3. Love Enough to Break a Heart

A man has strength enough to build a home,

And time enough to hold a child,

And love enough to break a heart.

*Based on Batman #408, some dialogue taken from the comic issue.

Robin, age 18

Batman shrugged himself further into his cape. The weather was filthy, as Alfred would say. The rain poured down in sheets and there was no protection from it on this rooftop. But the Joker was here, so here was where he needed to be. The Joker had stolen a famous necklace, which itself had a bloody history of causing death and mayhem, giving it the nickname "smile of death". True to its history, the Joker had killed two security guards to get it.

Joker had his own moods, ranging from what, for him, was relative calm to fiendishly manic. He was in one of his manic moods today. That meant that the clown wasn't only unpredictable, he was dangerously so. The stolen diamond necklace sparkled around Joker's neck and he carried a Saturday night special, the same type of cheap pistol that had killed Bruce Wayne's parents. Batman repressed a shudder. Robin was still on his way up to the roof, for which he was grateful. Maybe he could disarm the hood before Robin was endangered.

"Give it up, Joker! There's no place left to run!" Batman barked out.

Joker's grin grew broader. "Don't make me laugh, my batty friend! This is the pinnacle of my career!" he cackled proudly. "Feast your eyes on these! The so-called 'Hopeless Diamonds', the 'Smile of Death'! A triumph I achieved alone, no henchmen to sully its purity!"

Batman's eyes flicked over to a movement behind the Joker. Robin had just crested the top of the building, coming up behind the clown.

"I'll give you purity!" Batman stalked towards the clown, who raised the gun.

"Uh, uh, uh! I don't share your absurd anti-firearms fetish, remember..." Joker grinned as Robin climbed over the parapet to stand behind him. But the boy dislodged a single piece of gravel, which made a slight 'chik!' noise.

Joker swiveled and fired off two shots before Batman could stop him. As the heel of Batman's hand was driving into Joker's nose, Robin toppled over the side of the building.

Batman ran to where the rope was taut. "Robin!" Batman cried. "Robin? My, God. Robin!" His partner, tangled in his rope, hung from his feet down the side of the building, blood pouring from his shoulder.

From behind him, a hated voice chanted, "Ha ha ha! Sing along with me, Batman! When the red red robin goes bob-bob-bobbin' along!" Another loud laugh. Batman ignored him, still gazing down, aghast.

The Joker frowned. He didn't like it when Batman didn't pay attention to him. But what to do? What to do? "I could exterminate the bat while he's preoccupied with his winged bird..." he muttered to himself, chuckling at the pun. "Hee hee hee...winged him, I did...But if I shoot the Batman, who would I have to play with?"

Meanwhile, Robin had regained consciousness and was slowly trying to pull himself up. "I...I can make it, Batman. GET him!"

Unaccustomed emotion in his voice, Batman called back, "Can you hang on, son? I have a madman to deal with!"

Robin had disentangled himself and was now holding the rope with both hands. "Do it!" he called back.

That was all Batman needed to refocus his attention on the clown. His fists were clenching when both clown and hero were drawn by the noise of a chopper coming in.

Joker brightened. The chopper had been modified into a semblance of Joker's own face, complete with big smile on its nose. "Ah, my ride is here!" A ladder dropped from the copter and the Joker began to climb happily to freedom. Batman grimaced and threw a batarang, knocking the clown off the ladder and back to the pavement. He didn't have much time. He had to immobilize that clown, then check on Robin.

Quickly tying the Joker, Batman dashed back to the side of the building. "Robin! I'm on my way to you, boy!" One hand on the rope, he bent over and looked. "Oh my God." He could feel his face pale and ice hit the pit of his stomach. Robin had fallen off the rope and had landed on a ledge four stories below, while he'd been busy dealing with Joker. All for a stupid diamond necklace! He should have let Joker get away with the damned thing and taken care of his boy first. If Robin died from this, it would be his fault.

Grabbing the rope, Batman went over the side head first in a controlled fall until he was on the ledge. Still had a pulse, thank God. There was just enough room for him to sling Robin over his shoulder and climb back up.

On the rooftop again, he cradled Robin in his arms and ran an eye over him. He was breathing without effort; the bullet hadn't hit any vital spot, although the blood loss was potentially serious. Time to go. He slung the boy over his shoulder and swung the two of them away without a backwards glance.

He came to his decision slowly, sitting by Dick's bedside. Alfred was appalled when the two of them arrived, spattered with Robin's blood. Batman had done his best with a field dressing, but it had only slowed the bleeding and not stopped it. It took careful surgery on Alfred's part to repair the nicked artery and finally allow both men to breathe easily again. Not for the first time, Bruce was glad that he and Dick both banked whole blood for emergencies.

Now he sat in an easy chair, watching the coverage of the event. A news helicopter had caught the whole thing and speculation was rampant that Robin had died, another victim of the Joker. Bruce noted Dick's pale face and still form. The boy almost had been. He scrubbed his face with his hands. What had he been thinking? Even the best, the most thoroughly trained person had limits. He could have lost Dick so easily today.

He remembered back to Dick's first days in the mansion. He had been so small and unprotected that Bruce had felt compelled to help him. His own life had been so busy between his roles as Batman and as CEO of the Wayne Enterprises, he would never have had a chance to see the boy if he hadn't recruited him as a partner. The boy had burrowed his way into Bruce's heart. And, Bruce knew, Dick loved him just as much. As a child, Dick had ambushed him with hugs that he'd slowly learned to return with as much gusto as the boy gave them.

The decision he was making would break Dick's heart. Being Robin meant so much to him. It had been his identity for a lifetime and he wouldn't know how to function merely as himself, an ordinary person. He almost wavered then, but remembered what he'd seen. Robin...no, Dick, crumpled on a ledge, bleeding in a pouring rain. No. Never again. This was necessary. Dick deserved a life in the light, not in Batman's dark shadow. His...son...was talented, smart and was already enrolled in a good college. Once he graduated, Bruce would give him responsibility within WE and the boy would build his own career. Eventually, all of WE would belong to Dick and the legacy would be passed to the next generation.

This wouldn't be easy, for either of them, Bruce realized. He would have to be firm. Dick had always been endearing and he'd often give way to Dick's pleading. That couldn't happen now because it meant Dick's life. No matter what, he must remain unyielding. Bruce sighed and gently tousled Dick's hair. Dick might come to hate him for what he was about to do, but he must protect him at all costs. The pain he was about to cause both of him was worth it to keep Dick safe.