Oh, Robin, darling. I have ruined you.
Sorry this one took so long! This boy's a tough little cookie and I still failed to do him any justice. Sigh. Such is life when you're me. This one's a bit shorter than the other ones, but only by a few hundred words. I have no confidence in this chapter at all, ahaha. Let's see how many people give up on this story after this.
Stage Four: Depression
The individual may realize that bargaining is frivolous, and they are pulled into a state of depression at the knowledge that they can no longer escape what will happen. There are two types of depression, but they are not necessarily both felt. The first type of depression results in individual having regrets that haunt them; they criticize themselves and what they have done and are often "constantly reminded" of what has happened by mundane things. The individual may reconsider his or her personal choices, actions, or feelings. The second type is a sort of "private mourning," in which the individual quietly rebuilds his or herself by drawing away from family and friends and driving help away.
Robin looks amazingly small in the chair, Black Canary realizes with a twisting sensation in her heart. It is not the same lithe and quick and mischievous small that he ordinarily is – it is a frightened and ashamed small, one that hangs haggardly off of his jagged bones.
His arms hang straight down between his open legs, pale fingers still. His head is bowed, and over the rim of his sunglasses, Canary thinks she can see black eyelashes, but they are curtained for the most part by his falling ebony hair, straggling helplessly down.
"Hi," he says meekly, so quietly that she isn't sure she's heard it until he looks at her.
"Hi," she reciprocates with warmth.
"What, um…" His voice is rendered a whisper by leftover rawness from recent tears, but he clears his throat and recovers some volume. "What am I… supposed to do in here, exactly?"
"Talk," she replies evenly. "If you want to, anyway."
Robin's eyes return to his knees. "Oh."
Black Canary crosses one leg and leans back contemplatively in the chair, cheek resting on her left knuckles.
"I know you had an especially hard time in the exercise," she says, hoping that she isn't grinding salt into the wound. "Having leadership shouldered onto you, being forced to send Superboy on a suicide mission…"
Robin curls in on himself silently and she relents.
"I had KF," he murmurs. "Me and him, we were—" He swallows. "I had KF."
"Robin," she speaks his name gently, "I know you're hurting, so… if you want to talk about it, that's what I'm here for."
"Hurting?" Robin echoes with quiet incredulity. "Try traumatized."
He pauses for a moment, inhaling, and Black Canary stays silent. Eventually, he manages to conjure up the words.
"I finally become leader and wind up sending all of my friends to their deaths. I – I know I did what I had to. But I hated it. When we started this team, I was desperate to be in charge, but not anymore. And that's not even the worst of it."
He lifts his chin infinitesimally to lock gazes with her, eyebrows forlorn over his sunglasses.
"You…" He swallows. "You can't tell Batman."
"Nothing leaves this room," Black Canary assures him.
There is no hesitation in his expression; there is only resignation, self-deprecation, pale-cheeked bewilderment.
"I always… wanted – expected – to grow up, and – and become him," he says, the words stumbling out with rapidity. "And the hero bit? I'm still all in! But that thing? Inside of him? The thing… that – that drives him to sacrifice everything for the sake of his mission. That's not me. I don't wanna be the Batman… anymore."
"No one ever asked you to be," Black Canary tells him softly. He smiles, but it is resigned and hollow.
"I asked myself to be. And in – in a way, I feel like I'm letting him down. I don't know why." He leans forward until his forehead is held in his propped-up hands, the fingers fist into his hair. He chuckles, but perhaps it's a bit more akin to a sob. "I mean, what does the Batman care about me? I'm just some dumb kid he picked up out of the gutter. I'm a charity case. I'm not – I'm nothing special."
"Don't say that," Black Canary implores him, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Batman cares very much about you, even though he doesn't—"
"I used to think I was the most special kid in the world, actually," Robin cuts her off as if he hasn't heard her. "Little Richard, star of the Flying Graysons. Mom and Dad would make me feel like I could do anything. Nothing scared me." He inhales and lifts his head out of his hands, pulling his knees up to his chin and retreating against the back of the chair. "But I remember the night when the wires broke, and I watched them fall, and I was just – I was up at the platform, waiting for Dad to swing back and grab me, but he never came back. He never came back."
Black Canary's face feels as if it is splitting in half. Her eyebrows, sore with sorrowful empathy, are cracking over her eyes as she withdraws her hand from the stitch of his hoodie.
Robin has only ever spoken to her about his parents once, when he had been ten. Batman had told her that the boy had been having nightmares, and had suggested that her "flair for interrogating people" might benefit him. She never truly knew if it had, because Robin had not mentioned his family since.
"It was funny." She is dredged out of her introspective sadness by the Boy Wonder's crackling tone. "I mean, KF died right away, but I didn't. With M'gann around, I felt him go. But the ray didn't hit me; it hit the floor. The bomb went off, and the whole thing caved in. And suddenly I was falling. And I kept thinking, I'm a failure. Graysons aren't supposed to fall. Graysons never fall."
Black Canary inhales through her nose to hold back the tears of a surrogate mother that seem to be an omnipresent threat as of late.
"I was scared," Robin croaks. "I was so scared."
He puts his hands on his upper arms and rubs them as if he is cold, resting his forehead on his raised knees.
"I just…" Robin's voice is small and empty in the vast tightness of the room. "All of my families – is it weird that we've all been teams? The Flying Graysons, Batman and Robin, the Junior Justice League or whatever we're called. How does that work? Who are you supposed to think about in battle? Your family or your team? How can you choose when they're the same thing? I keep telling myself, 'you sacrificed your team.' But I didn't, in the end; and…"
His sentence trails off into fretful quiet. In one sudden, swift movement, he reaches up and rips the sunglasses off of his face, causing Black Canary's eyes to widen.
"Robin…" she says.
"I'd sacrifice my team," he tells her. "I can accept that. But – not my family. Never my family. That's why I can't ever be Batman. I care too much. But I've already learned what it means to lose a family, and as long as I have this one – this Team, with a capital 't' – I'm not letting it go. I'm going to make mistakes in fights. I'm going to make stupid decisions because I want to keep them safe. But I don't care anymore."
His eyes are shockingly blue when they drill into hers, driving icicles into her heart. She pays them no mind.
"You talk about caring like it's a flaw," she muses, folding her arms. Robin thumps his foot a few times pensively.
"It might as well be," he murmurs. "Caring makes you screw everything up. Caring makes you die. I can't care. But – by the time I figured out that I did, it was already too late. KF had just… dissolved, like Artemis. We never saw what happened to Aqualad or Superboy, but we felt it. It was like something… inside of us was suddenly gone. Not like it had been… physically taken out, or destroyed; it was just… gone. It was a gap."
He throws the sunglasses onto the floor with such force that they crack.
"I'm so sick of gaps."
"I don't suppose I need to tell you that this isn't your fault?" Black Canary asks calmly. Robin stills, eyes roving down to the floor.
"It was," he whispers.
"It wasn't, Robin." She shakes her head. "It wasn't."
"Then whose was it?" Robin demands bitterly, staring hatefully down at his hands, which clench around his knobbly knees. Black Canary sighs, drifting back in the chair, fingers interlacing as her stare wanders to the ceiling.
"No one's," she finally says, and she can tell by his surprised expression that he hadn't been expecting this answer. "Accidents happen, Robin. And in the context of the situation, you did what you had to do to protect the human race."
"But is it worth it?" he blurts out. "Is the human race even worth it? What would've happened if I'd managed to survive, huh? If it had been real? All of my friends would be dead. All of the Leaguers. I'd be alone."
"The needs of the many—" she begins with a wry smile, but suddenly freezes, seeing wet spots gathering at the edges of Robin's eyes. She leans forward, concerned. "Robin? Honey? What's wrong?"
"How do I tell them I'm sorry?" he croaks, hands still wrapped around his shoulders. "How do I even… look at them? It would be a disaster."
Black Canary can't help the wry smile that curls over her mouth.
"Feel the aster then, Robin," she encourages him, and his head jerks up in astonishment. "I know that's what you do best."
After a few moments of bemused silence, he smiles, too. When he leaves later on, sunglasses on again (they are black curves over the earnest eyes that everyone should see), Black Canary finds herself standing and enveloping him in a hug, one that he reciprocates immediately, tightly, desperately.
"I'm here anytime you need me, okay?" she says earnestly. "Anytime Batman's being a creep. Anytime Wally's driving you crazy. Just – anytime, okay, Robin?"
He nods through her arms, wrestling away with a vague hint of the mischievous grin she knows so well, hiding in the crevices of his ashen face.
"I might take you up on that," he murmurs with a swelling undercurrent of gratitude before pushing open the door and calling, "M'gann, your turn!"
Black Canary can feel the palpable surface of the Martian girl's apprehensions before she even enters the room. She is so tired as M'gann takes a cautious seat opposite her. So, so tired.