Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Chapter Twelve: Tragic Conflict

Chapter Twelve: Tragic Conflict

The images moved like a toxic gas. This was rare enough as it was, to dream. It couldn't have been more deliberately mesmerizing too. The worst types of dreams are often the ones that recall memories. They were either so good that one longs for them again or so bad that one wishes to never remember them. Unfortunately this was the latter.

He could see the flashes of red and white hitting Harvey's face as his face tore apart and in two. The insane look in that eye. The one with no sympathy, only tortured and repressed anger. It was so different from those nights when he and Jim had played cards. It just wasn't fair how that happened. And for several years, sympathy was all he felt for the man. That all changed, though, the night that he realized that Harvey had died a long time ago. No, not that night. A different night. With the double gallows...

Bruce turned to his left and right, the blackness engulfing him. He heard what they were saying. The conversation repeating itself. Scarred, uncared, tales, heads. The brown rope tightened around his neck as he struggled, his normally toned muscles somehow weak and useless to his use.

Everyone plays.

He heard a lever being pulled and a splash below. He was above water, but not in it. The gag and blindfold were ripped off. Harvey was looking through some files. He got up from his desk at the sight of him.

"Where've you been? The signal's been on for an hour or so..."


"I got all A's on my report card, Bruce," Dick ran up behind him, holding up the report card proudly.



Batman turned to see Harvey's face, bitter with anger and heavily damaged. Uncontrollable hate and a longing, to make him, him, suffer slowly and painfully. Robin stood in front of two twins, his hands tied behind his back. Again, a thick black smoke entrenched itself in the air, as Lady Gotham rose out of the ground only to be split in half down the middle as a silver spark streaked down in the air. The sound of metal hitting bones, a human body, a person.

"He punked out on Harvey."

A nasty punch to the face. He only saw the flash of impact. Bruce saw Two-Face show a flame to the boy's face from a lighter. He grabbed the boy's scalp with his hair.

"I wanted you to know. It wasn't me that killed you. It was the Bat."

Another whack. And another. And another. He felt himself trying to move. Trying to break his own bonds so that he could stop that sound. Never before had his stomach ever be so sick or his hands shake. He couldn't stop it. He kept trying, but he couldn't. He just couldn't. Couldn't...

I bolt up, wide awake. My breathing is fast like I'd just sprinted ten miles. My heart pounds in my chest while I try to put to use one of the many calming techniques that I've learned over the years. But it takes a while. That was disturbing. No, troubling. That nightmare of that one night... I close my eyes and lean over slightly, however my eyes open just as soon as I do. I see Dick's badly injured face looking at me, one of his eyes barely open because it was so swollen.

I don't know what I feel first. Often I hear behind my back that I act like I have no emotions. Sometimes I even hear it because someone yells it into my face. And yet... they might as well be right. Emotions are not a foreign thing; I just prefer not to deal with them, talk about them, think about them. They get in the way of this line of work.

Alfred has never said that I have no emotions, though. If there's one person that I should listen to, it's Alfred. He's told me to have heart. I think I've got that one down. I feel it every time I'm out on the streets and see all of the civilians going about their daily life. But that shouldn't count, as it's become almost a numb feeling over the years. I originally started to ignore it when I first started and now it's almost like it's not even there. Still...

It did come back.

I shake my weary head, briefly closing my eyes only to see Harvey, once my friend, now my enemy as he brought the baseball bat down. I'm tired. But that nightmare didn't help my limited amount of sleep. That feeling, I felt it again years later. Years after I had started this crusade. It was after Zucco's work at the circus. Dick had come to live in the manor. He was quiet, didn't say much. I didn't press him. Then again, Alfred would tell me that I wasn't around long enough to press Dick to talk. And by luck, by chance, Dick discovered the cave. I wasn't mad, it was bound to happen eventually.

And that changed everything.

That original costume of his was so much so his own. His own design, his own creation. And I let him wear the bright colors. Those vivid colors – in honor of Mary and John. If they could have seen what Dick was doing, I'd bet my life that they'd be so proud of him. As Robin, Dick did extraordinary things. He became an amazing fighter, a skilled fighter, an intellectual at his young age, completing middle school early on and the same with high school to help open up time for later on in his life.

He was so dedicated. And happy. My word, was he happy. Before Dick, every night for me had been filled mostly with screams and shrieks and angry or scared voices. Now there was a new sound, laughter. It somehow made the burden... lighter. I had always cared. Always vowed to protect others. To keep them safe. To keep them from experiencing the same type of pain that I had felt so long ago, when agony and pain became so overwhelming in my chest, but not as much as it was in my Mother's and Father's. The blood on my hands had been warm, fresh, and lifeless. I had failed to be there, to be able to do anything though, for Dick. And yet, he never held such a thing against me.

He just smiled.

He was so easily taught. Everything came to him naturally. I took it for granted. I let him come out and do things that maybe I shouldn't have. I wasn't listening to my common sense or Gordon's expressed concerns.

I remember him once asking me, "I'm confused. You vowed to protect the innocent and yet you have an adolescent tagging along. It's been months now. He's still here. I don't get it. Is he your son?"

I had answered that he was my partner in fighting this war. I could never take John's place in Dick's heart, so I've never tried. Gordon was expressing concern about Harvey Dent. About Two-Face and how he didn't think that Robin should be allowed to tag along. I asked Robin to sit this one out. He didn't.

He went on and that's where those images of my nightmare kept coming from. In Harvey's now sickened mind, he targeted the only thing that he saw that I cared about: Robin. And he hit hard. I remember the rage I felt. The guilt. The worry. The panicking feeling that grabbed my throat as I watched, trying to free myself so that I could stop him. I did. But Robin... Dick was so... hurt. I remembered hearing bones break and seeing blood escaping wounds, some from bruises so large they had broken the skin.

When Robin woke up, it was from a nightmare, but he instantly smiled again, anticipating the next patrol. I benched him. I didn't know what else to do. Perhaps the experience was more traumatizing for me than him. Robin was always weary of Two-Face after that, but for me, it left an unimaginable scar. I couldn't let something like that happen again. Ever.

Normally my nightmares are of the night my parents died. But still, there are others of a lot of things. I worry. A lot. Maybe too much. But better than not at all. I realized one thing that night. I couldn't allow for such a mistake to be made like that. It was my fault such a thing happened. I was to blame. It wasn't right to assume otherwise. It still isn't.

I try to lie back down. I need to actually get some good rest, despite how unlikely it is. A knock on the door...

"Yes?" I asked groggily.

The door opens and I gaze through squinted eyes to see Dick coming in silently. He's so different compared to most kids his age. They're thinking about the next football game or what they'd do after school. Most kids his age didn't worry about what he did. Guilt also sinks into my heart knowing that it is my fault that Dick had so much on his shoulders.

"Bruce?" He asked, almost timidly, "You awake?"

"Barely. What'd you need?" I question, wanting to go back to sleep.

"Uh, well, nothing," Nothing, that's annoy... "Just, I was wondering when you wanted to head out tonight."

He's already thinking about it?

"I can go out early if you want. I don't really need to be anywhere..." Dick pauses and waits for me to answer.

I sit up and stretch; I'm not going to be able to get to sleep anyway, "If you want. I might be down in a couple hours or so. I canceled my meetings for today."

Dick nods. He doesn't say anything. For the past week, especially since the Beagle incident, he's been avoiding me, or rather my gaze. Being human, I am liable to make up excuses. I can't tell where he's really looking. He has a mask on. But now, as Dick, it's painfully apparent. While he may not want to stare or look at me, I watch him. In two years it's amazing how much can change. He's matured a lot. Changed a lot. Mostly for the good, but something's missing.

Dick faces the window where a little bit of light shines out between the curtains and onto his face, the ends of his mouth long and down. That's it. It's his smile. I have yet to see it once since that one argument years ago. The one where he angrily stormed out, doing exactly what he said he'd do, go across the country to get away from here. From Gotham. From Wayne Manor. From his home. From...

"I guess, I'll go, sorry if I woke you up," He mutters.

His moments are slow, as though he's in some sort of slump. I want him to smile so badly. I know he can. Alfred told me all the time how happy he seemed to be in Jump. And yet, while I know it's nothing big, nothing important, I can't help but feel it's important.

Dick stops and turns to look at me, sort of, no eye contact, "I think I'll, uh, go to the graves today..."

At the mention of the graveyard, my eyes focus on him. It's unusual to visit the graves when it wasn't on the anniversary or on one of their birthdays. Why he wants to, I can't fathom. Maybe just to be closer...

But I nod slowly, "Alright."

Dick keeps his eyes cast down as he whispers a 'thank you' and leaves the room nearly as quietly as he came in. I sigh. He's grown so much since I first met him. Sixteen, geez. He was nine, or was it eight? Doesn't matter much, but he's certainly changed. I contemplate over where he had gone off to. That soul that always seemed ready for anything. The Robin that I introduced to Gotham.

That I thrust into such danger so thoughtlessly. He'll never leave. It's not in Dick's nature to leave, or Robin's. Or Robin's... My fist clenches. Gordon was right. I vowed to protect the innocent. And I still let Dick become something in this world of masks and names and titles. Where criminals don't care if you've got a wife at home or if you're someone's son. The guilt won't leave. I know Robin wants to do this. He told me before that it was his choice to take the opportunity. I never forced him to become Robin.

But I gave him the option.

If anything ever again happens to him, it's my fault. And I don't want that to happen. I don't ever want that to happen. I remember carrying him out of the Batmobile and having to voice one of my own fears. That he was dying. I can't relive it. I couldn't force him to relive it either. I fight to protect civilians. I fight to protect the defenseless. I fight the injustice that plagues all those living. I fight to protect those I know, that I care about.

I hope that John and Mary know that I'm trying. I'm really trying... I'm just not perfect. I can only hope that my mistakes will not harm Dick. That they won't have unfathomable repercussions beyond my mortal abilities to repair. I'm Gotham's Batman, and I am as clueless as an eight year old boy alone in Crime Alley.


The morning was calm, a bit chilly as October's air ran across his bare hands without his gloves. He pulled his jacket tighter while with one hand, held two small flowers from an arrangement that Alfred had bought a couple days ago. He wouldn't mind though, not for something like this.

Walking up the steps to the top of the hill, Dick opened the gate, letting it creak. He didn't know exactly why he was going up here. Maybe it was just because it had been so hard lately. It was so much harder than it had ever been. And being with them, or rather close to them, it made things easier. Or at least it left the illusion that it was. Death seemed to be such a permanent thing. But Dick could believe that his parents were still with him, somehow. Wherever they were, he hoped that they were somewhere safe. And happy.

He walked past the gravestones. There were not many, most of them were Bruce's ancestors, all the way up to Solomon Wayne even. But there were two people who didn't belong to Bruce. They belonged to him. Finding the two stones, engraved with the names, Dick knelt down between them, the wind whipping his neat hair out of place. Taking the flowers out from the safety of his jacket, Dick placed one on each resting place.

He shivered. It was hard to imagine that six feet below him, his parents' bodies rested. It had happened so long ago, but it was so hard. He had always thought he have them for much longer. That they'd watch him grow up. He felt like they still were, but he could never reach them, never hear their voices again. Death was an uncertain fate, but it was definitely a barrier. It kept the living from the dead. The dead from the living. Dick ran his fingers over the carvings on the stone. JOHNATHAN GRAYSON. His dad. MARY GRAYSON. His mom.

He'd learned how to get along without them. What Bruce had given him had gave him a new shot at life. A new way to live. A familiar reason to love life. To care about what he did. There was work to do and he promised, just as Bruce had that by the spirits of his parents, to spend the rest of his life warring on all criminals. He'd keep that promise, too.

Getting up, Dick began to walk out of the cemetery when he glanced off to the side. THOMAS AND MARTHA WAYNE. He stood still. What was Bruce to them? How did they see him? Were they some of the few who could understand? Could anyone understand? He pondered over what they'd think of him if they ever had gotten the chance to meet. From what Alfred had told him, they loved Bruce. Bruce had only said a few things in their behalf, "They were my parents, they... were a lot."

That was impressive even unto itself.

Dick sighed and felt his teeth chatter at another gust of October winds. It was time to go. To suit up, to get ready. Walking down the hill, Dick didn't look back. There was the future to look to, to prepare for.

Like tonight.

Electricity crackled as thick floors buckled and broke away. It was chaos. There had been screams everywhere, filling my ears to no end. Certainly this had to end. Positively. And yes, we were near the end of it, but it feels like we're so far away from having the building fully evacuated. I keep calling out for people. It's getting worse. The whole building has men, women, and children scattered. We got most people out where the building first started to collapse. But now the old infrastructure's moved to the sides of the building. I breathe in hot air and realize somewhere there's fire. And then like a flash, fire lights the paint aflame. I skit away from the heat and that's when I hear the cries of a family trapped in the furnace.

Putting on a small breathing mask, I race into the heated hallway, remembering Batman tell me about some ship who's paint had been flammable, killing almost instantly those trapped in a certain area of the doomed cruise. I hoped by all means that it wasn't the same thing here. But indications pointed otherwise. No matter. We were here and we could still save lives. The panicked screams kept coming, seemingly from no where in particular.

Then they had an origin. Behind a door. The terror penetrated through the blocked doorway, a massive slab of bricks and burning wood in the way. Then something crashed down a few feet away. Batman stood there looking at me. He nodded toward the door. I nodded back. While I struck a bo-staff between the door and rubble, Batman used it as a lever to open the door. Inside there was a mother and her two little girls, huddled away from the burning walls around them.

At the sight of us, the mother grabbed her oldest by the hand and picked up her youngest, begging, "Please, save them. Save them."

Batman nodded, gently looking at the little one in the mother's arms. The girl was frightened by his appearance, which looked like a demon in the flames. But he did something he hardly ever did. He smiled comfortingly. Finally, the girl let go of her mother and let herself be held in Batman's arms. The other one clutched onto me. I looked at the mother and then Batman. He understood.

"I'll take them. Take the mother. Now!" He told me.

The mother looked bewildered for a moment while Batman picked up the other girl. He walked over to the broken balcony, knowing what to do. He always knew what to do. I went over, too. Right at the instant he jumped, the littlest screamed.


I looked back to see a small dog. The heat was so intense. The dog pouted and whined. Instinctively, I picked up the dog with one hand and shot a zip line downward. Hooking myself up, I let the mother grab hold. I jumped. The dog gave out a yelp. We had fourteen stories to go. As we fell, I heard something. The jump-line burning. No. We were ten stories. It was snapping at the seams. Six. It wasn't going to hold. Four. On it's last ends. Two. I cut the rope myself. The mother screamed and I shot another line down. This would have been one of the many great situations in which I wished I could fly like Superman. But I couldn't. Still, I somehow managed to get down to the ground, the dog and the mother safe.

Releasing them, the mother first looked around for her girls. And she found them running towards her. Tears ran down her dirty cheeks as she got to her knees and hugged her girls with all the force she could muster, telling them how much she loved them. It made me feel so out of place.

I looked around for Batman. He was no where nearby. Then all at once, the building started to crumble and an explosion rocked the massive structure and the street below. That's when I saw him, jumping out of a window holding something. Another small girl. I raced forward, but I knew there was nothing I could do. I could only watch. The child cried as Batman held her in his strong confident arms. Batman was a lot of things. But he was first and foremost a protector. He offered protection from the evils, dangers, threats that constantly tear apart lives. The exploding fragments of the building shot at him viciously while he let them hit him rather than the girl. I remember him doing the same for me once.

People started to point and stare now. What a being. What a demonic rescuer of a person. If he was even a person! There were many who thought he must be like Superman or Wonder Woman. Someone with superpowers. But I knew. I knew he had nothing but his own body, mind, and soul. Still, not even I fully understand what he did to achieve that. Bruce has a way of putting foremost the important things first, organizing in an effective way and manner as to how to go about whatever needs to be accomplished. His nature is... reclusive. He doesn't talk much, except to explain things to those of us who don't fully understand what he does. He's a teacher. The flames licked at his cape, somehow never catching hold...

He's my teacher. He was...

Ever since I was little, I had had two other teachers, my parents. But when they died, he came along and was willing to help me. I guess I sometimes overlook that. He was so selfless and giving. I don't know how I would have gotten through the tragedy if it weren't for him. Sometimes I wonder how he got through his. Unlike me, he lost his parents in a much less... merciful way. It was entirely out of selfish greed. There was no revenge or reason to comprise their lives. They were only in the way. And now Bruce just stays enclosed, away from everyone else. What runs through his mind is a complete mystery, but I can only guess that he doesn't harbor much happiness because I rarely seen him smile.

I've never really talked to Bruce about his parents. Mostly because I didn't want to intrude or think about my own loss. So instead I kept thinking about what would happen tomorrow. What adventure we'd face tomorrow. And as time went on I always knew two things about Bruce. One was that he was often quiet and kept things to himself for 'your own good'. And two was that he was indeed a legend.

I always looked up to him. There's something miraculously spectacular about him, his person born out of that one devilish night. He made himself something. A person of sacrifice. I wanted to make myself that, too. For my parents, for my friends, and even a little bit for him, in return for everything else that he gave me. And he has given me that chance. That's why he means something to me. And also because of that, I try. I try so hard to be the best, to prove that he was right in choosing me.

Finally, he landed and let the girl go to her father. He then walked over to me, a look on his face that made my stomach drop out of place.

"Get to the car."



I felt a bitter taste enter my mouth, but I kept it shut and walked over to where we parked the Batmobile, my eyes cast downward. We were going to have a talk and I knew it. And the seemingly hypocritical thoughts enter my mind. I hated being benched. Being kept out of the action. I gave it my all, but somehow I had messed up even though I didn't even know how. It was just never good enough. And I didn't know how to change that.


The drive home was unnaturally silent, as though silence was being forced into the Batmobile just from shear will-power. Batman kept his eyes on the road ahead, even though he could have easily put it in auto-pilot and not have to worry about driving. Robin kept staring out of the passenger's seat window, watching the multiple buildings rush past in a blur until Batman finally took them below ground and the cave walls hollowed around them. The dreariness of it all seemed to be amplified when they finally reached the cave where the only light sources were artificial and turned on low.

On the way in, Batman called up to Alfred, "Alfred, would you do me a favor and go upstairs to my room where I think there is a notebook for Wayne Industries?"

Robin looked up, alarmed and almost shocked.

"Certainly sir, I shall be right back down."

He knew what Batman was doing, but before he could say anything, Batman thanked Alfred and turned off the com-link. Batman glanced at Robin, who couldn't have been bottling up more fury but would not release it. Letting out an aggravated sigh, Robin turned once again away from Bruce, a cold sort of scowl on his face. He knew what was going to happen next. The car soon came to a screeching halt on the parking pad. As soon as the doors unlocked, Robin grabbed the door handle and was just about half way out before he heard Batman behind him.

"Where do you think you're going, young man?"

He refused to turn around. Just refused to. He didn't answer.

"I know that you know that I didn't forget what I said before," Batman reminded him smoothly.

Robin felt his muscles tighten, as though bracing himself for something painful. Then again, this probably would be. Batman watched as his ward shut the door and stand on the other side, waiting for him to get out. He wouldn't be rushed, though, and calmly got out of the car right after he locked the staircase from the manor so that there would be no interruptions. Robin watched as Batman walked around and headed towards the staircase. Resolved, Robin followed and waited for the inevitable lecture to start.

"You realize the possible number of fatalities that could have occurred tonight?" Batman asked.

That though, was a particularly harsh way to start it off, "What?"

"I'll take that as a 'no'," Batman concluded for him.

"Bruce, what did I..." Robin began to defend himself, when he was cut off.

"What did I tell you up in that apartment, about the mother?" Batman asked.

Robin looked up at him, shocked, but slowly answered, "To get her out."


"Then and there."

"And what did you do?" Batman asked.

Robin felt his gut hurt as he looked back down, but then as his eyes rose up, he felt anger, "I saved their pet. Is that a crime?"

Batman turned around in the middle of the ascension, directing his response to Robin's rude tone of voice, "Excuse me?"

"I saved their pet. I don't see how that was a bad thing," Robin defended.

"You realize that in the time that it took you to recover from that jump-line being burnt, you could have gone off and saved maybe two more people? Do you realize that, Robin?" Batman scolded.

Robin felt his jaw move, but no sound come out. Batman continued up the stairs and over to the computer. Robin felt animosity building up in his chest. He didn't do anything wrong.

"We don't even know if there was anyone else in that building! And you're lecturing me about that now?" He defiantly questioned, stepping out of line, but he didn't care at the moment. He felt an unexplainable need to ward off the criticism that was coming. He couldn't take it. He knew he couldn't.

Batman whirled around to face him, his countenance marked up in a glare, "Watch your tone."

"My tone?" Robin asked.

"Why should I? I did the right thing. I saved somebody. And you're lecturing me because I didn't save more! I did all I could."

Batman's cape fluttered as he turned to face Robin. It was the first time in a long time that Robin actually gulped at seeing Batman's appearance. He was angry.

"Very well. And as you 'did all that you could', please elaborate to me on why you only further put that mother and dog in danger by sliding down that burning jump line?" Batman asked, "Not to mention yourself."

Robin felt his eyes scrunch up in disbelief, "It's better than letting them burn to death!"

"To fall from ten stories up? I don't know about that, let's make it twenty," Batman sarcastically, but coldly remarked, "Do you give any thought to your own safety, Robin?"

Robin stood in disbelief. The bats screamed at one another, flapped from perch to perch, and water dripped downward, bringing bits of dirt down to form larger stalactites. There was a knock from above, Alfred trying to get in. Finally, Batman turned around, the fight seemingly over. But...

"What's that supposed to mean? I take care of an entire team! I'm constantly planning our moves strategically to be effective and safe! How can you ask that?" Robin inquired, bitterly.

Batman turned back, the cape falling over his shoulders, "So you know how increasingly hard that responsibility is, to make sure others are safe on your watch?"

The shock was only replaced by ferocity, "I can take care of myself, Bruce! I've been doing that for two years! You can't be angry because I acted on my own!"

"You realize how much trouble you're getting yourself in?" Batman questioned, ignoring a knock from above the cave.

"I'm not getting into any! I could go back to Jump! I'll gladly go back to Jump!" Robin yelled.

"No you won't. You've committed to stop the mystery crime boss that's causing trouble in Jump. Don't think I don't know that about you, Robin," Batman responded, his tone smooth, fierce though.

Robin's flabbergasted reaction didn't stop the Dark Knight, "And considering how you 'take care of your team', you must know how disquieting it can be when your teammate does something you tell them not to."

"I can take care of myself!"

"I'd very much like to get down there..." Came the call, which went ignored.

"You were barely able to do so tonight."

"I'm standing right here!"

"You realize how much I do to make sure you're safe? You realize that every moment you're out there on my watch it's my responsibility to make sure you don't get yourself killed?" Batman moved forward, as Robin found himself dwarfed by the Caped Crusader's shear anger.

But Bruce stopped, seeing a flash of fear. Just a bit. That's not what he was here to be, "Maybe I should just bench you."

Robin's eyebrows shot up as Batman walked over to the computer counsole, the computer illuminating his masked face, "Bruce you can't..."

Batman's head whirled around to look Robin in the eye, clear that he could.

"I'll leave! The other Titans would gladly come out..." He started.

"I could just stop you from being Robin all together, Dick," Batman threw out.

No. No, he wouldn't...!


"After your behavior tonight, you've clearly demonstrated your level of maturity on the matter," Batman told him.

"You wouldn't! You know how much this means to me. I could still go out. I know how to get into the cave! I could easily get down here..."

Batman's patience was wearing thin. At the rate this was escalating, he wanted it to stop. He had hoped by just mentioning that he could bench him, Robin would stop being so irrational.

"Not another word, young man. You do not talk like that. Don't think I wouldn't hesitate to take all of what I have given you away if you gave me a good reason to."

Robin took a step back. What? 'Take all of what I have given away.' 'Take all of what I have given away.' 'Take.' 'All.' 'Away.' Robin felt his chest tighten. Everything. He had nothing else. Nothing. Everything, gone... Batman watched as Robin's face melted from fury and anger into something else. Disbelief and hurt. For a moment Bruce regretted what he said. But he didn't get any time to contemplate it.

"Fine. I'm sorry," Robin spat out.

He couldn't stay here. Not with Batman. He could be a demon. He was one now. Robin felt himself begin to run up the stairs. He heard Bruce click open the door. He saw the light stream forward and Alfred's outline coming from up top. Upon seeing Robin, Alfred's shock was apparent.

"Master Dick, what..."

But Robin didn't give him an answer or even a chance to finish his sentence as he raced past the old butler and ripped off his mask, letting it flutter and fall onto the cave floor behind him.

He left Alfred in confusion. Bruce could explain it to him. He didn't want to. He couldn't believe Bruce had played that card. He had nothing else. What was he? A hindrance? A problem? A piece of furniture that Batman could easily move? He had nothing. Bruce had given him everything. His chance to be Robin. His chance to live in Wayne Manor and be happy Dick Grayson. His home. His…Was Bruce suggesting... giving him up? Giving custody of him back to the state? No. Opening up the door to his room, and slamming it behind him, Dick leaned against the door breathing hard. This couldn't be happening.

Below in the cave, Alfred finally reached the bottom. Clearing his throat for attention, Alfred held up the mask, a question on his face. Bruce tore off his own cowl and looked at it, but forced his eyes away.

"May I ask what exactly just happened down here?" Alfred asked, judgmentally.

Bruce was quiet for a moment, but Alfred didn't let up. He racked his head for an excuse, for a good argument for his own behavior. Finally, after putting his thoughts together, Bruce, barely above a whisper answered, "I... I just wanted to protect him."

There was no good reason. Robin could handle himself. He was fine, unscathed, uninjured. He was only fighting to keep Robin safe. There was no excuse. Just that. Just to keep him safe. But with that? What kind of... what kind of trust was that? Bruce closed his eyes and left the computer console, going deep into the cave where no one would bother him. Where he could cool down. Where he could find a place to mediate, contemplate. Figure out what kind of mess he had just made.

Upstairs, Dick leaned over his bed, pajamas on and the suit lying in his laundry basket, a migraine and the aftermath of an agonizing dispute consuming him. This sort of thing was why he had left. Him, and his shortcomings. Bruce, and his disapprovals. And if it was the same, he'd have been gone. He'd have been halfway to Jump City by now. But it wasn't. This time, he had to stay. He had to be there, for the citizens of Jump. To stop whoever was committing these crimes. His face was determined, resolved, and set as though he would show no other emotion as he pulled back the sheets and climbed into bed. Sacrifice. He thought he had that one down.

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