It was supposed to be a simple mission, but wasn’t it always suppose to be a simple mission?
That's about what was going through the team's heads as they dragged an unconscious Robin out of the witch’s lair.
The League had detected an unusual amount of magical activity in London and sent the team to investigate. Instead of finding some random magic user messing around with some ritual they weren't supposed to, it had been a trap set by the witch Morgaine, because again, none of their missions are that simple.
Everyone on the team had been fairly terrified when they saw Robin pass out for no apparent reason mid-battle with Morgaine‘s demons. Once a magic circle blazed to life around him the team's priorities shifted from ‘stop Morgaine’s plans’ to ‘get our friend out of here.’ After finally getting away from the demons Zatanna got to work identifying what had happened.
After a couple of minutes, Wally stopped his pacing and turned to Zatanna, "Do you know what she did yet?"
Artemis smacked his arm, "That's the third time you've asked since she started Baywatch! Maybe if you shut up she could actually work."
“Actually,” said Zatanna, removing her hand for Robin’s forehead, "I think I know what she did to him."
Wally instantly perked up, "Thats great! What's going on? How do we-"
"Kid Flash," Kaldur cut him off by putting his hand on Wally's shoulder, "Let her speak."
Everyone turned their attention back to Zatanna, she glanced back at Robin's sleeping form and crossed her arms, "The ritual Morgaine was performing needed a very specific power source, the soul of a hero."
M'gann gasped, her eyes wide and full of worry as Artemis looked over her friend, checking for anything irregular. Conner grit his teeth, he felt the growing urge to punch that witch, hard.
"That's why she lured us here." Zatanna continued, her frustration becoming clear, "The trap was set up so that the first hero to cross within the limits of her ritual circle fell under the spell, it was so simple! I should have-"
"This is not your fault Zatanna. This is no one's fault but Morgaine’s." Kaldur interjected, trying to calm her down, "Can you break the spell?"
Zatanna took a deep breath before she spoke again, "That's the complicated part, the only person who can break the spell is its victim. But to keep them.....docile while she drains their energy, the spell traps its victims in a fantasy created from their deepest desire. That way they don't fight back." Wally felt his stomach drop.
“What doesn't make sense is how strong the spell's hold on him is. We haven’t even been to his fantasy yet and I can already tell it’s much more powerful than it should be, even with Morgaine as the castor.”
“What do you mean go to his fantasy?” asked Wally, almost desperately, “Can’t you or Miss M send Rob a message or something to wake him up?”
Zatanna shook her head, “If we interfere from the outside it could cause some serious damage to Robin’s consciousness. Even magical or telepathic interference while inside the fantasy is highly dangerous. If we want to free Robin we have to go to his fantasy and convince him to wake up.”
M’gann looked curiously at the unconscious form of their friend, he had the strongest mental blocks of anyone on their team yet the spell was affecting him far more strongly than it should. It didn’t sit well with her.
Next to her, Wally shifted nervously, “Since we got him out of that magic circle thing won’t he be safe from the soul-sucking part of the spell and we can just wait it out?”
“I’m afraid not, the ritual circle served only as an activation switch, the longer he’s under the spell’s influence the more energy is drained from him. I don’t know how long until…” she trailed off but everyone understood what she meant. Wally looked pale.
“Then we have no time to lose.” Kaldur told the team, “We will have to be careful. We do not know how he will react to our presence in his fantasy.” They all joined hands and Zatanna began chanting the incantation to get them all safely to Robin’s fantasy. “Now let us help our friend.”
There was a flash of white and their surroundings were completely different. The team quickly looked around to take in their new location. They were in a large red tent, lights flashed around them as they stood at the center of the ring. A trapeze set up above them.
“A circus?” asked Zatanna.
“I think we’ve been here before.” answered Artemis as she glanced at some of the posters strewn about, “Yeah, Haley’s circus, we had a mission here once.”
Before anyone could comment they heard loud laughter above them. Three figures were flying through the air on the trapeze. One man, one woman, and one boy, their costumes a familiar red, green, and yellow. The trio moved through the air with remarkable skill, cheering and laughing as they flew from bar to bar like they were having the time of their lives.
Wally felt his stomach twist into knots. He let out a sigh before gesturing for his friends to follow him. “We need to get up to one of those platforms.”
“Why do we need to go up there?” asked Conner.
“Do you want to get Robin or not?” The speedster’s sudden anger shocked the rest of the team. Wally rarely ever snapped and Conner had asked a valid question. Why was he acting like this? Artemis was about to snap back but Wally had already begun climbing up the ladder to the nearest platform. With a huff, she followed him.
As they reached the top, the team looked back at the acrobats. M’gann turned to the others, “Should I go and talk to them?”
Wally shook his head, “He’d have noticed us by now. We just have to wait for him to come over.” Anxiety and sadness radiated of Wally in waves, and M’gann got the feeling the others could sense it too even without telepathy.
About a minute later the boy flipped onto the platform next to them. He bowed deeply before looking up at the group of heroes. His hair was stuck to his forehead from sweat but his blue eyes sparkled with joy, a cheerful smile was in place of his signature smirk. It struck Kaldur how different Robin looked, he doubted it was just the lack of mask or sunglasses.
“I appreciate you coming to see us but we don’t really let people watch our practices, or let them onto the platforms.”
“Wait a second…” Artemis took a step closer to the boy, her eyes narrowed and voice full of disbelief, “You’re Dick Grayson.”
Wally flinched but Robin, or rather Dick, just laughed. It wasn’t his usual cackle, just a genuine laugh. “Well, yeah! Who else would I be?”
They all looked at each other. Something was very wrong here. Robin was always extremely protective of his identity, he would never just give it away like this. Zatanna looked back at her friend, “Don’t….Don’t you recognize us?”
His brow furrowed in confusion, “Should I? Are you in that new act Grampa Haley was talking about?”
Now they were really starting to panic. Zatanna had explained the spell might mess with Robin’s memories a bit so the fantasy felt more real, but this was on a whole other level. “We’re your friends,” answered M’gann, trying to keep her voice steady.
“I think I’d remember meeting a green floating lady.”
“We work on a team for young heroes together. You are Batman’s protege,” Kaldur chimed in, trying to jog his memory.
Dick took a step back, suspicion creeping into his eyes, “I don’t know what you’re trying to pull here but I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
Superboy looked at him in confusion, “You must remember something Robin?”
Dick whipped around to face Conner, alarm clearly written on his features, “How do you know that name? No one outside of the circus knows that name.”
“It’s your superhero name.” For the first time since Dick had landed on the platform, Wally spoke up. “You chose it to honor them.”
“Honor who?” the hostility hadn’t left his voice.
Wally met his friend's gaze, his eyes watery, “I think you know who Dick.” the team barely heard Wally his voice was so quiet. Dread began to curl in their stomachs. What was Wally talking about?
Dick understood at least slightly, “I don’t need to honor anyone!”
The pieces all clicked into place inside Artemis’ brain. She remembered exactly how Dick Grayson came to be adopted by Bruce Wayne. She grit her teeth and turned away, this wasn’t something she wanted to watch.
Wally ignored the shouting coming from his friend and continued, “You told me you became a vigilante because you didn’t want anyone else to suffer like you did. The name is both a reminder of that mission and your way of keeping them close.”
“But I don’t need to do anything to honor my parents or keep them close. I don’t need a reminder! My parents are right over there!” Zatanna sharply took in a breath, and M’gann covered her mouth. Kaldur looked at the to acrobats still flying through the air with sad eyes, and Connor had bent the metal ladder with how tight he was holding onto it. They were all too shocked to do anything.
Wally had tears rolling down his face, “No they aren’t Dick.”
Dick took a few more steps back, his eyes never leaving Wally, “I...I need to get back to practice.” Dick moved to jump off the platform but Wally grabbed his arm before he could. “Let me go!”
“No! I’m not leaving you here to die!” Dick didn’t stop struggling and for the first time since they got there, Wally was glad Robin didn’t remember his time with Batman. “I’m sorry you lost them but staying here won’t bring them back!”
“Stop lying to me! My parents didn’t fall!”
“Robin….” Zatanna’s voice made the two pause, the pair had forgotten they had an audience, “Wally never said anything about your parents falling.”
It was easy to forget that Robin was the youngest on the team since he was the most experienced. After a while, it slips your mind that the kid who can take down pretty much anyone on the team during sparring matches and can hack into the most secure government files is only 13. But in that moment, it was glaringly obvious just how young the boy actually was. Dick’s knees buckled and he started crying, muttering how it couldn’t be true, how his parents were the best acrobats in the world, they would never fall, it just wasn’t possible, his usually graceful movements a shaky mess. Wally wrapped his arms around his friend. First Dick tried to push him off but soon clung to him like a lifeline. Still choking out denials in between sobs.
The others had no idea what to do, even in the most desperate of times Robin always held it together. Seeing him break down like this felt….wrong. Kaldur tried to say something to help calm everyone down, but the words dried up in his throat. It struck Conner how small his friend was. He’d always been aware of this to some degree, but looking at him now he looked tiny, fragile. Zatanna was crying almost as hard as Dick was. So this was why the spell was affecting him so much. The spell was feeding on his grief and pain, strengthening its hold on him and pulling him deeper into the illusion. Waking up from it would be like reliving the event that hurt him to begin with. No wonder he was fighting so hard to stay. Artemis tried to shut out Dick's voice, they needed to do this, no matter what he said they needed to get him out of this horrible illusion. M’gann was completely overwhelmed by her friend’s pain. Compared to this, Wally’s emotion’s earlier were peaceful. There was so much sorrow and loss and anger. She could barely recognize the emotions as Robin’s they were so strong. Not being able to stand it any longer, M’gann flew over and hugged him as tightly as she could. Zatanna wrapped her arms around him next. Soon Kaldur joined followed by Artemis. Finally, Conner walked over too, his arms not fitting all the way around the group.
“Listen,” Artemis spoke more gently than any of them had heard before, “They’re gone. I know it hurts and you want them back but you need to wake up or you’ll be gone too.”
“You are not alone my friend.” Kaldur spoke up, finally finding his words, “There are many who would miss you as much as you miss your parents if you were to stay.”
“You’re strong Robin,” Conner pulled his friends a little closer, “You can get through this.”
“But you don’t have to go through it alone.” M’gann wiped some of the tears off his face, “It’s painful to move on but we’re here to help you.”
“And leaving here doesn’t mean you’ve abandoned them,” a soft smile spread across Zatanna’s face, “They’re always going to be a part of you, no matter what.”
“My parents wouldn’t fall. They’re too good to do that.” Dick wasn’t even sure who he was trying to convince anymore.
“You’re right.” answered Wally, “It wasn’t their fault. Do you remember what you told me about how it happened?”
Robin let out a shaky breath and focused on his friends around him, “.....he...he tampered with the trapeze...”
“Zucco...he...he made them fall.....he killed them.” The illusion crumbled around them.
After a flash of white light, they all were snapped back into reality. Robin gasped and scrambled off the floor only to be tackled into a group hug by his teammates.
“I’m so glad we got you out!” Miss Martian cried, “You scared us so much!”
“Sorry about that,” Robin replied, his voice a bit flat. “Thanks for getting me out.”
“Like we would have left you.” Artemis huffed.
Robin let out a shaky breath as he started to get up. “This isn’t how I wanted you to find out my identity.”
Superboy shrugged, “I’m sure Batman will understand.”
“Probably,” Robin didn’t meet any of his friends' eyes and began checking his utility belt, “Do we know how much energy Morgaine got from me?”
“Hey” Kid flash grabbed his best friend’s shoulder, “You don’t have to talk about it now, or ever if you want, but you also don’t have to be okay right now. And we’re here for you if you need it.”
“He’s right,” said Zatanna, “We meant everything we said in there.”
Robin looked at his friends, “Seriously, thank you. I don’t think I would have gotten out of that without you guys.”
“That is what we are here for.” answered Aqualad “I cannot imagine how hard that was for you and I doubt any of us would fare any better if we were in your place.” A small smile formed on Robin’s lips
“Oh and one other thing,” called Artemis.
“What's that?” As he turned to face her she whacked his head, “What was that for?!”
“We’ll laugh about this someday. Really?!”
Robin cackled, he couldn’t have wished for a better team.
“Now that we got all that out of the way!” a familiar smirk formed on his face, “Who’s up for a witch hunt?”