“How long has it been?”
He feels Nightwing turn his gaze to him, but he keeps his own white-lensed eyes ahead, body tense and aware for any foul movement in the shadows.
“What do you mean?”
Reluctantly, Robin looks to his partner and elaborates.
“How long has it been since he died?”
The expression that appears on Nightwing’s face, while he attempts to cloak it behind casual indifference, is one of guilt and remorse, immediate and intense. His muscled torso shifts, and he slumps forward slightly, no longer aware of the city they’re meant to be protecting. Now, he resides in the past, a time that did not include Robin. At least not this one.
He sighs heavily, and all of a sudden, his elder brother looks so much older and so, so tired.
“I don’t know.” He does. “A few years, I guess. It’s hard to really keep count.”
“It’ll be four years tomorrow.” Robin, this new Robin, knows the exact moment his predecessor breathed his last. “Batman’s been acting weird. Sad. Like he’s remembering what happened. Alfred, too.”
He looks again at Nightwing and holds his gaze unrelentingly. “And you.”
Another weighted sigh and his partner finally stands and takes out his grappling hook. He turns to Robin with a small smile that isn’t quite genuine. “Why don’t we call it a night, huh? I think Gotham’ll be alright ‘til the next patrol.”
Robin rises without a sound and wordlessly follows his brother back to their headquarters. Back home.
As soon as they enter the Batcave, the codenames fall away, along with the masks. They are no longer Nightwing and Robin, but Richard John Grayson and Timothy Jackson Drake, adopted sons of billionaire Bruce Wayne. However, not all of them are present. One of them is missing, has been missing for over three years.
Tim turns to Dick as they undress in the locker room. “Are you going to the cemetery tomorrow?”
“Yeah. You wanna come?”
Tim starts slightly. “Would you want me to? I know things like that are usually private. You, Bruce, and Alfred always go at different times.”
Dick smirks slightly. “Maybe that’s the problem. We’ve never actually dealt with this together, as a family, even though we’re mourning the same thing. It’d be a nice change to have someone with me.”
“…Yeah, I’d like to go. To pay my respects, at least.”
“I’m sure that would mean a lot. To all of us.”
Later that night, lying in bed, Tim analyzes the situation, as he’s prone to do when solving a ‘mystery’ of this caliber.
Jason Peter Todd. Former resident of Crime Alley and second Robin. Murdered by the Joker.
He died a hero. So why do Dick, Bruce, even Alfred, treat the subject like a plague?
Tim had studied the Dynamic Duo for years. He had personally witnessed the later years of Dick’s career, and the entire duration of Jason’s, however brief it had been. He had been one of the only people to note the less-than-obvious differences between the two Robins, like the brutality of Jason’s fighting style and the considerable tension that existed between him and Batman on the field. The revelation of Robin’s death had been debilitating, as Tim had lost his hero in that brief, yet endless moment. A few weeks later, he was experiencing his dream and meeting Batman face to face.
After officially moving into the infamous Wayne Manor, Tim had quickly become aware of the unspoken rules of the household and its secrets. Never enter the Batcave without permission from Bruce, Alfred, or Dick. Never bring fast food into the manor (“unless you want Alfred to skin you alive,” Dick had whispered and winked mischievously). And never, ever mention the name Jason Todd.
The name had the power of a cursed mantra. With its mere utterance came an immediate shift in mood. A cloud of sorrow would lower to the ground, and every disposition within hearing distance would resort to a solemn, grave countenance.
But why? Why can’t they remember him with fondness? Why does his very memory always have to leave such a negative impression? Even if his death was tragic, why does his entire life have to be remembered that way, too?
Just as his thoughts return full circle, he hears heavy footsteps pass by his bedroom door. One look at the clock (4:13 AM), and he knows them to belong to Bruce. It’s always around this period of the year that his mentor spends even more time on patrol than usual, and refuses any kind of assistance from either of his protégées.
Soon, Tim hears the quiet thud of a door closing and removes the comforter from his person. He walks to his door and peeks down the hallway, wary that Bruce might catch him out of bed. With the coast clear, he quickly tip-toes down the dark, shadowed hall and soon arrives at Dick’s quarters. He takes a breath before silently cracking the door open and cautiously checking for movement in the room.
He jumps as a dim light illuminates the large room, and Dick looks at him curiously, sitting up in bed while supported by his elbows. He appears to be completely awake, as if he’s having the same sleeping problem as his young counterpart.
Dick tilts his head. “You okay?”
Tim first thinks to lie and leave his brother to his well-deserved rest, but he knows Dick won’t believe him. Instead, he shakes his head and shuffles his feet on the floor, nervous about Dick’s reaction.
“…You want to come in and talk about it?”
Tim starts for the third time that night, but eventually nods. He shyly approaches a desk chair in the corner of the room, but Dick grins and shakes his head before scooting over and patting the space next to him.
As he sits, Tim decides not to waste time. “I heard Bruce come in a minute ago.”
“Me too. Late, as usual.”
Dick doesn’t respond.
“It’s because of Jason, isn’t it?”
A flinch, and Tim knows he’s hit home. “Why does this time of year always have to be so sad?”
Dick smiles softly and speaks, as if Tim is a young child asking about death for the first time.
“Timmy, you know why…”
“No, I don’t! I mean, he died a hero, a true Robin. Why can’t we remember him like that, instead of thinking of him as some helpless victim?”
Dick blinks at the boy for a moment, rather stunned at the passion of his statement. Finally, he lets out another small smile. “You’re right, Tim. He was a hero. No doubt about that.”
The boy stops his outburst and listens intently.
“I guess it’s just,” he begins, running a hand through disheveled strands of hair, “It’s hard to see him for just that, y’know? To Gotham, to children, to people who don’t know him, he was a hero, plain and simple. But to us…it’s different.”
Tim is confused, cautious of the tale he’s about to be told. “What do you mean?”
“Jason didn’t just die a hero, Tim. He was murdered, brutally murdered after being beaten within an inch of his life.” Dick closes his eyes, as if the image in front of him is too ghastly to face. “There was no mercy for him, no reprieve. He had to experience every painful moment until the end. With that in mind, even though I wasn’t witness to it myself, it’s kinda hard to think of him as only a hero, and not the little brother who died before his time, in such a horrible way.”
Tim’s blue eyes are wide. He’s never known Dick to be a pessimist. The man has always existed as the perpetual sunshine to Batman’s self-imposed isolation to darkness, more so now than ever. That’s the only way he knows his brother’s statements are pure, abyssmal truth. The thought wrenches his organs in a vice. “And Bruce…”
“Lost his son, right before his eyes. Bruce was powerless that day to help Jason. And he refuses to let himself forget. He refuses to forgive himself for something he could never control.”
The next morning at breakfast, Alfred announces that both Tim and Dick are excluded from patrol for the night. The boy, for the first time since his succession, doesn’t protest. For the first time since his meeting Bruce, neither does Dick. The solemnity that permeates the manor is more than enough to remind each of them of the day. Bruce is nowhere to be found.
Later in the day, Tim comes down the stairs in a dark, modest suit. Dick is waiting in the foyer with Alfred, with a bouquet of colorful flowers in hand.
“Here you are, Master Tim.” Alfred holds out another bouquet, the blooms just as beautiful as the ones in Dick’s hand. Soon, the young men are on their way to the cemetery. The journey isn’t as somber as it would be if taken alone, as Dick tells stories about Jason and his adventures with him. Despite the surprising lightheartedness of the moment and the enjoyment Tim experiences, there remains a kind of soberness to the stories.
“I just wish there had been more time to hang out and learn about him, you know? I wish I had made a greater effort to be there for him. God knows he needed it with Bruce being his main company, and Alfred the only buffer between them.”
“What stopped you?”
“The Titans, my troubles with Bruce, my replacement as Robin. All in all, a bunch of poor excuses that really had nothing to do with him.”
Dick looks to Tim and smiles sadly, the cobalt of his eyes filled with too many emotions to tally. “That’s why I always try to visit regularly. I don’t want to make the same mistakes. I don’t think Bruce does, either.”
Tim believes him. It took a number of months to convince Bruce to train him to be Robin, and another several months before he deemed him fit to take on Gotham’s underbelly. Even with Tim’s two years of experience, Bruce still watches him like a hawk. Now he understands why. What he originally concluded to be a lack of trust in his abilities is actually an overprotectiveness to shield this son from the fate of the previous.
The grave of Jason Todd is easy to find. Bruce had the tombstone custom made. Above the boy’s name rises a great stone angel, his face angled towards the sky. A silent guardian to protect the child that Batman could not.
After looking in slight awe at the gravesite of his predecessor, Tim tunes back in to witness Dick step forward, kneel, and place the flowers reverently against the tombstone. He turns to Tim and beckons him forward. Both bouquets are soon nestled on the gravestone, and both young men take a moment to silently reflect.
It’s nicer out here than I thought it would be. He raises his gaze to the tree branches above, and sees sunlight filtering through the bare branches and dappling on the ground below. Despite the season, mid-winter, it’s a surprisingly pleasant day, with the barest nip of cold air trailing over his cheeks and against his nose.
Despite the slight disquiet that originates from his naivety in such a situation, Tim feels a measure of peace in the moment. Here, with his two fellow Robins, he’s among kindred spirits.
Suddenly, he hears Dick chuckle. He looks at him questioningly.
“I’m just thinking, this is the quietest I’ve ever heard Jason.” He laughs again, slightly louder and more genuine. “He was never the most tranquil person. He hated the quiet, always needed to be doing something, whether it was punching around bad guys or giving Alfred, and the rest of us, one huge headache.”
Tim can’t help but grin at the idea. “He sounded great.”
Dick grins in return, a joyous expression that has been missing since the beginning of the week.
“He was. A whole lot of potential and a huge heart to match.”
Dick’s expression becomes contemplative, and he turns to put a muscled arm around Tim’s shoulders. “A lot like you, actually.”
A slight flush comes to Tim’s cheeks (he hasn’t yet learned to take compliments with any kind of grace) along with a soft smile that lights his youthful face.
It’s nice to think there’s a connection, a bond between the rebellious boy and himself that lives beyond the legacy of Robin, beyond the grave.
Tim looks back up to the celestial being and thinks of the brother he never received the chance to know. The brother that flew over the cityscape of Gotham before his wings were cruelly clipped by its demons.
But you’re watching over us, aren’t you? You have real wings now, and you’re making sure we stay together, as a family.
Dick lays a strong hand on the tombstone and rubs his thumb fondly across the engraved name.
“It’s been a blast, Jay. Hope you’re raising Hell up there.”
A gust of wind billows past, stirring up earth-toned leaves and interrupting the silence like a shout from the heavens.
As if there’s anything better to do in this dull place. Take it from me: ‘Rest in Peace’ is just nice way to say, ‘Hope your afterlife bores you out of your frickin’ MIND.’