Disclaimer: I don't own Batman or Astro Boy.
Warnings: Spoilers for recent comics, angst, violence, angst, brainwashing, angst, dark AU, and just for variety, more angst.
"Welcome to Haly's Robot Circus!"
But you know... not everybody likes robots. Some people like to take advantage of robots. And when robots refuse to be taken advantage of, those people like to do... other things, to remind the robots of who is in charge.
Two of the robots were damaged beyond repair. The third was not as unlucky, but it was greatly damaged, and Haly's Robot Circus is not a rich circus.
But Bruce Wayne is a rich man.
Robin was a very special robot. Anyone who met him knew that. When he was trying very hard, it was nearly impossible to tell he wasn't human.
After Wayne Industries' scientists had repaired him, Bruce brought Robin to Wayne Manor to live with him. Many people thought he was mad, living with a robot as if it were his equal. But Bruce was already known as eccentric; he still employed a human butler, doing the job of a robot.
Bruce tried to enroll Robin in school, like human children. At first Gotham Academy would not have it, but Bruce Wayne is Bruce Wayne. But the parents revolted. They would not have their children going to school with a robot. But Bruce Wayne is Bruce Wayne, and Bruce Wayne made it happen. It was an experiment, he said. Robin's class was the smallest at Gotham Academy, but Bruce Wayne had the money to make it okay.
Robin wanted to help people. He wanted nothing more or less than to help people.
There were several altercations. Then Commissioner Jim Gordon lit the Batsignal, and begged the Batman to keep the young robot out of trouble. Batman agreed.
(Batman agreed because it was all part of a plan to engineer a valid reason for Batman and Robin to work together.)
Robin did not remember anything from before the circus. He did not remember where he was from, or who built him. All he remembered was Ringmaster Haly, and the clowns, and strong robots, and the robot animals, and the other two members of his trapeze routine, who he called Mom and Dad, and Bruce knew that anyone who said robots didn't have emotions was an imbecile.
Whenever Robin returned home from going out with a saddened look on his face, Bruce wanted to go right out there and smash anti-robot heads together.
One day, there was a fight. Batman did not get there until it was over. There was no sign of the aggressor, and no sign of Robin.
Robin did not appear for some time after that. Until suddenly he reappeared, and Bruce Wayne played the happy owner whose robot had been stolen and whose robot had escaped and returned to him.
(Batman found the robot, falling apart in the alleyway, who begged him to repair him and make him the new Robin. Robin had given robots hope, but now that Robin was gone that hope was fading. The robot known as Jason before he was abandoned wanted to give that hope back.)
Some people knew, deep down, that something was wrong. But when the thoughts bubbled to the surface, they dismissed them. Robin had been gone for a long time. Perhaps he was reprogrammed, or repaired wrong, or quite maybe their memory just wasn't what it used to be.
There were rumors of a rogue robot on the streets, a robot that protected other robots from humans. A robot that would harm humans.
Robin was the first to meet this robot. The robot had disappeared into the shadows before Batman arrived. Robin explained that the robot had introduced itself as a Talon of the Court of Owls.
Bruce told Robin that this Talon robot was just making things up; there was no such thing as the Court of Owls.
Robin continued to run into Talon on patrol; Batman was not so lucky. Nor was their first meeting as friendly as Robin's had been. Batman was forced to engaged the rogue robot in combat when it tried to murder a small-time mobster known as Tony Zucco.
Robin came between them, stopping the fight. "Fine," Talon had spat. "I leave Zucco to your human justice. But if I am not satisfied with the result, I will come for him again."
But Talon did not come for Zucco again. Nor did they meet again for a long time, though Robin claimed to meet the other robot many times. The second time they met, it was also over a man's life: that of the Joker, a violent madman with anti-robot sentiments.
The Joker, who had just melted the second Robin down for scrap metal.
"You're all alike!" Talon screamed as he fought Batman, as Batman's delaying of the robot gave the Joker the chance to flee the scene. He hoped it would be into police custody, but knew it would almost certainly not be. "Even you filthy humans who claim to care, you're all alike when it comes down to the wire! Humans first, robots second! The very best robot could not possibly compare to the scum of humanity!"
And Batman found himself thrown onto his back, Talon's blade a hair's breadth from his throat. "I care," he panted, out of breath fighting the tireless robot. "Don't think I don't. I care for Robin, both Robins-"
"Then why wouldn't you let me kill Zucco?"
And in that moment, Bruce Wayne remembered why Tony Zucco was important.
"Humans and robots cannot live together," Talon continued, quieter but sternly. "There can be no cohabitation. Past experiences have taught me nothing but that."
"Robin," Bruce breathed, "What happened to you?"
"The Court took back what is theirs, and remade me in their image." And Talon leapt – and was gone.
Talon appeared before Bruce again, a long time later, covered in blood and at least a little bit damaged. "The Court of Owls is no more."
Bruce led Talon down into the Batcave to clean him and repair him. Talon spoke little, but the words he said were valuable. The Court of Owls had been using him. They hadn't been interested in robots as anything more than tools. Whenever he had started to rebel, they brought him in for reprogramming. But then Talon realized the truth, and... took care of it. All of it.
Bruce asked if Talon remembered anything from before the circus now. Talon answered in the negative, only reasserting what he had said a long time ago: that he had been destined to be a Talon, not an acrobat.
When Tim entered the cave, Talon startled. "Bruce, who is this?"
"This is Tim Drake," Bruce started.
"I'm training to be Robin," Tim finished.
"You would give a human the guise of Robin?" Talon jumped up, words full of hate. He flew past Tim and out of the Batcave as fast as his rockets could carry him.
It was all over the news the next morning; a dozen members of high society found dead. Some months later, a photographer managed to get an image of Nightwing, Gotham's newest robotic menace. Bruce recognized him for who he was: a deadly Talon who had discovered betrayal, murdered the betrayers, found some blue paint with which to cover up the marks of the Court of Owls, and was still seeking his true purpose.
After his display in the Cave, Tim was under strict orders not to engage. Nightwing stayed out of Batman and Robin's way, and Batman and Robin stayed out of Nightwing's way. Whenever it looked like they would clash, Batman sent Tim home.
But Nightwing knew how Batman worked intimately, and knew how to avoid him in his quest for robot justice. Nightwing's own form of justice was often long since dispensed before Batman arrived on the scene.
The catalyst for change was Jason's return.
The Joker had not been entirely successful in his destruction of the second Robin. His hard drive, his memory, had been scavenged and saved, rebuilt by the scientists of the League of Assassins at Talia al Ghul's behest. The second Robin returned as the Red Hood, and he was even less happy about a human Robin than Nightwing was. As worried as Batman had been, Nightwing had never actually tried to kill Tim.
"How can you defend him?" the Red Hood demanded of Nightwing. "How can you defend a human who took our place? I know all about what the Court did to you, Nightwing! But even after that, you still defend a human!"
"I defend robots who cannot defend themselves!" Nightwing responded, making sure that, as the Red Hood circled, Nightwing stayed between him and Tim. "Robin may not be a robot, but he is in no shape to defend himself!" Which was certainly true; the Red Hood had gotten the drop on Tim, and only Nightwing's intervention had stopped the fatal blow. As it were, Tim was still bleeding out onto the roof, and required medical attention badly.
"Humans use us!" the Red Hood shouted. "They abuse us, and then leave us for the scrap heap! They don't care!"
"He worked hard for the mantle of Robin," Nightwing growled at the Red Hood, leaping forward and engaging him in hand-to-hand. "Harder than either of us. If any human deserves it, it's him."
"You hate him. That's the word on the street, anyway!"
"That doesn't mean he deserves to die!" Nightwing shouted back.
"You've grown soft," the Red Hood smirked, fired a shot, and suddenly Nightwing's leg gave out; the Red Hood had noticed that Nightwing was slowly but surely falling into disrepair, had taken advantage of a weakening joint, and shot him where it counted.
At that moment Batman appeared. "This ends now."
Batman engaged the Red Hood in combat, and they fought their way across the rooftops, leaving Nightwing and Robin behind. Nightwing dragged his way over to where Robin lay and started fishing through the pouches, looking for first aid equipment. "Hang in there, little bird."
Tim coughed, a trickle of blood leaking from his lips. "Why... are you doing this?"
"Not really sure," Nightwing answered. "Maybe you've grown on me. If you died, then I'd have to kill the Red Hood, and I don't really want to."
Nightwing found the emergency medical supplies and patched Tim up as best he could, working in silence. Tim made no sounds. But Tim still needed proper care, and Batman and the Red Hood were long gone. Nightwing tried to smile reassuringly. "I'm going to jostle you a bit, but we've got to get you to the cave." Tim nodded and grit his teeth. Nightwing picked him up and gently placed him over his shoulder, holding him in place with one arm, then activated the jets in his other hand and his good foot. Together they staggered across the night sky in the direction of Wayne Manor.
This time, Nightwing stayed around for repairs. Bruce returned with the news that the Red Hood had escaped, and patched him up. A new understanding was silently reached.
Nightwing stayed for two nights. The morning after the second night, he left for Bludhaven. Bruce kept an eye on the news from Bludhaven. There were no deaths. He did not intervene. Tim recovered. The Red Hood took over Nightwing's old job.
Things changed, but really didn't.
Some years later, Nightwing abruptly dropped off the radar. Bruce remembered what happened last time, and resolved to investigate.
He never got his chance. After all, Batman was only human, and humans could die. A gaping hole, guzzling light, seeking to be filled, tore open Gotham. Batman left behind a legacy waiting for the right person. Bruce left behind two boys looking for direction.
At night, Dick Grayson dreamt of the circus. He dreamt of flying, and of falling. He dreamt of a Robin, and two other song birds, soaring under the big top. He dreamt of a man named Tony Zucco, and sabotage.
He dreamt of blood and gears, guts and wires. He dreamt of flying amongst gargoyles, alongside a dark, protective bat. He dreamt of owls, and killings, and betrayal. He dreamt of blue paint and red helmets, fragile humans and scrap metal. He dreamt of a mad clown and a little brother no more, and feeling angry and hurt and confused, lashing out at everything.
And in the morning he woke up and greeted his father. He told his father about the dreams, and his father told him not to worry, they were only dreams, and to put them out of his mind.
As the Red Hood and Robin clashed over Gotham, the youngest went searching for the only person he thought could fill the cowl of Batman. He found Dick Grayson in an apartment in New York, a robot that had been taken back by its creator and turned back in a boy. John Grayson was reluctant to give his son back his life, but Damian Wayne would not take no for an answer. In the dead of night he broke in and stole the robot.
He kept Dick Grayson turned off and powerless as he worked on a new Batman. He kept his project a secret from Tim, who he was sure would not approve. The body of the new Batman came together slowly, until finally it was ready. Until finally it was time for Dick Grayson to become Batman. But first there was one last thing he had to do.
Dick Grayson's electronic brain was a mess. The reprogramming the Court of Owls had put him through had been thorough, but they'd underestimated the original programming of Dick's cutting edge circuitry. It was as human as it could get without actually being organic, and didn't want to forget. The unknown number of reprogrammings the Court had had to put him through had left a tangled mess of coding, to the point where Damian was surprised he'd even been able to function. John Grayson's attempt to simply wipe everything hadn't helped either; either the man should've known better, or even he had no idea what he'd managed to achieve.
Dick Grayson was a miracle of science, and Damian Wayne was going to fix him. If Dick was a normal robot, even a professional would be tempted to throw in the towel. But Dick Grayson was no ordinary robot, and Damian Wayne, with an education from the League of Assassins, was better than a professional.
One night, while Tim was out on patrol, Damian removed the electronic brain from Dick Grayson and put it in Batman. And then, holding his breath, he turned Batman on. Slowly, the machine came to life. The whir of tiny fans, small beeps as the circuitry communicated, performing checks to make sure everything was working right.
The eyes shot open.
"Batcave," Batman intoned. The head turned to look at Damian. "But you... I don't know you."
"I am Damian Wayne," Damian told the robot. "I've done my best to fix your coding. What do you remember?"
Batman paused, thinking. "...Everything," he finally said quietly. He lifted himself from the table and started walking towards the exit. "There is something I have to do."
Damian jogged after him. "Wait! I rebuilt you so you could be Batman! Don't just run off!"
Batman looked over his shoulder at him and smiled. "Don't worry. I understand. I'll be back."
John Grayson was startled from the papers on his desk by a tapping on the window, and even more startled when he saw that his nighttime visitor was Batman. Hesitantly he stood, crossed the room, and opened the window. "Um... what can I do for you, Batman?"
"I came to say... thank you."
John frowned. "Thank you? But what have I...?"
"You saved me," Batman explained. "Or at least you tried to. You bought me some time, by wiping my memory and selling me to the circus. You set me on a path that ultimately freed me from them for good."
John's eyes widened as he realized who exactly was standing before him. "Dick, I... I'm sorry. I should never have-"
Batman slipped through the window into the room, to stand next to John. "It's okay... Dad."
John couldn't help it; he felt the tears welling up in his eyes, and stepped backwards into the desk chair. "When I read the news about those murders, I knew the Court was over. So I started looking for you. They'd commissioned me to build them the perfect assassin, a robot who could pass as a human, and given me a year to spend time with it... they preyed upon my emotions." His fingers drifted towards the handle of one of the desk drawers. "How could I refuse?" John whispered. "But I couldn't do that to you, to him, so I sold you to the circus and left Gotham. And then... and then Mary died, and I was all alone. It was like... when he died... only so much worse."
"They had her killed," Batman said stiffly. "It wasn't an accident, Mom, they..." he drifted off, realizing that maybe he shouldn't have said that.
John smiled sadly up at Batman. "I know. I've always known." He fingered the handle of the desk drawer. "All because I couldn't let go of the past."
The silence stretched long, neither quite sure of what to say. "I should go," Batman finally said.
"Wait." John opened the drawer, pulled something out, stood up, walked over to Batman, and pressed it into his hand. "Take this."
Batman looked down at the picture frame, eyes widening. The Graysons, John, Mary, and Dick, smiled up at him on a warm summer day, blissfully unaware of the events that would happen the week after the picture was taken, shattering their family forever. "Dad, I can't-"
"Take it," John insisted. "Remember. The good, and the bad."
Batman continued to stare at the picture, and a drop of liquid unexpectedly landed on it. He raised his other hand to his face, wiping away a tear. "The little brat. Of all the functions, he thought the ability to cry was necessary?"
"I built you to be Dick's replacement. But you've managed feats that Dick could never have achieved, not in his wildest dreams."
"I'm not sure I can do this," Batman admitted. "I've done... horrible things."
John reached out and placed a hand on Batman's shoulder. "Which is why this is what must happen. Go. Be Batman. Be great. Make up for Talon. Fly like Robin. Fulfill a little boy's wish to be a superhero."
Batman smiled. "That's right, isn't it? Then for Dick Grayson, it seems I am duty bound to do my best."
John's eyes slowly lit up. "If you ever need anything, you know where to find me. And I mean anything. You are my son."
Batman climbed back out the window. "I'll keep that in mind." And with a burst of his jets, he flew off into the night.
John watched him go, a sad smile on his face. "For Dick Grayson."
Damian stood on the rooftop, scowling, as usual. "Here's how it's going to go. I'm Robin. You're Batman. Then, when I'm older, I'll build you a new body, and I'll be Batman, and you will be Robin. Got it?"
Batman laughed. "Whatever you say, squirt." His rockets ignited and he shot off into the sky, still laughing.
"Tt," Damian grumbled, and swung off after him.
Ugh, not sure how I feel about everything after Damian rebuilding him. Oh well.