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we had to go on living

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All right. Try this,
Then. Every body
I know and care for,
And every body
Else is going
To die in a loneliness
I can't imagine and a pain
I don't know. We had
To go on living.

-Northern Pike, James Wright

It takes a while for things to settle down enough that he can slip away. Their mentors had wanted to take them home, but M'gann was still crying and shaking in turns and their presence seemed to help, and in the end Batman and Martian Manhunter both agreed that it was probably for the best that they all stay in the Cave overnight.

Dick hadn't wanted to. He couldn't be Dick here. He would have to be Robin the whole night, and Robin was the person who had just sent friends to their deaths, who had manipulated and betrayed their trust and let people die for the greater good because that was what a Bat did. But he wouldn't let his team down again so soon, so when Batman had asked if he was sure he'd said yes.

It was too much, though. The debriefing had been hard enough – he’d stared straight ahead as he made his report, the facts only. In the face of his teammates, still alive and warm so close, his reasons for allowing their deaths seemed meaningless and petty. There was nothing he could say that would excuse it. He couldn’t even look at them. But even once all the mentors had left, one by one and slowly, he felt claustrophobic, the constant guilt churning in his stomach seeming to close in around him as well. Artemis had spent most of the night training so far, and everyone kept crowding in to watch her or to see each other.

When they did wander, they would touch as they passed in the hallways - hands on shoulders, Kaldur's webs cool on his bare arms. He didn't understand how they could be okay touching him after what he’d done, and he couldn’t look at Conner or M’gann or Wally without remembering what he’d done. It wasn’t real, he tries to tell himself, but he knows that in all the ways that matter it was real. So the first moment that he thought he wouldn't be missed he fled. Not to his room, since that seemed too obvious. The roof was also a pretty obvious choice, so instead he headed for the library and the secret passageway, crawling into it and closing it firmly behind him.

Alone. Finally. He knew the odds were Batman was keeping tabs on them, but he didn't have cameras down the secret tunnel. He would know Robin had gone away by himself for a bit, but he wouldn't see Robin's shoulders shaking as he finally crumbled. He wouldn't see him curl in on himself, sobbing.

Perhaps predictably, it's Artemis who finds him half an hour later, curled up on his side and still shaking. In a rare moment of gentleness, she doesn't call out to the rest of the team yet but climbs in beside him and hesitantly places her hand on his back, rubbing in soothing circles.

"I'm sorry I died," she says eventually. He shakes his head.

"Wasn't that," he says. "You dying... hurt. It hurt so much. But I kept going anyways."

"That's a good thing, you know," Artemis says. "People die in this business. Not letting it break you - that's an important skill."

"And then Kaldur died and I took charge because - because no one else did."

"Still not seeing the bad here," Artemis says. "It sounds like out of everyone, you handled it the best."

"Stop being nice to me," Robin says. "I killed Conner. I knew he would die and I sent him to distract them anyways. I knew we weren't on a rescue mission and I let them all believe it. I manipulated them all and led us to our deaths. You should kick me off the team, I deserve it. I can't be trusted."

"You did your job," Kaldur says, and Robin looks up in surprise. Kaldur is standing just outside the entrance. "I knew I could count on you to do what had to be done if I was gone."

"We failed,” Robin says. “You all died and it was my fault.”

“Hey now,” Artemis says. “My death is entirely on my head. I knew when I made that run that there was a high chance I’d die but it would give you the time you needed. It was entirely my choice.”

“As was my death,” Kaldur says. “It was my choice to sacrifice my life so J’onn survived. Do not blame yourself for it.”

“Conner and Wally though – that’s all on me,” Robin says.

“It was a training exercise,” Kaldur says, and Robin punches the wall, suddenly so viciously angry at himself he can’t contain it. Artemis grabs his hand and pulls him into her arms.

“I would have done the same thing in real life,” Robin whispers, burying his face in her neck, and she nods.

“Shhh now,” she says softly. “Shhhh. It’s okay.”

“You did what had to be done,” Kaldur says. “Had I been given that choice, I hope I would have been able to do the same.”

“We’ll be okay,” Artemis says. “Everyone’s just a little bit shaken. Come on. M’gann’s been baking, and the cupcakes smell amazing. We’re going to frost them together.” Robin pulls away from her and shakes his head.

“I can’t,” he says. “I can’t go in there. You should all hate me.”

“Nobody hates you, nor should they, and we will be doing this as a team,” Kaldur says firmly. “And tomorrow afternoon we will all go to the beach, together. This is the end of the matter, Robin. If you continue to blame yourself, it will only cripple you. Guilt is an enemy.” He turns and walks out, and Artemis crawls out and offers him a hand.

“He’s right,” she says. “I wish you hadn’t had to make those choices, but if it had been real, and not a Kobayashi Maru – you would have saved the world. Connor and Wally, they would be okay with that. Now come on, because I really want a cupcake.”

He lets her help him out and comes with her quietly.

“I found the bird,” she announces as they walk into the kitchen. “Someone remind him that being a ninja when no one else on the team is is rude.”

“Rob, it’s rude to be a ninja,” Wally parrots, and when he looks up from his cupcake there’s no reproach in his eyes, just friendship and understanding.

“How will you decorate your cupcake?” M’gann says, and her smile is brave. She’s too horrified by her own actions to consider how horrible his were, he realizes, and he manages a smile back.

“Can’t I just eat it without frosting?” Conner asks M’gann, and she shakes her head and drifts the blue and red frosting over to him. Conner looks up and nods at Robin very seriously.

“Flowers, I guess,” Robin says, and picks up his cupcake.

+

He wakes up in the middle of the night, whimpering in loss, and lies still in the darkness for a long time, watching the red blink of the camera he knows Batman is watching through. Beside him on the pile of mattresses they’d thrown together on the cave floor Wally stirs and snorts, then says something about capacitators and flux. M’gann is curled into Conner’s arms, and he has fallen asleep with a smile. Kaldur is peaceful and quiet, but Robin can see the rise and fall of his chest.

On his other side Artemis punches him on the arm.

“Go back to sleep, bird-brain,” she mutters, still half asleep herself, and drapes an arm over him. “We’re all here.”

“Okay,” he says, and takes one last look around the room. “Okay.”