Author's Note: End of story unless directed otherwise by enthusiastic reviews. Enjoy.
This is not an acid test. This is not a test of any kind. This is merely confirmation of Jason's suitability for Robin's mantle. How he performs on patrol tonight will hopefully alleviate any lingering doubt or trepidation in my mind. It has been almost a year of training for him to arrive at this point. His progression through my tuition has been at times both remarkable and frustrating in equal measure. Anger has been a key theme to hindering his development throughout the training program, but is now adequately under control. The boy has passed all exams and combat tests required to reach this patrol. His street sparring with me - an assessment that requires he be hit no more than twice in order to pass - was particularly impressive. Jason scored eleven hits on me whilst only receiving one in reply. It was the most times I have been hit by a single individual in almost two years. He is as ready as he will ever be to do this work. And now we stand together on the rooftops of Gotham as Batman and Robin.
Jason insisted on wearing his predecessor's costume, something that proved difficult to accommodate. Jason is presently two years older and almost thirty pounds heavier than Dick was when taking up the mantle. The tunic had to be radically adjusted to fit his frame whilst the 'pixie' shorts, boots, gloves and belt had to be re-sized entirely. Offering him Dick's later costume variants proved useless; he wanted the costume Dick had worn on his very first patrol because he felt it would give the occasion greater significance and grandeur. Personally I just think he enjoys being difficult. Regardless, we are about to commence patrol duties.
"Ready to make a difference, Robin?" I inquire as we stare down at the city below. Jason smirks at me and nods.
"Let's do this."
The patrol starts innocuously enough in The Narrows. We encounter a few examples of racketeering and extortion against small business owners and poverty-stricken residents of the area. The type of thug doing this kind of work is tall, powerfully-built and slow-witted; a perfect first opponent for the boy. I gesture at two as they begin to flex their muscle on a frail-looking deli owner on Elm Street.
"Think you can take them on your own?" I inquire. The boy looks at me and nods.
"I'd like to think so." I like the confidence.
"So go get them, Boy Wonder." Jason swings down from the rooftop we are situated on to the sidewalk where the crime is taking place. The two thugs regard the boy and then one another in confusion.
"Is it Halloween or something?" One asks out loud. Robin has not been seen in this city for over two years; this will be interesting.
"Stop what you're doing or I'll make you." Jason tells them simply and without smiling. He does not look nervous, only intensely focused on the task at hand. The thugs laugh briefly before deciding to test the claim for themselves. They come forward to hit him and find thin air. Jason makes no quips and instead seems more intent on taking them down. I watch him dodge incoming blows from both simultaneously and counter with stinging hits to the floating ribs and solar plexus. Amazingly, despite their weight advantage being surplus of almost a hundred and fifty pounds, the boy only needs to strike them three times each to bring them to their knees. Once there, instead of opting for an unnecessary head-butt or heel kick, Jason incapacitates them with a single uppercut each. He radios the police and checks that the deli owner is okay. The man may not press charges, but at the very least he is likely to be undisturbed for the time being. When the boy returns to my position, I nod in satisfaction.
"That was very…efficient, Robin. Shall we move on?" I say. Jason does not answer immediately. I find him studying his knuckles and frowning at something imperceptible. Then he nods.
"Lead the way, Batman."
Between us, we neutralise an additional eight enforcers in The Narrows. The boy grows more vocal with every additional opponent he takes down until he too is making jokes and laughing at them as Dick once did. It is good to see he is enjoying himself but even better to see it has yet to make him arrogant; evidently drumming restraint into Jason's head countless times in the build-up to this event has paid off. He puts them down without even attempting to play around and appears wholly content just to defeat them. When we leave the area, I feel the night is going far better than I could have anticipated.
After diffusing a potential gang-rape situation in Park Row and halting a narcotics shipment near Amusement Mile, we head to GCPD headquarters. Jim Gordon is shining the signal again and I am confident enough in Jason's abilities to allow a bigger challenge. I did not permit this with Dick because I felt he was slightly too young and naïve at the time, but this new boy is far harder and more world-weary. So we will start at the deep-end. When we arrive on the rooftop, Jim Gordon is alone and holding a thick dossier under his arm. When he spots Jason, I see the shock on his face even in the darkness.
"Evening, Jim." I say to break the tension when he does not speak for almost five minutes. He clears his throat.
"Evening. So, you've got a new one." Jim replies scrutinising at my new partner, "At least he's older than his predecessor was." He extends a hand out to the boy. "Nice to meet you, son. Robin, is it?" Jason smirks and shakes his hand.
"Be kinda stupid if it was anything else, don't you think?" Gordon rewards his humour with an amused smile. He looks at me.
"At the very least he's got the right mouth for this job."
"Yes. Do you have something for us to investigate?"
"No, we've done the investigating for you this time as absurd as that may sound. All we need you and your new boy to do is bring them in. We've already issued warrants for their arrests only they don't want to come quietly. At the moment they're holed up in one of the old shipping yards near Gotham Docks with a small army guarding them. Rather than make a spectacle out of the whole thing I was hoping I could rely on you to get them here without a media circus or the need for body bags. Take a look for yourself." Jim hands me the dossier for inspection.
The two individuals Gordon wishes to be brought in, Manny Curtis and Walter Bonneville, are known to me. I have had extensive dealings with Curtis through his affiliations with many different gangs in Gotham whilst Bonneville was involved in Luciano Fognini's narcotics business for almost three years. Both are guilty of innumerable crimes and violations and I have no qualms in making them suffer prior to their arrest. When I ascertain their current location as a shipping yard I helped shut down due to narcotic trafficking through the premises, I am highly confident of success. I hand the dossier back to Jim and nod. "Leave it to us. I'll contact you when both are clear of the structure. Let's go Robin."
The drive there is conducted in silence. Jason does not seem particularly conversational tonight which is surprising given his performance with the local degenerates and is still regarding his knuckles distastefully as if there is something wrong with them. I make a mental note to ask him later. We arrive at the shipping yard less than twenty minutes after leaving GCPD headquarters.
Although the facility is heavily fortified and guarded by rifle-wielding foot soldiers at all possible entry and exit points, the fact we are operating at night gives us the advantage. A quick observation reveals that neither Curtis nor Bonneville have enough reputation for their bosses to gift them night vision goggles for their escorts. Both Jason and I slip past the first two guards by using a discarded brick thrown against containers as a distraction. Once we have breached this first line of security, we split off and take half the yard each, maintaining radio silence until the suspects are found. I evade the detection of a further twelve guards without the use of force and find myself inside the main offices less than five minutes later. Here the security presence is less pronounced but there are still single man patrol teams roaming the corridors and overlapping arcs. I utilize the ventilation system to bypass four patrols and enter the manager's office, emerging hidden from view behind the desk. The room is dark and empty. They are not in this part of the facility.
"Hello Batman, this is Robin, message over."
"Targeted persons found. Location East Yard, Main Warehouse, Loading Dock C. Proceed with takedown?"
I open my mouth to tell him to wait for my arrival but stop myself before I transmit. I find I do not trust him to conduct two simple incapacitation drills on his own and am surprised at my lack of faith in his abilities and training. He is Robin and he is trained to the highest standards. He has operated with respectable levels of restraint and been perfect so far in his performance tonight. I wanted him to tackle this challenge so I must let him proceed or risk fracturing the team dynamic before it is fully formed.
I wait for only a few seconds before Robin confirms both Curtis and Bonneville have been rendered unconscious. The boy is now awaiting my rendezvous on his current location for transportation and extraction drills, exactly as practiced. I reach his location less than three minutes later, avoiding approximately thirty-five individual guards and six two-man sniper sections. I find Jason crouched over the two men in an office screened from view. The boy has secured both of them with zip ties, ensuring to bound their wrists to the front and cross their ankles to the rear. Both are unconscious but appear uninjured otherwise. Judging from the way in which their eyes are open but rolled up into their heads I would assume a nerve pinch on both was the method of disablement. I nod at Jason in silent approval. I should trust him unequivocally. I am still reserved despite all evidence to the contrary.
We shoulder one man each for standard casualty carry drills and extract from the area by the sealed rear door entrance to the warehouse. Jason uses the handheld blowtorch to unseal the exit and allow us to slip back into the exterior yard. From here, we climb a shipping container and fire our grapnels to the buildings just outside of the fence. Sporadic gunfire accompanies our exit but it is not aimed in our direction and is more than likely someone alerting others that their cargo has vanished. Jason carries Bonneville all the way back to the car without difficulty despite the man outweighing him by almost sixty pounds. His strength is remarkable. I radio Gordon to inform him we have both men in custody and will transport them back to GCPD. He elects not to send in any swat teams to clear the yard because there is no need; he has what he wants from there and is unconcerned at present about anything but obtaining confessions. It is a perfectly understandable and practical approach to the situation.
"Are you okay Jason?" I ask as we drive back from delivering Curtis and Bonneville. Since leaving the warehouse, the boy has been utterly silent. His inspection of his knuckles has increased and he does not seem enthused or happy about anything that has transpired tonight, even his own performance which I would grade as stellar. Jason shrugs.
"Would you like to know how you performed tonight?" I ask only for the boy to frown.
"Can we wait until we're back at the cave?"
"Is there a particular reason for this?"
"I just like being home for things like this. That's okay right?" He says turning to look at me. I nod my head.
When we arrive back at the cave, Alfred is ready to greet us with some trepidation on his face. The old man has been concerned about Jason too. When I approach him I nod and watch relief transform his face. He goes to ask the boy something only for me to warn him against it with a hand gesture. He frowns at me but refrains from engaging the youth. He silently asks me what the problem is and I communicate that it is nothing I cannot handle myself. The old man bows his head and withdraws up to the house. I watch Jason cross the cave floor and sit himself down on the floor beside the steps. He takes his domino mask off and regards it in his hand. He then looks up at me and offers half-a-smile. I approach him whilst removing my cowl. I crouch down in front of him and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Is everything okay Jay-Jay?" I ask him. He nods.
"You know it's really weird? I was looking forward to this night for the whole year I was training. And when we set off I was excited and really up for it. But it's not like I thought it would be. I thought we'd make a difference, but we didn't really make a difference at all. The city's still a shithole and people are still monsters and sickos. It all seems so pointless. It doesn't matter how many scumbags I hit, it's still never going to be enough."
This reaction of his to my on-going crusade is understandable from an outsider's point of view, but I had not expected this from the boy I made my second Robin, especially after our lectures on the meaning of our mission. We need to accept we cannot eliminate crime entirely because it is unfeasible, but we can make the city far safer for its inhabitants by targeting the major sources of corruption and criminality on a regular basis. I accepted this long ago and so did Dick in his tenure as Robin. I had thought Jason had too but I suppose it is different for someone who has experienced the ugliest side of this city from street level. I smile at him understandingly.
"You performed to the best of your ability and it resulted in an outstanding effort on your part. You made a difference tonight. You spared a woman a lifetime of psychological trauma by preventing her being raped and saved a businessman's livelihood by taking down his would-be attackers. That may only be a small difference in the grand scheme of things, but it IS a difference that can be measured. Do you remember how painful those situations were for you?"
"Well now they don't have to go through it thanks to you. Don't you feel better for helping them avoid those things?" I say hoping this will help galvanise him to a more positive way of seeing his contributions. He shrugs his shoulders.
"I guess so." The boy says before considering something, "Do you really think I did okay tonight?"
"You did a brilliant job. I'm very proud of you, very proud." I inform him whilst gently pulling him up into a standing position. He smiles at me in a way I find awfully endearing. My earlier reservations seem somewhat unfounded in light of this very honest discussion on his feelings; it was only a few weeks earlier he was still resistant to talking anything through with me despite his improved attitude to training. For him to share his doubts is a great leap of faith for someone as mistrusting as he is. He looks at me hopefully.
"So I'm a good replacement then?"
"You're not a replacement Jason; you are Robin and you are unique, just as your predecessor was unique. I hope you come to realise in time just how unique you really are." I do not believe he is accustomed to being spoken to in this way; he looks stunned by the idea even though I have made certain to compliment and encourage his later progress through training to avoid more anger and regressions. I feel like I should try to offer a physical gesture of affection.
I move in to hug him only for the boy to move away. He smiles and shrugs his shoulders. "It's okay; you don't have to hug me if you don't want to." I move back towards him.
"Why would you think I wouldn't want to? Do you not want a hug?" I am not outwardly affectionate most of the time and neither is the boy, but he is fourteen and has been through some unspeakable things on this city's streets; for his performance he deserves to know how much I have grown to love him and his presence in my life. It has been a struggle admittedly, but there is no denying I am as fond of him as I ever was of Dick which is a bold statement in itself. He needs to understand how proud I am of his progress and his conduct as my partner in this mission and how eager I am for him to stay in the role for as long as he is willing. Jason looks almost embarrassed as he replies.
"So come here and get one. It's alright; I won't tell anyone about it." He awkwardly initiates the hug, the first time he has done so in our relationship and wraps his arms round my back. I reciprocate and squeeze him gently. Although the contact is brief, Jason still manages to say one thing before letting go that again really strikes a chord with me.
"You're the best friend I ever had." He tells me simply. When we separate again I consider something.
"If you ever have any doubts again, about anything whatsoever…" I begin only for the boy to cut me off with a smile and a nod.
"I know big guy. It means a lot." He thumbs to the steps behind him. "I'm going to go shower and hit the sack. I'll see you at breakfast?"
"I'll see you then."
"Goodnight Bruce." He says turning his back and beginning his ascent to the library. I watch him in silent appreciation of what he and I have accomplished together tonight and during our entire relationship to arrive at this point. I find I regret nothing at this moment and am content with the outcome as he disappears from view. I nod my head in satisfaction.