Robin isn’t even on active patrol when it happens. No protective suit – just a red leotard for gymnastics and a green mask to keep his identity secret.
Billy’s barely been in the League now, just a few months. He’s new enough that most of the other members don’t see a real need to have him there. Strangely enough, Batman is the main one rooting for him. Billy knows it not out of pity – men like Batman don’t have the raw, human capacity to feel pity – but out of true honor. Batman is strong and brave and smart and good. As good as he can be, always.
So, the fact that Batman trusts him to let him do this is enough to make Billy feel strangely numb and fuzzy inside.
Batman is very protective of Robin, which is quite understandable. Robin’s young. Very young. And very, very human. He’s smaller than average and light as a feather. He moves so easily, and the slightest movement looks like it could break him. He’s tiny and scrawny and his smile has gaps from missing baby teeth. If Robin were his, Billy wouldn’t be taking any chances either.
But Batman lets him take Robin flying in a rented-out gymnasium in Gotham city. Batman buys out the building for a day and just lets them have at it. No parental supervision, no disapproving League members. Just Robin flipping and somersaulting and vaulting with the expertise of a trained professional.
It’s fun for the both of them – Billy a practiced big brother and Robin enamored with anyone who could fly. Robin is all brilliant smiles and squealing giggles as Billy takes him on loop de loops around the room. Robin is life in motion. He’s full of energy, bouncing around. If Billy hadn’t been seen Robin fall before, he could have easily been convinced that he had some capability to fly. The boy engages in freefall for fun, with seemingly no consideration for gravity.
That too is awe-inspiring.
It’s just Batman and Robin who know Captain Marvel and Billy Batson are one and the same and Billy’s happy with that. These are two of the bravest, most honorable, strongest people he’s ever known, and he trusts them to keep him safe.
It’s nearing their fourth hour tumbling when Billy feels the Earth shake. Robin does too, small face scrunching in confusion. Billy isn’t sure what’s going on, but he has a bad feeling in his stomach. With his magic word and a bolt of lightning, he’s Captain Marvel and he’s rushing over to Robin.
He’s not fast enough.
By the time the dust settles, Captain Marvel is bent over Robin’s tiny body. His back has shielded most of the rubble from falling onto Robin’s prone body, but he hadn’t been enough.
“Robin!” Billy stresses, eyes wide and panicked, and voice nearly stuck in his throat.
Robin is smiling – always smiling, Billy wishes he’d stop doing that, it’s unnerving now – and blinking his eyes clean.
“Is it bad?” Robin’s voice is small. “I don’t want to look.”
It’s probably for the best, Billy thinks. There’s a thick, steel beam skewering the boy grotesquely. It’s red with blood and jagged. It looks like hell. The only mercy is that it’s pierced Robin in such a way that it’s plugging up the hole. There’s no blood on the ground, but Billy knows that it looks the exact opposite inside Robin’s body.
“It’s okay. You’re going to be okay,” Billy soothes, eyes critiquing the rest of Robin.
The boy had fallen in a strange way. His neck looks crooked. Billy doesn’t trust himself to check for neck and spinal injuries. He physically stops his mind from considering the implication that Robin had seriously injured his spine in the fall.
Robin’s still smiling at him, tiny teeth glinting. He’d been so excited to show off his missing front teeth. He looks so young.
Billy gently brushes the debris off the skin on his face, keeping his smile intact. “I want you to keep still okay?”
Robin’s smart – he’s been trained by the Batman. He keeps his neck in position and doesn’t nod. “Okay.”
“Does anywhere hurt really bad?” Billy asks. He has to keep Robin talking and not going into shock.
“Not yet. Just tingly in my legs,” Robin reports, blinking.
A few seconds pass and Robin’s eyes are glossing over with tears. Billy’s heart stutters in his chest.
“Hey, hey,” Billy whispers, gently, “What’s wrong?”
“I’m scared,” Robin croaks.
Billy closes his eyes. He doesn’t know what to do. He thinks of what he’d do if it had been Darla like this – shudders out another breath at the thought. He lays close against Robin’s side and rubs comforting circles into his shoulder.
“It’s okay to be scared. But I’m going to get you out of this, okay?”
Billy holds Robin's hands and neither of them let their eyes drift down to the metal pole sticking out of Robin’s stomach.
Batman had sent Robin with a working comm unit, which Billy should have expected.
He’s been laying with Robin for nearly five minutes when it buzzes and crackles before Batman’s strong voice is coming through the tiny speakers at Robin’s ears.
“Billy?” Robin says, voice croaky. “Can you take the comm from my ear? Batman’s trying to talk to me.”
Billy nods. Sets to work quickly unhooking the unit from behind Robin’s ear and presses his own ear to it. He pointedly ignores the deep gash at the back of Robin’s head.
“Billy? Are you okay?” Batman asks, voice steady and calm as always.
Billy gulps, fingers slick with Robin’s blood. “I’m fine. But Robin…”
There’s a sharp intake of breath on the other side and Billy’s heart stutters in his chest. He’s never encountered a Batman who panicked. He’d known going into this that Batman and Robin’s relationship was very co-dependent and protective from both sides. They'd only just started working together and acted like fatherandson more than heroandsidekick. He’d known that their relationship was still too fresh for Batman to deal with Robin experiencing even a skinned knee.
So, how would he tell him that there was a metal rod slicing through the little boy?
“Tell me what’s wrong, Billy. In detail,” Batman orders, voice sharp.
Just like Batman had taught him to report, Billy lists out Robin’s injuries. The rod’s the most worrying and most obvious aliment, but he’s also worried about Robin’s spine and the possibility of a concussion.
As he speaks, Robin just blinks at him, lips struggling to keep a shaky smile on.
“I’ll have Superman come immediately. Keep Robin alert and don’t let him move around. If his wound is jostled, he could go into shock. I’m sure you’re aware that he’s probably bleeding internally. If his breathing turns wet and laborious, report back to me,” Batman says, still strong and brave but sounding so scared.
Billy smiles at Robin, lacing their fingers together, “I’ve got him, Batman. Just, tell Superman to hurry.”
“Billy? Can I talk to him?” Robin wheezes, eyes shining with tears and face scrunched in pain.
Carefully, Billy gets the comm unit hooked properly on Robin’s ear and pets his hair gently as he speaks to Batman.
Robin murmurs soft things like, “I’m scared,” and, “It hurts,” and, “I’m sorry.”
He’s so young and he’s trying so hard to stay strong. It makes Billy’s chest ache.
He can hear what Batman’s saying with his Captain Marvel’s abilities, knows the man is comforting the child. Batman responds with gentle assurances of, “You’re doing so good,” and, “I’m so proud of you,” and, “I’m sending help.”
Soon, Robin starts crying quietly, tiny, shuddering sobs climbing out of his chest.
“I don’t want to die like this,” Robin whispers into the air.
Billy’s chest lights on fire. He’s been relying on Batman and Robin to keep him safe in this superhero world and neither of them had superpowers. They were vulnerable and Robin was yet a child.
Determined, he sat up and took Robin’s small face into his hands.
“Listen to me, Robin,” Billy said, voice stern while he gently padded Robin’s wet cheeks, “I’m not going to let you die. No matter what, you’re going back to Batman and you’re going to play with me again and I’ll take you flying again. Superman is coming and the doctors will help you. You’re not going to die.”
Robin’s clearly in pain and can barely bring himself to move. But he blinks out a few warm tears and says, “Promise?”
Robin stops smiling fifteen minutes after Batman stops talking. Just breathes shallow, laborious breaths while warm tears trickle down his cheeks.
Superman does come, and he brings Martian Manhunter with him. They pay no mind to Billy, not that he cares. He can't watch but he hears Superman’s pained cry when he sees Robin’s prone form. Martian Manhunter uses his telepathy to move Robin’s body safely before Superman stabilizes his neck. Robin cries in pain and asks for Batman the entire time.
By the time they get Robin back to the Watchtower infirmary, Robin’s long passed out.
Batman’s been waiting very impatiently, and Captain Marvel hears his breath get stuck in a sob as he sees Robin’s tiny, mangled body. Billy manages to catch Superman’s gaze. By the harrowed look on the alien’s face, he knows he heard it too.
“Any news?” Mary’s voice is calm and steady over the phone. She’s always had this maternal aura to her, and Billy’s never been more grateful for her.
“No. No one’s come to tell me anything yet,” Billy breaths, voice wet. “I haven’t seen Batman either.”
“Do you want us to come down?” She asks.
Billy shakes his head, eyes darting around the room. There’s some sort of crisis that had occupied some of the League members, but everyone who’s not busy is sitting vigil in the waiting room. Flash and Green Lantern are brooding in the corner, Martian Manhunter looks ready to kneel over and Wonder Woman looks murderous.
As morbid as it might be, this was Robin’s moment. Everyone’s concern and attention should be focused on the little boy. Not Captain Marvel and his group of Power Rangers.
“No, Mary. Just,” Billy stops, collects himself. “Keep him in your thoughts, okay?”
Mary sounds conflicted but doesn’t push. “You know we will.”
“Cap? Hey, Cap? Wake up.”
Billy wakes to Flash shaking his shoulder.
He blinks around blearily, “Huh?”
Flash is wearing a half grimace, half smile, “Robin’s out of surgery.”
Suddenly, Billy has all his wits. He springs up, circling around the waiting room. His stomach drops when he finds it empty.
“Calm down,” Flash soothes, sounding so understanding and patient.
This is it, Billy thinks. Flash has been nominated to break the news. Billy’s thoughts turn to Batman. He can't imagine how the man would be right now. He can't see him returning from Robin’s death sane and healthy.
“Cap? Cap? Can you hear me?” Flash waves his hand in front of Billy’s face.
Billy blinks, “Um, yes?”
“Robin’s okay,” Flash says.
Billy’s ears are ringing. “What?”
“He’s stable and as far as they can tell, there’s no permanent damage. He’ll have a lot of healing and resting to do, but he’s okay now.”
Billy laughs, cringing at how hysterical it sounds. But his chest feels hollowed out and he can't remember how to breathe. He’d been sure –
Robin had been bad. Very bad. Billy hadn’t thought that…
Flash is patient still, “He’s okay. Thanks to you.”
“From what Batman’s told me, you were critical to Robin’s survival. That bomb… there was no way you could have predicted it. It’s Gotham, you know. And, you talking him. You must have been scared to shit. But talking to him kept him from going into shock. That’s probably what really saved him.”
“Me?” Billy can't tell if he’s dreaming. He pinches his thigh hard and bites down his wince.
Flash takes a breath, “Look, I know we haven’t really been close. Me and you. But. Robin. That little boy, he’s special to all of us. To me. You were a real hero today, Cap. So, thank you.”
Flash’s words are still ringing in his ears when Batman steps into the room.
It’s just the two of them and Billy suddenly feels so, so guilty.
“I’m so sorry—” Billy’s voice cracks.
Batman crosses the room and before Billy can really process what’s happening, Batman has him wrapped in a hug.
Setting a strong hand on the back of Billy’s head, Batman speaks, voice thick and watery. “Thank you.”
Billy shakes his head which only causes Batman to clutch him tighter. So Billy allows himself to be held, careful not to squeeze the Caped Crusader to tight.
He doesn’t even care how weird it would seem to anyone else to see them – two grown men – hugging in the waiting room. Robin’s okay and well and alive.
Nothing else really matters.
The first time he’s allowed to see Robin, Billy carries a small, plush tiger.
Billy’s not sure exactly where he sees him. They’ve brought Robin back home which is top secret. Billy had been blindfolded and given noise-canceling headphones while Batman had led the way.
(He goes as Billy, not Captain Marvel which makes it easier for Batman.)
Robin is sitting up in bed, cheeks flushed and looking a bit feverish. His entire torso has been wrapped and there are parts of the bandage that have been stained red.
Still, as always, Robin is smiling. He’s got this tiny, cloth mask on. It’s red and Billy sees tiny, yellow lightning bolts on the sides.
“Billy! I kept waiting for you,” Robin beams, smile lighting up the room. Billy can see that his front teeth are starting to grow back out.
“Hmmm,” Batman complains, but he’s smiling softly. “I’ll leave you two alone. Billy, please make sure Robin doesn’t overexert himself. He has a habit of pretending to be more healed than he really is when he has visitors.”
“B!” Robin pouts, blushing.
Billy ruffes Robin’s hair, mindful of the bandage around his head, “Don’t worry. I’ve got him.”
Batman nods and leaves them, eyes lingering on Robin like he still can't believe that he’s there. To be honest, neither can Billy.
“I got this for you,” Billy hands over the tiger plushie.
Robin takes it delicately, holding it like he’d expect him to hold something precious. “Really?”
Billy hadn’t expected such an emotional reaction. He swallows, nodding, “Yes. I have this thing. Tigers. They’re good friends.”
Robin looks like he wants to say something but holds back. He thinks for a few moments before saying, “Tigers are good friends.”
Billy nods surely. “I’m sorry you’re hurt. I know it must be driving you mad sitting in bed but please. For me, just stick it out. I worry about you. If you’re bored, just talk to the tiger.”
Robin giggles, holding the tiger to his chest, “Thank you, Billy.”
Billy knows that Robin’s far from healed – had been warned extensively by Batman prior to their arrival. Their interaction so far has been short but it’s obviously taken a lot out of the kid. He sees Robin struggling to keep his eyes open.
“You look sleepy,” Billy says, sitting in the chair beside Robin’s bed.
Robin frowns, “Wann’ talk to you.”
“Here’s what? I’ll finish that story I was telling you. If you’re sleepy, just sleep. I promise I’ll come back and visit.”
Robin snuggles the tiger and leans back on the pillows. Billy can see the strain in his movements and the fear in his eyes that his body isn’t working as it did before. It’s not fair and it should never happen to any kid. But Billy knows that if it had to happen to a kid, it was okay that it was Robin. Robin was strong and brave and would get past this.
Before letting his eyes closed, Robin stared earnestly at Billy, “Thanks for saving me, Billy.”
Billy swallowed. He shook his head, but he couldn’t speak. Robin was family – there was nothing Billy wouldn’t do for him. He reached out and grabbed Robin’s hand, squeezing gently. When Robin squeezed back, he launched into his story, talking long after Robin’s eyes closed, and his breathing slowed.