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How Robins Spend their Birthdays

Chapter Text


How Robins Spend their Birthdays
______________________________
by Gmartinez

Chapter 1: Damian - A welcoming home

Usually, it’s the subtle shift in humidity that wakes me in the early hours of the morning. I’d stir with a thin film of sweat over my skin, and I’d know it was time for me to wake up and do my usual pre-dawn training. Either that, or it'd be an infuriatingly-timed bat signal. Recently, there have also been times when an urgent feeling in my groin would wake me up before the sun had even peeked out of the horizon. But today, it was none of those. It was my phone, and there was a single message on it.

Damian, Happy Birthday!” the text read. It was from Maya, my one-time partner in a grand adventure only a couple of years ago.

I just wanted to greet you before I forget. And don’t think I won’t keep on reminding you even if you don’t care for it. Get out and have some fun on your special day, okay? I wish I could give you a nice gift, but this view will have to do.

Below the message was a picture of a stunning sunset on some beach of indeterminate origin—the bright, mellow orange of the sun casting a hazy silhouette on the still waves. Amidst the backdrop was Maya, her dark, slender frame almost glowing from the oddly beautiful lighting. I savored the picture with a slight twitch of my lips as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes.

Maya…I wonder how she is doing these days. After our fight with the Lu’un Darga, I'd convinced her to leave the life of being a Nobody behind, and start anew as a normal girl. She'd protested, of course, but seeing her smile in the picture convinced me that it had been the right decision. She looked happy…beautiful, even. Well, I mean, she’s maturing very well. The dress really did suit her…shape.

I replied with a quick thank-you message as I raised myself from the bed. It was just then that my knees hit something very hard and very wooden that was apparently on top of me—I was lucky I didn’t make any more sudden movements, or the thing would have definitely fallen over. The…thing…was a breakfast tray, laden with a silver serving dish of eggs Benedict, French toast, and two pieces of pancakes. On a coaster beside it sat a steamy, frothy mug of cocoa. The sweet aroma filled my nose and dissipated whatever tiredness I had left in me. A single white card lay at the front of the handsome breakfast, and in it was a letter in the unmistakably impeccable penmanship of the best butler I have ever known.

Master Damian, as per your request, there is to be no fanfare today. However, allow me to at least ensure that you begin it as best as you can—with the breakfast menu you’ve been partial to since you first arrived here. Always, A.P.

Was this really the same breakfast that I'd had the first time I'd arrived at Wayne Manor? Alfred said so, and I’ve never had a reason to doubt him. And a mouthful of the eggs told me everything I needed to remember. It was this taste, this…comfort…it was the only thing that had given me hope back then that my stay in Gotham wouldn’t be as bad as I'd feared. Alfred’s cooking gave me the tiniest sliver of something to look forward to. And now, years later, the sensations his food evoked have remained just as poignant.

Considering that it was barely five in the morning, Alfred must have woken up at - what, three or four? - just to make this breakfast for me before I even woke up. As I gulped down the hot cocoa, I reminded myself to thank him later . The warmth seeped through my throat and spread to my whole body. This time, I let my smile widen. Alfred’s cooking always gave me a feeling of 'welcome'. And today, on my birthday, he reminded me how he will always give me that gift—the feeling that I am home.

After two greetings and two gestures that meant a lot more than I’d like to admit, I had to say it out loud.

“So…today is my birthday.”

I threw the covers completely off my body, trying to ignore how the rustling sheets gave me a peculiar tingle as they glided across my bare skin.

“So, Damian, now what?”

No one answered, of course. Well, no one human, anyway. Just outside my open window, a couple of robins began a slow but steady stream of chirps. I smiled inwardly—nature must have some sense of humor, sending actual robins to welcome Robin.

I sauntered over to the antique mirror in my room, compelled for some irrational reason to survey what physical changes I might have incurred now that I was officially a year older. It was a stupid urge, really. I knew fully well that physical change happens gradually and not overnight. I’m well-versed in all the aspects of human anatomy and physiology, so I shouldn’t have had any doubts.

Though if I were honest with myself, my studies had focused mainly on how to maim and incapacitate the human body with those scientific disciplines in mind. I'd never once just stopped to consider how a body grows. How a boy grows. How Damian Wayne grows…

I raised both my arms as high as I could reach, stretching out my shoulders in the process. I heard a satisfying pop in my joints as they loosened up, and I began stretching my arms and legs out in earnest, all the while staring at my naked form in the mirror. Why in the name of Batcow I was making faces as I did so was something that I didn’t really know for sure.

A my eyes roamed around my physique, I couldn’t help but grin to myself.

I am Robin, I thought, Son of Batman, the peak of human condition and straddling the limits of human physical potential…and I had just turned thirteen.

Still, it was only now that I fully appreciated just how much more defined my deltoids were, and how my biceps seemed to be more sculpted than before. My chest looked and felt firm - enough to withstand even the hardest of punches - and I couldn’t help but beat my fist on it, just to prove that it didn't hurt.

My hand then smoothly glided to my mid-section. Where it had once been just flat and taut, there were now the distinct forms of my abdominals. Running my hand across them felt good somehow…just rubbing my skin like that felt soothing, relaxing…among other things.

“Oh no. Not you, you traitorous whelp,” I muttered under my breath. The whelp had already won, however, as my hand almost naturally wrapped around the rigid mast of a recently-troublesome appendage—one that seemed to conspire against my well-being, and even sanity. I refuse to call it any names.

“How am I supposed to concentrate on fighting crime if I have to constantly worry about fighting you?” I asked it.

It didn’t reply, of course. Instead, it willed my hand to caress it some more, transforming my hesitant touch to a more sensual and willing stroke.

This biological distraction had been bothering me for quite some time now. While I was well aware of how it was supposed to be normal for boys my age, I still tried to avoid addressing its urges whenever I could. It’s dangerous to indulge it— as I’ve said, it was a traitor. Whenever it acted up, it made me increasingly uncomfortable while I was in costume as Robin and out on patrol. It hindered full use of my legs and my waist in my various acrobatic maneuvers as I zipped across rooftops. Worse, it addled my mind, taking my focus off the fight and giving me the incessant urge to just touch it…or rub it…I’m just very glad that no one had ever thought to question why I'd recently began favoring wrestling grapples and leg-locks in my most recent tussles with Gotham’s criminals.

“Ugh...well, if you must…” I conceded. I started off slow, letting my fingertips brush along the entire length, rubbing all around and over the flared red head. Then I gently grasped what was now the impossibly stiff pole, just letting my hand feel the subtle throbs deep inside it that followed my heartbeat. I just let my palm feel the particular warmth that only that part of me could ever produce. A shy grin formed on my lips as I realized that it felt fuller in my hand—bigger. At least one part of me definitely knew that I was growing up.

I am Robin, protector of Gotham, and there I was stroking myself in front of a mirror. It felt almost surreal to watch myself as small beads of sweat formed on my forehead. My hips began involuntarily bucking, my toes curled at random and even the lump in my throat made itself felt as I continued to aggressively pump my fist in that familiar fashion. I let the sensation wash over me as all of my major muscle groups tensed in concert with my…exertion. As my hand stroked upward, I spied the first tiny wisps of hair at the base of my shaft, and I couldn’t help but smile again.

Why was I smiling? Was I actually proud of my development? That was absurd. Why should I be proud of something that was supposed to happen anyway? Only regular teenagers would be so mundanely interested in the inevitable changes they’d experience during puberty. But not me. I’m Robin. I shouldn’t be interested because I knew all of this already.

But then again…right then I was staring at my naked self in the mirror. I wasn’t wearing my cape, or my red vest. There was no “R” pinned to my chest. I was staring at the naked visage of Damian Wayne, who had a normal—if sweaty and aroused—body not unlike any other regular boy. A boy, just like any other boy, who sometimes had to stoop to self-stimulation.

An increased feeling of urgency overtook me as my arm automatically increased its pace. Again, I wasn’t in control - it was in control. The urge…the need. It wanted more. It wanted whatever it wanted now. And as a sharp breath escaped my lips, it got everything it ever wanted. I didn’t even feel annoyed anymore. I just let the feeling happen. I guess sometimes, I can let myself feel like a regular boy. Even Robin can be a regular boy…and right then I was enjoying a profoundly pleasurable experience common to every boy in the world, regardless if they ever were a bird-inspired vigilante or not.

I let out a contented sigh as the sensation ended. I had to admit, it was good exercise…well, for one arm, anyway. I also made a mental note for myself: Give that mirror a thorough cleaning before anyone else notices.

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Chapter Text

 

 


How Robins Spend their Birthdays
______________________________
by Gmartinez

Chapter 2: Grayson - To Feel Safe

Chapter 2 of 6

 

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“Ah, Master Damian, good morning,” Alfred greeted me.


“Thanks. The same to you,” I replied. I’d just entered the main kitchen after freshening up, and I’d brought the food tray with me. Alfred seemed to be in high spirits when he saw the very empty tray. Admittedly, I think there may have also been a certain spring to my step that I normally would never have.


“Might I say, I hope you have a ha—“


“No! Alfred, don’t even think about it,” I interrupted with a smirk.


The old butler gave me a wry smile of his own, and then nodded. I really did appreciate how Alfred was always willing to accommodate the weirdest requests, despite his age. Dick had once said that Alfred was ‘game for anyone’s game’. I had to agree. I still remember the hilarious story he told me of how my father used to insist that Alfred affix the word “The” whenever he referred to Batman.

“I trust you enjoyed your breakfast?” Alfred asked.


“’Enjoyed’ would be criminally understating it,” I replied as nonchalantly as I could. “I would give my regards to the chef, but I’d have to arrest him for even daring to assume that I wouldn’t enjoy superb cooking like that.” I winked at Alfred, and I saw that he almost chuckled.


“Well, I’ll be sure to pass along the compliment.” He then asked, “Do you have any plans for the day? Your father is in the cave. It would do well to pay him a visit as I imagine he wants to greet you, too.”


“In that case, I think I won’t. Maybe I’ll go outside for the morning or…something,” I replied with a non-committal shrug. I didn’t want my father and I to go through the whole awkwardness of birthday greetings anyway. Though admittedly, I had no idea what to do otherwise.


“Very well,” Alfred said. “It’s natural to want to see if the world has changed along with you, now that you’re an entire year older.”


“I guess I do. I haven’t really thought about it like that.” I cocked my head at Alfred, because he’d made a very good point. He didn’t have any super powers, but he had this uncanny ability to know the right things to say.


“In that case, perhaps you’d like to visit Gotham Park?” Alfred asked as he retrieved a suitcase from a nearby table. “Master Richard is due to arrive there in an hour, and he requested that this be delivered to him.”


“Dick is in Gotham?” I asked excitedly. It had been a while since I’d last seen him. In fact, the last big mission that we’d gone on together had been the time a villain named Mother had threatened to transform all of the world’s children into ruthless killers. All of us Robins—Dick, Jason, Tim and I—had teamed up and defeated her. But that seemed so long ago now.


“Indeed,” Alfred replied as he handed me the case. “If you’re going to meet him, please do give him my regards, and ask him if he’s staying for dinner.”


“Okay.”


“And don’t be out too late. You wouldn’t want to deprive your father of the chance to spoil you today.”


I nodded as I dashed out of the kitchen as fast as I could.

 

 

***

Before I knew it, I was already at Gotham Park, scanning the throngs of running children, dawdling couples and chattering families strolling about.


There was something oddly calming about the park today. The clouds kept the worst of the heat at bay, while still letting a good amount of sunlight to pass through. The noise in the air was made up of laughter, stories, complaints, songs. I could easily remember times when the park had more of people screaming, and everywhere was on fire. In Gotham, that was every other Wednesday. But today, it seemed like the city had collectively agreed to not be crazy for just one day—this particular day, which just happened to be the day I turned thirteen.


“Well, look what the bat dragged out of the cave!” a voice called out. “Damian!”


“Richard,” I replied curtly as I stood up to address the newcomer.


The man in front of me was, objectively speaking, a sight to behold. Any other person would marvel at his handsome body—his impressive stature was proof of his physical prowess. A pair of crisp, black shades framed his sharp features, and his carefully-styled dark hair hardly moved despite the slight breeze. He wore a fitted shirt that showed off the sheer masculinity of his torso, and the sleeves were short, revealing his strong, firm arms in their entirety. Yes, Dick Grayson was one of the finest-looking men in the world. He was the first Robin, the gallant Nightwing, one-time Batman, and even a secret agent of Spyral. But none of that mattered to me. All that I saw in front of me…was my older brother.


After a brief time of pretending to size each other up, we both broke into a grin, then I rushed towards him and gave him a big, tight hug.


“I missed you!” I exclaimed as I rubbed my cheek on his chest.


“I know, kiddo. Me too,” Dick smiled. He gave me one last affectionate squeeze with his strong arms before letting me go.


“So if you’re back in Gotham, does that mean you quit Spyral again?” I asked with a playful smirk.

“Ordinarily, I’d be hurt that you think I’m bad at my job, but yeah, something like that,” Dick replied with a grin. He sat beside me on the bench as he continued. “There’s been…a change of management. I think I left Spyral in good hands.”


“So what do you plan to do now? Unemployment doesn’t suit you.”


“I have a few ideas.”


“There’s a burger place a couple of blocks from here that needs a new fry cook,” I suggested as nonchalantly as I could, though I wasn’t able to hide the sly grin on my face.


“I have something else in mind,” Dick replied as he elbowed me playfully. “Something less likely to give food poisoning to random people. Open the case.” He then gestured to the suitcase that Alfred had asked me to give him.


I flipped the locks and opened it carefully. I was glad that I didn’t open it all the way, because the case contained a sleek black chestpiece with the unmistakable symbol of a blue bird of prey in front. It was the iconic symbol of Nightwing.


I frowned at Dick and asked, “Nightwing? But didn’t you quit being Nightwing when the Crime Syndicate revealed your identity to the world?”


“Well, let’s just say I called in a few favors at Spyral. Sort of. They made sure that the name ‘Dick Grayson’ is now as unrecognizable as movie credits.”


“People these days watch all the credits to the end, you know,” I replied.


“Well…not in the kind of movies I like. See for yourself. Try searching for my name on the net.”


I took out my phone and did as Dick asked. Since the day that Dick’s identity had been revealed by villains, the world had gone crazy on the news, and searching Dick’s name would have given you at least fifty-two news articles saying the now-obvious fact that Nightwing was someone named Dick Grayson. But as I searched, it quickly became evident that there was a mysterious lack of any news about him whatsoever. The nearest match I found was the social media profile of a teenager in Australia, whose profile picture was less face and more…dick.


“Everything’s gone. It’s like the world forgot that you ever existed. How?” I asked incredulously.


Dick took a deep breath. “Long story. But basically I was possessed by a creepy Nazi scientist, who then used fancy technology to make the world forget about me, but I beat him back with the power of my imagination. My lady spy-friend also…did some adjustments to the tech so that my family doesn’t forget me, in the event that creepy Nazi scientists used it . Every trace of Dick Grayson is now completely erased, including people’s memories of me. Except for you, and Bruce and the people we know.”


“As absurd as that sounds, you make it seem like a regular desk job,” I said with a raised brow.


“Well, I was technically ‘at work’.” Dick smiled, and then gave me a serious look. “Speaking of forgetting, there’s one thing I’m pretty sure I won’t forget, however hard you try to not talk about it.”


“And that is?” I asked testily.


“Oh, little brother, you vastly underestimate the detective skills of the original Robin,” Dick began. He shook his head playfully as if he was enjoying teasing me. “Happy—“


“Okay, you’ve made your point! Don’t…!” I sulked as I gave Dick a terse warning.


“You’re not still on about that, are you?” Dick asked after a slight chuckle. “It’s already been a couple of years since you’ve been living with Bruce. Do you have to be like this every time it’s your birthday?”


“It doesn’t matter.” Instead of facing Dick, I chose to stare at a couple of boys playing catch. They were poor amateurs, and kept missing every other throw.


“I’m sure some people have already noticed, though,” Dick said matter-of-factly.


“Maya sent me a picture, and Alfred made me a good breakfast. That’s enough.”


“Don’t think that I don’t know what this is all about, Damian,” Dick began. His tone was gentle, as though he were an older brother teaching a sibling how to count. A lifetime ago, I would have considered it condescending and I’d be annoyed. But now, I actually appreciated it.


“What do you think is it about, exactly?” I asked.


“Being trained for most of your life by the League of Assassins, I’m betting they’re not so big on the whole concept of celebrating individual achievements and things like birthdays. You’re still not used to the idea of celebrating it. You don’t know what to feel, so it’s awkward for you to see everyone else making a big deal out of it, and you just don’t know what to do.”


“And…say I didn’t, what of it?” I could feel my face reddening, and that didn’t happen often. Dick knew how to hit my blind spots. “How does a Robin spend his birthday?”


“You’ve still got a lot to learn, little brother.”


“Such as?” I asked.

“You have to remember,” Dick began, “Robin isn’t just a superhero. There’s always a boy beneath the mask. The reason why Robin fights for the innocent is because the boy wearing the costume knows what it’s like to live like everyone else. A boy who has felt love, suffering, happiness and pain.


“You are Robin as much as you are a boy named Damian Wayne, and as Damian Wayne, you need to experience life just as everyone does every once in a while. Otherwise, if you can’t relate to the people you’re trying to protect, you start to lose the whole point of being a superhero. And that includes celebrating your birthday,” Dick finished as he briskly put his hand to my head and playfully messed it up, much to my chagrin.


“You love it when you get to lecture me, don’t you?” I asked with a knowing smile.


“Only because you know I’m always right.”


Dick led me back out of the park to where his ride was parked. He gestured to it with more than a bit of flourish. There sat a Harley Davidson Roadster, its chrome highlights glinting in the morning sun. He handed me a spare helmet as I climbed on, and a few seconds later, he started the engine, filling the air with a deafening, though oddly invigorating thrum.


“You might want to hold on to me, Damian,” Dick cautioned, as he guided my hands to his waist. I winced as my position placed my groin directly against Dick’s rear. I hoped with all my might that it didn’t trigger my ‘hard’ problem.


Another second later, we sped off.


Riding a motorcycle was nothing new for me. Sometimes on patrol, a chase would ensue, and I’d use the Robin Cycle for immediate pursuit. Riding it was nothing more than a necessity. There were no feelings involved. It was a bike, period. But right then, riding with Dick, it felt different. I actually felt something…enjoyable. He zipped and cut across traffic, overtaking trucks and buses, and every so often the tires would screech as he made tight turns. Just this time, I noticed the way the wind whipped at my cheeks, the sultry odor of car exhaust, the rhythm of the engine’s vibrations on my legs, and even the warmth of Dick’s body as I held onto him.


“You feeling good, Damian?” Dick asked with a backward glance at me.


I wondered why we he’d asked that so abruptly. Perhaps it was because the way I held onto him involve me tightly snuggling against his back? It…well, it wasn’t really like that, of course…I was just making sure I was securely fastened to my seat and it just felt…right.


Indeed, this simple bike ride was oddly satisfying. It felt almost personal. Every smell, every sound, every blur that passed us were like the parts of a stunning painting I’d never noticed was there. Maybe it was because of Dick. I couldn’t put into words how much I liked him being here, wanting me to see and feel all of this—to share his world with me. He was the one driving and in control, and I felt like there was nothing in the world that could ever worry me. This felt good, even relaxing. I didn’t used to care for little things like this, but all the time we were riding, I was just smiling.


And just like that, I’d realized what Dick had already noticed, and what I’d completely missed in a single moment of unguarded introspection.
I had a painfully obvious tent in my sweatpants.


Worse, I realized that I’ve had it for a while now, and that it was rubbing against Dick’s backside, like some insufferable ape intoxicated by pheromones and who had lost all sense self-control and decency.


I nearly choked on my tongue, and I struggled to find the words to apologize. Dick gave me a reassuring look, and for a couple of tense minutes, we continued our drive, with my hardness inadvertently rubbing against his backside.


We eventually stopped at a respectable-looking restaurant, which also doubled as a tavern. Dick got off the bike while I stayed firmly in place, still ashamed of my inability to control my urges. I felt a hand on my shoulder, though, and it guided me off the motorcycle and back to the ground. I couldn’t even look Dick in the face.


“I’m…I’m sorry. That was inappropriate and uncharacteristic of me, and I should’ve done a better of controlling myself,” I muttered to the ground.

“Dami…” Dick cooed, using a nickname he gave me for times when he wanted to seem doubly accommodating. It only made me more flustered. “It’s okay—really.”


“You’re not…bothered by it?”


“On the contrary, I’m relieved.” Dick stifled a laugh as he saw my deeply confused look. “I’m just glad that at least in some ways, you really are just a normal boy who gets a hard-on every now and then.”


“It’s not ‘every now and then’!” I exclaimed. “Lately, it’s been getting like this nearly every time! Not only that, it affects my ability to think and compromises my combat efficiency, among other things.”


“You’re at that age,” Dick said knowledgeably. “It happens to everyone, Damian. It happened to me when I was your age, too. I was jerking off every single night back then. I won’t ask, but I know you must do it too, and that’s okay. Nothing to be ashamed of. ”


“But…” I began nervously. “I got…hard…because I was rubbing up against you. And maybe because I was thinking about you too—but not in that way!” I added hastily. “But the fact remains that it’s acting up because of you.”

 

“Are you hot for your older bro?” Dick asked in jest—well, I hope it was in jest. He began flexing his muscles in front of me, and I couldn’t help but giggle like a child.
“Don’t let it go to your head, Dick,” I smirked.


“It’s kinda flattering,” Dick replied with a thoughtful look. “Look, Damian, I honestly and sincerely don’t mind. If you get hard and jerk off thinking about me, it’s okay. You’re my little brother, and there is nothing you can do that would ever be too awkward for me.”


I was still thinking—and getting embarrassed—about Dick assuming that I’d pleasure myself to his image. That’s why I didn’t expect it when Dick hugged me affectionately.
“Everything’s okay, Damian. With me, you don’t have to worry about anything.”


My cheeks flushed again. And as if that wasn’t enough, I suddenly felt an unusually warm and pleasurable feeling from my groin.
“Not even if this little guy gets excited because of me.”


“Dick!” I gasped. He was grasping my hardness through my sweatpants. Dick gave it a couple of strokes, and then finished by comically flicking it with his thumb and forefinger.


“Wow, Damian, looks like you’re growing quite well down there! Congrats, bro!” Dick said jovially, as if he hadn’t just groped my privacy almost to a sudden orgasm.


“Please don’t tease me like that.” My voice quivered in my effort to remain calm as I struggled with feeling more flustered than I have ever felt in my life.


Dick gave me a fond smile, and then put his arm around my shoulder, leading me toward the restaurant’s front door. “I know something that can take your mind off your dick.”


As we entered, Dick went to a nearby employee, a woman about his age that he seemed to be very familiar with. A few seemingly flirtatious words later, both Dick and I had frothy mugs of root beer.


“You ever played pool, Damian?” Dick asked after taking a swig from his own drink. He led me to one of the numerous pool tables that lined half of the restaurant.


“Not really. It’s not like I have time between patrols,” I replied.


“That, and you just never had anyone to play with,” Dick added. “Sometimes I forget that you never really had a normal childhood. When I was your age, I could do trick shots with one arm.”


“I can snap someone’s neck with one arm,” I pointed out.

“I don’t doubt that,” Dick laughed. He tossed me a cue and then readied the balls in a rack. He then gave me a brief overview about how the game supposedly worked.
“This game is insipid. You just poke a ball with a stick,” I complained.


“On the contrary, it’s a game of immense skill.” Dick suddenly sounded almost academic, though the slight curl in the corner of his lips meant he was joking—probably. “You have to carefully calculate the trajectory of the balls, keeping in mind the appropriate amount of force you must exert to maneuver correctly. You must also consider the angle of your attack…”


“Fine, whatever,” I said as I took my first shot. The balls scattered all around the table, most just rolling aimlessly and hitting each other.


Dick scoffed at my effort, and playfully shoved me aside. Then, with a look of intense concentration, he lined up a shot, hitting one of the balls with a solid and sharp snap, causing it to jump over a ball in front of it and causing another ball that it struck to land squarely in a corner pocket. He then blew across the tip of his cue like a cocky gunslinger as he winked at me.


“That…that was a trick. It has to be a trick,” I muttered in disbelief.


“Care to see it again?” Dick asked with a mischievous smile.


The game went as badly as I’d expected. If Dick’s intention had been to draw me in with his display of skill, he was successful. But try as I might, I still lacked the ability to emulate his dexterity with the pool cue. I managed to get two balls in, but they were more lucky shots than anything else. Dick, though, was on fire—metaphorically, at least. He hardly missed any of his shots, performing impossible ricochets, and at times consecutively going around the table as if everything was routine for him. He was so graceful, so calculating, so cool. It was almost like watching him traverse the rooftops as Nightwing.


“And that’s game,” he finally chuckled after downing the last ball. “Care to go again?”


“I lost,” I replied, sounding a little more disappointed than usual.


“Yeah, you did. That doesn’t mean you can’t go again. And again. As much as you want.”


“I guess I’m just not used to losing,” I admitted.


Dick came up to me and put an arm around my shoulder. “I know. But there’s always going to be times when you’ll lose at something. Sometimes we just need a chance to mess up without having to worry about anything. Just one moment where we can be vulnerable but feel safe—that even if you mess up, someone’s got your back and nothing bad is going to happen. Just keep playing, and lose or win, or whatever, with no one keeping count of the score.”

 

“Just like this…?” I asked as I leaned on his shoulder. I don’t know why, but I felt incredibly light, and my voice had inexplicably softened.


Dick gave me a warm smile. He pulled me closer for a hug, and then affectionately rubbed my back.


“Yeah. Just like this.”

 

 

****

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Chapter Text

 

 

 

How Robins Spend their Birthdays

______________________________

by Gmartinez

Chapter 3: Jason Todd - Robin's Purpose

 

 

 

 

 

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I landed silently on the rooftop of what must have been the seediest-looking building in the Narrows. It was hardly a challenge to find an unguarded opening, and sneak inside. This was a dive bar—a hive best described as half alcoholic poison and half potential criminal activity. Second-hand smoke filled the air as I stealthily surveyed its bedraggled patrons, all of them behaving like potential felons. Right then, I was Robin—I had my full combat gear on, and I could easily take down every single thug in this place if I had to. But that wasn’t why I was there.

I was meeting with family.

“You can shove your Batarangs and your scowl back inside your belt, Robin—you have no enemy here,” a voice called out from a nearby counter. Its owner didn’t even deign to look at me, and instead patted the stool next to him.

“I’m surprised you sensed me,” I replied testily.

“You really have to stop that whole ‘underestimating thing’, kid,” the man said as I took the seat he offered. “Don’t forget, I was Robin for longer than you’ve ever trained under the Bat.”

“Red Hood,” I replied with a nod, and rested my elbows on the counter.

Beside me was a man garbed in a brown leather jacket, with a black armor ensemble beneath. His arms sported plated guards with serrated blades, and his waist contained several holstered guns. Across his chest was the striking red silhouette of a bat, as crimson and iconic as the intimidating mask covering his whole head. He was Jason Todd, the second Robin, and now he was the slightly more violent vigilante Red Hood. He was Batman’s shadow, the one willing to do things for Gotham City that Batman couldn’t. Technically, he’s also my older brother.

“Robin,” Jason nodded back. “Don’t look so sour, now. Aren’t you happy your older bro called you up?” His usual sarcasm made for up the sneer that must have been behind his mask.

“I was already with Nightwing this morning. I was having a good day, too, then you called.” I couldn’t help but sigh as I began drumming my fingers on the counter in boredom.

“Don’t be like that, my littlest bro,” Jason taunted with a slight chuckle. “We should hang out more, considering that you and me share a bond no one else has. We’re the Robins who died in the line of duty.”

Jason’s mood seemed to shift as he finished, sounding more somber than I’ve ever seen him. I gave him a grim nod. A second later he returned to his usually sardonic self.

“Besides, I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to greet you ‘hap—“

Don’t…!” I warned.

“—py bir—“ I could just imagine Jason sporting an evil smile beneath his stupid red mask.

“I said don’t…!”

“Hahaha!” Jason chuckled in earnest as I struggled to prevent myself from kicking his face. “The look on your face…I swear, this was all worth it. You’re still upset about that, eh? You’re like this every year. You’ve barely changed, even now that you’re a year older.”

“It’s certainly no concern of yours, Red Hood,” I replied dismissively.

“You need to chill out, Robin.” Jason then called out to the barkeep. “Emíl! Two shots of single malt over here! Open the thirteen-year-old Bowmore we’ve been saving.”

“You want to take that out, boss?” asked the barkeep. “What’s the occasion?”

“This baby bird just turned thirteen,” Jason said. Then he abruptly—and roughly—pinched my cheek.

“Gah! Hood! Take your hands off me!” I reflexively wrenched his hand away. He was lucky I had enough self-control to not break his arm entirely.

“I’m sorry, Robin, I couldn’t help myself,” Jason said almost apologetically, though not without a hint of mockery. The bartender came back shortly after and placed two shot glasses in front of us. Jason took one and nodded at me.

“You don’t expect me to drink, do you?” I protested. “That’s illegal, Hood. I’m a minor.”

“No, you’re Robin,” Jason chuckled again. “Besides, who’s gonna tell on you? Emíl? Look around you, baby bro. These are my people—I own this place. I could tell them to all gather ’round and sing you ‘Happy Birthday’ while I take a video of your flustered face, and there’s not a damn that you can do about it.”

“Why are you doing this, Hood?” I asked sincerely as I took the shot glass and swirled the amber liquid inside it. “The last time we spent time together, I ended up naked and tied to a bed.”

“Oh that…that was a biology lesson! As I remember, you liked it very much.” I didn’t need to see Jason’s face to know that he was giving me a really mischievous look from beneath his mask.

I didn’t reply, and instead growled halfheartedly at him. It wasn’t that I was angry…no. It was because I didn’t want to admit that I had liked it…somehow.

My mind immediately went back to that day—I’d been on patrol with Jason when we’d taken down an illegal prostitution ring. He’d just made an asinine quip about wanting to take home one of the more vibrantly-colored and phallic…instruments…that we’d found at the scene. I’d made the mistake of asking how in the world it was ever going to be useful to him. To this day, I still don’t know why I’d let Jason lead me back to his hideout, and why it had been so easy for him to convince me to shed my clothing so that he could explain to me exactly how he was planning on using it—among other things that I’d involuntarily learned that night.

I willed the memory out of my head, but the damage was done. Just like that, my boyhood rose to the occasion once again, the prominent bulge marring the completely serious image of my Robin outfit.

“See what I mean?” Jason remarked as he nodded at my erection.

“Enough!” I grumbled. I tried to cover my shame with my hands, but the physical contact only made me feel even more aroused, adding to my embarrassment.

“Hey, if you ever wanted to have some fun again…” Jason’s voice trailed off suggestively.

“I’m Robin! I do not have fun!

“Except that you did, and you didn’t say ‘no’.” Jason guffawed in his mask before turning to face me again. “Anyway, to answer your question, I’m doing this simply for one reason. You’re my brother.” He then raised his shot glass and looked at me expectantly.

I gave him an exasperated sigh. Then, hesitantly, I brought the shot glass to my lips and gulped down the whiskey in a single breath. A fiery warmth rushed down my throat almost immediately, and I nearly gagged. The lingering heat of the alcohol permeated my nostrils as well as the inside of my mouth.

“That was awful!” I complained after gasping for breath. Jason laughed at me for a good five seconds before clapping me hard on the back.

“Congratulations, Robin! You’re a man now.”

“I’m telling Father.”

“Worth it.”

 

 

 

**********

 

 

 

The truth was, Jason wasn’t summoning me for a mere courtesy call. The whole point of us both being in our full superhero gear was that he was asking for my assistance in taking down a drug cartel that he’d been tracking—business associates of the villain Black Mask, he said. Not that I cared who they were working for—I would have happily joined Jason anyway. Beating on criminals was refreshingly familiar compared to everything else that I’ve been through today, and I welcomed the chance to just do something I’m used to.

“I’ve already finished recon on the inside,” Jason began. He pointed to the main warehouse below us, opposite the rooftop that we were perched on. “There’s at least ten of them there. Assault rifles and Kevlar vests, pretty low-grade compared to the more organized gangs. The shipment is a new mix of Venom. If we don’t stop it here, we might get a nasty visit from a certain someone from Santa Prisca later on.”

Bane.” I nodded. “What are we waiting for, then? They’re no match for us.” I readied my grapnel as I prepared to jump, but Jason put a hand on my shoulder and stopped me.

“Hold on, Damian. See that apartment?” He pointed to a ten-story building a couple of streets from the warehouse. “Check out the eighth floor. What do you see?”

I observed the floor in question for a few seconds before I saw what Jason meant. The sun was directly in front of us, putting my view against the light, but every so often I’d see an unmistakable glint flickering in one of the open windows. There was no mistaking it—a scope.

“A sniper. Probably accompanied by a spotter and a lookout on the lower floors,” I casually stated.

“Bingo,” Jason replied. “They have a full view of all the warehouse’s entry points. You deal with that sniper first. Approach from the side and enter through that balcony on the seventh floor, then take them out. Radio me the all-clear, then I’ll handle the warehouse. We’ll only have a few seconds before they notice something’s up, so we need to split up and attack simultaneously if we want the element of surprise.”

“Why do you always get the good part?” I protested, almost with a pout.

“Just because it’s your birthday, that doesn’t mean you get all of the sweet icing on top of the cake,” Jason replied, undoubtedly with a smirk beneath his mask.

“Fine. But we’re playing by my rules. Non-lethal only.”

“For the ‘birthday boy’? No problem. I’ve got rubber bullets loaded,” Jason replied as he patted his ammo belt. “Good hunting, Robin.”

I gave Jason one last grin before I unflinchingly let myself fall off the edge of the roof. The rushing wind lapped at my face as I fell, providing me with a highly-effective adrenaline burst that invigorated every muscle in my body. It was in moments like this—when I was at the whim of gravity’s pull—that I felt truly alive. Any normal man would fall and die if they jumped off a building. But I was no mere man—I was Robin. And Robins don’t fall.

Robins fly.

As Robin, landing a perfect shot on the rooftop of the adjacent building was almost instinctive. My fall became an arc as I swung towards the next building, and then to the next, getting nearer and nearer to my objective. At the apex of my swing, I jumped off and glided using my cape. Defying the laws of physics so blatantly while I glided put a wide smile on my face. I didn’t need super strength, or a green ring or the power of gods. In the air, I felt all the power I ever needed.

With tactical precision, I latched myself onto the side of the apartment building where the sniper lay in wait. I stealthily slipped into the balcony below them, and I was both surprised and relieved to find that there were no civilians there—at least I wouldn’t have to worry about collateral damage. I quietly climbed the stairs and arrived at the door of the flat that the thugs were hiding in. I took a few smoke pellets from my utility belt, and then took a deep breath.

If anyone asked me to sum up crime-fighting in a single word, I’d say it was a ‘process’. I mentally calculated ten steps ahead at all times, anticipating every move that my opponents would make and every move that I’d respond with. Fighting was fluid and methodical for me, what with my training under the League of Assassins and Batman.

The way that the door was blasted off its hinges by miniature explosive Batarangs was a calculated move—the shrapnel would cause the sniper and his spotter to scatter and shield themselves. The way that I lobbed the smoke pellets into the room not a second later was a precisely planned step—they exploded and covered the room in gray smoke, disorienting and obfuscating their vision. I ticked off a mental checklist as I moved on to the next phase—leaping at the main gunner in a single bound, my vision unaffected as I switched on my mask’s thermal imaging. The rest was a straightforward game of observation and reaction.

Observation: the sniper’s arms were shielding his head. Reaction: punch to the gut, and then as he doubled over, a knee to his jaw.

Observation: movement behind me, where the accomplice was swinging blind. Reaction: quickly roll to the side, sweep at his feet and then punch his throat while he’s down.

Observation: the gunner recovers, coughs because of the smoke, and swings with a knife he’d just taken out. Reaction: grab his knife hand, twist and dislocate to disarm, and then grab his arm like a lever to throw him over my shoulder.

Observation: the accomplice stirs, gurgling out a threat from the floor and pulling out a pistol. Reaction: kick the pistol away from his hand, then clamp my fingers around his carotid artery until he passed out.

All in all, incapacitating the gunner and the spotter had taken me one minute and thirty-one seconds. The smoke was just beginning to clear, and I rubbed my hands together triumphantly as I surveyed the two unmoving forms of the men I’d just overpowered. I was still anxious for a fight worthy of my time, though.

“Hood, you’ve got the green light.”

“Copy that, Robin. The Red Hood is going shopping.”

I was just about to give a witty retort when I heard loud footsteps running toward the room I was in. Moments later, another one of the thugs appeared on the doorway, his shaking hand aiming a small handgun at me. It was unmistakably the lookout that I’d guessed was guarding the lower floors. He took a nervous glance at the two unconscious men behind me and gulped. I cracked my knuckles in response, that satisfying pop in my joints the only sound between us.

“You’re going to fight me? This is ludicrous,” I said as I shook my head. In the blink of an eye, I pounced.

Dodging gunfire isn’t as hard as it looks. Bullets have a fixed, straight trajectory depending on where the barrel is pointed. Dodging is simply a matter of focusing on where the barrel was aimed, and making sure you were anywhere but there when you heard the gunshot. It was easy for a Robin. Getting shot at was usually a sign that I was doing things right. The lookout got two shots in before I closed the distance, head-butted his face, and then slammed him to the wall. His gun fell to the wooden floor with a clatter.

It was then that I noticed something quite odd about my new assailant, aside from the fact that he was halfway to soiling himself in fear. This ‘thug’ looked much too young to be a career criminal. He was only a teenager. I hesitated to land a finishing blow, partly because of his apparent age, but mostly because of the terror in his face.

“Hood, how’s shopping going for you? Need me to carry your bags?” I asked through the transceiver in my mask. I heard a couple of explosions going off in the warehouse, and I wondered why Jason was taking so long to reply. Meanwhile I held my grip tight on the kid’s collar while still pinning him to the wall. Blood was dripping from his nose, probably from that head-butt I’d given him earlier.

“What, and be seen with a kid like you? Please. If anyone saw a child helping the Red Hood, my street rep would be ruined. No, I’m fine here. Just complaining about the horrible customer service.” The rest of his transmission was filled with angry shouts and gunfire.

“I’ve got one last loose end to take care of and then maybe I’ll do your job for you,” I teased. “The last thug here is just a kid. Disappointing, really. He looks like he’s only a couple of years older than me.”

“What do you plan to do?” Jason asked, suddenly sounding quite serious.

“Like what I did to his accomplices, obviously. I’ll be there in a bit.”

“Negative, Robin,” Jason replied, all trace of humor gone. “Clear out and take the kid home.”

“What foolishness is this, Red Hood?” I asked, my irritation mounting.

“You heard me. Take. The kid. Home.” Jason’s transmission was peppered with more gunfire and explosions, but his words were calm and deadly serious.

“Don’t be absurd.”

“Damian, tell me, what is Batman supposed to be in Gotham? What is Robin supposed to be?”

I thought longer than I thought I would have. It sounded like a trick question. I was about to berate him for getting rhetorical on me right then when it really wasn’t the best time, but he’d sounded like he meant every word.

“Robin…is the protector of Gotham.”

“Then protect Gotham, right now. Starting with the kid.”

 

 

 

 

**********

 

 

 

Jason turned off his transceiver without another word, and I stood there for a couple of seconds in complete bewilderment. What exactly was he scheming? I shot a withering look at the sniveling teenager, his body crumpled to the floor as he recoiled from my presence. But as I looked down at him, I couldn’t help but sigh and drop my menacing scowl. I couldn’t bring myself to look intimidating to someone so pitiful.

“P-please…don’t kill me,” the teenager whimpered. I cocked my head at him in confusion, and his eyes roamed over the bodies of his fallen conspirators.

“Oh, them?” I replied. I walked over to the motionless thugs and kicked one of them in the ribs. He yelled in pain before he resumed his reticence. “See, they’re not dead. They’re just indefinitely incapacitated.”

Looking somewhat relieved, he then asked me in a squeaky voice, “W-what are you gonna do about me?”

“I’m taking you home.”

I stretched out my hand expectantly. It took him a while, but he gingerly grasped it, and then I pulled him to his feet. He was a few inches taller than me, with a lanky and somehow awkward look about him. His brown hair was a wiry, greasy mess. His face was grimy with dust, tears and mucus from the scare that I must have given him. Wordlessly, I bid him to follow me out of the apartment.

Minutes later, we were riding the Robin Cycle, with the teen behind me looking confused about this day’s turn of events. I intentionally drove slower than usual so that I got a better chance to talk to him. I still wanted to find out why Jason had been so adamant that I take this boy home.

“So, what’s your name?”

“René…”

“That’s French,” I replied thoughtfully. “A name that means rebirth. Did you know that?”

“No. The only thing I know is that it’s the name my mother gave me before she left. I grew up in Gotham with my father.”

“And where is your father?”

“Batman put him in jail.”

I gritted my teeth. An abstract feeling of guilt pooled at the pit of my stomach. It was a feeling that I rarely had.

“Do you hate Batman?” I asked. “I don’t mind if you do. Just because I’m Robin doesn’t mean I won’t let you speak your mind.”

“Maybe? I don’t know. My father ran with Black Mask. I know the things that they do so maybe he deserved it. Batman…he just does what people wanted him to do. You too.”

“That’s a very open-minded way of looking at things,” I said uncomfortably. Our conversation was becoming somewhat awkward for me, but I was relieved that he didn’t hold any grudges. “Why did you join that gang, then? Why follow your father’s footsteps?”

“I had no money. I went to my father’s friends and they said they would help me if I helped them. This is only my second time joining them. I’m sorry I shot at you,” René said unsteadily, as though he was afraid I’d hit him.

“I’m used to it.”

We arrived at the address he’d given me. René’s house was at the very end of a sorry-looking street, with houses so dilapidated that some of them had holes in the walls, while some had roofs so broken-down that half the tiles were missing. The entire neighborhood was framed against a depressing backdrop of old factories and abandoned warehouses.

“So…you’re home. You’ll want to avoid playing the accomplice to thugs like that, if you know what’s good for you,” I said rather lamely. I was beginning to wish that I had Dick’s charisma right then, because I think what I’d said just had hurt René more.

“Home? No…this is just a house. There’s nothing for me here. I don’t have money, and I dropped out of school because I couldn’t afford it. I don’t know what to do,” René said dejectedly. He climbed off and stood at what served as the house’s porch. “I’m sorry, Robin. For people like me, sometimes there’s no other way to live except the way my father took.”

“René,” I began. I was somewhat at a loss, because my job as Robin didn’t usually involve talking this much to people. “You always have a choice. You can decide to be something better. You wouldn’t want to be a criminal all your life, would you?

“Only people with money have that choice, Robin.”

Some people need only one opportunity to turn their lives around. What if you had that?” I asked insistently.

“Then I would be anywhere but here,” he vowed defiantly. “If I had that chance, I’d make a name for myself, something honest. But…I guess even chance isn’t free.”

As Robin, I bring justice to the streets of Gotham. I punch, kick, and beat criminals to submission to protect the innocent. But right then I was finding myself locked in a fierce battle that I couldn’t punch or kick away. I was in a battle for Gotham’s soul, beginning with René. I felt like my entire reason for being Robin hinged on me convincing him to leave the life of crime. Just then, I heard my own voice in my head, the same assertion that I’d given Red Hood only an hour ago.

Robin is the protector of Gotham.”

And Jason had replied, “Start with the kid.”

Piece by piece, the words that I needed filled my head, and a smile crept onto my face. If I wanted to really protect Gotham, then fighting criminals wouldn’t be a permanent solution. What I needed was something more…profound. An idea—a symbol. Batman operated from the shadows to do just that. Originally, he’d symbolized fear—the fear that criminals would have felt as he took them down one by one. But eventually, after years of deterring crime, Batman had come to symbolize something more.

Batman had become the symbol of Gotham. He now signified the city’s unwillingness to succumb—the city’s drive to rise up and protect itself. Batman was every man and woman who followed the streetlights, every child who wanted to grow up to be doctors and firemen and everything else that they dreamed of. Batman was everyone’s hopes for a better life. And what was Robin?

Not entirely by coincidence, I glanced at a half-broken patch of the sidewalk a few feet from where René was standing. There was some sort of blemish there—a marking really—that inexplicably drew my attention as if it was nagging at my subconscious. I squinted at it and realized that it was a chalk drawing of the exact same ‘R’ insignia on my costume—the symbol of Robin. I smirked as the whole mystery of this mission revealed itself to me. I knew what I had to do for René.

“René, do you want to know a secret that only superheroes know?” I asked confidently.

“What’s that?” he asked, his voice perking up with a hint of excitement.

“It doesn’t matter if Batman and I beat up a hundred criminals. Crime will never stop. But if we could just show one person that Gotham is worth believing in—worth fighting for—that’s worth a thousand criminals in jail any day.”

René just looked at me wordlessly, but I could tell that he was mulling over what I’d just said. I continued, knowing that I had his undivided attention. “I fight because one day I hope Gotham will no longer need Batman, because the people themselves have decided to make the change they want.

“Robin,” I continued, pointing to the ‘R’ insignia on my chest, “is not just me. Robin is every kid who ever believed that Gotham could be a place they’d be proud to live in. Robin is every kid who believes he can be better—to be someone you can trust and someone you can believe in. Robin is every kid who believes that he can be part of the change.

“I look at you and I know we’re the same.” I looked René straight in the eye. “ We are Robin.”

He gave me what I could only describe as an awed look. Then, with an expression of complete understanding, he nodded.

I fished out one of my other communicators from my utility belt and handed it to him. He took it with a bewildered look, and then raised his eyebrow at me.

“Take it. You have your battles to fight, but you don’t have to do it alone,” I said. “Like I said, I’m not the only Robin. There are many of us. We’ll be calling on you soon. We can help you.”

“I…I don’t know how I can thank you.”

“Then don’t. Just remember, when things hit a low point, Robins don’t fall. Robins fly.”

 

 

 

 

**********

 

 

 

“Another one,” I muttered to myself. My eyes locked onto another Robin insignia, this time on a section of a wall surrounding an abandoned church. Since I’d left René, I’ve been finding these insignias along a set path leading from his house. They would have looked nondescript to anyone else—the little ‘R’s were only as large as my palm—but anyone who knew what they meant would definitely recognize them. They were path markers, and they wanted to lead me somewhere.

It was obvious who had drawn them, of course. As I’d mentioned to René, there was a particular group of teenagers that had decided they were going to help bring about change in the city. They’d taken inspiration from Robin, the heroic persona of several youths—including myself—who’d served as Batman’s partner in protecting Gotham. Their battle cry was…’We are Robin.’ Since then, this group of Robins has done their part to keep the city safe in their own way, at times even helping Batman and the actual Robins, like myself.

I used to think that they were pretenders unworthy to invoke the name of Robin. But after fighting alongside them during the so-called ‘Robin War’, I’ve come to greatly respect them. The communicator I’d given René was specifically tuned-in to the frequency that the Robins used. He’d fit in well with them. I would also personally ensure that later tonight, he was going to get a call from the Wayne Foundation Scholarship Fund.

Another insignia caught my eye—it was painted on a faded flyer that clung to a wooden electrical post. A member of the Robins must have drawn these marks recently, since the paint was barely dry. I knew that Jason had been giving them formal combat training, so it was no mystery who’d put them up to this. In fact, I already knew that everything that had these past few hours—from the moment that I’d met with Jason in that dingy bar—was an elaborate setup.

I kept following the path markers until they led me to a house that looked like it had been abandoned for years. I discerned a faint light coming from inside it—an ambush or a welcoming committee? I ran toward it and opened the door, expecting to see the members of the Robins that had drawn the path markers.

I didn’t see anyone inside the house. Instead, I was greeted by a very detailed painting on what once must have been a bare wooden wall. The painting depicted teenagers in various outfits all running toward a point beyond the painting’s borders. Their clothing all shared prominent shades of red, yellow, and green, and all of them bore the Robin insignia. Front and center—as if leading the group—were Dick, Jason, Drake and myself, all in our full superhero combat gear.

I couldn’t help but smile at the painting. It had the distinct street-graffiti style that the members of the Robins preferred. It was beautiful.

But the centerpiece of the scene before me was on a table slightly to the painting’s left. It seemed to be one of the only sources of light in the dimly-lit room, and the one that drew my attention from the outside.

It was a cake. It had the number ‘13’ drawn in icing at the top, and had thirteen lit candles lining the circumference.

So…this was the culmination of Jason’s scheme, huh?

From the moment that he’d called me earlier today, his plan had already been set in motion. He’d already known about the gang exporting Venom, probably weeks in advance. He’d already known about René and had scouted him as a potential member of the Robins. He’d planned for me to meet the boy by sending me to take down the snipers—making sure that I would enter from the balcony so that I would meet René last.

He’d wanted me to talk to the kid and figure out on my own how to turn him from a life of delinquency. Jason had already determined where René lived, and had sent the Robins to draw those path markers for me only hours before I’d arrived. He’d specifically wanted me to take René home so that I’d see the markers, making me think about having René join the Robins, and afterwards following the path they’d marked, leading to this house.

Jason had planned all of this just so that I’d save René, and end up in a shack with a cake and a painting full of Robins.

It was the most elaborate birthday greeting that I’d ever had.

“Jason,” I said to no one in particular. “You’re all right.”

I took off my mask and blew out the candles. I guess even a Robin can enjoy a cake on his birthday.

 

 

 

**********