A Lifeline

August 27, 2016:

In need of advice and mentorship, Robin calls someone outside of his world

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: batman oracle talia

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The call had been a lifeline.

Tim had tried to sound casual enough on the phone, but it was, essentially, futile. There'd been a deadness in his voice when he'd made the call to May — an awareness of his situation and his abilities in it. He'd made an arrangement to meet on a specific rooftop in the Bowery after dark.

And so Red Robin, wearing a different mask (without all of its tech built in), sits not he rooftop without all of the voices in his head. He's without a cape today — that was shed a long time ago.

He sits on the edge of the roof, veiled in shadow and his chin lifts to spy through the dark, waiting.

Having received the request to meet and heard all to clearly that there's something very much bothering the young man, Agent May agrees to the meeting. Her arrival is announced a moment before she's visible as she climbs the slightly rusty fire escape to one side of the rooftop. Once May spots Robin she walks over and leans against a nearby air handler, not commenting on the differences in his outfit, though they are very much mentally noted.

"You wanted to talk." She then pulls a small device out of one pocket along with two different cell phones, and sets them all on the gravelly rooftop for the young man to see. A button press on the device, and both phones start making 'No Signal' complaints. "Just you and me. Off the record."

There's a moment where Red Robin hesitates, unsure whether this was a good idea or not. He turns his head towards May and crosses his arms over his chest. His chin drops in an assumptive nod. "I — " he blinks hard and his jaw tightens. "Look, I know you mentor a lot of junior agents, and at SHIELD your people see some impossible things." His jaw tightens. "I quit yesterday."

His cheeks puff out with an exhalation of breath, "I know this is a weird talk. You've met Batman. He'd spout something as advice and admonish me to be better. I need… I don't know."

May moves to sit with her back against that air handler, even if the sound of her jacket against the unit's metal casing isn't exactly normal leather sound. "You need to do what it feels right for you to do. Regardless of what anyone else is trying to tell you, otherwise you'll be miserable forever. Be glad that you have the freedom to walk away, and do it. Get your head back on straight, and once you can think about this responsibility calmly and rationally, then and only then do you consider picking up where you're leaving off."

There's a small nod at the assertion. Robin's lips purse and he tightens his jaw. Good. May seems to affirm his own thoughts on the matter. "It was this magic business." His eyebrows lift behind his mask. "I'm incapable of doing what they need me to do. It's not in me. It wasn't in me five months ago. It's not in me now. I can't take a life." He balls his hands into fists.

His voice croaks, "I cut a man open." He stares at the street below. "I saw his ribs — his intercostal muscles. I saw how they work. I've taken Human Anatomy. It… was…" he feels his heart rate increases and presses two gloved hands to his face.

"…suddenly more visceral and real," May finishes for Robin. "Everyone in our lines of work have to hit this point sooner or later. The point where everything you've done before or will be doing in the future are suddenly very real, though you can't really say why they didn't seem to be that way before. Your next challenge is going to be whether you can see yourself still doing this job," she gestures toward his incomplete costume, "again now that you hit this realization." For May, it happened back in the 1990s. SHIELD has always had shrinks on staff to help their agents deal with this exact internal crisis.

"Concentrate on your breathing. In, count to three, out slowly, count to three. Don't make me go over there and treat you like a child having an asthma attack."

Robin heeds the instructions. He breathes in a slow breath. One. Two. Three. He releases it slowly. One. Two. Three. In. One. Two. Three. Out. One. Two. Three. His shoulders sag and he he feels calmer. More relaxed.

"Exactly," he murmurs softly. "Real. Too real." He swallows hard. "I don't know how much you've figured out about us, May, but we don't kill. We don't take life. It's one of our rules. One of Batman's rules that all of us inherited." Robin finally lowers his hands. "I… I can't look at myself in the mirror. Neither of me. Not Robin. Not… me. I don't… I don't deserve this suit. I don't deserve this mask."

"Then that's your first challenge. Finding a way to reconcile what you had to do with how you're feeling right now. And sometimes the only way to do that is dispassionately. Logically." May knows that it could well be too soon to make the young man think about what's happened, but he asked her for help now and she may not get another chance. "The person you cut. Why did you do it?"

Robin's eyes clamp shut behind the mask, aiming to focus on the words offered and the task given. He exhales a quiet, but audible, breath and then focuses up. "I. Fox and Oracle, they said we needed to be undiscriminating when it comes to the mage types. They… they can't be held by a prison. We don't have means to keep them caged. They don't care about the mayhem they cause. We take them out so they don't hurt others." His jaw tightens further.

"But when I did it, I could hear her. And her voice just keeps," he encircles his temple with his pointer finger, "rolling over my mind. Telling me that she's right. That she knows better. That I'm incapable and Batman is too soft on me. That i'll never amount to anything. That only she could ever — " he stops. This isn't related. "No. No." His throat clears.

"Who is 'she'?" That last sounds more to May like intentional conditioning than remorse for having to kill a person. And that is even more worrisome. "Concentrate on your breathing again, then tell me who 'she' is."

"I…" his jaw tightens and then his head shakes. "I went deep undercover for months." Robin's throat clears. "Not as Robin as," he tilts his head, a strong implication he means the other guy. "I tried to take down an organization from inside. They believe in killing unceremoniously — in letting people burn and casting final judgment," he swallows hard. "Only Batman knew my mission. I failed. Defected when they asked me to finish my training with them. By killing someone."

His head turns to face May. He hasn't told anyone this before. He and Batman didn't even really talk about it.

May's expression hardens, but if Robin is as astute as he normaly would be, he'd know that it's not aimed at him. "Did you not have an extraction plan in place?" SHIELD never, ever sends agents on missions — especially deep cover — without making sure there is a solid extraction plan in place for this exact reason. "You didn't fail. You extracted before you were forced to compromise why you were there in the first place." The next time she encounters the Bat, she is going to have WORDS for him about sending CHILDREN into deep cover missions without extraction plans.

The question earns a small arch of Robin's eyebrows. He groans. "No." His shoulders feel heavier beneath the weight of the single word. "It was a mess. A complete and total mess. And I dream about it most nights. When I sleep. If I sleep." He coughs lightly. "What she was like. How she sounded. What they did did. How they work." He pinches the bridge of his nose over the mask.

"And then I did it. The other night I finally did it. And when the blade went down I heard her voice telling me to do it. Urging me at the imminent importance of this thing that I was doing. She told me it was right. She told me she was right all along and I'm just another one of them — another cog in her machine." He presses a single hand to his forehead. "And I spend every day as the other guy looking over my shoulder for when she's coming. Because she will come." His jaw tightens. "And not even for me. For them. Every single one of them. And they don't know she's coming."

Oh, she is already mentally planning to track down a wetwork specialist to make sure 'she' never gets within a continent of Robin again. May leans forward a bit as she says, "Okay, you need to listen to me very closely. You are suffering from a form of operant conditioning caused by being on that deep cover mission. You've heard of people being sucked into cults and figuratively drinking the koolaid, right? You're fighting a form of that right now. It's so far removed from your already ingrained ethics that it's causing cognitive dissonance."

May would drag him in to SHIELD Medical right now if she thought the kid would even let her touch him at this point. "Do you have access to medical resources you trust to help you with this?"

Robin buries his face in his hands again. While he's not looking at May as she explains the operant conditioning he underwent, he is listening. He swallows hard. The question, however, finally has his hands dropping to his sides, "N-no." He tilts his head to watch her. "Somehow, I think lying to a shrink about any of this wouldn't be worthwhile. Making up some equivalent story to work through wouldn't work be worth the time it'd take."

May frowns faintly. How the HELL does the Bat get away with tasking children to fight for him and then NOT have medical resources available to deal with the inevitable injuries? She's sure that The Nest and the people that resided there have long since moved on, so she doesn't have that resource to call on anymore. And as much as she trusts the WAND spellcasters, she doesn't think any of them have the ability or know-how to deal with mental instability. That really leaves her only one option.

"I'm going to have to ask Oracle to recommend someone, then. Unless you'd rather I take you in to SHIELD Medical."

Robin can feel the lump growing in his throat. His discomfort is palpable. "I dunno," he settles on. "I don't want them knowing." Them. His family. "They worry too much already. I can't…" He lolls his head to the side, "They can't have that on them." It's why they don't know. "They already worry. I… would rather head to SHIELD. Oracle is good, I just… don't want her to worries."

"You do realize that she's probably already worrying, right? And… if I take you in to SHIELD, I can't promise that your identity will be kept under wraps. They most certainly won't let you keep wearing that mask." May isn't trying to strongarm him into going to Oracle, she wants him to be SURE that that's what he wants. "I can ask around WAND to see if there's an alternate way to safeguard your identity, but that won't have any guarantee."

"I…" Robin emits a soft sigh. No, that won't do. And with the family in the wings, he is altogether unsure. Less and less his life is about protecting Tim and more and more about protecting the others. "I'll be okay," he finally asserts. His throat clears, "I was fine until — " he wasn't. "I had this handled. This was a problem I could handle. I… I'll be fine." He straightens and adjusts the mask on his face. He clears his throat, "Oracle doesn't know. What Oracle doesn't know won't hurt them." His teeth worry his bottom lip.

May shakes her head. "No, that's not going to work. Believe me when I say that ignoring this kind of mental trauma will only make things worse in the long run. And you're not sparing Oracle anything by keeping this from her. If anything it will likely ease her worries to know what's going on with you and give her the chance to get you the help you need."

Robin groans. In silence, he stares at Gotham's skyline. "They can't know. I need to be strong. They need me to be strong. And we don't deal with things like this. We push them down. It's not our way." Well done, Batman. "They don't even know why I left. Gave them some bogus reason that was believable enough." He inhales a slow deep breath, "Fine. Oracle can know I'm seeking help, but the situation with," he presses a hand to his forehead, "everything stays on the download. They don't need to worry more. I was handling it. Truly."

And yet another thing for May to get all up in the Batman's grill about. "No, they don't need you to be strong, they need you to be healthy. And you are not at the moment. Whoever told you to bottle up things like this did you even more of a disservice than 'she' did. And pushing things down is not handling them. It's like shoving your laundry into a corner instead of washing it. Eventually, you're going to run out of clean clothes, and then what do you do?"

Tim swallows around the ever growing lump in his throat. "I need to go." Robin emits a soft sigh and reaches for the grappling gun at his belt. "Go ahead and see if Oracle has resources." He manages a small nod towards May. "Thank you. For this." He finally shoots the gun. "For this. I.. have a lot to think about. Honestly though, thanks."

"Wait." May stands quickly when Robin moves to depart. She pulls what looks like a pistol out from inside her jacket and removes its clip to reveal odd, faintly blue-glowing rounds. She pulls a few rounds free and offers them to him. "THey're called ICERs. They use a non-lethal neurotoxin developed by SHIELD. Direct skin contact with the contents of these rounds will put someone short of Captain America down for upwards of an hour." He might have seen her using them in the past, when she goes straight into a Gotham fight shooting instead of heading into melee. "In case you need to defend yourself. Just don't get any on your own skin."

The weapon is accepted and Robin nods. "Thanks." His lips curve upwards slightly, "Irony of all ironies she made us work on target practice." It's like they want assassins to kill people or something. "And, good tip. I'll remember it." His lips twitch on one side.

"Thanks for this. And for coming. I… I know it was unconventional." Like most of Tim's life.

The gun is hooked into his utility belt, and he fires the grappling gun to go on his retreat home.

Melinda May watches Robin depart and the moment she's sure he's out of earshot she picks up her phones and the jammer, turning off the latter before using the former to send a message to Oracle. Just spoke with a mutual friend. Can we meet?

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