September 12th, 2008. Friday, 1:24 am.
'Who is Slade?'
Robin laid in bed, staring up at the ceiling of his room from behind the safety of his domino mask. The darkness of the night surrounded him, yet offered no escape from his feelings or previous actions. The sentence constantly flittered through his mind, never ending; each word taunting and teasing him:'Who is Slade?'Robin scowled at the ceiling and turned onto his side.
He had blown it.
How could he have been so stupid? Slade had easily seen through his plan – probably from the beginning even. Robin was right back where he had started with the man. But now, because of his stupidity, he had damaged the trust of his friends.
Easy to destroy, but took time to build.
Slade had said that.
Robin definitely had destroyed his friends' trust. It had been so simple, so easy to do. Because of his obsession to find out who Slade was and his plans, Robin had blurred the line of right and wrong. He had stolen to gain Slade's trust.
That was what the plan had been. Don a criminal alter ego and offer himself in partnership to Slade. Robin had thought it was working out, but it fell apart before his very eyes – he had stolen for the man and hadn't told his friends the plan, thus destroying the very thing he cherished most.
He'd even created specialized weapons made out of an illegal, highly unstable and volatile chemical, Xenothium, to fight against his friends; a strong binding for Starfire to restrict her powers, a mouth covering for Raven against her incantations, an opener to enter the systems of Cyborg to shut him down, and a sticky, inescapable goop for Beast Boy to trap his transformations.
All for the sake of one goal.
"Two wrongs don't make a right, Robin."
Robin growled as the smooth, lecturing tone of Slade's voice flooded through the foremost of his thoughts. The growl came deep from within his throat – an almost feral noise. Irritation and anger rose up, burning his insides like lava.
How dare that psychopath lecture him! How dare he have the audacity tolecturehim –him, Robin; the Boy Wonder, hero of justice. Who the heck did he think he was to scold Robin, when the man himself was a criminal?! He had absolutely no right to point out Robin's mistakes. He'd only been trying to stop the madman.
That was all.
Robin let out a long sigh, the anger in his heart slipping away as easily as it came. He turned over onto his other side, sighing once again. He pulled the covers closer to his neck, burrowing deep beneath their warmth; his raven black bangs dangling over his forehead.
Psychopath or not, Robin couldn't help but admit that the man was right. Two wrongs did not make a right. He shouldn't have stolen those computer chips. He had been too impatient – just like Slade had chided over and over in that low annoying, smooth voice. If Robin had done it right, then he should've included the other Titans. But he hadn't. Thus, his friends were angry with him; hurt that he hadn't trusted them with his plan.
Maybe it would've worked had he included them in it.
But that was in the past now. He couldn't dwell on the what ifs any more. He had to deal with his actions, now – the present. He had to regain the trust of his friends. Robin couldn't help but shiver beneath his covers, despite the warmth that blanketed him.
What if he couldn't rebuild what he had destroyed?
Cyborg and Beast Boy had totally reamed him out first. Their voices had been loud, furious, and indignant. Not that Robin could blame them. He definitely deserved their ire. He had broken their trust, after all.
Beast Boy had loudly and constantly complained with: "Dude! Why didn't you ask for help! I can't believeyou'rethe reason for my month of bad hair days!"
There were a few of: "I can't believe you couldn't trust us with this. Man, I honestly thought we were closer friends than that." from Cyborg.
Raven's one simple, monotone declaration had been a little quieter, but a much harder pill to swallow than the rest: "You are an idiot."
But it was Starfire's talk with him that had been the real stab in the heart: "We did learn one thing from all this. You and Slade are… similar. He did not trust you and you did not trust us."
Just how stupid could he get?!
Robin rolled onto his back and resumed his scowling at the ceiling. Depression settled into his heart and began to weigh down heavily against his chest. His eyes burned, but Robin knew there would be no tears. He shut his eyes, squeezing them tightly; hoping that, perhaps, tears would come to wash away the terrible sin he had committed against his friends.
How long would it be before he could regain their trust?
It was because of his obsession with Slade that he had made this poor choice. Robin had been impatient and determined to discover and stop Slade's plan. He had pushed away his friends; alienated them in his complete obsession. He admitted it. He had been—was, still even now, completely obsessed.
But he had to be.
Slade was a dangerous man – a dangerous criminal. Robin just couldn't let a man like that loose in the city. People might get hurt because of him. What if he was planning a mass murder? Or what if he was going to try to bring the whole city under his command. What if—
Robin sighed again, forcing his thoughts to stop. It was bedtime – he should be sleeping, not brooding over a madman.
Robin supposed he obtained his work ethic from Bruce. During the five years that he had been the man's ward, Robin had rarely – if ever – seen the man take a leisurely rest. Usually Alfred, the aged British butler, had to drag the man to bed during those intense times when he had a big case.
But someone had to do it.
Someone had to protect the citizens. Someone had to protect the innocents from those nut jobs that decided they could go crazy in the streets. Someone had to protect the people from aliens, demons, metahumans, or whoever got it into their head that they were above the law.
It was Robin's duty to protect those innocent people.
Well, he liked to think that, anyways. Truthfully, he felt terribly burdened by it. He was just a fourteen year old kid. Honestly, he should just be hanging out with friends; his only worries: acne problems, grades, and girls.
Instead, there was a heavy weight and burden on his shoulders – the weight of peoples' lives.
While he enjoyed his crime fighting, sometimes he did wish for the normal moments. Here in Jump City, he never let up on the persona of Robin. He was Robin, the Boy Wonder, twenty-four seven. Ever since he had left Bruce, left Gotham City behind, he had also left behind his first identity.
Richard 'Dick' Grayson, son of John and Mary Grayson.
None of his friends knew his real name. They didn't know he had been a well known circus acrobat with his parents. They didn't know that his parents had been murdered right before his eyes when he was only seven years old; trapeze wires sabotaged so that his parents fell to their deaths. They didn't know he was taken in by Bruce Wayne, the playboy billionaire of Gotham City.
They didn't know that even with Bruce's altruistic kindness, Dick had felt the loneliness nearly suffocate him; almost drowning him in its terrible weight. While he was extremely thankful to Bruce for taking him in when he'd had no one else, the man wasn't exactly father material. Maybe a wiser, stern older brother; but definitely not a father.
And when he learned that Bruce Wayne was really the Dark Knight of Gotham City, the cold, aloof Batman that every villain feared, Dick had relished in his role as Robin. He had been eager to push away the bitter loneliness that his parents' deaths had left him with.
His friends also didn't know why he had left Batman and Gotham City behind to flee across the country to Jump City of the west coast.
What they didn't know could fill a library.
They only knew "Robin". Robin: strong leader, outgoing personality, brave, focused to a detriment, determined, driven, enjoyed video games, told terrible puns, hung out with his friends, loved to do pranks, and kicked bad guy butt like no tomorrow.
Dick, on the other hand, was a bit introverted. In fact, at times, the quite opposite to Robin. Dick was somewhat timid, shy,lovedhugs and affection, highly sensitive, gentle, mischievous at times, avoided the limelight – despite his past work with his parents, wanted to please, hated contention, and wished for normalcy.
Robin wasn't sure if he remembered that boy any more, though. That boy laid behind a mask that never came off – ever. If he took off the mask, would Dick surface once again? Would those unfiltered crystal blue eyes view the world in its purity? Would he blend with Robin's personality or would Robin disappear altogether when the mask came off? If he did, would the other Titans accept Dick?
But their trust had been shattered.
Could they honestly accept anything from him any more?
Had he completely blown it with them? Could he really piece together the shattered shards of their trust? He couldn't blame them, if he couldn't. He certainly lost their trust through his actions – it was completely his fault. He didn't deserve their trust any more.
Robin's throat constricted as he swallowed the dry lump that had built up inside. Gosh, he wanted to cry. His emotions were burning his eyes. But Robin didn't cry. Dick could and would – but Robin couldn't. He was the leader of the Teen Titans and he had to be strong for the group.
If he took off the mask, would the tears flow, then?
Robin let out a shuddering sigh as he sat up. The darkness was illuminated by a faint stream of light from the window; the glow of the moon the only light that came from night sky. The light shadowed the empty walls; the illusion of the darkness prevalent.
He couldn't sleep.
I have to stop thinking like this,thought Robin bitterly.I'll never get to sleep if I can't calm my thoughts down.
Sighing, Robin pushed the warm covers away and threw his legs over the edge of his bed; his pajama pants twisting slightly. Might as well grab a midnight snack. Maybe some food in his stomach would bring sleep.
Robin set his sock covered feet onto the carpet and stood up. He moved quietly, a habit that had been ingrained in him during his time with Bruce. The shadows swallowed him easily. He walked into the other section of his room that had been walled off with a doorless opening.
Robin looked at the darkened walls. There were numerous newspaper clippings of criminals that he had plastered on their surfaces. Countless criminal faces seemed to sneer at him through the darkness, taunting him in his sleepless night. He shivered slightly as he thought,Maybe I should do some cleaning tomorrow. All these faces staring at me… Totally giving me the creeps.
He slowly walked past his desk, ignoring the items of interest that he had collected from his fights with Slade. As he reached the door, he pressed the control button and the door slid open.
Destiny was such a curious force in life.
Sometimes it brought hope and happy times, while other times it brought the greatest of trials – trials that seemed like the heaviest burden of all, which felt as if it could crush the soul. Such moments sometimes felt so terrible, so discouraging, so hopeless.
But that was the crazy thing about life. Trials arose for everyone; but most of the time, they were viewed as annoyances – moments that wasted one's time. And while trials were always hard and challenging, sometimes the gifts or blessings that came forth in the end were worth more than all the jewels and wealth in the world.
Luckily, though, such times were never endured alone.
A gentle breeze fluttered through the room; trilling, lilting in a transcending, tender warmth – the prelude of changing destinies; the prelude of trials, yet the prelude of something ever so life altering in the grandest skies of hope.
"Hello, Robin. Couldn't sleep?"
Robin sucked in his breath and whirled around furiously, his eyes searching the darkness for the source of the voice – thatterrible, smooth voice.
Gosh, he hated the way it sounded so smug.
"Slade," hissed Robin. "Show yourself!"
"You've been tossing and turning a lot tonight. You need better sleeping habits."
"Shut up!" snapped Robin, taking a step forward back into his darkened bedroom. The door slid closed behind him from inactivity. Robin couldn't see anything in the room; the darkness shielding Slade from his view.
"My, aren't we the disrespectful little boy. No matter. That's easily rectified."
"What are you playing at, Slade? Why are you here? Why are you spying on me?" demanded Robin. He felt naked without his utility belt; bare and unarmed before a dangerous enemy. He couldn't attack blindly in the dark without his weapons; so, he began to inch towards his end table in the other section of the room where his belt lay.
"Still so impatient, Robin. I had hoped that maybe you had learned something from our recent experience. Looks like I was wrong."
"There's nothing to learn fromyou," hissed Robin viciously.
"Now that's where you're wrong, Robin. I have a lot to offer. A lot to teach you."
Robin stopped and frowned in the darkness. What was this madman talking about?'A lot to teach you.'?Wasn't Slade a criminal? Didn't he hate the Teen Titans for getting in his way? Didn't he want them dead, like all the other criminals? Why would he offer to 'teach' Robin?
"What are you talking about?" asked Robin, resuming his slow inching towards his belt. He slowly passed the dividing wall. There was a low chuckle.
"Have I said something that interests you, Robin? Good, because I'm offering you something that many would die for."
Slade's smooth voice was beginning to grate on Robin's nerves.
"Oh, like what?" drawled Robin.
"All my power, all my knowledge."
"All for you. You just have to become my apprentice and swear to serve me."
Robin couldn't help but stop his advancement towards his end table, frozen by Slade's pronouncement.
He was offering… a partnership? Why would Slade offer something like that? What was Slade's motives? What did he want? What were his plans? What were his goals?
All the questions that had plagued Robin's mind and heart began to pour through him once again – all those questions that had led him to his terrible, foolish choice, which then broke the trust of his friends and blurred the line of right and wrong.
Was Slade really offering a partnership now after all this?
No, that wasn't it. No, he was just like Batman. The man was offering the position of 'sidekick'. There was no way he'd bepartnerswith Robin. There was just no way.
Robin gritted his teeth furiously.
He was sick of it. Totally sick of these men underestimating his abilities. He wasn't a sidekick – he was aleader. Robin was nobody's sidekick. No, he was the leader of the Teen Titans. He was powerful and strong in his own right.
Robin was a leader.
Although, Robin knew deep down the offer was tempting,just a little– if he was honest with himself. This man was powerful – that much he knew and admitted. Robin had a frightening respect for the man's power, but he'd never admit it out loud to anyone. There were times where Robin felt dangerously drawn to the man; curious to what made the man tick; curious to know who lied behind that mask; curious to learn where he gained that power – but such feelings were quickly hidden because of where Slade's morals lied. But this man certainly had a lot to offer. He probablycouldteach Robin a thing or two.
Too bad he was on the wrong side.
"Thanks for the offer, Slade. But no thanks," said Robin offhandedly with a broad smirk. He bolted towards his end table, his hand reaching for his belt.
He never made it.
A bladed hand sped through the darkness, connecting with Robin's neck. Stars erupted in his eyes as pain flared from the blow. He dropped to his hands and knees, gasping. Another attack connected with his stomach, causing him to smash into the side of his bed. With the wind completely knocked out of his stomach, Robin struggled to breathe.
"You're so cute, Robin. You honestly think you have a choice in this matter."
A groan of pain slipped from Robin's mouth. He could see Slade's metal boots in front of his eyes. He glanced upward; the dark man towering over him. Even in the darkness, Robin could feel the overpowering presence from this man.
Gosh, he hated being so short.
Robin coughed and gasped as he struggled to sit up; clutching his stomach with one arm as he pushed himself up with the other. He had to fight. He had to win. He couldn't let this man loose inside Titans Tower. His friends were in danger.
He had to protect them.
Another swift kick connected with his stomach. A muffled cry of pain escaped from Robin's lips before he could clamp his mouth shut. A hand grabbed Robin by the hair and jerked his head to look upward. He was forced to look into the face of the masked man – half orange on the right, half black on the left, with fours slits over his mouth for breathing. The only human feature visible was a grey blue left eye, surrounded by the orange of his mask.
The eye narrowed beneath the metal.
"Pathetic, Robin. I expected more of a struggle from you. Too bad your last night wasn't filled with pleasant memories with your friends."
Another blow smashed into Robin's head. Stars glimmered once again in his sight, slowly fading away into dark spots – he was blacking out. He collapsed to the ground, sliding downward into the darkness. He closed his eyes, thinking how he failed his friends. He hadn't even had the chance to apologize – tell them how sorry he was and how stupid he'd been.
He would never get the chance to say he was 25th, 2008. Thursday, 8:32 pm.
"Again, Robin," commanded Slade's low, smooth voice. Robin groaned elaborately, dropping his head onto the desk with athumpin front of the keyboard.
Notagain– anything else butagain. Robin was so tired of running through this same hacking exercise, he was goingcrazy. It was endless – completelyendless.
But above all, he wasbored. The endless training and studying was getting so tiring and boring. Some of the engineering, he had to admit, was interesting at times. But dealing with these never-ending stream of numbers hours upon hours today was mind numbingly boring. Why couldn't Slade just stick to his rigid schedule today?
"Slade," muttered Robin. "Can't we do something else?Anythingelse?"
"No. Again, Robin," instructed Slade. Robin left out another low moan before lifting his head up.
"How many more times do I have to do this today?"
"Until I say."
"You're being impudent," warned Slade.
"Oh, come on, Slade!" growled Robin, whirling around in the computer chair to face Slade. The grinding, clinking noise from the gears above rang in his ears. "I'm seriously going out of my mind with boredom here. We've been doing thisallday."
"It is one of the many things I will teach you," said Slade, putting his hands behind his back as he took a step closer to Robin. "In the which, you will continue learning and practicing. This is something you need to grind to learn. Again, Robin. Don't push me."
Robin scowled and whirled back around in the chair; glaring at the computer screen for all its worth. He hated the man. He could be so unbending at times. Robin was so sick of this exercise – sick of it,sick of it!
Yet another week had passed, making it a total of two weeks; fourteen days that Robin had been held captive by Slade. He was slowly getting used to the routine that Slade put him under and the major soreness from the intense training was beginning to ease up. It was surprising and somewhat unnerving when Slade strayed from the routine. It unsettled Robin; almost to the point of making him go crazy – like today.
The routine kept him sane.
Still, Robin had difficulty holding his tongue with Slade. But the man was so freaking irritating! Not to mention Robin missed his friends and while he wasn't ever alone – almost always with Slade – he was getting lonely for them.
Would he ever see them again?
Robin typed on the keyboard; his fingers flying quickly over the keys with precision. His fingers knew the keys perfectly by now. He went over the codes countlessly.
But he had done the exercise so many times that day, not even exaggerating the number made him feel better. His fingers tapped the keys with power. He wished he could crush them. But Slade probably wouldn't appreciate it if he broke his equipment.
Then, a small smile slipped through his lips.
Slade was teaching him hacking – and he was doing pretty good, if he said so himself. If he could just…
His fingers dashed over the keys frantically as he played out his plan. It was simple – truly simple. It would only take a moment; and in that moment, there was nothing Slade could do to stop him. His heart raced at the sheer recklessness at the stunt. But he couldn't hold back the excitement in his chest.
Finally, something out of Slade's control and into his own.
With the final code down, he smashed the enter key down. A red light flashed on the screen. Multiple windows popped up; codes spilling down in endless amounts. Robin smirked at his work. Well, his training with the psychopath was paying off already.
Slade was beside him in seconds. He growled and ripped Robin out of the seat, before angrily sitting down in his place. Robin stood as he watched Slade's fingers fly across the keyboard.
Robin couldn't hold back the wide smirk that spread through his face.
But it slid away very quickly as Slade turned to face him, his grey blue eye narrowed in anger beneath that inhuman mask.
"What did you do?"
Robin's throat went dry. What had he done? What, Slade couldn't tell? Heh, if the man didn't know then he wasn't about to spill the beans.
"How come you don't know?" asked Robin, feeling a little too brave.
"Answer me. What mischief did you do?" demanded Slade.
"Should've thought that one out before you taught me how to make 'mischief' with your computer," smirked Robin with a confident fold of his arms.
Slade slowly stood up. Robin found himself taking a few steps back involuntarily. The man's presence was dominating. Robin fell back a few steps, tripping over the steps that led up to the computer. He landed hard on his seat, wincing in pain for a minute. Slade slowly walked down the three steps.
Robin could just feel the man's anger radiate from his body. He quickly scrambled to his feet and readied himself for whatever was to come to him.
"You will answer the question, boy," said Slade, his tone icy. "Or else you will live to regret it."
"No," said Robin defiantly. He clenched his fists for a brief moment. Then, Robin bolted forward fiercely; arm pulled back and ready to smash his fist into Slade's masked face. Slade smoothly dodged the attack that shot forward; barely moving to the side. As Robin passed him, Slade grabbed Robin's wrist and twisted it behind him. Pain shot up his arm all the way to his shoulder. He was locked in a terrible position; unable to move from the locked hold from behind.
"Why must you always make things so difficult for yourself?" snarled Slade, tightening his grip on Robin's twisted arm. Further pain screamed through his arm. Robin held very still, praying that Slade wouldn't break his arm. The grip on his arm felt as if the man could snap it like a twig – it would be all too easy for him to do that. Robin's chest heaved as he breathed heavily in pain.
Slade released him, tossing him forward easily. Robin landed on all fours. He barely had time to think as a kick rushed toward him. He rolled onto his side, barely missing the metal tipped boot by a mere centimeter. His heart rate was starting to go up in fear.
Robin flipped back suddenly as another attack came at him in the form of Slade's fist. A flurry of attacks came at Robin and it took all his energy and concentration to try to dodge them.
He wasn't able to dodge one and a knee smashed into his side; sending him flying to the side. He rolled onto the floor with a cry and then jumped to his feet, blinking wildly at the pain that tore at his side. He had to stay alert. Slade was going to attack again – there was no doubt.
"Attack back, Robin. Quit dancing around," said Slade in a low, commanding voice with a hint of mocking.
"Shut up!" snapped Robin, hating that tone in the man's voice.
"You wanted to do something different, didn't you?" questioned Slade with a tilt of his head. "Well, that's just what we're doing now. You brought this onto yourself. You justhadto do something mischievous, didn't you?"
"Anyone would go crazy after a day like today," protested Robin. "C'mon, Slade. If you're so smart, why can't you get that?"
"Watch it, boy. You're in enough trouble as it is," said Slade in an menacing tone.
"Shove off, Slade," snarled Robin. "Quit acting like I'm a little kid."
Slade growled loudly. An icy chill went down Robin's spine at the near feral sound.
"If you insist on acting like one," started Slade; his tone low and dark, "I shall be more than happy to oblige you."
Slade bolted forward at inhuman speed. There was no avoiding it. Robin was slammed against the wall, a cough mixed with a cry of pain burst from his mouth. Stars popped in his sight. Slade locked an arm against Robin's chest, pushing him against the wall with persistent force.
"Now, let's try this one more time. What did you do, Robin?" asked Slade softly, yet in a terribly dark tone. He leaned down to face him. Robin rapidly blinked his eyes, trying to clear his mind from the pain he was feeling.
"If you're the expert, why don't you tell me?"
That unbending grey blue eye narrowed.
"I suggest you tell me immediately or else this will turn out even more painful for you."
Robin clamped his mouth shut; his brain racking for the most plausible lie.
"Hurry it up, Robin."
"I—I sent an SOS to Batman!" cried Robin finally.
There was a long pause.
"I…" Robin hesitated. He then gained his momentum and the false words spilled from his lips. "I–I sent an SOS to Batman. He'll know where I am, and–and he'll come and rescue me from you!"
There was another long pause. Then, there was a short chuckle which extended into a deep laugh. Slade released his hold on him; leaning back with a hand on the forehead of his mask. Chills went down Robin's back as he listened to the disturbing laughter.
"What a little liar you are," commented Slade after a moment with amusement still in his voice. He shook his head. "I'm surprised that you would resort to lying to me." Slade leaned back down; the mouth of his mask so near to Robin's ear that he could actually feel the man's warm breath through the thin breathing slits of his mask. "But I suggest you don't do that. You're bad at it."
"But—I–I did," stammered Robin; his nervousness clutching his heart.
"Oh, please," scoffed Slade with a small, barking chuckle. "You know very well you didn't, Robin. I know exactly what you did. Very clever, too. Trying to delete some precious files of mine. You should know I have huge backup server system. Even if you tried to delete something, there are five other sets to delete."
Robin turned his head away, his chest lifting once in a deep sigh of frustration. The man had known all along, yet had acted as if he didn't. Why did Slade always have to play these kinds of mind games with him? Did Slade merely want control over him – was that it? Or was Slade trying to prove that he had been right all along with his training measures?
"I still managed to delete one set," mumbled Robin, desperately needing to win against this man at something. Even if it was a tiny victory – it was a victory, nonetheless.
Slade smashed his fist into the wall right next to his face. Robin jumped as he felt flecks of metal strike his cheek from the crushed impact. Slade let out a low growl.
"Yes," hissed Slade icily. "Looks like the grinding paid off, wouldn't you say? Youdidmanage to break through myownsecurity measures. Well done. But it's your audacity to go against me that angers me. It seems that my fists are just not sending any proper messages into thatstubbornhead of yours."
Robin froze, suddenly terrified by the tone in man's voice.
This couldn't be good.
"I wonder, Robin… how loudly you'll scream if I broke your arm," said Slade, gently grabbing a hold of Robin's arm in a tight, iron grip.
Robin's heart stopped; trapped in the man's terrifying grasp. His mouth went dry instantly.
"Oh, wouldn't I?" said Slade, amused. "You seem to love to test me, Robin. Truly, it's really adorable. But I grow tired of it. Maybe this will remind you mind your tongue for awhile."
"Wai—wait, Slade!" cried Robin frantically. "Please don't!"
"And just why not?"
"Be–because, then I'll be useless for weeks," tried Robin; desperate.
"Is that all? I can easily heal you when I wish to." The grip on Robin's arm tightened. His heart panicked. The man was really going to do it – he was really going to break his arm.
"Please, Slade!Don't!" Robin found himself pleading; hating himself for being so weak before his enemy. It was a horrible feeling – being so helpless and so frail against the all powerful Slade.
"Just… please, don't," whispered Robin, going limp in the man's grasp; submitting to himself to his fate. "I'll… I'll do better."
"Will you really?"
"Yes… I will."
"You've been terrible," said Slade; his tone going softer, dropping to a dark purr. "Therefore, you deserve some sort of punishment. Do you not agree?"
"Will you submit to any punishment that I deem necessary?" asked Slade in terrible whisper.
"Ye–yes," choked Robin. Slade released him. Robin held his arm to his chest; his heart racing madly in fear. His arm had almost been broken – that had been close and all too terrifying.
"You've brought this upon yourself, Robin," said Slade. Robin's mouth went even drier. He was sure the alternate punishment couldn't be worse than a broken arm. But there was no way to tell. Would the man decide to break his leg instead or something?
"I am done with your obstinate disrespectfulness," continued Slade. "It will end, Robin. Therefore, as your punishment, you'll be losing a privilege."
Oh. Was that all – well, that shouldn't be too bad.
"A veryspecialprivilege. I've been lenient with this long enough," said Slade; darkness seeming to ooze from the very segments of the man's voice. A terrible feeling of foreboding rose up inside Robin's chest. There was something very unsettling in the man's tone. A voice inside him was whispering that he should've let the man break his arm.
"I think I've been quite patient with you, but time and time again you've proven yourself no longer deserving to keep this privilege."
Wait… Oh, please… Please tell me he isn't going to say what I think he's going to say. Oh, please, no—
"Remove your mask, Robin."
"Obey me now. Take off your mask," repeated Slade in his soft, yet dark whisper. Robin's eyes widened beneath the safety of his mask. He squeezed them shut, praying beyond all hope that this was just a terrible dream – a horrific nightmare.
Then, perhaps he could wake up and forget this whole thing had ever happened. All the studying, all the training, all the punches, all the kicks, all the slaps, and now the mask – that's what this had to be; just some sick, horrible,terriblenightmare.
Oh, but it wasn't.
No, no, no, no, no! This isn't happening. This can't be happening. This isn't happening! Maybe if I ignore him—
"Now, Robin. Remove your mask," commanded Slade. "Do it now or I'll have to remove it myself. And youdon'twantmeto remove it – I can guarantee you that."
Robin took a small, gasping breath as his chest heaved in terrible, overwhelming hopelessness. His heart palpitated at the mere thought of unveiling his eyes before his enemy. He had to stay Robin – he justhadto. If he didn't, he wasn't sure if he'd have the strength to continue to resist the man. Dick wouldn't have the strength to fight against him. Dick would be crushed – utterly and totally crushed under Slade's cruelty.
"Please…" whispered Robin; his voice filled with a plea that was uncharacteristic to his persona. "Please don't make me take it off. I'll do better. I'll—"
"It's too late for that, Robin," said Slade, swiftly overriding him. "You had your chance – two weeks is quite a long time for leniency, you know. But I'm at the end of my patience. Take it off, now. You said you'd accept any punishment I deemed necessary. Well, this is what I deem necessary. Obey me now."
Robin's lips trembled in fear. He bowed his head for a moment, his breathing becoming erratic. This wasn't supposed to happen. Thiscouldn'tbe happening. Anything but this – he'd do anything to change this.
"Please, Slade. I'll doanything. But please don't—"
"I thought I gave you an order, Robin," whispered Slade, his eye glinting dangerously through the opening in his mask; his tone ever so ominous. "Orders are meant to be obeyed,withoutquestion. This isn't up for debate. You had your chance – you lost it. Now, remove it!"
Robin closed his eyes, the burning within them overpowering. However, no tears slipped through. No tears eased through the crevice of his eyelids to slip into the material of his mask. They wouldn't come yet.
There's no hope. I can't fight this man. I'm completely and utterly weak against him. He holds all power and all control over me. There's no hope. I should've let him break my arm…
There was no hope.
There was no escape.
The man was all powerful; all knowing. He could do anything to Robin – it just all depended on whether or not Robin would submit to him. Just how far would Robin bend to avoid the pain? Would he snap under the pressure? Once the mask came off, would Dick have the strength to fight?
But even Robin didn't have the strength to fight against this man anymore.
Slowly, Robin lifted his hand to his face and began to peel away the mask. It stretched his skin as if ripping off a band-aid; his skin stinging slightly. Finally, the last bit of mask disconnected from his skin and he dropped his arm to hang limply at his side, the mask clutched in his hand.
Robin was now unmasked.
He kept his eyes closed, not wanting to look at the horrible man that had been making his life a complete misery for the past two weeks. He did not want Slade to see Dick's eyes. But he knew… Oh, he knew he'd be forced to open them at any moment – view his whole situation through unfiltered, unmasked eyes.
Through Dick's eyes.
"Open your eyes," whispered Slade, sounding ever so soft. "And look at me."
There was no disobeying this man.
The command was slowly obeyed. Dick's eyes lifted open to stare into the chest of the man. His eyes lifted upward to look into the visible eye of the masked demon. A flicker of an unknown emotion passed through Slade's eye before it disappeared as quickly as it came. Slade's chest heaved once in a deep breath before speaking.
"Like gemstones," murmured Slade in an undertone, as if to himself. There was another long breath before he continued softly, "I know all about you. Don't think your identity has been a secret all this time – I've known for years who you are. I've just let you continue with the charade."
Dick's eyes widened in horror, his breath catching in his throat.
He knew…? All along?
"Yes,Richard, or as you normally go by: Dick," said Slade silkily, his eye showing that his face was filled with a smirk. "I knowallabout you. I even know who you were before you were taken in by Batman or better known as Bruce Wayne."
Dick's eyes began burn, yet the tears would still not come. His burning eyes were unprotected from the cool air. He was completely unprotected, unarmed in every aspect before his enemy. Slade knew Batman's identity. Heknew– the evil,evildemonic man knew itall. There were no more secrets – Dick was stripped bare before his enemy and with no hope of escaping him; no hope in overpowering him.
Completely, totally, utterly, absolutelypowerless.
"I know how your parents died as well," said Slade so softly that his voice was barely above a whisper. "Tragic, too; how they fell to their deaths."
Oh my gosh, stop… Stop! Stop, stop, stop, stop, oh, please stop!
"Murdered," continued Slade slowly, each word said with soft precision, "by a mafia man that had been trying to extort protection money from – what was his name? Oh, yes – Mr. Haley, who was the owner of the circus your parents worked at. Sabotaged trapeze wires, isn't that right? Terrible tragedy, really."
Somehow, Dick didn't think that Slade had forgotten Mr. Haley's name. If Dick hadn't been in so much turmoil, he might've noticed the reverent way Slade spoke over the deaths of his parents. But he didn't notice – his mind was screaming in total despair.
"Stop…" whispered Dick, his voice hoarse. "Please… Stop…"
"No. I'm not going to stop, Dick."
"Please! Stop!" screamed Dick, clamping his hands over his ears; his body curling slightly as he cowered downward. "I'm begging you, please stop!"
The tears still wouldn't come. No matter how horrible he felt, he couldn't even have the cleansing moment of crying. They were still locked away, deep within his heart. There was no escaping this terrible,awfulplace. He was trapped with a heartless man would make his life miserable forever – Dick was thoroughly sure of that now.
Had he been an awful person to deserve such a lot in life? Did he deserve to face this? Had he offended some higher power that he needed to be punished and tortured like this?
A hand touched Dick's chin, gently lifting his head to look upward. Dick was forced to look into that unbending steel grey blue eye. Would this have been any easier if Slade had taken off his own mask? Did the inhuman mask make it all the worse?
"Uncover your ears, Dick. Youwillhear what I have to say," said Slade. Dick's lips trembled as his hands fell to his sides slowly. He pursed his lips together, trying to stop the uncontrollable trembling.
."Good boy," said Slade. Then he continued dryly, voice rising slightly in volume, "And then enter Batman; the Dark Knight of Gotham City who took in poor little orphaned Richard. You were his little tag along birdie for five years, weren't you, Dick?"
Dick closed his eyes, nodding slowly. The burning in his eyes was intensifying, yet his eyes were still completely dry. Would they ever cleanse themselves? He didn't care if it was in front of his enemy. He needed them to purge the terrible pain in his heart and chest.
Dick's eyes slipped open once Slade continued.
"But… what could have made the little bird leave his safe nest, hm?" questioned Slade. Dick's eyes began to widen, his heart beginning to quicken in fear.
Oh, gosh, no. No, no, no, please tell me the man doesn't know about that. Oh, please. I can't butthat. Please, no!
"What could've happened, hm? Want to fill me on that information? I'm afraid I'm a bit at a loss with this."
Dick rapidly shook his head. He could never tell anyone. He couldn't speak of it. He couldn't handlethaton top of everything else. Was Slade really determined to break him completely? Shatter his fragile being completely to piece him together into the apprentice that Slade so wanted?
If the man wasn't careful, that was exactly what was going to happen.
"Tell me, Dick. Tell me what happened."
Dick shook his head again, more vigorously this time.
"This isn't an option, Dick," said Slade; his eye flashing dangerously. "You keep conveniently forgetting that. What, did you and dear Brucey get into a little fight?"
Memories flashed unbidden in Dick's mind. He snapped his eyes shut, trying to block out the terrible images that were mocking him. Red. Far too much red – staininghissuit. Pain. Far too much pain – agony beyond anything. Dick began to shake his head, swaying to rid himself of the dark memories. He didn't want to remember that. He didn't need to remember that. It was over and done with – it wasn't going to happen again. Dick was far more careful now.
"Answer me, happened?" demanded Slade.
The terrible sound from the memory shot through his mind again and then that laughter – thatawful, terriblelaughter. Then, he was lost. Dick clamped his hands over his ears and screamed. It tore through his throat. Dick dropped into a crouch; curling up into a ball with his hands still over his ears as he was buried deep into past memories.
Slade's eye widened in surprise. He knelt down in front of Dick and placed a hand onto his shoulder.
"Dick, calm down," said Slade. Dick only swayed back and forth, long flowing murmurs of 'no, no, no' spilling from his lips. His eyes were wide and glazed; disconnected from reality. Slade placed his other hand onto Dick's shoulder, firmly clasping him and squeezing his flesh once.
"Dick, that's enough. Calm yourself down."
But Dick still couldn't hear him.
"Dick!" shouted Slade, shaking him once. "Dick, come out of there. You're safe. Come back now, 're safe!"
Dick's eyes blinked once. There was another light shake, followed by more blinks. Hands slipped down away from Dick's ears to rest on his knees, one of his hands still clutching tightly onto his mask. His head lifted to look at Slade. For a long moment, contrasting shades of blue eyes stared into one another.
Then, with strong arms, Slade forced Dick to stand back up; pulling him to his feet carefully and with power. His hands dropped to his sides as he observed Dick with a perplexed eye.
Dick was frozen to the spot. He had lost control. It had been a long time since that had happened. No one knew. No one knew this would happen if he talked about the events that occurred before his fight with Bruce that ultimately forced him to leave Gotham City.
No one knew.
Because Dick hadn't told anyone – not even the Teen Titans.
It had been too traumatizing. If Bruce knew, he'd have locked Dick up in Wayne Manor and never let him out ever again. But Dick had been doing just fine on his dealing with it. After all,Robincould handle anything. He was dealing with Dick's trauma just fine,thank you very much.
Although, deep down, Dick knew that it was just a terrible lie to hide the obvious.
He wanted no one to know his weakness. He was a leader, a fighter. No one could know. No one needed to know. He was supposed to be strong. So, no oneevercould know his weakness. Slade could do whatever the heck he wanted to him and Dick would never tell him a single word.
Not a one.
Slade wouldn't be able to figure it out, either – Dick was sure of it or truly… Dick prayed that he wouldn't. But after his meltdown, he was sure that Slade would interrogate him – strip away the mystery as soon as possible; tear down his barriers of strength so that his weakness was laid open before him.
If he did, though, Dick doubted he could survive this.
But, the man didn't.
"We're going to bury Robin for a little while," said Slade, after another long moment of silence. "For now, at least."
It was then that the tears came, flowing freely deep from within Dick's heart and soul to slide easily down his cheeks; bringing him fully back to the reality that had just occurred. His mask – it had been removed. So, he had been right, finally: the tears did come once the mask came off. Dick closed his eyes, sending a fresh wave of tears down his face.
The mask slipped out of his fingers and fluttered noiselessly to the floor.