Summary: Dick Grayson goes through a personal crisis in his dual roles as Bruce Wayne's ward and Batman's partner.
Disclaimer: All the characters are owned by DC Comics and Time/Warner; this is an original story that does not intend to infringe on their copyright.
By Syl Francis
"Children without a childhood are tragic." Mendele Mocher Seforim
Robin couldn't believe it. It wasn't his fault; why couldn't Batman understand? As always, Batman hadn't uttered a word through the whole ordeal. The Gotham City police had come in lights flashing and ordered the Titans to cease and desist. The GCPD then hauled the junior superheroes in to jail.
Sam Ryder, Gotham's newly elected district attorney, and Lt. Bullock, the GCPD head of major crimes, had been lying in wait as Robin and the rest of the Titans dramatically broke into the James Street Branch of the Gotham City National Bank. The young heroes entered as only they could: Robin and Speedy rappelled in; Wonder Girl glided in gracefully, landing gently on her tiptoes; Kid Flash simply appeared in a blur; he was carrying Aqualad who looked green around the gills (as Speedy said later).
The Titans had been set up, of course.
Apparently the DA's office received a tip that a heist was being planned for that night by the same gang of kids who'd committed a string of bank robberies in the past weeks. The one similarity tying all of the robberies together was that the gang dressed up like the Teen Titans. The heroes were obviously being impersonated, but the whole thing had become a media circus. Several groups were calling for the disbanding of the Teen Titans.
Earlier that night, Robin and the other Titans met in the Batcave to brainstorm possible scenarios to clear their names. Unfortunately, Batman and the rest of the JLA had forbidden their junior partners from getting involved in order to avoid any further confusion. Naturally, the Titans were upset with the situation and with the JLA's seemingly unfair restriction.
Speedy, as usual, was ranting to no one in particular. Kid Flash, Aqualad, and Wonder Girl were each sitting glumly on whatever chairs were available, which this being the Batcave, were few.
"I don't get it!" Speedy said; he'd been complaining almost nonstop for an hour. "We could be useful in finding these imposters. Instead, GA and his pals send us to our rooms like we're kids, or something! Our motto should be: The Teen Titans--Saving the World before Curfew!"
"We *are* kids," Robin said without looking up. "And like it or not, we're also underage." Robin turned around and looked at the others shrugging. "When the JLA pulls rank, we have no option but to obey."
"No option but to obey," Speedy mimicked sarcastically. "Brother, aren't *we* the good little Daddy's Batboy?"
Robin's cheeks flared crimson...
< Go *on* Grayson!> Dick's inner voice suddenly urged. < Punch his lights out!>
...but as always with Speedy, Robin kept his anger in check and turned back to his computer search. He's not worth it, Robin replied to his inner voice.
< Yeah, right!>
Robin sighed inwardly. Lately, this unbidden commentary kept running through his head almost nonstop. Sometimes he felt as if an alien had suddenly invaded his head and was sucking out his brain. Robin had taken to calling his rebellious inner voice "un-Dick" because of its irritating tendency to urge him to commit some action that went against his better judgement.
"What would you have us do, Harper?" Kid Flash said. Sometimes he had little use for Speedy. Robin might be able to put with him, but Kid Flash always jumped in and challenged him. "You're such a hotshot. You think we should all just disobey our partners on your say-so? I happen to respect Uncle Barry a little too much to ruin our relationship just because *you're* feeling dissed-off!"
"Boys, please!" Wonder Girl pleaded quietly. "Let's not argue. Roy, Dick's right--"
Speedy interrupted her.
"Of course Dick's right, Donna. The kid's *always* right isn't he?" Speedy said sarcastically. He walked up to Robin and placed his right hand on the shoulder of the intensely concentrating Boy Wonder. "Mister 'Self-Discipline' here," Speedy said derisively. "Mister 'Never Makes a Mistake' is *always* right!"
Wonder Girl looked hurt by Speedy's outburst.
Robin, who hadn't missed Speedy's referring to him as a "kid," looked at the unwelcome hand on his shoulder.
< Oh, lemme break his hand!> un-Dick begged. < Plee-ease?...a coupla fingers?...just the pinky?...Come on...It'll be fun!>
"Move it or lose it." Robin said quietly, his voice taking on a dangerously icy timber. Speedy swallowed and immediately removed his hand. Robin allowed himself a smug smile.
< Heh. Psych! How do you put up with the guy, anyway?>
Speedy tried to cover up his nervous reaction by sidling away nonchalantly. Robin might be younger by several months, and he might dress like an overgrown elf, but Speedy had seen him in action. Robin could probably wipe the floor with him.
"Roy, you are such a jerk," Aqualad said disgustedly, his arms crossed in front of him.
Robin, who'd lost interest in the conversation almost as soon as Speedy moved away from him, broke in suddenly.
"Hell-o! What's *this*?" he said.
"What's what, Leaderman?" asked Kid Flash.
"Hold on a sec..." Robin said quietly, not taking his eyes off his computer screen. "Look at this, guys!" Robin sounded excited.
"Okay, we're looking," Kid Flash said. "Uh...What are we looking at?"
"This!" Robin said triumphantly, pointing at the tactical display. Looking around at his team, Robin saw that they clearly did not understand what he was talking about.
< Okay, Grayson...Wow 'em with your brilliance. Show 'em that keen, Bat-trained intelligence.>
Sighing, Robin explained.
"Look at the map grid of the different locations the bank robbers have hit so far. Do you see a pattern?" Four heads shook in unison. Exasperated, Robin pointed out what to him was the obvious. "If you play connect the dots like so..." Robin touched a few keys on his computer console in rapid succession, "...voila!"
The grid was suddenly transformed into a bright red flashing line in the shape of the letter "T".
"Now if we stay within this pattern," Robin said, "I think we may be able to determine where the gang will strike next. Let's see if there are any other banks within the 'T'."
Sure enough, there was one immediately to the south of the most recent bank holdup.
"Bingo! Gotham National has a branch on James Street right along here," Robin said pointing at a grid square along the 'T'. "I'd better report this to Batman ASAP!"
Speedy immediately grabbed Robin's wrist as he was about place his call. "Hold it, Wonder Boy! Why call the big-bad Bat? I say we handle this ourselves."
< Ooooh...that's the second time he's laid his hands on you, Grayson. I think he wants you!>
Shut up, Robin replied annoyed. Keeping his eyes directly on Speedy's, Robin, without visible effort, removed Speedy's hand from his wrist. Speedy flinched; his wrist throbbed painfully where Robin had applied some type of freaky Ninja Vulcan nerve pinch.
The kid had a vice-like grip on him!
"Uh-uh, buddy," Robin said. "The JLA told us to stay put...those were direct orders."
Speedy grinned derisively.
"What'sa matter, Bird-boy? Are you on such a short leash that your old man doesn't trust you to use your own judgement? Geez! Come *on*! It's *us* these scumbags have been impersonating. I say we go out and put a stop to them ourselves." He jutted his chin out defiantly. "I'm going, with or without you, fearless leader."
Robin looked around at the rest of his team. They were all in obvious agreement with Speedy.
< All right, Grayson, Harper's an idiot, but he's got a point. It's *your* reputations on the line, not the JLA's. Go on, kid...just this once...live dangerously...Break one of the Batman's precious rules!>
Okay, fine then, Robin thought nodding. "Let's go, Titans!"
The Titans staked out the bank, and at midnight, the approximate time of all the other robberies, they broke in through the roof entrance. Robin removed an electronic lock-pick from his utility belt. < Oh the toys Bat-Dad let's us play with! Ever think about becoming a second story man, kid?> The device was sensitive enough to override the bank's security system for approximately 45 seconds--just long enough to allow the junior superheroes entrance.
That was the last thing to go right that night....
"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say..." Robin listened in a daze to the arresting officer's droning voice. He couldn't believe it. This wasn't happening! How could everything have gone sour so quickly?
Years later, Robin would remember the short humiliating ride to the nearest precinct and what happened afterward. Each of the Titans was placed in a separate holding cell and made to wait.
Finally, the cell door opened. An ominous shadow fell over Robin.
Oh, God. I'm dead.
Robin looked up slowly, swallowing nervously. The Batman stood silently, grimly. A police sergeant from the juvenile division stood in respectful awe behind him. Finally, Batman gestured with a short of shake of his head. Follow me. Robin sighed and stood up.
Maybe they'll give me Life with no chance of parole, Robin thought hopefully.
They walked down what seemed an interminably long, filthy corridor. Robin's sharp eyesight registered peeling plastered walls painted a repulsive apple green from floor to waist level; from there up to the ceiling, what had once been white paint had long ago turned into its present state of nasty smoke-smudged dishwater gray.
Robin's olfactory senses were assaulted by several smells that he preferred to leave unidentified.
Why doesn't Batman *say* anything, he thought desperately.
They were led into a larger conference room. The other Titans were already there, as were Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and the Flash. Commissioner Gordon, Ryder, and Bullock added a somber finishing touch to the proceedings.
"They were exactly where you said they'd be, Batman," Gordon said without preamble.
"Huh?" Robin said startled. *Batman* had set them up?
Gordon continued without pause. "The actual bank robbers were at the First Union Bank of Gotham, just as you said."
Robin looked at Gordon without comprehension. "I don't understand, sir."
"What the Commissioner here means, Boy Wonder," Ryder broke in, "is that you and your junior hero friends are free to go. While we were capturing *you*, the *real* bank robbers were caught over on the north side of James Street. Consider yourselves lucky that I got the word quickly...We were just about to initiate a strip search, and I don't believe the young lady would have found that very pleasant."
Wonder Girl gasped in embarrassment; her cheeks flushed furiously pink.
"Hey, watch your mouth!" Speedy said. He'd jumped up instantly, kicking his chair back in anger.
"Speedy! Back off!" Green Arrow said sharply.
"I said, back off!" Green Arrow repeated. Speedy ducked his head, and in a fit of childish fury removed his hat and slammed it on the conference table. Nevertheless, he sat straight down.
The Flash spoke for the senior partners. "We'd like to thank you, Commissioner, and you Mr. Ryder, for releasing our youngsters to our custody." Robin noted with a twinge of longing that the Flash stood immediately behind his partner and nephew, Kid Flash, and affectionately held his shoulders.
"Believe me, Flash," Ryder replied coldly, "I do this against my better judgement. These kids have powers and abilities far beyond most people; they've shown me tonight that they lack the self-discipline to act responsibly. So, please pardon me for saying this, but first thing tomorrow, I'm filing a court order requesting--no *demanding* that as long as these young people are within the city limits of Gotham, they are to cease any super-hero activity."
"This is ridiculous--" Gordon interrupted. "Robin is one of the finest young men I've ever known!"
"Be that as it may," Ryder answered. "Tomorrow, I talk to the judge. Until then, Batman, and the rest of you heroes, your junior partners are considered persona non grata here in Gotham! Good-night." Ryder nodded curtly, spun on his heel and exited the room.
Robin stood dumbfounded. He couldn't believe it. This was bad for all of the Titans, but unlike him, they all lived in other towns. Gotham was his *home*, and Robin had just been told in no uncertain terms that he wasn't welcome here.
The long drive to the Batcave was punctuated with a forbidding, unbroken silence. Robin grew increasingly worried the nearer they got. Why didn't Batman *say* something? Robin admitted he'd screwed up royally. He'd wanted to report his findings to Batman as soon as he figured (incorrectly as it turned out) that the bank robbers were going to hit the James Street branch of Gotham National. Unfortunately, he'd allowed Speedy to badger him into handling the situation by themselves.
No! Robin gave himself a mental headshake. *He* was the leader; it had been *his* decision to give the go ahead. He wouldn't blame his poor judgement on someone else. He was ready to take whatever punishment Batman dished out.
So why didn't Batman *say* anything?
Robin opened his mouth a couple of times to apologize, but thought better of it. He'd already explained the Titans' actions (such as they were) to the GCPD and JLA. Batman already knew the whole story. It was *his* turn to speak.
As the Batmobile roared through the holographic cliffside that led to the Batcave, Robin began a series of calming, breathing exercises to help him mentally prepare for the worst. He didn't have long to wait.
When they emerged from the Batmobile, the Dynamic Duo stood and faced each other across the top of the vehicle's canopy. Robin's mindseye imagined an endlessly dark chasm separating them. He could actually *feel* Batman's cold fury, a gathering gloom that was slowly enveloping the Batcave. Batman methodically removed his cowl and instantaneously reverted back to billionaire industrialist Bruce Wayne.
Robin followed suit and took off his mask. His transformation was even more dramatic than Batman's had been. Whereas before, the self-assured, laughing daredevil known as Robin had been standing before Batman, the young vigilante was suddenly replaced by the exceptionally boyish face of Wayne's not quite yet fourteen-year-old ward and heir, Dick Grayson.
It took all of Dick's self-resolve to look his guardian in the eye. Wayne held his gaze for a long cold instant, then abruptly turned away and headed for the uniform vault. Dick remained behind for a few seconds, watching Wayne's retreating back in soundless despair.
Please say *some*thing, Bruce! Dick pleaded wordlessly. He closed his eyes and sighed to himself.
This was going to be even worse than the time Robin had set off after Clayface alone. He'd only been Robin for about three months and was under strict orders not to go out solo. Robin's confrontation with Clayface ended as expected--he was knocked out cold and thrown into Gotham Bay. If Batman hadn't intervened, his junior partner's career would've ended almost as soon as it began.
Robin wasn't allowed to come out and play again until almost three months of intensive retraining.
His head down, Dick followed Wayne to the uniform vault.
After they had changed into civilian clothing, Wayne, his back still turned to Dick, finally addressed him. "I need to investigate Ryder's threats about a court order against the Teen Titans; therefore, until I clear up this little mess, all Robin activities have to stop."
Wayne turned around and faced his stricken ward.
"Until further notice, Robin is off limits. You are confined to the following outside activities--school, library, and Sunday services. If you need to go to the library, you must first clear it with either Alfred or myself; otherwise, you are to come straight home from school."
Wayne paused to let it sink in.
"You will do your homework immediately, then do a three hour training session in the gym. After dinner, you will continue your forensics studies until nine o'clock. Monday and Tuesday evenings you will read from the textbooks; Wednesday and Thursday evenings you'll do the labs. I will give you a weekly exam on Friday before my evening patrol."
Dick winced mentally. Wayne's tests were tougher than anything he ever got in school.
"The hour between nine and ten p.m. is your personal time...confined to your room, of course...lights out at ten. Wake up will be the usual: oh-four-thirty...morning workout is from oh-four-forty-five until six. Then showers, breakfast, and school." Wayne steadily held Dick's eyes. "Do you have any questions?"
Dick swallowed, began to shake his head, no, then on second thought, nodded instead. "Ye-yes-s, s-sir." Dick managed to stutter. His voice had recently started to change, and whenever Dick became suddenly agitated, his voice cracked. "If--if Mister Ryder--uh--if Mister Ryder's charges are dropped, then--?"
Wayne nodded. "If the court order that Ryder threatened us with is dropped--then we'll discuss any future Robin activities at that time."
"Yessir," Dick whispered. "Bruce...what if--? What if the charges aren't dropped? What then? What happens to Robin?" What happens to *me*, he wanted to add.
"We'll cross that bridge when we have to. Go on upstairs, chum...shower and bed."
Dick nodded, his head down. Out of the corner of his eye, Dick saw Alfred, their butler, standing on the staircase in respectful silence. He knew that Alfred would never interfere between "Batman and Robin" business, but would in his own quiet way, provide his strength and support.
Unable to fall asleep immediately, Dick lay staring up at the ceiling. Sent to his room in disgrace! He hadn't felt this alone since the first night he'd spent here. His earlier conversation with Bruce kept echoing in his head:
"What if the charges aren't dropped?...What happens to Robin?"
"We'll cross that bridge when we have to..."
"What happens to Robin...?"
"We'll cross that bridge when we have to...."
Dick finally fell into a fitful sleep...
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