Summary: Carrie knows her life is nuts.
Character requested: DC, Carrie Kelley.
Ratings Note: Suitable for teens and up.
Recipient: Serena Kitt
Author's Note: Written for Comica Obscura.
Timeline: After DKR, before DKSA.
There are times she thinks she must be crazy to do this. A lot of them, actually, even though Bruce's whole thing about controlling your expressions has made it --
Well, there's this thing.
Once, when she was about eight or nine, her parents were doing their usual -- what used to be their usual -- thing with the news. ABC at five, NBC at five-thirty, CBS at six, and at six-thirty the television got shut off unless there was something they thought she should see on PBS or whatever, and that was pretty rare and also useless, too, because six-thirty was debate time.
Only her parents weren't really arguing or anything, they were just kind of smirking at the blank screen and telling it everything it got wrong, with occasional breaks for,
"Carrie, you should listen to your mother, because it's not like they're going to teach you anything in that school of yours," and,
"Honestly, Carrie, if we could've found you a private school that wasn't run by ignorant fascists..." and also,
"No such thing!"
And they'd laugh and maybe toast each other -- it was usually just red wine, back then, and once Carrie had drank some her mother left at the bottom of her glass and her stomach ached for an hour until she'd fallen fast asleep, but that was a long time before.
Anyway, on one of those nights, there'd been this report -- probably on NBC, they were usually good for the random science-ish stuff -- on how smiling was a natural anti-depressant. ("I can think of a few better ones." "Oh, stop!")
And she'd asked her mother if that was right, since neither she nor her father had really had anything to say about it. She'd waited until they'd stopped laughing and kind of... kind of mugging at each other, just as if Carrie hadn't known that the dried herbs they kept in their bedroom weren't the same as the ones they kept in the kitchen, and that there was a reason why her mother always made two batches of brownies whenever she made any.
(She hadn't, actually, known the whole reason back then, or understood it, but she'd still known.)
And her mother had kind of frowned at the television -- which had moved to one of the few commercials that didn't make her angry (it was a car commercial, though Carrie can't remember which, anymore) and hadn't said anything. So Carrie had looked at her father, instead, but he'd just had a little more wine and watched the commercial, too.
And she'd kind of filed it all away to ask Mrs. Joyce in the school library the next time she got a chance, who actually didn't have answers to everything, but always thought it was nice to be asked, but, after a while, her mother had...
Well, she hadn't really looked at Carrie -- just the TV -- but she'd said, "There are some people -- a lot of people in this world, people in power, who think little girls -- and bigger girls -- aren't really complete without a smile on their faces for the men," and then had a big gulp of wine.
And so had her father.
She'd known it was supposed to be an answer to her question, even though it really wasn't, that she was supposed to just nod and hear all the things her mother hadn't actually said out loud and come to the exact same conclusion. Above all, she'd known that she wasn't supposed to ask, "but does it really work? Really?" Because asking questions like that of her parents tended to be the best way to get them to sigh at her and start talking about her education and shake their heads and kind of forget she was sitting right there.
In those days, she could still keep that from happening.
In those days, she hadn't known that she was better off. Bruce had been the first person to tell her that, after all.
For whatever reason, though, she had asked, and she'd kept looking, kept her eyes up and open on her mother even though she'd gotten the sigh, and, eventually, her mother had said,
And her father had grunted.
So, she's known for years that expressions were powerful, and important, and while she'd never really practiced it the way she told herself she would after her parents had cracked the second bottle of the night and stopped even talking about her, she'd still held onto the knowledge.
And when she'd told Bruce to call her Robin, when she'd told Batman, because it'd taken kind of a while for her to really believe someone like that could have a normal name, she hadn't let herself giggle, or look away, because she'd remembered. And it had worked.
It's just that it works for other things, too.
When she's being Robin, she looks tough, with her mouth in the tightest little line she can manage, and her eyes open but not wide or anything -- even though no one can see them behind the glasses Bruce had given her to replace her own -- except for when they're either fighting somebody Bruce doesn't think is a real threat or when they're done.
Then she's allowed to grin, and even make noise -- she's not supposed to make noise unless she absolutely has to, even when she gets punched so hard in the chest that the armor digs in and bruises her, and Bruce says that she's not big enough for a new suit, yet, but she knows she will be and then people are gonna aim there, she knows it -- and it's always...
It's like when you've been holding it for hours and hours, and finally get to pee, only not disgusting like that. Just.
"The principle remains the same," Bruce says in her head, and that's just right. Because it's not like controlling her face for the few hours of a patrol is even remotely as hard or tiring as swinging on a jump-line or staying on her feet after getting punched in the head by someone three times her size a few times.
It's just that it kind of is, in other ways, because it means she doesn't get to blink even when she's dodging the punch of some gorilla, and doesn't get to scream, and doesn't ever, ever get to laugh, even when she's flying so high and so fast that it feels like her bangs will go straight back for the rest of her life, even when the somersaults she takes off some fire escape are so perfect her old gymnastics coach would freak.
She had to quit the team, of course. It maybe wouldn't have been too hinky if the cops still weren't sure if Robin was a boy or a girl, but now?
She can't, and that's it. Or one day some asshole with a gun might show up at her parent's apartment and...
She doesn't like to think about it. That whole thing with the Joker... well, it's not like she hadn't read all the files in the computers Bruce let her have access to. It's just that there are more of those files, now.
Like the ones on Jason Todd.
So she totally knows how crazy this all is, and how important all the things Bruce tells her to do and not do are, even the ones where he doesn't use words so much as looks. (Maybe especially those.)
And it's been weeks since the last time just a punch made her cry out, or even grunt, and she keeps it all in, nice and quiet and safe so she can be safe.
The rules are different in the caves, though. Alfred is gone, and there are other people who need Robin to be all-Robin-all-the-time, but there are caves where it's just for her and Bruce, and that's where the rules are different.
Because when it's just the two of them, she's supposed to do things like laugh and make jokes. At least, she thinks she is.
Sometimes she catches Bruce looking at the nothing where Alfred maybe would've been if he weren't dead, and it's usually when she's being as Robin as she can be, on the mats or on the bars. Like maybe Alfred will be doing that thing where he isn't looking at either of them, and speaking to the air about how Bruce is doing a lousy job raising her, only using words Alfred would, so that it takes a second for Carrie to figure out what he means.
She used to think Alfred had crazy high standards for parenting. She still does, even though he isn't there.
Sometimes it doesn't really have anything to do with Alfred, with anyone but the two of them. (At least, she thinks so.) It's just that smiling, sometimes, can make Bruce...
Well, he doesn't smile, not really, but he kind of relaxes until he's only as tense as a really tense normal guy.
It's kind of the exact opposite as her parents, really, because they never really relaxed around her unless they forgot she was still there. (Sometimes, she doesn't go home for days. Mostly she only goes home now because Bruce says she has to, and she knows he only does because of security, and how she isn't old enough, yet, to avoid getting stuck in foster care if someone does drop a dime on them, because that thing about being Bruce's long lost cousin will not stand up to scrutiny.)
It's like Robin maybe means more than just a partner for Batman on the streets, or something... like Carrie can be someone for Bruce, and most of the time that just seems nuts, because Bruce Wayne is dead, and she knows how much of a relief Bruce thought that was.
And she can't be the daughter of a dead guy. Not officially, anyway.
Even though Carrie Wayne sounds kind of nice, when she's letting herself be a little nuts.
When she's letting herself smile.