Nobody notices it at first.
The subtle change in his posture. The lack of wordy quips and the creepy echo of the infamous cackle.
The way his lip twitched downwards when anything family-related became a topic of discussion. Nor was the way he pretended to need to do something before he drew attention to himself, slip away and recede into the shadows like he was never even there.
It wasn't like his best friend would even notice. Chasing skirts and continuously trying to catch a date were all the sudden top priorities.
Robin had never been really close with anyone else on the team. Conner was probably the closest he had –minus Wally, but he wasn't really close now. They could relate over daddy issues and whatnot, but when it really came down to it, they didn't have much in common.
Kaldur was an amazing leader and great support system, but he just seemed a bit too mature to have much fun with. He could tell a few jokes and make astounding passive aggressive comments (in fact, Robin often fantasized about what the Atlantean's meeting with Alfred would be like), but all the same he disagreed with Robin's method of 'fun' and didn't partake in any of his more mischievous stunts.
Artemis could be fun to hang around with, but it was abundantly clear to Robin that she wasn't very keen to hang out with the Boy Wonder and despite contrary belief, he did know when not to push the boundaries and respected her space.
And then there was M'Gann. She was kind and fun-loving, but she was still relatively new to Earth and didn't understand much of the culture. She liked to make physical contact with others, and was overall a great older-sister role model. But she seemed so innocent to the harsh outer world and Robin wanted to preserve that the best he could. Unfortunately, that meant Robin couldn't really tell her about his troubles in Gotham because, well, it's Gotham.
Robin knew he had Barbara Gordon as a best friend to his civilian identity, but most of his life was as Robin anyways and he couldn't talk to her about that, so he had to lock his mouth shut and throw the key into a fiery volcano.
Robin was sure that this thing with Kid Flash was just a phase and would pass over soon. Just like every other 'phase' the speedster had gone through.
At least, that's what Robin kept telling himself.
Weeks passed by with no ending to this hellish nightmare in sight. He knew he was withdrawing, so subtly that no one seemed to notice, not even Artemis the ever-observant archer.
'Best friend' was a term used loosely now, hardly even the equivalent to a distant friend. Robin was starting to think of the word as an insult, and it took every ounce of his control to not spit it out with all of the malice he could.
Barbara was technically his alter-ego's best friend, but he couldn't seem to associate 'best' with anything good, so he started calling her 'super friend' in his head.
Batman seemed to catch on to some of Robin's problems, and it was obvious that the emotionally constipated man was trying his best to help, but Robin tried to leave him out of his troubles because B (who was just B because he was Bruce and Batman combined) had enough of those on his own.
Besides, these were just temporary and would resolve themselves. He was sure of that.
Or at least, so he thought.
On those lonely nights when Bruce was at a meeting and Alfred was out of the manor, it was so much harder to block out those ever-persistent thoughts that rattled around in his head.
He's going to send you back, they hiss. That's why he hasn't figured it out yet.
No! Bruce likes me, he responds, frantic.
That's what he tells you. That's what he wants you to believe.
And then he shuts them out and tries to busy himself with something else.
But those vile creatures that whisper into his ear at night, with harsh softness and falsely comforting lulls, just make you believe even though all evidence points to the contrary.
They visit every now and then and even though it's just so tempting to believe them he plows on and refutes with effervescent ferocity when they come back to haunt him.
The Voices, dubbed because of their sly tongues and deceptive hisses, persist, even when he's shoving them out with all of his strength and will.
It's like a dance, twisted and warped but all the same graceful and poetic. A lash of all the anger and malice and HATE and a refute of all hope, faith, and love.
But the dark, twisted, words are getting harder to resist and the defenses are weakening, eroded by the constant doubt that surrounds it like a cloud.
He has names for them now, associated with what emotions he's feeling when they swarm him again.
Anger, Loneliness, and Misunderstanding often arrive together and feed off of each other, poisonous lilts inserting themselves into his thoughts, purposed to feed off of his more negative emotions.
He didn't know when they weren't feeding nowadays. He could hardly remember happiness anymore.
A river of doubt that floods over him is a route for the Voices to come, whispering remarks into his ear and he can't find himself enough to ignore them. The dam breaks and he's suddenly drowning under the torrents of doubt and pain.
And with the floods come those sickly comforting lullabies, twisted and warped but angelic in its own way.
Silky smooth honey, floating in the air and to his ears. An angel's touch, gracing his brow and light as a feather. The sweet aroma of his mother, wafting through the atmosphere and permeating all around him. He feels her hand caressing his cheek, feathery touch filled with warm comfort and a hominess Bruce never possessed.
He's opening his eyes again –when did he close them?- and staring into the loving gaze of his mother, flowing locks of hair framing her features as a smile adorned her face.
He leans into her hand because he's missed this for so long it feels like forever and he just want to be.
He just wished she wasn't dead and gone forever and ever and ever and ever and-
And suddenly her kind features are warping into sharp, jagged lines and gray skin and pointed teeth and omigod is that blood? And he found himself staring into the face of a ravenous beast with glaring beady red eyes and pointy teeth dripping with saliva.
He screamed, jumping away just as its disgusting head reared and it charged him with its small eyes shining with hate.
He didn't dare to take his eyes off of the monster as he scrambled back, shoes scuffing the linoleum tile as he raced to gain purchase.
He kept at his panicky attempts at escape until he felt something press against his back. He barely registered the coldness of the blank, gray wall because the monster was coming closer and closer and closerand now it was on him and he couldn't get away and now it was gone, disappeared into nothingness.
His heart was still beating loudly as blood pulsed through his ears, crashing like tidal waves as he concentrated on his breathing.
Inhale. 1…2…3… Exhale.
And he continued like that until his breathes were no longer short and gasping but slow and deep.
He was at Mount Justice.
He heard the thundering of running footsteps and suddenly he was acting on instinct and clambering to get his sunglasses on before the Team found out his identity.
He had just barely managed to finish his task before the door burst open, slamming into the wall, spider-web cracks appearing behind it.
A second later a blur of yellow appeared next to him, and hands were suddenly grabbing at his forearm as a tan face dotted with freckles and worried green eyes were covering his vision.
Garbled words were being spat at him, slurred and sped up to the point where it sounded like gibberish. Robin was started to get overwhelmed.
Get whelmed, Grayson.
And for once, Robin relented to Determination and took a deep breath, turning to the rest of his teammates who have by now arrived.
"It's okay, guys."
The arched eyebrows he receives, or, in Superboy's case, growl, make him a little uncomfortable.
Because it is fine. He shouldn't concern himself with a trivial thing such as this. He fell asleep in the study. Had a nightmare. That was all.
Sagging a little, but not for long until he forces himself to sit straighter, he carefully explains even when the other teens are looking at him worriedly.
When it's obvious that everyone wants to know what the nightmare was about, (it's practically hanging in the atmosphere) he pretends not to notice and after assuring his friends one more time that he's fine, he stands and strides out of the room.
Feeling the skeptical and worried stares boring into his back, he makes his way to the zeta beam and lets the feeling of dissolving wash over him.