Is It Really That Bad Between Us?
This is the fourth of my Teen Titan fanfics. My first, "Extreme Sanction," was a grim and gritty little piece I used to put the guys in an utterly untenable position with no way out, and force them to find a way out. There are, of course, ideals worth dying for. But what if you're not the one doing the dying. The second was called "What's a Hero, Anyway." In it, I tried to explore that nature of heroism and what it means. And there was a really, really big explosion, too. The third was a romance, "Raven's Wedding." In less than 24 hours, "Raven's Wedding" generated more traffic than the other two combined had done in two weeks. In this case, I'm breaking type and exploring the relationship between Robin and Batman. I'm also looking a little into the concepts of manhood, fatherhood, and what it means to be a man.
I have a theory as to why Robin broke with Batman and moved to Jump City, why they remain estranged, and what it might take to get Batman to reach out across the gap. The surface motives have been thoroughly explored in the comics, but I think they masked a deeper, more primal divide.
Moreover, I wanted to explore Bruce Wayne's motivations a little. For so many years now, we've seen, "I am vengeance, I am the night, I a BATMAN." Here, Batman does a number of things that put him apparently Out of Character. But the thing is, the root motivation for Bruce to become this eternal nemesis of crime is love: love of family. It's by pushing back the darkness that Bruce deals with his personal loss. I think that his estrangement from Richard would come to echo that loss once his pride had a chance to wear down.
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?
I do. – Lamont Cranston
"Explain to me again why I have to wear this monkey suit when I can just turn into a real monkey?" complained Beast Boy.
"First of all, it's a tuxedo, not a suit. So if you're going to use outdated nineteen forties slang, it's a 'penguin suit,' not a 'monkey suit,' said Raven, as she briefly checked her reflection before heading to the door. Raven wore a full length evening gown of extremely conservative cut along classic lines. With her grey skin and classic gown, she would have been right at home in a movie from the nineteen forties. The dark navy blue of the silk gown went well with her amethyst hair and purple eyes. "Second, and more important, we break things. We break a lot of things in the city. Whenever we fight Mumbo, or worse, Plasmus, we end up tearing up at least two city blocks worth of storefronts, cars, light poles, and other infrastructure. Cyborg and I are particularly bad about it. That's why we need to support TURF."1
"But . . ." the green shape shifter started.
"Raven's right," broke in Robin, the team's leader. "The Titan's Urban Reconstruction Fund reimburses people who suffer damages due to meta-human activity. Remember that Buick you picked up and beat Cinderblock over the head with last week? It was the only way a single mother of two children had to get to her job at the diner where she works. She has rent to pay and college to save for; she doesn't need to have to buy a new car just because YOU were in a hurry to put down Cinderblock."
"It wasn't MY faul "
"Not the point. The point is – she needs help, and she needs it because of us. We help people. It's not all swinging from buildings and beating up bad guys."
"Okay – okay. But shouldn't somebody stay at the Tower and monitor the alert, in case, you know, a bad guy tries to take advantage of us all being in evening wear at a fancy dinner party?"
"Not this time," said Cyborg. The machine-man stepped into the room. His size and metal parts made it very hard and expensive for him to wear conventional clothes, so he had airbrushed himself a matte black with subtle detailing. It didn't look quite like he'd painted on a tuxedo, but the temporary paint job had gone a long way toward suggesting formalwear.
"I just spoke to the Justice League. J'onn J'ozz has been able to position the Justice League's satellite the Watchtower directly over Jump City. The core members of the Justice League will be watching our town for the next five hours. In order to interrupt our dinner, it will have to be something Superman can't handle."
A leggy redhead drifted into the room wearing an emerald green evening gown, emerald tiara, and five-inch heels. She settled to the floor, but each step she took tended to bob her up off of the floor. Starfire really enjoyed dressing up. "I remember the time three years ago when the Mumbo Jumbo tried to rob a jewelry store while we were busy. J'onn J'onzz mistook the Mumbo for a real wizard. I wish I could have seen his face when he saw himself surrounded by Zatanna, Dr. Fate, and Sebastian Faust!" She giggled.
"Yeah," said Beast Boy, "Especially when their 'backups' were Superman, the Flash, and Green Lantern. That's a lot of mojo in one place."
"You got that right," said Cyborg, attaching a flower to his painted on lapel with a magnet. "He almost set the record for fastest surrender. The only one who's ever been faster was Dr. Light, that time Raven teleported into his shower by mistake."
Raven colored, "It wasn't his shower. It was his bathroom. And he was wearing a towel. I gave him a robe before I told him to put his hands up. "
"Too bad he panicked and let go of the towel before he grabbed the robe," Beast Boy snickered.
"Shut. Up." Said Raven. A window cracked.
"Okay people, that's enough," said Robin. The limo's here.
"I still think it's a little weird that we're riding to a charity benefit in a limo. I mean, we could all fit in the T-car, and it's gonna look bad," said Cyborg.
"I know," said Robin, "But this year is a little weird. Somebody bought all of our tables. The limousine was sort of a gift, I guess."
"Wait," said Cyborg, "Somebody bought all of our tables? We normally each host a table of ten, and it costs twenty thousand dollars a plate to get a seat with one of us for the three hours. Somebody just spent a million dollars just to have dinner with us?"
"Yes," Robin replied. I had to call in the Titans East and some of the Honorary Titans to some in and cover extra tables. The good news is that we're going to clear three million dollars total for TURF."
"Yeah," Cyborg replied, "But I'm a little concerned about the kind of fan boy that would spend that kind of money on a rubber chicken dinner for six, no matter how good the cause."
"Please," interjected Starfire, "Do not be saying the rubber chicken around Chef Blackstock. I do not wish again to receive the lecture about the two Michelin stars."
"Okay, okay," said Cyborg as they all piled into the limousine.
"Listen guys, I know there's been a lot of press interest in our personal lives, particularly since Star and I announced our engagement. Please try and not let it get to you," said Robin.
"Get to me," said Cyborg, "I'm still having trouble believing it."
Raven smiled a very small smile, "Not me."
The night was clear and warm. Occasional stars were visible, even through the glare of Jump City's strong night lighting. Traffic was light and the huge black limo threaded easily through the traffic to the Ozymandias Ballroom, one of the swankiest places in town. As the car slowed to a stop, Robin looked at his teammates. "Okay people, I don't ask you to do this very often. I don't like doing it myself. But this is for the TURF. There are going to be photographers. Raven. I'm not going to ask you to smile. But please try not to look like you're getting your teeth drilled. Beast Boy, please don't shape shift into a monkey and yell that you match your suit. And Starfire, please remember that that's a very low cut gown. If you fly upside down again, it may fall off. Again." Robin sighed.
The driver opened the door and extended a hand to Starfire, helping her and Raven out of the vehicle. Robin, Beast Boy, and Cyborg followed.
The night exploded with flashbulbs and the sound of auto-winders. It was rare that paparazzi were able to get close enough to the Titans to get anything other than telephoto shots, and tonight they were out of uniform!
Robin smiled a small, plastic smile while Starfire utterly beamed. She grasped Robin's arm and the two of them strode forward, the slit skirt on Starfire's gown flickering open to briefly show her leg on every other step.
Beast Boy was about to leap up, waving when he felt a small hand on his arm, in the crook of his elbow. He looked down into Raven's eyes, which seem to hold a question.
"Um . . ." he said, unsure what she wanted.
"Um, last year they, one of the tabloids, I mean, said even the Titan men were afraid to touch me. They called me 'the Wicked Witch of Titans West.'"
"Ah, sure, right," he said, and walked into the ballroom at Raven's side. He still smiled and waved for the cameras, but stayed firmly by Raven's side, Raven's hand on his arm.
More pictures. A short speech by Robin, then a receiving line as the guests all got to meet the Titans. Then the team was escorted to the private dining room. They were just approaching the door when Robin froze. Beast Boy bumped into him from behind.
"So anyway Raven, that's why the chicken crossed the – ow! Dude, watch where you're standing!"
Robin just stared at the man standing next to the door. He was dressed, not as a waiter, but as an impeccably turned out footman, who would be serving the master of the house. His clothing was of the finest English worsted wool and fit him as if he was born to it. There was not a crease out of place, or a wrinkle, or a speck of dust or dirt on the man. He stood with a stillness that somehow managed to convey "Don't see me, I'm not here" and "Should you need anything, call upon me at once" at the same time. Robin stared. Coldly.
"You know this guy?" asked Cyborg, as the Titan's piled up around the door.
"It's good to see you again, Master Robin," said the older man.
"Oh, I know him. Alfred Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth. I wish I could say it was good to see you. But if you're her ?"
"Yes, sir. He's inside."
Robin closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "I should have known. Let's get this over with."
The room was small, suitable for the small table that just about filled it. Just enough room for six. The walls were of a deep brown paneled wood. The Titan's footsteps were silenced by the rich Oriental rug underfoot as they approached the table. Round tabletop was covered with a white linen tablecloth that was almost painfully white, and was elegantly laid out with six place settings of china, silver, and crystal. On the other side of the table, his face and torso in shadow, sat a man.
Robin spoke. "What do you want? Why are you in my City?"
There was silence for a moment, and the man leaned forward, his face coming into the light as he rose to stand behind the table. He wore a classically cut tuxedo, with subtle, understated accessories. With two exceptions: A black cowl and cape.
"Batman?" said Beast Boy.
"That's not very friendly, Robin. I know we didn't part on the best of terms, but there's no need to be rude," said Batman.
"I want to know why you're in my city; rude doesn't enter into it."
Alfred interposed his body between them and looked Robin square in the eye. "If you'll please take your seat, I will be able to serve the appetizers."
Alfred did not move, nor speak, but simply held eye contact with the younger man until he looked away, and slid out a chair. Then Alfred very deliberately kicked him gently in the ankle and glanced at Starfire.
Startled, Robin turned and looked quizzically at Starfire. Then his eyes widened, and he pulled the chair out farther, "Would you care to take a seat?"
"Of course," she said, slightly confused.
"Your Highness," said Batman, "It is our custom that gentlemen hold the chair for ladies as a sign of respect. These days this custom is generally only follow on very formal occasions, or by old men like Alfred and me."
Beast Boy glanced at Raven then pulled out a chair for her. Startled, she seated herself beside him. With the ladies seated, Batman also sat down, followed by the rest of the boys.
"Please, sir. I do not use that title here on Earth. I do not wish to be any more – different than I already am."
"Of course," said Batman.
They sat, silently, while Robin glared at Batman.
"To answer your question, I am here," said Batman quietly, "to eat a dinner by one of the finest chefs in Jump City, and to meet the Teen Titans.
"Gosh, I'm honored," said Beast Boy.
"Beast Boy, the animorph. Able to change his shape into any animal that's ever lived, with just a single viewing and a little information about how it lives. That's really impressive. How does it work?"
"Heh," Beast Boy rubbed the back of his head, "I, um, don't really know, actually."
"You've never studied it?"
"Well, I kinda had my fill of being poked and prodded after this happened to me. I got caught by som bad people. I do know that it works all the way down to the DNA level, though."
"Do you actually have the animal brain?"
"That's one of the weird things. I am the animal, see, but at the same time, I'm still me. I'm kinda riding it, see. The animal brain has thoughts and impulses. But I do the thinking."
"You might want to re-consider those studies. They might help you get more out of your powers. For example, are you really bound by 'any animal that's ever lived?' Or is that a failure of imagination? Could you, for example, become a fire-breathing dragon?"
"I dunno, I never thought about it."
"No," said a flat voice. "No dragons. I've seen enough dragons to last me a lifetime."
"Ah, Raven," said Batman, "The mysterious woman with no past. Nobody seems to know who you are or where you came from."
"It's not important," said Raven.
"Oh, but it is. Our past makes us who we are. If your friends and team-mates don't know your past, they can't know you. Right, Robin?"
Robin just sat, silently, sipping water and ignoring his food.
"Actually," said Starfire, "We do. Raven is a very private person, and it has taken her a long time to share with us. But has shared where she comes from, and why she i who she is."
"And who is she," said Batman, looking at Raven.
"She's our friend," said Robin. "That's all you need to know."
"Oh, so you can talk," said Batman.
"When I have something to say."
Batman's eyes narrowed. "You're determined to make this as difficult as possible, aren't you?"
"No. Just as fast as possible. I want to know what you want and to get you back to Gotham City as quickly as possible."
The older man actually leaned forward and pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger.
"Alfred? Some help, please?"
"Perhaps," he said, adroitly handling a soup ladle, "You might begin with the dossier?"
Batman reached down to an attaché case the floor and pulled a fat file folder.
"Teen Titans of Jump City – composite case file. He flipped though. "Killer Moth. Fang. Adonis. Billy Numerous. Mumbo Jumbo. "He smiled. "Not exactly the A-list, is it?
"Sir," said Alfred.
Batman sighed again, noticing the tension in Robin's stance.
"Robin, do you know why the only opponents in Jump City these days are the likes of Control Freak?"
Batman tossed out two more folders.
"Case files for Slade Wilson and Trigon the Terrible." No bad guy with half a brain wants to come anywhere near your town. Because when they do, they go down. Just like Slade and Trigon."
"It wasn't that easy," said Beast Boy.
Batman raised one corner of his mouth in a quiet smirk.
"Young man, why do you suppose I wear this cowl?"
There was a long pause.
"I guess you're too young. Alfred."
"Because, sir," he said between placing salad plates, "Criminals are a stupid, cowardly and superstitious lot."
"Exactly. Perception is everything to that crowd. It doesn't matter how hard it was for you. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, you broke Trigon in half in less than a day, and threw the pieces over your shoulders like garbage."
"Woah," said Cyborg, "That's what it looked like?"
"Yes. And that's why there's been nothing but idiots in this town for two years. Nobody wants a piece of the Titans."
"Batman – what do you want?" interrupted Robin.
"All right, let's try this one more way: I'm sorry – I did it wrong. Well, the last part of it."
"Raising a child. You were the first, and I didn't realize what road I was on. Look – there comes a time in a young man's life when he's ready to go his own way. Me, on the other hand, I'm a detective. Maybe, I'm a teacher. But I'm the boss. And yes, it's my way or the highway. And with boys and students, that's all right. Most of them need strong guidance. Me men do not. And when they're treated like boys, men dig in their heels, and ultimately go their own way."
He turned toward the buffet where Alfred was preparing the fish course.
"Alfred, today, my son is a man, and I'm very proud of him and the work he does."
Robin's jaw dropped. He raised a finger to point, and then dropped it again. His mouth closed, opened, and then closed. He just sat there, silently staring.
"I came here, tonight, because of this." Batman tossed a copy of one of the more egregious tabloids on the table. Jump City Today: "Titan Leader to Marry Foreign Princess!" Another one: "Titans to Wed!"
"It is a littl flashy, but not inaccurate. What is the problem?" asked Starfire.
"The problem, said Batman, is that my son was going to get married, and he wasn't going to tell me. I found out about it by reading the papers. Starfire, when a man is making this decision, he's got to be sure. He was supposed to come to me and ask me if I thought it was time. He did not. He should have been able to ask me what I thought about you. He could not. We've let things between us get so bad that he couldn't. Or wouldn't. And he had to go down that road alone. He walked it very well. But –"
His head suddenly whipped around and pierced Robin with his eyes. "Dammit Robin, how did we let it get this bad between us?"
"I – I don't know. Both stubborn. Both absolutely certain we were right."
"Have you told them the story?"
"Of course not."
"You of all people can ask that? Opsec. Need to know. Vulnerabilities. Secrets."
Slowly, Batman, personification of vengeance and the night placed his face in his palm.
"Son, these aren't employees. Or soldiers. This is your family."
Suddenly he frowned and looked sharply at Starfire.
"Young lady, what color are Robin's eyes?"
" do not know." She looked down at her plate.
"You don't know what color your fiance's eyes are."
"I am sure that with time, Robin will decide that I am worthy to see him without his mask and t t know his birth name. It is enough for me that he loves me and will take me to wed."
Batman whirled around and glared at Robin.
"Opsec? Really? Alfred, we've created a monster. Robin, even my family knows who I am. Barbara knows. Superman knows. Wonder Woman knows. All the Robins not only know, they knew from the beginning. Just like you. Hell, in the end, even Catwoman knew."
Robin opened his mouth to reply, when Batman did something no one expected. He reached up, grasped his cowl just above his forehead, and peeled it back, removing it and the cape. Around the table, jaws dropped, eyes bugged out, and heads were shaken. A dish shattered.
"Terribly sorry," said Alfred. "Don't 'know what came over me."
With the cowl and cape, somehow went the angry personification of vengeance and the night. What remained was simply a man, somewhat past his prime but still in good shape, and beginning to go grey at the temples.
"Bruce Wayne," he said simply. "Perception is everything. I'm not quite the idiot I make myself out to be. I'm also not quite the man in the black cowl and cape. But somewhere in between."
I won't tell Robin's story. That's his to tell or not. But here's mine."
And so Bruce told the old story of the young parents with the small child at the movies. A man with a gun, two shots ringing out, and a shattered rope of pearls quietly rattling on the pavement. An orphan boy raised by a faithful family servant, and an oath of vengeance. An oath that, somehow, turned into a mission that would never end.
"And that was where I made my mistake, Robin."
"It was when I decided I had no family, and put the mission first. You and Alfred were my family. And later, the others. I've pushed everyone away. In the end, I'll die with the mission incomplete. But it's not too late for you. You see, I went on the mission FOR my family. And in doing so, I lost them completely. Family comes first. And with them, comes the mission. Not the other way around. It will probably never happen for me, but if I ever DO marry, she's going to know the color of my eyes. Look at her: you've let her think she's unworthy of knowing your name, or seeing your eyes."
Silence filled the room. Robin looked into Starfire's eyes. Then he reached up, grasped the edge of his mask, and pulled, sharply. There was a slight tearing sound, and the mask came free. Robin reached out with his hand, unthinking, and Alfred was there, with a mild solvent and linen napkin.
"Spirit gum," he said, wiping his face clean. "It's what actors use to hold fake scars and warts on. It's waterproof, so that I can't sweat it off and . . ."
His voice trailed off as looked into Starfire's face. She just stared and stared. His eyes were cobalt blue. And warm. Around his eyes was a very, very faint "raccoon" mask where his skin hadn't seen the sun in years, but the rest of him was pretty pale, so it wasn't too sharp.
"Fiancée Robin . . .," Starfire began, but he pressed two fingers to her lips and smiled at her.
"My name," he said, "Is Richard Grayson. Then he glared at Cyborg and Beast Boy, "and the first person to call me 'Dick' gets a free boot to the head."
"The mask," he continued, "is more than just opsec. Starfire, you're beautiful. But you're golden-orange with emerald eyes. Raven's you're gray, and have purple hair and eye. Beast boy's green. And nothing can make Cy less than seven feet tall and five hundred pounds."
"Four-fifty," interrupted Cyborg.
"My point," said Richard, exasperated, "Is that of the team, only I can take off my hero identity and be, well, 'normal.' And I will not ever, ever leave the team behind. So the mask stays. Except for tonight."
He turned back to Starfire, "My name is Richard Grayson, and you are worthy of all things."
And then, Speaking mostly to Starfire, he told his story. His life as an acrobat, the murder of his parents and the hunt for Tony Zucco held the room spellbound. Robin's early training and the ultimate showdown with Zucco finished at the same time as the entrée. Alfred prepared to serve dessert.
"If we've concluded the night's drama," said Bruce, "I've got a couple of wedding gifts you might be able to use before the wedding."
Alfred brought out a manila folder, and Bruce passed it to Starfire. She opened it up and spilled the contents, mostly small cards or papers, onto the white linen tablecloth. Picking up the top one, she read it, saying, "Fiancée Richard, what is this 'green card?'"
"It's a status card," Richard answered. "It gives you standing here in America. It allows you to take a job, to pay taxes, and to enter into legal contracts. Like marriage."
He looked over at the older man.
"Thanks, Bruce. I wasn't sure how I was going to handle it. And I was considering calling you about it, anyway."
"Some people at the State Department owed Batman a favor. This one was a little harder."
He handed Richard a second, thicker folio.
"It's the entire background of a Swedish girl named Kory Anderssen. For the past three years she's been attending a very exclusive Swiss college. It's where she met Richard Grayson, who has also been out of the public eye for a while. All of the paperwork is in order for her to immigrate to the United States and to have a quiet wedding with Richard Grayson, if that's what you want. I figured that we could do it the same weekend that Starfire and Robin marry in Jump City. On your way to your honeymoon, you just drop out of sight and show up at Wayne Manor. You can spend the weekend there, get married again, and then finish your honeymoon. If you want."
"Fiancée Richard," Starfire said, slowly and quietly. "I would like very much to be married to both of you."
They kissed. And kissed. After about a minute, Cyborg cleared his throat.
"*Ahem*," he said, "Get a room!"
"I am sorry," said Starfire. " forgot you were here," she said, looking down at her dessert.
Bruce laughed. "Alfred, I think they are off to a good start."
"Bruce, I'm glad you came, and I'm grateful for your gifts. But don't think this changes things back to the way they were."
"Hey," said Bruce, "Your town, your rules. Of course, I'll expect the same courtesy in Gotham City. But, well. . . that is, "
Alfred interrupted. "Master Richard, Master Bruce and I would be very grateful if you and your wife, and the rest of your friends would be so kind as to come to Gotham City for Christmas this year, rather than celebrate it in Titan Tower. Frankly, being stuck in that drafty old barn for the holidays with no one but an obsessed sociopath makes for a depressing Yule."
"Alfred," barked Bruce, shocked.
Richard laughed out loud, "Alfred, we'll try and work it out, for your sake if for no other reason."
1 I independently came up with the idea that the Titans maintain a fund to repair the messes that get made in Jump City every time they fight a villain, but the name of T.U.R.F. came from a brilliant Titans cartoon on Deviant Art by an Artist called Kryptocow. You can check it out at .com/?qh=§ion=&q=raven+beast+boy+wicked#/d17s3jf