Two instances, seven years apart, members of the Batfamily are kidnapped and forced to beg for the younger hero's safety.
Note- In the scenes marked "Then," Robin is Dick Grayson and he is 12. In the scenes marked "Now," Robin is Tim Drake, who is 14.
Rated T for violence and brief swearing.
Robin let out a whoop as he executed a perfect aerial kick to the thug's face. He never felt more alive than when he was fighting bad guys, and after three years of it, the preteen was pretty good at it. He shot a glance at Batman to see how his partner was doing. The Caped Crusader never ceased to amaze Robin with his speed and accuracy in a fight.
In his peripheral vision, the young hero saw another thug take a swing at his head, thinking to take advantage of the boy's momentary distraction. But Robin leaned into a backbend and kicked his legs up in a reverse cartwheel, catching the man's fist between his ankles and dragging the criminal off balance with his momentum.
Earlier in the night, Batman had turned up intel on a drug cartel operating in Gotham, headed by a man named Mason Sawyer. The 42 year old had moved his operation to Gotham less than six months ago, and somehow had managed to hold his own against the four other cartels that called Gotham home. So the two heroes went to the warehouse to give them a proper Bat welcome.
Once on his feet, Robin quickly rendered his larger foe unconscious and turned back to the first thug. The low-level workers had scattered as soon as Batman and Robin arrived, leaving the hired guns to defend the warehouse where the drugs were being processed. There were ten guards total, three of them now lying on the ground. Ten was more then they usually fought together, but Robin had been pushing himself in training lately, and he felt confident the Dynamic Duo could take out their enemies without major injuries on their part.
One of guards decided desperate times called for some creativity, and he shoved a rolling table towards the bird. Robin avoided it with ease, but didn't stop to think this attack was merely a distraction. He moved right into range of a baseball bat-wielding criminal, who was ready to attack. The bat came down hard on the boy's head, and the preteen fell to his knees, dazed.
Robin felt an arm snake around his neck and the cool metal of a knife against his throat. "Batman, surrender, or the brat gets it!" his captor said loudly. Disappointment at his failure filled Robin before nausea from the blow chased it away.
Batman narrowed his eyes, and for almost three seconds everyone stood frozen. Robin worried that his mentor would listen to the man's threat and they would both be captured. This was an unfounded fear. A whirring sound went right by Robin's ear, followed by a scream of pain as his captor released his hold on both his knife and his hostage. Robin woozily got to his feet, with some part of his brain registering the batarang in the man's hand. Maybe his earlier optimism was correct. They would take down these men, no problem.
That was his last thought before a concussion grenade knocked him completely out.
Nightwing was worried about the newest Robin, Tim Drake. The boy excelled at planning, deciphering, hacking, and solving- all intellectual pursuits. But he was still a novice when it came to hand-to-hand combat. Which was reasonable, since Robin had only first been allowed to patrol five months ago.
Bruce was out of the country on business, so Nightwing volunteered to partner up with his former namesake. He didn't want Robin patrolling alone. It was a good thing, too, since they found themselves in the the middle of a fight with the Street Demonz gang in a back alley. Nightwing made sure to always keep the teen in sight. Tim would probably be annoyed about the mothering, but Dick was more concerned with keeping his partner alive than with how the younger boy felt about it.
When Nightwing blocked an attack meant for Robin, the younger boy rolled his eyes and said quietly, "I had that." Nightwing gave him a cheeky grin and went after another gang member. Tim was too good of a kid to hold a grudge against him for his overprotective streak.
Fighting in Gotham was different than fighting in Bludhaven. Nightwing hadn't been active long enough for word of the vigilante's reputation to spread. He was able to catch the lowlifes off-guard. In Gotham, however, Batman had been at work for nearly two decades. The criminals had adapted to the threat. They traveled in groups, sported serious firepower, and fought ruthlessly against caped vigilantes.
Nightwing spared a look away from his younger brother to take out two men who were trying to surround him. He laughed aloud. A few members of the gang were probably younger than he was. After facing villains like the Joker and Two-Face, run of the mill bad guys just did not surprise or frighten him.
He took care of the threat and then turned back to see Robin crumple to the ground. "Robin!" he yelled, moving towards his partner. Before he had taken more than a step, the boy's assailant pulled the unconscious boy upright and put a gun against the young hero's temple. Nightwing glared at the man who was now holding the teen in front of him like a shield. It had been too long since he kept up with the names of the gang members of Gotham. He was going to call this one "Ponytail," in honor of the man's ridiculous choice in hairstyle.
"Think you're faster than a bullet?" the man sneered. "Go ahead, if you want to see the inside of his head."
Dick was struck by sudden déjà vu. Batman had saved him from a similar situation. He should do the same for Tim. But Dick wasn't Batman, and a small error in calculation could cost the boy his life.
"Are you gonna fight or what?" Robin's captor taunted. "C'mon, I bet you could make it. Maybe."
When Nightwing didn't attack, the other men moved forward to surround him as their confidence increased.
"Get on the ground," Ponytail ordered. Nightwing tensed, but he didn't have another option. He knelt slowly, using one hand to 'steady himself' on the ground so he could subtly press a button on his utility belt that would send an SOS to the Batcave. Alfred could get word to Bruce. It wouldn't be a speedy rescue, but at least there would be backup if he couldn't get them out of this mess. 'Let's call it Plan C,' Nightwing decided.
"Hands up," Ponytail said. Nightwing complied. He waited there for a few seconds until a blow to the head knocked him out.
Groaning, Robin lifted his head. He blinked a few times to get his vision to focus. The room was sideways, which confused the boy until he realized he was lying on his side. His wrists and ankles were bound together with wire. He glanced down to see that his belt had been taken. Well, no one said this was going to be easy.
He looked up to find Batman was chained to the wall in front of him. His disappointment grew as he realized it was his fault his mentor had been captured. Robin reassured himself that Batman always had a plan, he would get them out of there, but that did nothing for his guilt.
"So, you're awake, little bird," said a voice from behind him, making Robin flinch. "The Bat hasn't been good company, so I'm hoping you'll be more interesting." The man circled Robin, finally coming into view. It was Mason Sawyer. The man squatted down in front of him. "You're not so tough now, are you? I bet it wouldn't take much to make you chirp." His companions laughed uproariously at their boss's joke.
Robin gave his captor the most haughty look he could manage in his current predicament. "Your threats are what I'd expect from a middle school bully."
The man glared at him. "You should know. What are you, in fifth grade?" Robin forced himself not to bristle at the jab to his age. "Isn't it past your bedtime?"
Robin wanted to see if Batman was free yet, but Sawyer was blocking his line of vision. Besides, if the thugs had forgotten about the other hero, Robin didn't want to bring their attention back to him.
"No, but it is past time for you and your men to be in jail."
"You think you're funny, don't you, kid? Well, maybe I'll beat the funny out of you." The boss stood and motioned forward one of his men. The man, who Robin charitably nicknamed "Ugly" in his head, kicked the boy in the stomach. Robin instinctively curled inward. The man kicked again, this time connecting with the boy's side.
Robin tolerated the abuse without a sound. He was trained for this. He also managed to keep his fear in check, fueled by the certainty that Batman would save both of them. Sawyer made a noise of disappointment. "Is that as hard as you can kick?" he asked.
"Yeah," Robin chimed in. "You kick like a girl." The thug kicked him harder. "Actually, I know some girls who kick harder than you. Maybe you kick more like a baby."
Ugly pulled back his foot to deliver another kick, but the boss stopped him.
"Hey, Batman, don't you care that we're beating up your sidekick?" Sawyer called.
'Partner,' Robin thought to himself, wisely deciding to save that argument for another time. Both men had moved out of his way, so he could now see his mentor. Robin waited to see what Batman would do.
Batman remained silent. "What, do you not care about the twerp?" the boss said. "You're not going to tell us not to hurt him?" Still nothing from the Caped Crusader. Mason Sawyer continued, "How about this? You ask me nicely, and I'll leave the boy alone." The other men snickered. "All you have to do is say please."
Batman could have been a statue for all the reaction they were getting from him. Robin tried not to feel hurt that Batman didn't stand up for him. He couldn't imagine Batman begging, not for anything, but this fueled the quiet insecurities he had about Bruce's love for him.
"He doesn't think we'll really hurt him," the boss decided. "Let's show him he's wrong."
The other men moved forward and took turns kicking Robin in the back, side, chest and legs. The boy curled up, making his figure as small as possible. His uniform provided some protection, but the force and multitude of kicks began to take its toll. His ribs hurt and breathing became more difficult.
Finally, the boss called for a halt. "Anything to say, Bats?" Sawyer walked right up to Batman. Robin held his breath, sure this was the moment Batman had been waiting for. "Nothing? You really don't care if we kill the kid?"
Robin decided to provide a distraction, in case that was what Batman needed to finally break free of his bonds and deliver swift justice to these thugs. "If you don't want to kill me, then you should make Ugly here leave. He's killing me with his ugly face."
Enraged, Ugly lashed out again, this time breaking Robin's nose and making his eyes water. 'Alfred's going to have fun with this,' the boy thought. 'He's going to come after me with concealer again to cover up the bruises.'
"Look, the kid's crying," his attacker announced.
"Actually, the nasal passage is... connected to... tear ducts... when blockage occurs... the lachrymal fluid... comes out... there," Robin said. His voice sounded weird to him and he only managed the sentence by pausing several times to gasp for breath. It also hurt, but he wasn't going to let this guy get away with saying he was crying.
His attacker scoffed. "Look who's the smart guy."
"Smarter than you," Robin retorted. 'Come on, Batman. You've had plenty of time. What are you waiting for? All the bad guys to be in a line so you can knock them all out in a single attack?'
The boss hadn't moved from his spot next to Batman. He studied his prisoner. "I've always heard you were a coldhearted bastard, but this is dark, even for you."
Ugly was gearing up to kick Robin again when a sound of bone hitting flesh distracted everyone. The criminals all looked up to see that Batman was free and taking his vengeance. The boss was already a heap on the floor, and within a minute, Batman had incapacitated the others.
With the threat taken care of, Batman approached his sidekick. He knelt and released Robin from his restraints. "Let's get out of here," he said gruffly.
The first thing Nightwing saw when he awoke was Robin sitting in front of him five feet away, ankles tied with ropes to the legs of the chair, and his arms behind his back. The elder hero assumed Robin's wrists must have been handcuffed when he realized he was similarly restrained. His belt and gloves were missing- another thing that wouldn't have happened in Bludhaven. The criminals there had not learned to fear the tools that could be hidden in the tiny pockets of that belt, nor did they realize there was a lock pick he kept in his glove. Nightwing rightly guessed that Robin's gloves had also been taken. The teen would not be able to escape on his own.
But Nightwing knew he had to adapt with his enemies. Gotham criminals knew he had a pick in his gloves, so they took the gloves. Therefore, he had hidden an additional pick in his sleeve. The only problem was that he was still getting used to this backup plan since he never needed to use it in his current home. He twisted his wrist, trying to trigger the release.
One of the men broke away from the crowd and walked over to the two prisoners. Nightwing remembered this guy- Roadkill, the leader of the Street Demonz. "Well, well, you ain't the Bat."
"Nope, I'm just filling in. Batman had more important things to take care of than some lowlife thugs," Nightwing said. Step one, keep Robin safe by drawing their attention away from him. Step two, get free from the restraints. Step three, kick their butts.
The leader's fist connected with Nightwing's jaw. Step one accomplished. Now if he could just get that stupid pick out of his sleeve...
"You're not very smart, birdbrain."
"You think I'm afraid of you?"
Roadkill pulled a gun from the waistband of his jeans and pointed it at Nightwing. "You should be, punk, 'cause I can make you deader than a doornail."
"You're not going to kill me, because you know that Batman is probably already on his way." Nightwing smiled confidently.
The other man hesitated, then overcompensated to hide his momentary weakness from his crew. "You think I'm afraid of some dude who likes to play dress up? I'll do whatever I want to you. And the kid, too," he added, moving back to include Robin in his threat.
Bring the attention away from Robin. "Yeah, I don't think you'll hurt me. You're as afraid of me as you are of Batman." Nightwing was rewarded with a pistol whip across the face.
"You need to learn some respect," the man said, pointing the gun back at Nightwing.
"And you're going to teach it to me?" Dammit, why wouldn't the stupid catch for the lock pick release already? There was no point in having a Plan B if it didn't work. Stalling was only going to take them so far. Bruce wasn't due back in the city for another twelve hours. Even if Alfred made contact with him, the fastest Batman could be through the door was three hours away.
"Yeah, I am." The gang leader moved toward Nightwing, but then changed his mind. "How much do ya think it would take to make the kid scream?"
Fear gripped Nightwing's chest, but he didn't allow it to show. "Oh, sure go for the easier target. I knew you weren't tough enough to take me on."
Roadkill smirked. "I see what you're doing. It won't work on me." The man moved behind Robin and motioned two of his men over. The boss held a gun to the back of Robin's head while the other two men uncuffed the teen's hands and recuffed them in front of him. Then they tied a rope around his shoulders to keep his back against the chair. They were very careful not to let their guard down for a second as they did this.
Nightwing saw the annoyance on Robin's face when he wasn't given any opportunity to escape. At least Robin wasn't panicking. Nightwing tried to reassure himself that Tim was trained for this, just like he was. "It's really sad when three armed men have to restrain a teenager because they're afraid of him," he tried, but the boss was set on his course. He stuck his gun in the waistband of his jeans.
"I've had other people disrespect me, and as much fun as it is to teach them the lesson by beating every inch of their body, I've found it is much more effective when I beat on someone they care about." The man grabbed Robin's left hand and dislocated his index finger. Robin bit his lip but didn't make a sound. "That didn't work? Let's try it again." The man moved on to the next finger, and the one after that. Nightwing saw sweat run down the side of the teen's face.
"Stop! I get it. I'll stop mouthing off," Nightwing promised. Maybe he could get these men to leave, and then he could get Robin and himself out of here.
"Not good enough. I want to hear the bird beg. No," he said suddenly, changing his mind. "I want to see you beg."
The elder hero remembered himself in Tim's place, how Batman refused to beg for him. Batman said it was to protect him. But when the boss took hold of Robin's three dislocated fingers and twisted them roughly, causing the boy to gasp in pain, he couldn't stay silent. Tim's emotional health was important, too. He needed to know Nightwing cared for him. "Don't hurt him."
"Say please," he taunted.
The boss smirked again and then pulled another digit out of its socket.
"I said please! What do you want?"
"I want you and the other do-gooders out of my city. I want you to stop interfering with me and my crew. And I don't want some snot-nosed kid thinking he can get the best of my gang." With those last words, Roadkill punched Robin in the face.
Nightwing twisted his wrists frantically and was pleased to hear a faint click as the lock pick was finally released. It took him three seconds to be free of the cuffs, and another three to cut the ropes around his ankles using the sharp end of the pick. He reached behind him for the chair and used it to hit the men who had been tormenting Robin. When the gang members by the door raised their weapons, Nightwing used the toe of his boot to flip up a discarded gun and then caught it midair. He ejected the clip and threw the clip, and then the empty gun, with startling precision at the foreheads of the two men shooting at him.
When all the men were down, Nightwing released Robin from his restraints. "You okay?" he asked gently.
Robin nodded, but his face was pale.
"Let's get you home."
Batman contacted Commissioner Gordon to inform him of the drug cartel's bust, but after that, said nothing to Robin. In fact, the ride back to the Batcave was completely in silence. Robin spent the first half of the trip trying to figure out what Batman was thinking. Maybe his mentor was mad at him for getting them caught, or disappointed that the preteen hadn't managed to free himself, or something else entirely. As they neared the Cave, however, his injuries distracted him enough that it took his focus off deciphering Batman's mood.
Alfred was waiting for them, as he always did. A frown of concern crossed the butler's face when he saw the state Robin was in. "Go change, Master Dick," he said in a tone that didn't allow for argument while still not exactly sounding like a command. "Then I will see to your injuries."
Dick went into the attached bathroom and shed his Robin uniform. He winced when he saw the bruises on his chest, and then regretted it because of the pain it caused his face. He examined his face in the mirror. Bruising on his face, but no black eyes yet. He might be able to escape notice at school on Monday. Dick got a cool wet cloth and dabbed it on his face, but found that was also a dumb idea. He would let Alfred take care of patching him up. The butler was gentler than the boy could ever be. He pulled on some sweatpants and left the bathroom.
Bruce, still in his uniform, was on the computer when Dick stepped out into the main part of the Cave. Alfred was waiting next to the exam table with bandages in addition to an ice pack. Dick wondered if Bruce had told him about his injured ribs. Dick tried to catch his mentor's eye, but Bruce never looked his way. Trying not to feel hurt, he went to the exam table.
"I believe your nose may be broken," Alfred said, in a faintly disapproving tone.
"You should see the other guy," Dick quipped. The barest traces of a smile graced Alfred's face. The butler was much easier to read than Bruce Wayne.
"Thankfully it was not knocked out of place, but it will hurt." Alfred passed over some pills and a glass of water. Dick took them gratefully. "Do you believe you have broken ribs?" he asked.
"I don't think so, but it's harder to breathe than normal. I can't tell if it's just the bruising." Dick learned long ago there was no point in lying to Alfred or pretending things were not as bad as they were. The butler could detect deception a mile away and always discovered the truth.
Alfred checked anyway, feeling each rib for breaks. He nodded in approval when his search came up without any. He spread some ointment on the ribs and then wrapped them with bandages. "I trust you will go easy the next few days," he said with a lifted eyebrow.
"Of course," Dick answered with his most winning smile. They both knew that within 36 hours, the boy would be climbing over furniture and walking up the banister.
Alfred put his hand on the boy's shoulder. "I'm glad you're home." Then he left the Cave. Dick was confused at the abrupt departure until he turned and saw Bruce coming towards him. The man had finally pulled back his cowl.
Dick chewed nervously on his lip as the older man approached. He tried to prepare himself for the lecture he was sure he deserved. He was surprised when Bruce said, "You know why I did it, right?"
"Did what?" he asked. This didn't sound like any of the lectures he had received in the past.
"Why I didn't... do what those men wanted. If they knew they could hurt me through you, they would hurt you even more. And in the future, they would know to target you."
Dick felt relieved. Bruce wasn't mad at him. In fact, Bruce was saying that he cared, and this was just another of the strange ways that he showed his concern. Robin knew there was no point in telling Batman that the criminals already figured out that he was an easier target than Batman himself. One, it made him sound weak and two, Batman was never wrong. "Oh. I was worried that you didn't get free of your restraints faster. I couldn't figure out what you wanted me to do."
Years of living with Bruce Wayne had trained the boy in reading the minute facial expressions the Dark Knight exhibited that others missed. Dick could have sworn that it was shame on his mentor's face.
"The concussion grenade damaged the mechanism in my glove. The lock pick was stuck and it took me that long to get it out."
"So I did okay?" Dick asked, still needing the reassurance.
"You did okay," Bruce allowed. "Rest tomorrow, and the next day we will train on how to get free when your attacker has their arm around your neck. We will also discuss reading the situation to see if the enemy is using an attack as a diversion."
Once safely back in the Batcave, Tim went to change without a word. Alfred was there, waiting to tend to his injuries. Dick changed into some sweats and went upstairs to shower. When he had showered and changed into some spare clothes that he left at the manor, he went to Tim's room to check on him. Alfred had treated him and released him already. Dick assumed that Alfred was now on the phone with Bruce, reassuring him that both the boys were home.
The door was slightly ajar, but Dick knocked anyway. "Come in," Tim said softly. Dick entered to see the boy sitting cross-legged on his bed. Dick joined him.
"How are you feeling?" he asked.
"Bruised, but I'll recover."
Dick could tell something was wrong. "You want to talk about it?" Tim shrugged. "Is this about getting captured? Because I can tell you, it happens to the best of us."
"You shouldn't have done it!" Tim said forcefully.
Dick mentally retraced the night. "Done what?" he asked carefully.
"What those men wanted. You shouldn't have begged. Not for me," he added quietly.
The man's heart went out to this boy. Apparently he had been with Batman long enough for the 'mission first' mentality to take root. "Tim, look at me," he commanded. The boy looked up. "I care about you and I would do a lot more than that to keep you safe."
A smile crept over Tim's face. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. You're totally worth it." Dick wrapped an arm around the boy. "I love you, little brother."