Joke's On You
The sweat clung to his skin, even after he awoke, eyes wide and peering into the dark, as if the shadows were to descend upon him and swallow him whole. His heartbeat was pounding in his ears, deafening his gasps for air.
Finally, he calmed his nerves and pulled himself into a sitting position on the edge of his mattress. Moonlight streamed in through his window, dully illuminating the room. He looked at his hands. They were shaking.
He let out a long exhale and clenched and unclenched his fingers a few times. It had been… for lack of a better phrase coming to mind… a HELL of a dream. Yes. Hell was the perfect word for it.
And that laughing.
"Poor little caged birdie!" That maniacal cackle.
He shivered, jumping to his feet. He hadn't had a dream about him in… ages… and it certainly had never been that vivid.
He remembered a white hand shoving itself violently between the bars of his cage, clutching a blade that just barely grazed his neck as he tumbled backward out of fear.
"Can't flap his wings, can he!" The voice continued to screech in his ears.
He shook his head, following the guide of the moonlight to the door and across the hall into the bathroom. He found himself staring at his reflection, black hair mussed, the whites of his eyes oddly apparent in the dark room. He ran his fingers over his throat, finding no cut.
He splashed cold water on his face to destroy the image. Robin's masked eyes told him that he was safe in the tower where everything was as it should be but the rest of him told different stories. Of its own accord, his addled mind warped his other senses so that they became devious liars that relayed things that weren't there. Suddenly his fingers stung like they had when he had clawed against the fine wiring of the bird cage for any hope of escape. Echoes played in his ears of Harley strumming her fingers along the bars like she was taunting a caged animal up for slaughter. These details of his imprisonment and more still pounded in on Robin from every direction, assuring him that the nightmare wasn't finished with him even if he was awake. He clawed at his skull to drive out the visions that his head created itself but they only came at him more forcefully in response. It was too much. The truths his eyes told him were drowning in the lies of his other senses and they built, built, until he couldn't bear it any longer.
Robin shattered with his fist the image of the tormented boy before him and the sound resounded like the crack of a gunshot in silence of the tower.
Titans Tower, Jump City. Saturday, 11:15 A.M.
With a severe furrow to his brows that kept increasing, Cyborg flipped through the channels on the big screen. "Man, there ain't nothing on this morning!"
"Maybe you should try doing something else," Raven mumbled. "Preferably something quiet." She turned a page in her ancient-looking book that she always seemed to have on her person but never seemed to finish. The annoyance in her voice seemed to be pointing out a reason as to why she had yet to complete it.
Cyborg glanced back at her for a moment, as if possibly considering her advice, but then went straight back to flipping reading the text on the page, Raven rolled her eyes.
Multitasking with one hand in the fridge, one hand holding a bottle of mustard that she sucked down like soda, Starfire was in the middle of preparing a meal for Silkie. By her standards, anything "interesting" would be a meal unfit for human consumption but, being non-human, Silkie was the only Tower resident that would merrily eat anything she put in reach of his pincers.
"We are running out of the food," she mentioned, though neither of her teammates made any sign that they were listening.
She sighed, settling with scooping Silkie up onto the counter to eat the blue, fuzzy pizza that had been on the top shelf for far too long. The little silkworm jumped over the pie beginning to brim with bacterial life and guzzled it down like it was a living vacuum cleaner.
That matter was remedied, and Silkie had additionally gotten his protein for the day in eating the bacteria. Starfire removed the uneaten scraps left of the pizza box, and as she threw it away her green eyes glanced to the clock on the microwave.
It was nearly 11:30...
That meant that Beast Boy would be getting up right about… The door slid open just then as though Beast Boy had been called onto stage. The little green boy dragged himself into the room still in his bright purple, animal-printed pajamas, absently rubbing an eye and carrying his toothbrush. "Hey," he greeted, mostly still asleep. "What happened to the mirror in the bathroom?"
"Eh? What?" He hadn't been roused by Starfire's complaint but now Cyborg looked away from the television in genuine interest.
"It's broken," Beast Boy replied bluntly, eyes instinctively trailing in Raven's direction. "You didn't trap some poor guy's soul in that mirror, did you? Like how your soul or whatever lives inside that creepy little mirror portal of yours?"
Completely pulling away from the book now, Raven glared at him with such daggers that he was quick to nervously break eye contact. However, for the intensity of that glare, she said nothing. Raven could no longer be distracted by the book before her now that the subject had been brought up. She had noticed the shattered mirror earlier that morning as well and, being the first to wake as she sometimes did, had cleaned it up before anyone else could view it. It was only a little spatter of blood but that it was there at all would've caused worry amongst the other Titans. She had been thinking on that but when she focused again on the here and now she saw the others had easily gone back to their business. It seemed that no one found the shattered mirror all that shocking. They probably all assumed it was her when her powers had been known to run rampant on occasion but she'd make time to be aggravated about that later.
Raven was concerned however. None of the other three present Titans had a scratch on them, but their leader hadn't made an appearance all morning. That in itself was odd for Robin, considering he was usually up at the crack of dawn to practice his martial arts.
Beast Boy sank into a spot on the couch, stirring up a foam in his mouth brushing his teeth. He made a few garbled noises that were supposed to be words.
"What?" Cyborg asked flatly. Beast Boy swallowed, removing the toothbrush from his mouth.
"I SAID, I'm sure Raven probably got all ticked off for WHATever reason at WHOever's soul she sealed in that mirror - was it Dr. Light? I know you've got that thing with Dr. Light! - but I hope he's not like drifting around in the air or anything. Eww, soul!" He shuddered. "I don't want to inhale SOUL, gross! What if it possesses me or something?" His own idea suddenly sent a shiver running up and down his spine and he hesitated on his next inhale. Even Cyborg was giving him a flat unbelieving look. Apparently soul swallowing was just a little too far-fetched for the robot-human who lived with the shape shifter, the alien, the demon child, and Batman's sidekick.
"I didn't break the mirror," Raven hissed, not looking up from the book. Her response was out of pure annoyance now when before she'd wanted to deter attention from what she believed had been the true cause of the broken mirror.
"Then who did?" Cyborg asked, a little challenge in his voice, and it couldn't have been clearer that he didn't believe her.
"It's a mystery," Raven replied, sounding like she couldn't care less when actually that mystery was on top priority in her thoughts.
Just at that moment, Robin entered, moving a little more slowly than usual. Behind the mask, his eyes made a quick contact with every Titan, as if looking to see if he was being given a suspicious look. "Robin!" Starfire greeted enthusiastically, floating over to him.
"Uh, hey," he greeted back, his voice just slightly betraying a degree of nervousness. Starfire didn't notice it, or if she did, she didn't let him know it.
"Robin, it appears that our food is in short supply. Perhaps, you would like to travel with me to the store of groceries so that we may eat once more?"
"Uh… sure, later," He said rather quickly, moving around her before she could touch his injured hand.
That was a mistake, he thought, remembering that fear and the swing of his fist into the looking glass. As soon as he'd punched it, the immense pain seemed to jolt him out of his state of nightmares. He'd tried to clean it up a bit but ended up getting more blood on the counter rather than less and settled with returning to his too-dark room to bandage his hand. As he had gently wrapped the cut knuckles and fingers, a memory played in the back of his head of an old butler who used to bandage his wounds for him. He had shaken it away, not wanting to be connected with that past… It didn't matter how completely alone he had felt at that moment. It was better that way.
Robin had then flexed the fingers, finding the mess gone but the pain still there, and from that point he decided to lay down to go back to sleep and pretend the event never happened. He'd clean up the mess as soon as he got up, and no one would be the wiser. All it took was a little rational thinking, and he'd had it all planned out very simply.
But sleep didn't come. Robin laid in bed for hours, staring at the ceiling, heart beating against his chest, fingers aching. Every time he shut his eyes there was a distant cackle that just would not leave him alone. He was frustrated and nauseous as this noise continued to return to him no matter how many times he tried to push it back.
He didn't know when he actually dozed off from sheer exhaustion, but when he had awoken a few moments ago, he'd found it to be nearly afternoon. A quick run to the bathroom found the mess cleaned up. For a moment he feared that that event had been in his head as well, and he was losing his grip on reality, but the mirror was still shattered. That event had taken place.
It didn't make him feel better.
Now as Robin dodged glances from his teammates, trying to look as casual as possible, he found the ache intensifying in his hand as he thought about it. He had to swallow hard to try not to think of that laugh.
"How am I supposed to style my hair every morning without a mirror?" Beast Boy complained, waving his toothbrush in the air. "Can we send Raven to Superhero Obedience Training or-?"
"I didn't break it!" She seethed, snapping his toothbrush in two. She managed to calm her ever-growing frustration and turned her gaze on Robin who was digging a soda out of the fridge and preparing himself a breakfast (or lunch rather) of cold Chinese takeout, using his left hand. Robin's strong hand was his right hand. The fact that he wasn't using it verified that he was the one.
But why did he do it, and why was he hiding it? She had a feeling that the first question would answer the second one.
No one said anything to Robin while he ate, Starfire sitting near him, but not really paying attention.
His sharp teeth now sparkly clean and ready to take a bite out of anything (provided it was vegan), Beast Boy shifted on the couch to get back to his room and change but with that shift in position he felt something out of place under the cushions. His eyes lit up like he was on a treasure hunt as he delved under the cushion for the mystery item in a home inhabited by teenagers. He pulled the toothbrush (half of it, at least) from his mouth with a pop.
"Frisbee!" He exclaimed like a small child. "I thought I'd lost it! Who's up for a game?" He tossed it through the air where it soared like a bird and waited for someone to grab it and accept.
A metallic hand closed over it. "Hey, BB, you wanna play?" Cyborg asked, his grin going wide, holding it up and swirling it around his finger.
Beast Boy shape-shifted into the form of a puppy dog, bouncing up and down and yipping excitedly.
Robin never even looked up. Normally he would be barking orders about playing those kinds of games outside, but apparently he didn't have the energy for it this morning.
The Frisbee was tossed back and forth like any normal game of Frisbee, except of course it was being played by a boy with robotic parts and various forms of animals. Cyborg then suddenly sent it whirling too quickly passed Beast Boy's ear for him to catch it, and unfortunately for Robin, his reflexes had been trained to be faster than his brain. His injured right hand had flown up to catch it before it smashed into his face.
He yelped out like some sort of kicked animal, dropping the disk as he gently took hold of his injured hand with his other, undamaged hand.
"Robin!" Starfire exclaimed, taking notice seconds before everyone else. "You have yelped like a frightened Zarnic! Whatever is wrong?"
"No, no! I'm fine, I'm fine!" He said quickly, biting back the pain.
"Dude, it's just plastic," Beast Boy said, lifting the Frisbee as if to examine it to see if it had become heavier or sharper. More impossible things had happened.
"You hurt your hand or something, Rob?" Cyborg asked.
And suddenly the three Titans that hadn't already figured it out fell silent one by one as the pieces fit together and realization dawned.
Robin felt small under the eyes of his teammates, but he didn't let it show. "Wh… what?" He asked. "I'm fine, I told you."
"No one yells like that unless they're hurt," Cyborg said, grabbing the Boy Wonder's wrist before he could react and yanking the glove off of his hand. "You're the one who did it, aren't you? You're the one who broke the mirror."
The normally commanding leader was speechless, sputtering and stammering over his words for quite a few seconds before managing, "It was an accident."
"How do you accidentally smash your hand into a mirror?" Beast Boy asked, incredulous.
Robin stammered a moment more before settling with a glare. "I just did, okay? Just forget about it!"
"But Robin, you are injured. We are concerned-" Starfire started, but he wasn't having any of it.
He leaped to his feet. "Forget it, okay? Leave me alone!" And with that, he stormed out, cape draped over his shoulders.
The rest of them stared after him for a long time.
"Dude…" Beast Boy finally said, breaking the thick, silent air. "What's his problem?"
"I have a bad feeling about this," Raven said darkly. "This could… no, I may be wrong…. I hope that I'm wrong, but…"
"What?" Cyborg asked.
"Please, Raven, tell us what ails Robin!" Starfire begged, grasping her arm. "We are very concerned about his well-being."
Raven paused, mulling over her words. "Robin… He… During the time when Slade was haunting him, I went inside his head to get through to him. By doing that, we've made a mental connection, and a side effect of that might be a thin psychic connection. Robin may be haunted by visions of the future."
"Seriously?" Beast Boy cried. "Like the future future? Where's he's that super cool Nightwing and I'm bald? I should be having nightmares about that!"
"I don't know what he's seeing," Raven growled, warning him to shut up. "I could be completely wrong."
"Y… yeah, you probably are," Cyborg offered in an attempt to calm the team of the discomfort they were all feeling. "It's pretty unlikely, you know? I mean, you weren't inside his head for more than a minute or so."
"I suppose that… could be true…" Raven mumbled, looking at the floor. Then what would have made him act that way, she thought. "Let's just leave him alone for right now."
"Yeah…" Beast Boy and Cyborg agreed, but Starfire looked longingly at the door.
"Hey, Star, you and I can go get the groceries," Cyborg suggested, and she solemnly nodded. Beast Boy decided to go too and ran off to his room to change into his uniform.
Raven stood in the same spot until the rest of the team had left the Tower all together.
Robin stared at the ceiling, making imaginary shapes out of the blank space in an attempt to ignore the nagging pain in his fist and the even more nagging pain of not being able to hide it. He exhaled through his nose, but it unfortunately didn't relieve any of his frustration.
His bedroom door slid open, drawing his attention away from the non-existent figures on his ceiling. He propped himself up on his elbows, ready to send out anyone who was planning to ask him about his hand. I'm fine. Really, I am. Aren't I? He thought.
Raven entered the room but kept her distance, standing only just in the doorway. "Robin," She croaked sternly. "You should have told us about the mirror."
"You were asleep. I didn't want to bother anyone," He said, averting his gaze from hers. He was a terrible liar, for sure.
She took a few more steps toward him. "You worried everyone. You're not normally the type to freak out, after all."
"It doesn't mean anything."
"Everything you do means something, Robin," Raven said, finally making her way to his bed and sitting down next to him. "I know you better than they do. I know the you that you once were. The you that was locked away."
"You don't know that much," He scowled. "You saw a few moments of my past, but that was it."
"Yes, Robin. I saw the most important moments of your life. They may have been only small segments but the molded you into you."
The Boy Wonder averted his gaze once again, staring instead at a spot on the floor. "It doesn't matter. It doesn't concern any of you."
Raven's mystic gaze drew his eyes back to hers. "Robin, we're your friends. Of course concerns us. I know I'm the last person who should be saying this but… you can't keep locking them away. You can't keep people in the dark forever."
"I grew up in the dark," He replied quietly.
Raven broke the gaze this time, knowing she was causing him discomfort. "Starfire is especially concerned about you. She cares about you more than anyone, but you continue to hold her at arm's length. It's cruel, Robin."
"Trust me, it isn't," Robin replied, getting to his feet and pacing to the other side of the room to look out the window. "I put up this wall to protect them. All of you… it's better this way."
"Protect them from what? Your past?"
"My past doesn't matter anymore. It's just memories in the shadows now. They don't need to know about it."
Raven crossed her ankles, staring at his back for awhile. "If that's how you feel, I can't deny you of it."
Robin leaned against the window, staring out into the sea.
Raven stood to leave. "Find a way to get out your anguish and frustration. If you don't, it will drive you insane. Meditation could be of good use to you right now."
He looked back at her, just to see the door shut behind her.
"Maybe meditation would do me some good…"
Twenty minutes later, Robin found himself sitting on his bedroom floor, legs crossed, hands placed together as if he was praying. He shut his eyes, exhaling slowly. After a moment, he'd created a peaceful image in his head and his body relaxed.
Silence… sweet, blissful silence…
It made the sudden wild cackle all the louder when it entered his head.
He gasped, breaking free of it in a cold sweat to find the alarm sounding through the tower. Hours had flown by, and he'd never known it…
He got to his feet and bolted out of the room. Maybe a little crime fighting would get his mind off of all of the chaos inside his dreams… He could only hope so.