Disclaimer: The characters and concepts in this story are the property of DC Comics, Christopher Nolan, and their affiliates. This is an amateur writing effort meant for entertainment purposes only.
Summary: This is Blake's brain. This is Blake's brain after four days without sleep. Post-TDKR. One-shot.
How long could the human body go without sleep before death – ten days? Blake was slowly approaching the halfway mark then. He'd like to thank the Academy. Bruce Wayne for bequeathing him the greatest responsibility he's ever known to Gotham. The Crime lords and their minions for making the city so unsafe. His parents, he guessed, whose deaths gave him an overblown sense of obligation. They like me. They really, really like me.
"O-kay," Barbara stood up from her place on the couch next to him and took off her jacket. Sleep-deprived Blake had already lost his charm, and she was less than three minutes into their visit. "First thing's first, Boy Wonder. You need to shut this apartment down."
The television switched off, and the curtains were drawn shut, blocking out the dawn. Blake cast a slow, morose glance around the room. "And I thought it was depressing in the light," he lamented. In the dark, his apartment had all the charisma of a blank canvas. A space so sparse and tidy it was hard to believe he actually lived here, which given his new schedule as daytime big brother at St. Sweeney's and night time costumed vigilante, Blake practically didn't.
He heard cupboards opening and closing in the kitchen behind him. "Do you have something against groceries?" Barbara asked.
"Yeah - time," Blake scrubbed a hand against his face wearily. The movement alone exhausted his already depleted energy supplies, but his brain refused to shut down, even for a second. "When am I supposed to buy food?"
Barbara opened the fridge. The light made Blake's eyelids hurt, but the second he closed them, he had to open them again. He just had to stay alert, stay active. His body demanded it.
Blake's heart bucked into his throat and he balled his hands into two tight fists. DAMN IT. He just. Wanted. To sleep.
"Oh, thank you," Barbara shut the fridge door again. She held up a carton of milk like Lady Liberty holding her torch. "Houston, we have lift off."
"I'm really not thirsty right now, Babs..." his intestines tied themselves into a gigantic knot one day three of his insomnia, so Blake gagged a little at the sight of the carton and its intended purpose. Barbara was clearly not paying attention though. She grabbed two clean coffee mugs, filled them, and set them to heat in the microwave.
She started walking towards the bedroom. "Tell me you have blankets in this apartment."
"Of course not," Blake chided. He found the hum from the microwave and the soft light it emitted oddly soothing and was finally, mercifully, able to relax against the back of the couch. He barely noticed as Barbara disappeared into the darkness of the hallway beyond him. He wrapped his arms around his chest, shut his eyes tightly, and tried with all his might to pass out. Every organ in his body, every cell, every pore, was so far into overdrive that they were bound to reach a breaking point sooner or later, and Blake would happily bust a lung, a gut, a brain, an anything just to lose consciousness for some length of time or so.
It was his new identity as a masked crimefighter that was to blame, he knew. Blake had worked night shifts before as a beat cop and helped out at St. Sweeney's during the day, but when he came home in the afternoons, he could just go to sleep. Like flicking a switch: on one minute, off the next. Now though, it was like he had been completely rewired. He started lying in bed awake for longer and longer periods each day, until finally, he just stopped sleeping completely. Even after he took off the mask and locked up the cave for the night, Blake was still on edge, on guard, on patrol. Like he was right now.
Case in point: he leapt to his feet and whipped around the second the microwave beeping.
Blake didn't have another heart attack left in him for when Barbara appeared behind him and smoothed a woolen blanket over his shoulders. He released a breath, registered that there wasn't a threat, and for some reason, that made him panic anew. He was on the defensive in his own apartment. Against a microwave. In broad daylight. With Batgirl as backup.
Barbara caught him when his knees buckled. Just wrapped her arms around his chest and held him, back to chest, like he weighed nothing at all. "You didn't even buy me dinner," Blake muttered, earning a small laugh in response...or an auditory hallucination. That was just as likely by this point.
"But I am one hell of a dance partner."
She really was: leading or following, dancing or fighting or just plain living, with John Blake or whatever the hell his alter-ego was called. Barbara Gordon was one hell of a partner to have. A part of Blake, the part that wasn't completely mortified and self-shaming, wanted to enjoy their proximity. He and Barbara had a friendship of stolen moments, mostly close calls in one another's living rooms, right-place-wrong-time sort of situations. He wanted to remember this one because of how right it felt to be in her arms, against her chest, in his apartment, even if the awkwardness of the moment was going to chew him up and spit him out a moment later.
Barbara gave him enough time to find his feet again before manoeuvring him back onto the couch into a sitting position. She withdrew her arms from him slowly, letting him soak up every last second of her body heat, before drawing the blanket over his shoulder until it surrounded him up to his neck. Blake tried to get his breathing in check, tried to get his heart rate under control, back like it was when Barbara was holding him, but being on the couch just agitated him all over again.
She patted him on the chest, "Sit tight."
He appreciated how she made it sound like he had a choice.
When she returned, Barbara put a mug of warm milk in his hands and settled in next to him with her own. She stopped him before he could protest. "Just drink it slowly. It will make you feel better."
"I really don't see how-"
"So drink it and find out," she dared him.
Blake wished he could see her face through the dark. It was hard to picture that decisive grin of hers when his brain was spiralling so rapidly out of control.
He took a sip. The heat alone made his heart rate slow, but it was the feelings of his intestines uncoiling that made Blake concede defeat on the topic of warm milk. He took another small sip and loved, loved how his nausea seemed to disappear. Loved how his thoughts started to move in a more linear fashion with greater focus, greater clarity, both of which stopped being priorities as a wave of drowsiness washed over him. Actual, legitimate drowsiness. "Wow," he leaned forward a little, sipping again, "Okay, you were right."
"Hey, don't let it go to your head. I would have figured it out eventually."
"Yeah, you had everything under control this whole time."
Blake gave a mirthless laugh and shook his head. "No," he couldn't stop himself from chuckling now, "that's the funny part about all this. I don't have any control. Over anything. Working, sleeping, waking...it's like the second I put on that mask, I gave it all up. I handed it all over. And the new me, the one in blue leather and spandex-"
"Kevlar bi-weave," she corrected him.
"Whatever – that guy's taken it all. He doesn't even have a name yet, but he's all that I am now."
He took another small sip of milk, trying to quell the embarrassment that followed his confession. That was the most forthcoming Blake had ever been with anyone...ever. About anything, especially loss. And he really did feel lost at that moment. Actually, he'd felt lost for a while. Blake just hadn't noticed because he was too busy being someone else. Now that the feelings were fully exposed, Blake felt like they were live wires in his body, and the aftershocks of abandoning himself for whoever or whatever he was in mask were really starting to hurt. Worse, Blake didn't know if that was because he couldn't shut his alter ego off anymore or because he didn't want to, even for a few hours of sleep.
Blake hazarded a glance at Barbara, who he knew was eyeing him, but she didn't say anything. He didn't know what that meant, but for some reason, her silence didn't worry him so much. Barbara had an alter ego of her own. Hell, she had two, and for a lot longer than he had. She probably lived through her own period of doubts, loss, and longing, probably still did.
"How do you do it?" he had to ask. "In all the years I've known you, I've never even seen it cross your face that you're living two lives."
Barbara shrugged. "That's because I don't live two lives. All the other names I've had – Oracle, Batgirl – they're all extensions of who I am, just different expressions, different faces. I don't confine one to the day and the other to night. I'm always carrying them around."
"And you can still live your life like normal?"
"No," she replied, "of course not, but who the hell wants a normal life anyways?"
"If it means getting a few hours of sleep every day," Blake said, "I would do just about anything for a normal life right now."
"You'd miss it too much," Barbara replied, a knowing smile on her face. She'd been there before, obviously.
Blake brought his head to rest against his wrists, allowing the heat from the mug to soothe the last of the pounding from his temples. "What if I'm not cut out for it though?"
That knowing smile didn't disappear. "Then he wouldn't have left you the cave."
The simplicity of the answer cut through whatever lingering self-doubt Blake still had the power to possess and shattered it, leaving him feel hollowed out, empty, but not in the way he had been feeling earlier. Blake had grown up being distrusted by the world. He learned early on that if he was to have any purpose, he would have to make it for himself. Nobody was going to do that for an angry orphan with uneasy smiles. Bruce Wayne had given him more than just an obligation to the city; the reclusive billionaire had trusted Blake, respected him, and believed in him enough to make him a part of the Batman's legacy. The emptiness that came upon him now was refreshing, promising even, because all Blake was losing was his doubt. He was making room for something so much bigger than himself in the process.
Barbara gently took the mug from his hands, rousing Blake from his reverie. He hadn't even noticed that it had started to slip from his grasp. He opened his mouth to apologize, but his jaw just hung slack. "Shhh..." Barbara hushed him, running a hand over his back. "Just relax."
Blake was way ahead of her, barely capable of holding himself upright anymore. The revelation had cleared out the last of his reserves, and his eyelids were starting to fall of their own volition; his body was slumping towards the arm of the couch and he couldn't stop it, even if he was drifting away from Barbara's hand. His lifted his head weakly with one last request for her. "Stay," he breathed, "please stay."
She shushed him again, rubbing his neck. "I'm not going anywhere, Blake."
Yeah, that surprised him too, or at least it would have if Barbara hadn't chosen that moment to run her fingers through his hair. They had long since passed any benchmark of intimacy that Blake had ever established, and he was fairly confident that Barbara would say similarly if asked. She didn't seem the type to nurse just any guy through a bout of insomnia. And since they were bound to only end up in situations like this more often, their night lives being what they were, Blake figured it only fair if she get on a first name basis with him. A real first name basis.
That and he liked the way she said it. Simultaneously sincere and sarcastic, like the sweetest of inside jokes.
"Let's fly you to bed then, Robin," she said, giving his hair one final ruffle before the darkness set in completely.
The walk to the bedroom, the descent onto the bed, Barbara removing his socks...Blake knew it happened in a distant, peripheral kind of way, and he just let it go. The minute his head hit the pillow and the blankets made it to his shoulder, his eyes were closed, his breathing was even, and waking life slipped away from him entirely...
...only to return a second later, when his instincts compelled his eyes to open once again.
Blake groaned. No, he forced his eyes closed. No, no, no, please, stop. I will do anything. Just stop.
"Robin," Barbara's fingers moved through his hair again, and Blake responded in the way any love-starved, orphaned, world-weary cop would: by giving into it completely. He succumbed, he surrendered, he was hers, all hers, and he really did not care who knew it. Blake rolled over on the bed to where she was sitting, keeping watch, until he was pressed up against her leg, head on her thigh. He half-expected her to leave, but Barbara didn't budge. She just kept her hand moving in circular motions through his hair, subduing the hero inside that demanded he be on guard and lulling him down, down, down...
"Good night, Robin."