Batman stared down at his batwatch and carefully studied its face, as if struggling to read its tiny bathands. Robin rolled his eyes and glanced down at his own watch, the two hands pointing in opposite directions.
“6:00am,” Robin said.
“He’s late,” Batman said, his voice deep and raspy.
Robin shifted slightly, eyes frozen as he watched Batman adjust his cape for the tenth time that hour. That was all he seemed to do with the stupid thing, aside from trip over it while walking backwards. He’d told Batman and Alfred that it was a poor choice, that his cape should be significantly shorter–like his was–but they refused to listen. Yes, it had some functionality, and it certainly looked fearsome, but all it seemed to do was get in the way more than help. He could hardly count the times Batman had nearly, and in some cases actually, fallen down a flight of stairs after becoming entangled in it. He was sure it would be the death of him someday.
“No, I said 6:10am. Do you ever listen when I speak?”
“My nose is itchy,” Batman said, clearly not listening. He lifted his mask slightly and blindly stabbed his finger in the general vicinity of his nose. Yet another major design flaw Robin had advised against, putting a heavy slab of plastic over the majority of his face that severely limited vision and comfort. It wasn’t even bullet proof; it seemed to serve no purpose other than marginally concealing his identity and getting in the way. Robin had tried it on once, pushing the plastic mask down onto his slightly smaller head. It was incredibly unpleasant: itchy, tight, heavy, and constricting. Yes, sure, it certainly looked intimidating, but if a criminal happened to see him jutting his finger into his half-open mask so he could pick his nose, the last thing on his mind would be terror. Robin’s mask, on the other hand, was small and accessible. It was comfortable and useful. His mask concealed his identity while being easy to adjust and wear.
“Please stop picking your nose,” Robin said, “we don’t know who’s watching.”
“You’re not my dad,” Batman said, pausing. He slowly slid his hand out from under his mask, his eyes growing wide with what appeared to be a tear forming beneath. It seemed he had triggered himself again.
“Oh, come on,” Robin said. “Are you seriously going to cry now? You’re the one who said it.”
“My parents are dead,” Batman said, his deep voice cracking.
“So are mine,” Robin said, “I got over it. You’re like 40 years old, you shouldn’t cry any time someone mentions your parents.”
“They’re dead!” Batman shouted, the empty warehouse echoing with his voice.
“Shut up,” Robin whispered through pursed lips, leaning over and slapping his palm over Batman’s exposed mouth. It was wet with saliva, as if he’d been drooling on himself. “For fuck’s sake, get yourself together.”
Batman was always becoming emotional, always tripping over his own cape, always making a fool of himself in any and every way possible. Robin was tired of it, tired of being the one to always have to save him, to always have to defeat the criminals alone, to always have to save the city. All Batman did was stand in the back of the fights, mumbling some sort of vengeance nonsense while blindly flailing his arms behind closed eyes. Yes, occasionally he’d make contact and actually manage to punch something but that always concluded with him shrieking like a child and hiding behind the nearest solid object. Yet he always got the fame, always got the recognition. They didn’t have a Robin Signal, they had a Bat Signal. It wasn’t Robin and Batman, it was Batman and Robin. The idiot always received the acclaim.
Batman stood up and wiped his eyes, flinching as the blades on his gloves apparently scratched into his skin again. Yet another stupid, useless feature. Why on earth would he need a serrated edge on his own gloves? Why not just carry a damn knife? It wasn’t even retractable. All it ever did was cut his own face, or get stuck in couches, or shred apart Robin’s new god damn Honda Accord. He couldn’t afford new seats every week, it wasn’t like he had billions of dollars like Batman. Robin earned a measly $35,000 yearly salary for his crime fighting, with, again, Batman taking in the millions through merchandising deals. No one wanted Robin shirts or costumes, they wanted Batman ones. The world thought he was the hero, not simply an idiot in a mask.
A door opened beneath them, the morning sun cascading into the dark warehouse and illuminating a small, rectangular section of the concrete floor. A silhouetted figure in what seemed to be a form-fitting suit walked into the room, quietly closing the door behind him.
“Joker,” Batman whispered, just as he did every time he saw someone he was slightly suspicious of. Robin shook his head. The Joker had been locked up in Arkham Asylum for the past decade, making tremendous progress toward his rehabilitation. In fact, Robin had visited with him just the week prior, the two of them playing a game of chess and discussing the current political climate in the nation’s capital. Batman had cowered in the corner the entire time, muttering nonsense under his breath. Even still, every single time a suspicious figure crossed into their paths, Batman swore that it was the Joker.
“No,” Robin said. “This is a man I want you to meet. He’s going to help us. Mostly me, though.”
Batman rose up onto his feet, leaning over the railing and peering down below.
“Do not,” Robin said, pausing. “I repeat, do not do what you’re about to do.”
“Joker!” he shouted, flinging himself off over the ledge and down onto the ground below. He landed with a loud thump, his cape flipping over his head and blocking out his vision. He began frantically waving his arms as if he were trying to fight his way out from underneath his cloth cage.
“Just do it,” Robin said, lifting his palm to his forehead and burying his face within.
He didn’t want it to come to this, he wanted to at least give Batman some options first. Perhaps he’d be willing to leave town and simply retire, or take a very long vacation. He’d hoped the man, a simple Craigslist assassin he’d hired while heavily intoxicated a few nights prior, would only be there to help make the deal more appealing. He wasn’t even sure the guy would show, almost hoped he wouldn’t so it might not have had to come to this. Yet as Robin stared down at the 40-something-year-old man trapped in his own cape, his body struggling to free itself from a tiny piece of cloth, he realized there never had been any other options. He knew Batman would never surrender his name; Robin had given him all the chances in the world, taken the fall for so many years. He had been the sidekick for too long, the second name in the marquee, the one no one actually feared. It was time the world finally saw Batman for who he wasn’t, and Robin for who he had been. It was time for it to be Robin, not Batman and Robin. Just Robin.
The man lifted his arm, aiming a small, metallic object at the ball of Batman still flailing blindly a few feet away. Robin closed his eyes as the sound of liberation echoed through the warehouse, a smile stretching across his face.