. Concussions were serious. He could be bleeding into his brain... "Did you loose consciousness before you threw the pellet?"

His partner blinked, seemingly confused by the question. " I couldn't. They were...I...fought 'em. I used the emergency button. Had to hold 'em off." He closed his eyes again, leaned into Batman, and grunted, "The room's all spiny."

"Stay awake." It came out more forceful than Batman had wanted, but it did the trick. He carried the small boy all the way to the Bat-mobile, scrupulously studying his ward, making sure he stayed conscious.

Batman did not speak the entire drive back to The Cave; he didn't know what to say. Should he yell and rant and ground the boy for following the two away from his mentor? Should he praise him for his quick thinking with the knock-out pellets? Should he soothe the boy with the fact that they he was now safe? Should he promise that he would never let anyone hurt the boy like that?

He gripped the steering wheel tighter, he was so angry. How could he have let this happen? Bruises happened, occasional cuts and scrapes, sure, but not this. When he had allowed Dick to become Robin he'd made up rules. Not just the ones he'd told Robin. Rules for himself. He'd let those lax because Robin had become more capable than he'd expected. He needed to reevaluate many things. First, he wanted to go over everything he'd gathered on the raid they'd done tonight. He wanted to know how it was possible to miss something so huge.

He glanced over to Robin. The boy was making himself as small as possible in his seat, but the color had returned to his face. "Feeling better?" Batman asked.

The boy jumped slightly, and looked over to Batman, "Yes, sir," he answered quickly and just as quickly, his eyes returned to staring at his feet.

Batman nodded and parked the Bat-mobile in its usual spot, "I want you to have Alfred look at your head, see if it needs stitches, get cleaned up, then get to bed."

The canopy slid open and Robin climbed out slowly, "Okay."

Batman exited the Bat-mobile himself, worried. Another symptom of a concussion.

"My, word! Master Dick..."

Alfred had rushed to Robin at the first sight of the blood on the boy's cape.

"Hey, Alfie. Could you help me?"

Alfred gave Batman a deadly gaze before going to the medical cabinet and gathering supplies. Batman pulled off his cowl and went to the computer to review the files. He tried to concentrate, but couldn't help but watch Robin out of the corner of his eye; every wince, every hiss of pain, caused Batman more and more anger. He'd messed up, he needed to know exactly where he'd messed up so it would never happen again.

He took a deep breath and refocused on the computer screen. He hadn't realized he'd been searching so long until Alfred gently laid a hand on his shoulder.

"Master Richard is resting comfortably. I will wake him every half hour just to be sure."

"How bad was it?" He couldn't look at his most trusted friend.

He could hear the slight smile in Alfred's voice, "You know how head wounds are. They always look worse than they are at first glance."

"I made a mistake, Alfred." The butler remained silent, "I just looked at their convictions. I didn't check for dropped charges." Batman pointed at the screen, "Danny Ramos, thirty-four, person-of-interest in connection with the rape and murder of an eleven year old boy last year. They didn't have enough evidence to go to trial. And Robert Thiboux, twenty-nine, arrested and accused of raping his girlfriend's seven year old son. The mother refused to press charges and there was no evidence aside from the boys testimony, so the case was dropped. It was all right there, and I didn't look. He was alone, Alfred. They had him...they were on top of him. If he hadn't thought to knock them out..." He sighed in frustration, "I wouldn't have been there in time."

"But he did 'knock them out'?"

"Yes. He stayed calm, came up with a plan, and it worked. He saved himself."

"You sound almost proud."

"Proud? Relieved, maybe. Confused? Angry? I don't know."

"Angry, sir? At him?"

What? "No! Why would I be angry with him? He did everything right. He called for help and did his best until I got there. That's exactly what he was trained to do. I should have known their histories. I should have made sure that he got no where near them alone."

"Then, I believe you should tell that him, sir, because right now, he is very afraid that you are angry at him. He believes he made a mistake that you might not forgive."

Batman looked down at his hands, "Why would he think that?"

"Because children believe that parents are never at fault, they are." After a slight pause, he continued, "He needs to be roused in about twenty minutes, will you make the first check? I will prepare something to eat."

Batman thought hard for a moment, "Yes, thank you, Alfred."