Give him a mask, and he’ll become his true self. Give him a mask, and he becomes free.
Richard silently dropped down from the fence. The flickering light from a streetlamp illuminated the back of the corner mart just enough for him to see the overfull dumpster and the neighboring pile of empty boxes. A puff of smoke off to the right told him that one of the workers was taking a cigarette break. That was fine with Richard - he was heading the other way, towards downtown.
He turned and pulled the hood over his head, letting out a slow breath. He started walking, then sped up into a jog that took him down 5th Street East, left onto Delaware Avenue, and into the center of downtown Ruby City. Empty suburban roads gave way to five lane streets still crawling with life. Richard kept his hood up and head down - no need to rouse suspicion for walking the streets in a mask - ears peeled for a hint of danger, eyes looking for, well, something exciting. A burglary, maybe. A bank robbery would be exciting, but too dangerous without his gear.
Richard kept walking. A hand clasped his shoulder, forcing him to stop. He resisted the instinct to bring his hands up in preparation for a fight - good thing too: it was a policeman who had stopped him.
“Where are you off to, son?” The man looked to be nearing middleaged, though some of those creases could have been through the stress of his career, especially with the advent of superheroes and villains. His brow was furrowed in tired concern. Richard was not surprised; he’d come across a number of people with no training trying to be Batman, Robin, Green or Red Arrow, or any other of their favorite heroes. He blinked - the man reminded him of the Jack Haly from his childhood.
“My friend’s place,” Richard answered. “It’s her birthday and I don’t have the money for a bus ticket so… I’m walking.”
“And the mask?”
“It’s a costume party. Hero themed. I’m borrowing the suit from a friend but accidentally left the rest of the suit in his car when he dropped me off at home. I had the mask on, which is the only reason why I have it now…” He smiled sheepishly and reached up inside his hood to scratch his head. “He’s going to be late to the party, so I’m heading there now and I’ll put the rest of the costume on –”
“Alright, alright,” the officer said, smiling a little despite himself. He remembered what it was like to be young, going to parties and having fun with friends. “Stay safe. Those men and women with capes… They’re in their own league above us. Don’t go trying to be like them.”
“I won’t,” Richard promised. He started to walk away, then turned back to the officer as he was walking back to his squad car. “Officer?” He hesitated a moment as the officer turned back around. “Thanks for caring.”
The officer nodded and tipped his cap, then turned back and continued to his car. Richard was certain he stood a little straighter, looked a little less tired and more… encouraged. I guess people don’t appreciate the police here any more than they do in Gotham, he thought as he continued walking to the end of the block. He turned the corner, exiting the officer’s line of sight.
On and on he walked, coming across nothing but his own growing doubts. What am I doing out here? he asked himself. I was so eager to prove myself to - who? Batman? Prove that I don’t need him? That I’m more than a sidekick? More than Robin? He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and exhaled slowly. Sounds more like I’m trying to prove it to myself… He opened them again, looking around. Does this city even need a hero? There’s been nothing since I moved here… Hands in his pockets, Richard kept walking, though now he was heading back to his apartment. He needed to figure out what he wanted - a chance to reinvent himself as a different hero, or as someone who wasn’t a hero? As he contemplated this decision, he kept mindlessly putting one foot in front of the other to - minutes later - look up and realize he’d never turned down the street to head back home.
Stay whelmed, Grayson, he reminded himself as he turned around to orient himself toward the apartment. This isn’t a life or death decision. It can wait until you get in bed.
Just across the street, he could see three men wearing baseball caps with the brims pulled low walking towards the side door of the Ruby City Federal Bank. One was holding a limp duffel bag; another’s shirt looked pulled up in the back which, Richard saw as he began to cross the street, was because he had stashed a pistol in the waistline of his pants and forgot to pull his shirt down over it. It was a funny sight: the guy was wearing a belt, yet his pants still sagged a bit. As Richard reached the opposite curb, he heard the beep-beep click of a card reader unlocking a door followed by the click of the door being pulled open. He waited for a count of four and ran around the corner, mentally preparing to either be shot at or have to race to prevent the door from shutting.
Time seemed to slow as Richard fell into the “zone” and took in the situation. One startled man, presumably left on guard, scrabbling for the gun he’d tucked in his pants. One door, currently closing. One key card, a corner visible poking out from the man’s pocket.
A steady rhythm filled Richard’s ears, though whether from his footsteps or his heart pounding in excitement he didn’t care; more important was that he reach the man before he could pull the trigger. At two yards out, the man started to bring his arm back around. One yard, the gun was raising toward Richard, who jumped - using the startled man’s shoulders to steady himself - just before the gun fired and, twisting himself in the air, landed so he was facing the man’s back. He quickly snaked his left arm around the man’s neck and grasped his right while his right hand restrained the man’s right arm. The guy was able to breathe normally, but Richard’s arm was putting pressure on the carotid arteries in his neck, effectively cutting off a majority of the oxygen supply to the brain.
And 3… 2… 1… The man fell limp in his hands as the gun clattered to the ground. Richard relaxed his arm and kicked it away, wincing as it hit the dumpster with a loud clanging sound that echoed through the silent alley. He had about 30 seconds to figure out how to restrain the guy before he woke up - that was one thing about the movies that always frustrated him: if you choke a guy out and he doesn’t get up almost immediately after you let him go, he’s either dead or is going to have some serious brain damage. The man had a belt that wasn’t being used for its intended purpose, so Richard laid him face up on the ground and quickly undid the buckle, pulling it from the pant loops as he rolled him over. He grabbed the guy’s hands and pulled them behind his back so that his wrists crossed, then wrapped the belt around his wrists, threading the strap through the buckle over and over until he couldn’t thread it through anymore.
Richard’s attention changed to the robber’s feet. He had nothing to restrain his ability to walk, except…
The robber groaned as his brain began to receive enough oxygen to permit him to wake. “What… What the hell? Are you tying my shoes together?!” He tried to turn over and sit up but had a hard time, what with a guy sitting on him and all.
“Yes, I am. Though I can never remember if the bunny’s ears are supposed to go over or under…” He pulled the knot tight and pulled the access card from the man’s pocket. “Maybe I’ll go ask your friends how it goes.”
He stood and walked up to the side access door, then swiped the card across the keypad. Beep-beep click. Richard opened the door and stepped into the bank; his hand remained on the door to slow it down as it clicked shut.
Silence filled the bank–pressed in on Richard as he stood still, ears straining for a hint of a sound. Soft padding echoed down the hallway toward him; someone did not want to be heard. He crept toward the hallway entrance, keeping close to the wall so he wouldn’t be seen. Any second… now! Stepping forward, he noted the pistol held with two hands and grabbed the barrel with both of his, rolling it towards the would-be robber and out of his hands until only his index finger was inside the trigger guard. He then tilted the pistol to the side, trapping the man’s finger, and bent back until the bone broke. While the man doubled over in pain and instinctively jerked his hands back, Richard brought his knee up and slammed his head into his knee. The man crumpled.
“Larry?” a voice called from the direction the now-unconscious man - presumably Larry - had come from. The third bank robber poked his head out of the vault opening to see a guy in jeans and a hoodie standing over his buddy. The guy looked towards him–that’s when he saw the mask. “Oh crap…” he muttered as he pulled his head back in. He had no gun. Larry insisted that he wouldn’t need a gun, not when he was carrying all of the money. Stupid!
He felt a tap on his shoulder. Swallowing nervously, he turned around.
“When you’re tying your shoes, do the bunny’s ears go over or under?” Richard asked, leaning against the inside of the vault’s doorway with his arms crossed.
“I, uh… Under, I think?” This guy had to be the newbie of the group: stuck with the grunt work, he didn’t have a weapon and had already surrendered to Richard by not trying to attack him.
Richard smirked. “Thank you. You’re friend by the door and I weren’t sure how it went. Say, what’s your name?”
“Uh M-M-M-Mo…” Mo’s knuckles were turning white from how tightly he was holding the duffel bag.
“Mo? No, don’t tell me you guys gave yourselves nicknames! Let me guess: your friend by the door was Curly?”
Mo didn’t answer.
Richard sighed. “Well, Mo, you know you’re not getting away with the money, right?”
“You seem like a nice guy, Mo. Tell you what: you let me tie your hands and you stay here in this vault until the police arrive, and I won’t have to knock you out like I did Larry. Sound like a plan?”
He nodded again and held his arms out in front of himself.
Richard took the duffel bag and unclipped the shoulder strap from both sides. “I appreciate the cooperation, but how about you put your hands behind your back instead?”
Mo complied, allowing Richard to wrap the shoulder strap around his wrists a few times before being led to the door, where a metal handle jutted out, connected to the door on both ends. Richard clipped the ends of the shoulder strap to each other so that Mo was bound to the handle.
“The police will be here soon enough,” Richard told him. “In the future, you might want to name yourselves after someone other than the three stooges.” Mo just hung his head in shame.
Richard walked back out of the bank, taking the time to wipe down Larry’s gun and the security badge so the police wouldn’t find his prints on them. Next stop was a pay phone, where he made an anonymous phone call to the police, alerting them to “three guys with guns and a big bag sneaking into the bank.” His objective complete, Richard finally went home.
Minutes later, he was back in his apartment, mask back in the bedside drawer. Was it stupid of him to wander the city with a mask on? Yes. Was it stupid to confront armed bank robbers without any of his usual gear? Eh, he’d had worse on some of those times he’d been captured and stripped of his utility belt. Still, he had to admit that that was the most fulfilling thing he’d done since arriving in Ruby City.
Do I need to be anything more than Robin? He asked himself. This is what I do. Even if Bruce doesn’t want me to use the name “Robin”, I can still do my own thing. He laid back on his bed and closed his eyes.
Kaldur put his hand on Richard’s shoulder. “We understand. You need some time to find yourself. Do not forget: you will always be part of this Team, even if you do not wear the costume of Robin.”
“Thank you, Kaldur,” Richard said appreciatively, glancing over at Wally, who had his goggles sitting on his forehead, patiently waiting until Richard was ready to leave.
The only other person in the Cave was Zatanna, as M’gann, Superboy, and Artemis, were on a mission scouting out Bane’s newest enterprise in Santa Prisca.
Kaldur backed away as Zatanna walked up to Richard. The two had been a couple for almost a year two years ago and, though Richard was currently seeing Barbara Gordon now, the two had remained close. Zatanna put a hand on his shoulder and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. “Don’t be a stranger,” the young magician told him in a soft, yet stern voice.
“I won’t,” He promised, offering a smile. He then turned to Wally and nodded. The two walked to the Zeta tubes that would transport them close to Richard’s new apartment in Ruby City.
Recognized: Robin B01, Kid Flash B03 The Zeta tubes powered to life as the two turned around to wave goodbye to Zatanna and Kaldur.