Because of the new Young Justice cartoon (omgawesome, when are they coming out with more episodes?) I've been getting back into the swing of DC related animated series, most notably Batman:TAS, JL/JLU, Teen Titans. I loved the references to Robin's past that were made in the TT show, little things that let you know for sure he was Dick Grayson (as if his relationship with Starfire wasn't a big, glaring clue), and I really loved when the referenced Batman. I've always loved the father/son relationship between Bats and and his birds, mostly Dick and Tim, as I was more into the animated series than the comics (poor Jason gets almost no love). I feel like Young Justice has the potential to really explore that relationship in ways that other series haven't done. In TT, we know that Robin broke out on his own so he could get out of Batman's shadow, but I always thought that Batman would still be checking up on him from time to time (confirmed in one of the Teen Titans Go comics). Nothing gets by Batman, least of all an attack by his foster son on his company, so this is just an idea of the aftermath of the Apprentice episodes.
Anyway, end rant. Please review. Alerts and favorites are nice, but reviews are a fic writer's lifeblood. I'm welcome to critiques (but no flames, that's just immature). Enjoy.
It had been only a couple of hours since they had all returned home. Cyborg had reversed the polarity of Slade's machine, ridding them of the invasive probes. The Titans were all officially safe and whole once again. But Slade had gotten away. Again.
Following the big to-do that was Beast Boy and Cyborg's usual fight over the pros and cons of a carnivorous vs. vegetarian diet, Robin had excused himself from the rest of his team, retreating to the evidence room and stating very firmly that he wanted some time to himself. He hadn't needed to see his friends' faces as he retreated to know that they would be worried and put off. But as Robin stood in the middle of his evidence room, the only light that from the examining table's lamp, he couldn't bring himself to care.
For the past couple of days he had been blackmailed into apprenticeship with Slade. Just the mere thought of the man made the Boy Wonder's blood boil in ways that few other villains had. The man was his Lex Luthor, his Joker. More Luthor, if he actually had to compare them, because really, Slade was no Joker. No one compared to the Joker.
Apprenticeship, Robin thought with a snarl, his eyes gleaming as he glared at the articles pinned to the wall that focused on the criminal. It was an assault to everything Robin stood for, being forced to betray and harm his friends. Robin wanted to do so much more than break the villain's mask in half. He wanted to make him hurt. He wanted it almost as much as he had once wanted to get his hands on Tony Zucco.
The most logical portion of his mind had reminded him over and over that it all wasn't his fault, that he had been powerless once Slade had revealed what his machine had done to the other Titans. But the rest of him was still appalled that he had gone along with the madman, that he had betrayed them. Robin's shoulders slumped. He would do it again, he knew. He would do it all over again, the fighting, the stealing, if it would keep them from being killed.
There was suddenly a knock on the door, echoing loudly in his otherwise silent room. His eyes narrowed under the reflective lenses of his mask. "Not now," he said, loud enough to be heard through the door. He tried to keep the bitter emotion from his voice, but some leaked through.
"Robin," came the shy voice on the other side of the thick metal. Starfire. Instantly, Robin felt guilty all over again. He had hurt her, hurt them all.
"Friend, please," she called when he didn't answer. His default reaction was to yell, to demand that she leave him alone, to go away so that there wasn't anything he could do that would hurt her the way he had done just hours before.
Through gritted teeth, he said, "I need to be alone."
"There is a call for you," Starfire said insistently. "A man in a dark mask. I told him that you did not wish to be disturbed and to please call back some other time, but Cyborg and Beast Boy are both very insistent that you should answer this call. They seem concerned. I believe he may be some manner of villain—oh!"
She jumped just a bit as his door slid open. "He's no villain," Robin said, expression hard. Starfire took a step back, her exotic green eyes wide. "I'll be in my room."
The short walk up the stairs to the living corridors of the Tower wasn't nearly long enough for Robin to mentally prepare himself to take this call. He berated himself. He should have seen it coming. Of course the man would know something was going on. He always knew. Stepping up to the monitor in his room, Robin drew in a deep breath. He turned on the screen, which was split. "I've got it, guys," he said, voice guarded. The image of his friends' concerned faces disappeared as the call was patched through and the security and privacy codes activated.
Robin stood still, back straight and chin up. He tried to fight it, but the glare was slowly settling onto his face as he stared at the all too familiar man on the screen. The cowl and reflective lenses obscured the blue eyes that Robin knew were hard and narrowed.
"Batman," Robin finally said. The Batman, the Dark Knight, Robin's mentor. It had been months since the two had last spoken, since that final explosive argument that sent Robin running from Gotham City, determined to get out from the Caped Crusader's long shadow and make a name for himself apart from the Dynamic Duo.
"Explain this to me," Batman said, ever blunt and to the point. Another window opened on the screen, a video feed of the battle that had taken place on top of Wayne Enterprises. The feed froze on a clear shot of Robin's face.
"It's not what it looks like," Robin said, feeling completely drained. He was exhausted from everything that had recently happened. He didn't have the energy for a fight with Batman.
"Isn't it," Batman asked coldly. "Because it looks like you robbing my company."
"I wasn't doing it on purpose," Robin snapped. "You think I want to steal from you? It was Slade."
Reaching over to the keyboard, Robin began typing, pulling up files on his most detested adversary. "We know him only by the name Slade," Robin said as the files popped up. "He's a mercenary, as far as I can gather. We've run into him several times, but he's always managed to elude capture."
He couldn't see Batman's eyes, but he knew the man was studying the information he had been given. "And what does he have to do with you breaking into my building?"
Robin couldn't stop the embarrassed flush as he said through his teeth, "He forced me to be his apprentice. His orders were to steal that weapon from Wayne Enterprises."
"Specifically from Wayne Enterprises," Batman asked sharply.
"Specifically," Robin asked. "I don't know. He had me steal a thermal blaster from STAR Labs, and then told me to go after the drill core. I don't know exactly what it was supposed to do or what he wanted it for or if there was another one out there."
"There are, but the fact that he had you steal from Wayne Enterprises is disturbing," Batman said. "Does he know who you are?"
"How could he," Robin asked. "No one here knows, not even my team. I'm always Robin here. If he knows anything, he knows it because of something in Gotham." Robin's blood ran cold at the thought of Slade knowing that most closely guarded of secrets. A lot of damage could be done with that information.
"You haven't even considered it," Batman snapped, jerking just slightly in his seat. Robin knew that if they had been face to face, in person, the Dark Knight would be towering over him in one of his usual intimidation methods. Robin's frown deepened. That had stopped working on him years ago.
"It's been a long couple of days, all right," he shot back. "Give me a break."
"You can't afford to take a break, Robin. Not in this line of work, not with everything we have on the line," his old mentor said harshly. "This isn't a game."
"Don't patronize me," Robin shouted. "I've never considered this a game. You know I take it all seriously, but I just spent the past two days being used as a pawn in a madman's game. I was forced to act like a criminal and fight against my teammates, my friends."
"It shouldn't have happened in the first place," Batman said. "You went through training for a reason, so you wouldn't get caught by people like that. You know the consequences to things like this. If a villain gets to you, then I—"
"No," Robin snarled, his nostrils flaring. "This is my fight. He's not after you. He's not using me to get to you. He's after me, for me, and I'll deal with him on my own."
"He manipulated you," Batman said, voice as cold as Robin had ever heard it. "He easily conned you into apprenticeship. If you can't—"
"He was going to hurt my friends," Robin shouted. "He ambushed them, shot them up full of nanoscopic probes. If I didn't do exactly as he instructed, he was going to kill them. How was I supposed to just sit back and watch that happen?"
Batman opened his mouth, but Robin didn't give him time to respond. "Would you have done that? Sacrificed friends, people you care about? What if it had been Clark and Diana and Barry or any of the others? What if it had been Alfred or—or what if it had been me?" The anger in his voice trailed off as he stared at the silent man on the screen.
Time stretched. Seconds seemed like hours waiting for a response, even just a twitch of a brow from his old mentor. Finally, after a small eternity, Batman reached up, pushing the cowl from his face, revealing dark eyes to the young hero.
"I would never let anyone hurt you, Dick," Bruce said, his voice soft. "You know that."
Reaching up, the Boy Wonder peeled off his mask. Shockingly blue eyes blinked at the screen, and Dick couldn't help but feel slightly uncomfortable, almost naked without the mask. It had been months since he'd been out in public without it. He had not revealed his secret identity to the Titans. Sometimes, he thought that he might like to, but to reveal himself was to also reveal Bruce, and that was something that he couldn't do. Batman's, and consequently Robin's, identity had to be kept secret. Only the smallest handful of individuals knew, the most high-ranking members of the Justice League. Even Batgirl hadn't been told yet.
"We've had some issues lately, but you do trust me on that, don't you," Bruce asked, and for a brief second, Dick was taken aback by the open sincerity and concern in the man's voice. It was almost like Bruce honestly thought that Dick believed he didn't care about him. But that was so incredibly far from the truth.
Dick shook his head, his hair, which he hadn't bothered spiking up after his shower, flopping into his eyes. "No, Bruce," he said. "I—I know. It's just—I couldn't just sit back. I couldn't let him hurt them. You do understand, right?"
Finally, Bruce nodded. "I understand," he said. "If I was in your position, I can't say I wouldn't have done the same thing."
"So you give me a hard time about it," Dick asked, the bitterness starting to seep back into his voice.
"Yes," Bruce said. "Because if you had been hurt, I don't know what I'd do. You know me, Dick, better than anyone else, even better than Clark or Alfred. You know that I couldn't stand to lose you too."
Dick looked up at him, his jaw the slightest bit slack. It was something he had known, he supposed. But to hear Bruce voice it, to voice his feelings about the orphaned child he had taken in. It had been years since the last time Dick could remember that happening. If he had to take a guess, he'd say that the last time he had heard such heartfelt words from Bruce was when he was about thirteen.
"I just want what's best for you," Bruce continued. "That's why I let you go out to Jump to start this new team. If I didn't think it was best, I'd have found some way to keep you in Gotham. I'd—I'd have locked you in the cave." For the briefest instant, they shared a wry smile. Not even Batman could have kept Robin from breaking out of the house if the Boy Wonder really set his mind to it.
"Dick, despite everything else, I want you safe, and I want you happy. How could I want anything less?" He paused for a brief moment. "You're my son."
Dick quickly clenched his eyes shut against the damnedable tears that had suddenly sprung up. Yes, he was Bruce's son. Bruce was his father, not his biological father, but Bruce had immediately stepped in to fill that void. He had never presumed to take John Grayson's place in Dick's heart. He knew better than anyone that no one could ever do that. But he had stepped up. He had done everything possible to be the best father he could for Dick. He had given him a home and opportunities beyond the boy's wildest dreams. Dick had the means to be anything in the world with everything that Bruce had given him. He could go anywhere and do anything, but Bruce had given him what he needed most of all. He had given him the role of Robin.
The mantel of Robin filled Dick with purpose, more so than he could imagine anything else doing. He was out there being a hero, not for the glory or the celebrity perks. Dick didn't care about those things. He never had. What he cared about was that he was out there saving people, putting away criminals, and making sure that there were fewer kids like him in the world. Fewer kids who were forced to helplessly watch their parents die.
Bruce had been forced to go through it all too, and if it hadn't been for him, Dick didn't think he would have gotten through it as well as he did. It still hurt to think about, of course, but he could remember the good times now without being crippled by that one awful moment.
"I—I know, Bruce," Dick said. "I wouldn't have gotten through it—through everything—if it hadn't been for that."
Bruce nodded, understanding without Dick needing to implicitly say it. A ghost of a shadow tugged at Dick's lips. He could so easily remember when it had always been like that. When they were the Dynamic Duo. Robin had always been the Batman's partner, never his sidekick, like so many other young heroes were. They had been a well-oiled machine, near perfect, able to move in perfect sync with each other. They didn't need to voice their intentions and actions to each other. They just knew.
And so Dick didn't need to say anything to Bruce. He didn't need to tell him how Slade would have liked to have molded Robin until the Boy Wonder would call him a father. He didn't need to tell Bruce that Robin had denied the villain immediately, remaining fiercely loyal to the man who had saved him in so many ways.
Sometimes, on the days when he wasn't so angry, when thinking back on Gotham didn't make him bristle, Dick wondered if the past several months in Jump City had made him lose that old bond. He'd wonder if they would be out of sync if for some reason they needed to team up again. It was a stupid thought, Dick now knew. Looking at Bruce, even through that computer screen, Dick knew they'd always be able to pick it back up, just like getting on a bike again. Things weren't necessarily mended between them, but this had been a first step. They had needed something to push them to this. But Dick didn't like that it had to involve Slade's manipulation and the endangerment of his friends.
"You should call home more," Bruce said suddenly. "Alfred gets worried, you know."
Dick smiled. Another hidden meaning, this one barely concealed. "Tell him I'm sorry," he said. "I'll make sure to keep in better touch."
"Maybe come home for your birthday or the holidays," Bruce suggested, and Dick's smile stretched more.
An alarm in the Cave suddenly flared. Bruce glanced down at the screen, quickly taking in the information. "I have to go," he said, standing from the chair. Dick nodded, wishing him luck. Bruce paused, his hand halfway outstretched to cut the feed. "Batman has to be hard on Robin," he said. "It's dangerous out there, and it's the only way to keep him safe." Dick didn't say anything, waiting for Bruce to finish his point around bated breath. "But know that Bruce Wayne will always love Dick Grayson, no matter what else."
"I love you too, Dad," Dick said thickly. Bruce smiled at him one last time, replacing his cowl and turning to run to the Batmobile. Dick continued to watch, letting the feed remain open until the Cave fell into silence again. With a light press of a button, he shut down the line. For a moment, he stared at the black screen, lost in thought. Then, with a simple and practiced motion, he pushed his mask back into place.
Robin walked out of his room and up to join his friends in hanging out and playing video games, a small smile on his face. That was a pretty good first step.