To put it lightly, today had been disastrous. Ultra-heavy on the 'dis.'
Truthfully, things had been fine for the most part. That is, at first.
A closed Gotham City Academy, under construction after a certain giant-robot-versus-superhero incident, gets Dick out of school for the week.
Which in turn means more training and missions with Batman.
Thus causing Dick to be thrilled (in a way that only those who truly know the depths of his and Batman's relationship understand).
The Big, Bad Batman might seem as cold as ice and as emotionless as stone to most everyone else, only showing care to those closest to him in the League (and even then...), but Dick knows better. He's been lucky enough to come to know the man beneath the cowl and beyond the virtually-indestructible walls he's erected.
He's been Bruce's foster son for a little over three years now, and in that time he's grown closer to the man than anyone besides Alfred and most of the Original Seven. And it is for this reason that he can say with all seriousness and sincerity that Bruce probably has the biggest heart of anyone he's ever met. Of course, the man's had major trouble showing it ever since his parents died, but it's there, and that's all that matters.
And though Dick never lost that part of his heart after his parents were killed
he feels he is the one who understands this particular struggle of his mentor the best. It's one of the things that brought them together in the first place.
This morning, just like every other, he's training with Batman down in the Batcave, having the time of his life as he alternates between sparring with his mentor and with one of the many training drones.
But as Bruce always tells him no good thing can last forever, for in that instant a high-pitched, electronic whine reaches their ears, and with a nod to Robin the Dark Knight moves off to the side. Robin continues training as per his partner's instruction, and ten seconds later he's proven correct: League business is pulling Batman away yet again.
Robin is only just able to hide his disappointment (though his eyes still tell all). This week is supposed to be just for the Bat Family, one for a Father and son to bond via their chosen art! But he supposes he isn't being fair; after all, what's one training session lost in the scheme of saving the world from some crazed villain's nefarious plot? Besides, it isn't like they won't have more time to spend together later this week. (
So for Bruce's sakebecause Lord help him his adoptive Father's happiness is all he's ever wantedhe manages a small grin and playfully orders him out of the Batcave with a mock-salute and a quiet vote of confidence.
The man complies. One secret half-smile (the apologetic-understanding one, the one that means, 'I'm sorry, but you know I'll make it up to you'), a quick-hair ruffle, and the Caped Crusader is gone.
Leaving Robin down here, training in the dark, bat-infested Batcave all by himself.
A little selfishly, he wishes Black Canary wasn't away on a League mission of her own. At least then he could go to Mount Justice and train with his friends for a while. Granted, Superboy and M'gann are still there, but Bruce has already warned him against training with Superboy without supervision, and Miss M really only likes to spar if everyone is there
something about training not being as fulfilling without all of them
And so it is that he's stuck with the training drone by seven, at which time Alfred comes down with a cool glass of water and a light something for breakfast. Seeing the butler out of the corner of his eye, Robin flips backward off of the robot's head and uses his bo-staff to press the off-switch.
Wiping his sweaty forehead and face with the towel Alfred offers, Robin smiles. "Thanks, Alfie."
The old gentleman grins fondly and places the plate of food and the water bottle on the small table by the stairs. "No need to thank me, Master Dick. After all, even the infamous Boy Wonder needs to keep up his strength."
Robin smirks, waving a playfully dismissive hand. "Yeah, yeah." He takes a long drink from the water bottle. "I bet you used to tell Bruce that all the time."
The butler's teasing smile grows. "Indeed, I did, and his Father before him. Is there anything else you need, Master Dick, oroh, my!"
A shimmering, bright-purple
wall of light sweeps into the Batcave all at once, heading straight for them.
But thanks to his years of training and experience with the Dark Knight, Robin keeps his head, almost instantaneously shifting into what K.F. has humorously christened 'Bat-mode.'
Taking a startled, slightly abashed Alfred into his arms, Robin sprints for the back corner of the Batcave. It is the most guarded place in the entire underground cavern (Batman showed it to him just before his first training session, wanting him to know of it in case anything ever happened), and he likes to think that Bruce might commend his resourcefulness. Moving a protection-magic-laced Himalayan totem between the two of them and the threat, the acrobat and the butler shut their eyes and shield each other as the light closes in.
These split seconds, few and short as they may be, allow Robin time to think.
He may be calm on the outside, but on the inside he's petrified of the idea of something happening to Brue.
BruceBruce has always told him he would call if something like this ever happened, if something ever threatened Dick or Alfred or both of them and he couldn't be there to stop it, to protect them! Bruce promised that the only reason he wouldn't call was if he couldn't, if his comm. link or any other means of contact were nil, if he were knocked unconscious, if he were hurt!
Curling tighter around Alfred and releasing a shaky breath, Robin forces himself to calm down. Now is not the time to think up worst-case scenarios. One of the first things Bruce ever taught him was to stay calm in any situation, especially in impromptu ones like this.
Besides, Bruce has always come home before, and there's no reason to think this time will be any different. It's like Clark said of Bruce once: "That man won't quit as long as he can still draw breath" (even though it's that last bit that scares him
Blue eyes clench tighter now as the light passes over themRobin feels his skin tingle and the taste of too much sugar on his tonguebut in another moment, the sensations fade and the blinding wall keeps going.
Newly-opened eyes once more adjusting to the pitch lighting of the Batcave, Robin lets loose a lilting whistle to rival that of his namesake's song.
"Now that was some serious disturbulence!" Suddenly remembering that he is still partially shielding Alfred, the boy leans back. Blinking to clear away the stubborn black spots that remain in his vision, Robin readies his eyes to examine the beloved old man for injuries. "You okay, Alfie?"
Blinking even more rapidly now, though by this time the obstructions have long disappeared, he reaches down with a nearly-shaking hand and a growing-queasier stomach.
True to the touch, he feels nothing, not even a warm spot where Alfred had been. It's like he was never there in the first place
"Haha! Very funny, Alfred!" he calls into the darkness, uneasy voice giving away only a small amount of his real disconcertion. "Come on, Alfie! You've had your fun! We stopped playing hide-'n'-seek a long time agoI'm not ten anymore!
Still no answer.
When Bruce finds out Dick let his butlerthis is Alfred!go into the light (no pun intended)
Seriously, universe? So not whelmed.
For several minutes, Robin just pinches his nose and forces himself to breathe deeply. Getting worked up over something that could well be nothing won't help anyone. Besides, the trouble of Bruce not answering his comm. aside, perhaps Robin can trace his signal
Plopping down in front of the Batcomputer, his fingers fly over the keys (for most anything else he'd use his wrist-computer, but this is an emergency and the supercomputer is marginally more powerful). The appropriate screen comes up in seconds, and he unconsciously holds his breath in scanning for his mentor's bat-shaped tracking blip.
It isn't there
Butbut he doesn't let himself worry too much just yet. Batman has been taking care of himself for years, long before Robin came along. And Robin knows from four rounds of three-hundred-sixty-five days of working with him how incredibly dependable the man is, just as he knows that Bruce would never scare his son this way purposely.
After waiting several more minutes, Robin blinks, and the tracking signal is just where it should be.
A brilliant beam plastered on his face, the child cackles gleefully and from his product-of-boredom handstand on the chair's arms (Bruce would kill him if he saw that
) he drops lightly into the chair. Cracking his knuckles, Robin connects the USB cable from his wrist-computer and copies the data of the Bat's current location.
Just as he's finishing, a voice sounds in his ear.
"Hey, Rob, you there?" Kid Flash asks in a slightly panicked voice. "Come on, man, we've got a major situation here!" As an afterthought, knowing the Boy Wonder will remember an incident when he said the same thing about his missing left shoe, he adds, "And this time I'm serious!"
Robin manages something of a chuckle and reaches up to press the connector on his comm. link.
"Robin! You'll never believe what just happened! Aunt Iris and Uncle Barry just!"
"Disappeared?" The speedster sputters in attempt to stop his racing mouth, and quiet snickers break free on Robin's end. Inwardly, he's just relieved that whatever-it-was turned out not to be a ploy of one of Batman's enemies. "Dude, same here! Alfred vanished into thin airhe was right next to meand Batman's not answering his comm.!"
"Well, what about his?"
"Tracker?" An amused smile comes. "Already found him. He's in some kind of amusement park in Rhode Island." The Boy Wonder can practically hear the glad, hopeful beam etching onto his friend's face. "'Operation: Rescue the Mentors' is a-go?"
A galvanized cheer. "Rendezvous at Mount Justice in ten?"
"Totally!" There is a small waver toward the end, and the child's best friend understands his need instantly.
"We'll find Bats and Uncle Barry in no time, Rob! Be there in three!"
A minute, warm grin flits across the thirteen-year-old's face. "See you then, K.F
." his voice catches somewhere in the back of his throat, and a thin wall of tears comes unbidden, "
Kid Flash can sense the hitch and hear the tremor. "No problem, little brother," he returns gently, a silent promise there.
A second later, the connection dies, and Robin lets it.
He drops his head into one of his gloved hands with a heavy sigh, and weary blue eyes close tightly. Seven-fifteen in the morning, and he's already disturbed
A harsh cold threatens to freeze his insides, and shivers actively traverse their way down his spine. He strives to hold them back with all his might, for he knows well the source of these despised sensations.
He loves this Batcave and this house (and the men who inhabit them) more than anything, but even with them here sometimes
sometimes things get a little too dark and spacious and
And if there's any one thing Robinno, Dick Graysonhates overall, it's being alone.
Like he is right now.
He laughs at this mirthlessly, a vulnerable smile accompanying it. His free hand rakes through his hair, and he fights to swallow the swelling lump in his throat.
"You'd better be okay..."
True to his word, Kid Flash is there for him at the corner of First and Main (albeit a minute and forty seconds late).
"All the way from Central City, it's Kid Mouth!"
In response, he receives a playful glare followed by an impish grin.
"Right back at you, Boy Blunder!"
A head-aimed punch is his reward.
Now that the vocal greetings are over and done with, the redhead's expression softens. Clapping his friend on the shoulder, a reassuringly confident grin plays on his lips. Robin nods appreciatively, managing something of a smirk.
In a blur of yellow, red, and black, he is on Kid Flash's back with arms wrapped around his neck. The West teen tosses a blinding beam over his shoulder. "You ready for this, small fry?"
Grumbling half-heartedly, Robin swats his friend on the back of the head. Gloved hands reaching up to the boy's hairline, the Bird grasps Kid Flash's goggles and places them over the older boy's green eyes. Tightening his grip on the lithe fifteen-year-old in knowing anticipation what's to come, he burrows into the junction between Kid Flash's neck and shoulder. "Now, I'm ready."
"All right, then!" A whoop reverberates, and Robin can't stifle the bark of laughter that comes. "M.J., here we come!"
Kicked-up dirt is all that is left in their wake.
"No way! So Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, and Superman are gone, too?" Kid Flash demands incredulously, shooting an anxious glance Robin's way.
Aqualad nods grimly, eyes downcast as Superboy puts an arm around a sniffling M'gann's shoulders. "That is how it appears, yes. The question is, what can we do with the entire League missing?"
"That's where we come in!" Kid Flash announces, whipping around to face a distracted Robin. An elfin expression crosses the speedster's face. "Hey, Space-Boy Wonder! You're on!"
The thirteen-year-old, snapping out of his encompassing thoughts, glances up at his friends before stepping up to the front of the room. Connecting his wrist computer's USB cable to the base's supercomputer, he waits two-point-three seconds for the location data to appear on the holographic screen.
"Correction, Aqualad: nearly the entire League is missing. See, Batman's here," he points to the bat-shaped blip just off of eastern Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay, approximately thirty-seven-point-five-four miles east of the town of Warwick, "and if I can get this right
" He types numerous commands into the computer, tongue poking out of the corner of his mouth in intense concentration. Three other insignias show themselves now, surrounding Batman's tracker with their own. "Yes! Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern are with him!" He whirls toward his teammates, his beam so wide that they fear his face may split in half. "That's perfect!"
But Superboy doesn't look convinced. "How is that 'perfect?' What about Flash, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, and everyone else? This doesn't show any of them!"
Robin's grin only stretches. "Don't you see? These guys are four of the Original Seven! If they escaped whatever happened to everyone, then that means they must know what's going on! If they can stop it, everybody will be brought back!"
Understanding dawns on his friends' faces, and the Bird feels some weight lift in knowing he's helped them.
w-what happens n-now?" M'gann whispers, still sniffling a bit and eyes still bloodshot although she's mostly stopped crying. "We know w-where they are, what they're t-trying to do
Where do we g-go from here?"
Robin and Kid Flash catch each other's eye.
"What else, babe?" the fifteen-year-old questions rhetorically. "We go after 'em!"
Robin continues on the same wavelength. "With something this big, they're gonna need all the help they can get!"
"Wait!" Aqualad calls, feeling slightly guilty when their smiles fall. But he pushes this aside. He is team leader, and as such, it's his responsibility to ensure his teammates' safety. "I do not think this is wise. The League has always told us to keep out of its business for our own good, and no matter how much we want to find our mentors, I cannot imagine they would want us following them into what is surely a dangerous situation." He pauses, holding his breath and resisting the urge to look away from their penetrating gazes. "Perhaps
perhaps this time we should listen to them and simply
wait this out."
Instantly, the mountain takes on a dark, gloomy silence.
Only for it to be broken a moment later.
"What?" All turn to the source of the underlying-terrified whisper. Robin, still at the front of the room, appears entirely out of it. His breathing is slow and controlled only because he is forcing it, his heartbeat has dramatically increased in pace, and as his fists clench tightly at his sides there is a wind's whisper of a quake to him. "Wewe can't just leave them! They are the only ones still around to fight this! What ifwhat if they need our help? What if whatever took the others comes back for them and succeeds? What if something happens and we're not there?"
And right now he's being selfish, every 'we' meaning 'I' and all else meaning 'Bruce,' but he doesn't care because he swears to Heaven he can't go on if something happens to his dearly-beloved adoptive Father, the man who's been his entire world and life and heart since the day he saved Dick from himself, and he just can't lose himnot like he did his parents!
"Robin!" Aqualad shouts, and the child reconnects with reality instantaneously.
Hehe hadn't meant to lose himself like that
! Bruce has taught him better than to let his emotions, especially emotions about his adoptive Father and his safety, get him in a chokehold!
Turning away from them, Robin pulls at his black hair with trembling hands, closing his eyes gently and taking deep, calming breaths to clear his mind. He feels better by the second, and not for the first time he thanks Bruce for teaching him this.
A large, strong hand settles on his shoulder a few minutes later, and Robin turns around. Superboy stares down at him with concerned blue eyes and his 'Superman' crest, and Robin offers him a small, wobbly, grateful smile.
Wearily, he shifts back to the team, face expressing his apology when words fail him. There is empathy in his friends' eyes, and he knows his plea for forgiveness has been honored.
For good measure, the thirteen-year-old's eyes keep company with Aqualad's a little longer, and the current leader cannot help but absolve his future commander.
He can't explain it, but looking into this child's eyes this way, he knows that Robin is probably right, that everything will turn out all right someway. Besides, he has faith that Robin's relationship with Batman will not fail; not only have they have been together the longest and are the closest of the mentors and partners, but there is
a radiance that transcends them somehow.
It's beautiful and frightening and tragic all at once.
It's something none but they will ever understand.
But it's there. It's real. And that's all that matters when push comes to shove.
Finally, the link breaks, and Aqualad turns back to the rest of his team. "We are going after them."
Kid Flash cheers. "Yes! In the sweet words of our resident Boy Wonder, 'Operation: Rescue the Mentors is a-go!'"
They arrive in the amusement park in Rhode Island in just under twenty minutes. Hiding the Bio-Ship, they follow Robin's reading to the center of the park.
What they find is
to say the least.
Their mentors don't
look like themselves
They're far too skinny and far too short and far too
They can't be more than eight
! ("Dude!" K.F. shouts amazedly. "They're kids!")
But Robin's mind is elsewhere.
He's seen pictures of Bruce as a child, of courseAlfred always makes it a point to keep a few around the house, along with some of Mr. and Mrs. Waynebut he never thought his mentor would look so
adorable (at first glance he has to stop himself from laughing out loud)! Of course, his personality hasn't softened with him, Robin noticesthe set scowl, the rigid posture, ready for and taking in anything and everything
Yet all of this fades into the background as a new someone enters the picture.
The woman is regally dressed in purple and gold, a golden mask covering her face and flowing out to frame her visage and black hair, and there's an English accent when she speaks
Mentally scanning the weekly-examined Batman and Justice League case files, Robin finds only one person who fits the bill:
Morgaine Le Faye, the Arthurian Age sorceress who has striven to set her immortal son, Mordred, on the throne since her former King's time. The woman who used her Knight of Camelot 'lover,' Jason Blood, to fell the kingdom and then repaid him by turning him into the immortal demon, Etrigan. The woman who nearly killed the Justice League over a year ago in attempt to get the Philosopher's Stone, one of the last things in the world that would allow Mordred his kinghood.
Robin is on edge instantly, the others following his lead. He tenses, ready for action the moment she raises her arms above her head and magic flows from her fingertips, but then he stops.
His eyes flit Batman's way, and he is surprised to find that the Dark Knight isn't doing anything to stop her. Even in his eight-year-old form, Robin has faith that Bruce can still take her down. So the fact that he's letting her cast a spell on them
They'll have to wait and see.
There is a bright flash of light now that lasts for a few seconds, and when it fades and Robin opens his eyes he has to clamp a hand over his mouth to keep from shouting for joy.
For there, standing there in all of his dark, Batty glory is the fully-grown Batman Robin knows, is the strong Bruce Dick has come to love as his second Father.
Somewhere in that light Morgaine vanished, but Robin pays that little mind.
The only thing he knows is that the threat has passed, he's found Bruce, his Father is safe. That's all he cares about. All he's everand willevercare about.
Wonder Woman says somethinghe's not sure what, he's only partway listening to the rest of thembut when Bruce speaks he hears it like it's the only sound in existence: "I haven't been a kid since I was eight years old
Listening to this, a part of his heart breaks for his adoptive Father. It's only been a little over four years since his own parents died, and he misses them more than anything. But for Bruce
for Bruce it's been so much longer than that
and he has a feeling that this misadventure was one that reminded Bruce of that scathing fact more than was necessary.
But then again, this precise pain is what brought Bruce and Dick together, the one thing that both builds them up and tears them down. It's connected them from the start, and somehow Dick finds the smallest sliver of himself thankful for it. (He wonders faintly if Bruce ever feels this way...)
But there is a time and a place for everything, and this is not either. If anything, it's a time to reunite and celebrate the fact that everything's back to normal, that everything's all right again. Everything else can be taken care of later.
He drops down beside Bruce soundlessly (though he knows Batman already knew he was there), his friends coming down around them. He looks up at Bruce expectantly, eyes behind the mask boring into his mentor's, and Batman nods, a ghost of a smile on his face. Be patient, Dick.
A beam flickers likewise across the Bird's countenance. I'll hold you to that, Bruce.
" Batman acknowledges, and if there is a hint of vulnerability to his voice, Robin is the only one to know.
A gentle, sad, knowing smile comes to Dick's face, and the child reaches out to wrap his small, strong hand around the man's much larger wrist. In turn, Bruce places his free hand on top of his son's and squeezes.
Two hearts beat in unison, the palpitations soft and loving both.
Familiar, beloved warmth overcomes them.
A relieved rejuvenation flows through their veins.