Author's Edit (05/23/11):
SO HERE'S THE THING. I first published this story on the YJ Anon Meme over on LiveJournal as response to a prompt. What I'd forgotten is that I added quite a bit to the original file before I posted it there, and while I've done the same with this one, it's missing everything I added from the LiveJournal version. This has been fixed now, so if you're returning to re-read this story, I deeply apologize for the mistake and please know that this is the "final" version of this first chapter.
Dick has dreams about falling.
Falling is Dick's favorite thing to do. With circus blood pumping through his veins, the smell of roasted peanuts hot in his throat and dazzling spotlights, the moment of suspension and helplessness is a rush of white adrenaline. Then the fall. A whirl of wind, limbs, and the rushing ground, looking death in the face and then winning with a grasp of the trapeze bar.
In some dreams the smells fade, traded for the dirty musk of Gotham air that clings to his insides like a sick claim on him. The lights are everywhere, but never the same way—they have more important jobs, like keeping the lurker in the alley away, or letting some two-bit crook know that someone ripe for robbing lives there, or just making a dark city a little bit brighter.
It's all the same. The spotlight whispers his name, but Robin is better off in the shadows, now, where he can leap from skyscrapers into city lights below and fall. Because a dream about falling is his favorite one to have.
Sometimes they turn into nightmares.
When he blinks it's not the bar he's reaching for, but his mother's hand, clawing for his in desperation with a horror on her face he'd see many times in years to come. Sometimes she screams his name—sometimes she screams 'no'—and sometimes, she just screams. And then the ropes come loose, and Dick sees the hitch, and the suspension comes, the the feeling of helplessness and adrenaline he better knows as fear coiling in his stomach as he screams back. And then the fall.
Sometimes, death wins.
He climbs down the ladder shakily, the rungs twisting into rusted bars beneath his fingers. A nightmare, he breathes, a broken memory. Bruce has trained him for these. It's over. He just has to face it, like every dark memory, he has to twist it and melt it down until it's just another inch in the darkness.
He reaches the bottom, his boots touching against cracked asphalt. This isn't a memory. Something jumps in his stomach, solidifies into a cold mass, and he turns to the crumpled figure on the ground.
Tangled in his cape and ten feet of a cut grapnel line, Batman says nothing, his limp hand stretching towards Robin in a parody of a reach.
Dick screams again.
When he wakes up, he's sprawled across the couch and there's a pair of green arms circled so tightly around him he thinks he might be suffocating. A hand strokes though his hair, rhythmically, and coupled with the feeling of soft breathing against his own ragged gasps it's all too much—or maybe he's pushed away too long—because it feels like his mother in those arms and it's all he can do not to break down.
"Megan," he chokes out, but can't bring himself to pull away. Maybe it's weakness. Maybe he's tired of being strong. "What're you...doing here?"
"Your emotions...so powerful..." M'gann's voice quivers as her fingers dig into his back. "I never knew you could be so scared..."
Robin almost curses, and then again when the sharp spike of frustration causes M'gann to pull back abruptly. He should have known better...his mental barriers weren't anywhere near good enough yet to hold while he was sleeping. He rubs a hand over his domino mask.
"It's not a big deal. Everyone has nightmares."
"All the time? Like that?" Megan's worrying her bottom lip between her teeth, eyes fixed on the hands resting in her lap. It occurs to Robin that maybe she doesn't have much experience with a species prisoners to their own minds.
"Not all the time." Some of us more than others, he silently adds, his mental blocks shooting up again. Hopefully Megan didn't catch that part. "It's just...you have these weird...corners where stuff likes to hide and jump out when we're sleeping. You know, nightmares." His manages a weak smile. "Why do they call 'em 'nightmares', anyway? You think there's, like, an evil female horse martian that goes around and messes with people in their sleep or something?"
"Robin," M'gann says suddenly, her eyes sharpening. "Let me help."
The smile vanishes from Robin's face. His shoulders hunch, the cape dropping down and curtaining his arms. "C'mon, Megan. You know I can't let you in."
"I won't look at anything, I promise. It'll just be like...like a block. I can seal those corners for you." Megan's smile is thin and, Robin thinks, a little bit desperate.
He clenches his teeth and turns away, imagining Batman's harsh gaze if he discovered that Robin let the martian poke around inside his brain. Then the cowl is pulled back and Bruce's eyes quietly break as the reasons why settle in. There's too much pity and too many blue eyes, and in his quietest moments Dick thinks that Bruce's eyes are like ice, and wonders how cold the darkness can get.
"It's my baggage," he mutters. His own voice can't convince him. "And it's kinda heavy."
Megan must know she's winning, because her smile lifts just a bit. "I'm pretty strong, you know."
"I don't want to fall anymore."
"But you love falling," M'gann says. "When we're patrolling and you just...you let go! The joy you give off, it's just so..." He sees her grasping for a word to describe it, and if she's recalling his emotion, he knows what's coming next. "...whelming! It's perfect!" The martian's eyes brighten as though she can taste the roasted peanuts and see the city lights sparkling, and just for a moment, Dick can't see how it was possible that he ever felt anything even close to it.
But she's right. And Robin thinks. And finally, in a whisper, he corrects himself. "I don't want anyone else to fall."
M'gann's expression softens. "Nobody else has to." She brings up her palm, her mouth lifting at the corners. "I mean, Robins don't have to fly, right?"
Robin meets her gaze—then exhales, closing his eyes. He looks in the mirror, sometimes, and finds them the color of the ocean. He doesn't want them to freeze over. Too much pity, too many blue eyes, too much darkness. He misses the light.
Three heartbeats, his own. Then a soft touch sets against his forehead, the racing of his mind settling into a slow pitch and the dark corners brightening, reminding him vaguely of spotlights—
When Robin wakes up in the desert of Bialya with nothing but sand in his mouth and Batman's demand for radio silence in his mind, he knows that something's been misplaced.
What he can't figure out is why he woke up with the sensation of falling—not into a dark city with broken bodies and reaching hands at the bottom, but rather like he's passed the suspension in midair, and there's someone holding his hand during the freefall just to make sure that death is outnumbered.