Number One Zero

Chapter 11

Speedy and Raven suddenly appeared in the common room in a swirl of dark energy. Cyborg and Bumblebee were already waiting for them impatiently, irritation clearly etched on their faces. Thinking that they were the cause of their leaders’ frustrated expressions, their bodies tensed instantly, fearing what was to happen next.

“What took you so long?” Cyborg barked out. “We have a lot of things to discuss.”

“Sorry. I just had to deal with some personal stuff.” Speedy replied sheepishly.

“But I suppose you’ve already received the information we know, which really isn’t much.” Raven said, defending the archer in her own way.

“You’re right. We need to know more about what Robin is planning before he does something big.” Cyborg replied, his expression softening into a deep musing.

“Or before we do something to him.” Bumblebee added, paving the way for tension to cut across the room. Cyborg’s eyes suddenly became livid, anger flaring in his human eye. Bumblebee glared back at him, showing how irritated she was at her boyfriend.

Speedy and Raven felt awkward, as if they were in the midst of a private fight between the couple. As the two Titan leaders were glaring daggers at each other, Raven felt that they had to get out of the scene as fast as they could, before things got ugly for all of them. She cleared her throat, bringing the silently arguing couple’s attention to the other individuals in the room.

“So… we should probably get to work on researching… right?” Raven suggested, trying to appease Bumblebee and Cyborg.

“Yeah, you’re right.” Cyborg suddenly said, closing his eyes for a moment to try and calm himself down. “Bumblebee and I will try to contact the League to see if they have any information on this. Speedy, you’re on standby. We might need you to go back and find out what else Robin is doing in the Glades. And Raven, check out the police reports in Jump and in Starling City. We might find more information through those.”

They noticed the sudden surge of confidence in his tone; they knew that he instantly felt better once he regained his status as the head. Everyone knew that he loved being the leader of the Titans, though admittedly Robin was still better than him; which was why Raven had to work doubly hard as second-in-command. She was the one who did the research for most of their cases, in between her relentless search for Robin. But honestly, she didn’t mind. Cyborg was still her big brother after all. And she wanted to help him in any way she could. But she also knew that there was something wrong with Cyborg’s pride as the leader. And that flaw was starting to unravel before their very eyes.

Despite that, Speedy and Raven simply nodded their heads and stepped out of the common room, leaving the two Titan leaders to settle things between themselves.

For the following days, Raven had been drowning herself in research, studying countless of police reports and news articles from different cities, trying to find a pattern in these occurrences. She was reminded of the days when she was still blindly searching for Robin’s whereabouts. Once again, she found herself looking at the trail of breadcrumbs he had left for her; in the clues that he seemingly left behind. Soon enough, she finally pieced together the mystery of his power, of the true reach of Robin’s authority as the master. And her eyes widened in shock at what she found.

“Sir, someone is getting too close to accessing your files once again.” Wintergreen said, looking up at the warning that the computer was flashing before them.

Robin walked toward Slade’s former assistant and started typing on the keyboard, finding out who was trying to find out what he was up to.

And his lips only curved into a sly smile when he saw the IP address of the latest admirer of his work. He pushed a few keys and a small window popped up, showing one of the surveillance video feeds inside Titans tower. He once again tapped into Titans East’s security system during his last visit to their building, this time without them noticing.

He grinned from ear-to-ear when he saw his beloved empath, seated in their research room, looking through the reports that would lead her directly to him. And he couldn’t be more proud.

“Don’t worry Wintergreen.” Robin said calmly, “it’s just the mistress finding me once again, just like last time.”

“But sir, last time, it did not turn out pleasantly for you, didn’t it?” Wintergreen replied, worry coloring his tone.

“Sadly, no, it didn’t.” Robin’s smile disappeared when he was reminded of what happened the last time Raven had gotten close to him. He was proud that he had trained her well enough to investigate and to find him through various reports and news articles. It was one of the traits that made him love her even more. Her intellect could match his, making them share the same wavelength of thought with each other. Unfortunately, someone did not appreciate Raven’s intelligence and skill. But that didn’t matter anymore; Robin already took care of that problem.

A year had been a long time for the Boy Wonder to disappear. A year was too long a time for him to disappear without a trace. A year seemed like an eternity for Raven of looking through police reports and newspaper clippings, trying to find any sign of Robin or his whereabouts. But still, she did not deter from her endless search to find her leader, her best friend, the one person she cared so much about. She did have her suspicions, especially when there were reports of a masked man with a black jumpsuit committing robberies and even murders across different states all over the country. They stated that the perpetrator had a special kind of agility and skill, making it close to impossible for local law enforcement to catch him. Superheroes have tried, but they barely got a glimpse of the perpetrator before he disappeared completely, leaving a dead body or an empty safe for them to find. And he left virtually nothing in the scene, not even a signature or a fingerprint.

Though it seemed farfetched for Raven, she couldn't shake the feeling that Robin was behind these crimes. He was one of the few people in the world who could commit crimes like that. Heck, even Red X wasn't as clean with his work as he was, and he was already considered one of the best thieves out there.

But she couldn't tell the others until she was certain that this was really Robin’s work, or else they would think of her as crazy again. Just like last time. So she continued to look through the reports and the articles, as if it led her one step closer to Robin. As if it was her only way to get closer to him.

Unbeknownst to her, Robin was watching her through the surveillance cameras, his heart swelling in pride at her detective skills. With all the illegal activities that he had been doing, with all the crimes that he had committed all across the country, he couldn't believe that it was only Raven who had actually figured it out. But of course, she didn't have any proof, just like he had planned.

It was their own contingency measure that if ever anyone connected him to the dirty work that Slade made him do, they wouldn't find evidence to link it to him. He let out a sigh, remembering everything that he had done- and still had to do- for his arch nemesis. Tony Zucco's murder was only the first of the lives that he had to take. And with each crime he had done, he could feel himself slowly lose his grip with his morality. The line between good and evil seemed to get more blurred as time passed. Now, the only thing that mattered to him was survival. The only difference people had in his eyes was if they were dead or alive.

He hated the fact that it had been a full year since Slade took him and made him his apprentice. And though Raven wanted to save him, his unwilling, ungrateful team mates did not, leaving her to continue her search on her own. Which was why the computer was flagging the IP address of Titans Tower. Another contingency measure they had was a specialized system that tracked down those who were searching information on Robin's crimes. When anyone got too close, the system would instantly flag the IP address on their server and in Slade's own words, "They were to be dealt with accordingly."

Which was why Robin was now in a state of panic. If Slade found out that Raven was one step closer in locating him, who knows what kind of torture Slade had in store for her. He knew he couldn't let that happen, not to Raven, not to the one person who hasn't given up on him yet. Not to the person who kept him going no matter how stained his hands were. Not to the only reason he still fought so hard to survive.

So he did the only thing he knew he could do: he erased the data from the system. With a few, quick taps on the keyboard, he erased the flagged IP address, leaving Raven's discovery unnoticed by the system. Now all he could hope for was that Slade didn't see the alert before he got to erase it. Or else it wouldn't fare too well for him. Even if he did everything that Slade asked him to, he still wasn't exempt to his torturous ways. And just as the doors to the computer room opened, he knew he would go through the pain all over again.

"Robin, the computer flagged an IP address in the system. Where is it?" Slade growled, instantly noticing that something was amiss.

"Really, it did? Must have been a glitch or something. I didn't see anything here." He tried to play dumb, knowing that the masked villain was too clever for that.

"Don't play games with me boy! I know what I saw. Who are you desperately trying to protect?" Slade screamed, shaking the foundations of the bunker in the Pyrenees that they were currently residing in. Slade's business had begun to expand because of his apprentice's hard work. Unfortunately, it was that same apprentice that he was about to beat to the ground right now.

"I really don't know what you're talking about." Robin replied, a sudden firmness in his tone.

Slade did not like this one bit. He punched Robin swiftly in the face, strong enough to bring him to the floor, blood spewing from his mouth. He spit it out with a rabid determination burning in his eyes.

"You insolent, little brat! I don't know who you're desperately trying to protect, but you will pay dearly for your actions." He pulled Robin off from the floor using his hair, making him wince in pain. He dragged him out of the computer room, obviously to torture him someplace else.

It was in that moment that Robin knew he couldn't stay as Slade's apprentice forever. As his body was being dragged down in the halls, his mind started to formulate a plan as to how he could escape Slade, and protect Raven at the same time. He didn't want to tolerate this torture anymore. He needed to become stronger, more powerful than Slade. He had to defeat him, to crush his bones underneath his feet, in the same way that Slade would be doing in just a few moments. He realized that this had to end soon, and he was determined to get out alive, even if that meant that his master wouldn't.

Back at the Tower of the Titans East, Speedy entered the research room that Raven was in, desperately trying to catch his breath as adrenaline coursed through his veins.

“Speedy, are you okay?” She asked as she turned to him, wondering why he was in that state.

“Raven… did you…?” he blurted in between breaths.

“Did I what?” she repeated, her mind reeling in the possibilities of what he could mean.

“Did you make Robin do something with the gang?”

Her breath got caught in her throat, feeling as if he had finally discovered the true nature of her relationship with Robin. She instantly remembered the conversation she had with him on the rooftop a few days ago, in which he made a phone call and made Speedy’s gang in the Glades disappear. But she didn’t have them killed, which in her mind justified her actions and participation in what Robin did. She just did what she could to protect Lian and the archer’s family from the dangers of the Glades. He couldn’t fault her for that, could he?

She shuddered instantly, remembering how Robin asked her the same things just a few days ago.

“Well did you?!” Speedy asked once again, his voice filled with a sudden burst of anger.

“I..It was his idea.” Raven replied, just barely above a whisper, suddenly afraid of the archer’s outburst. “He recruited the gang as a way to say sorry for punching me in the gut.”

“He punched you in the gut?” Speedy repeated in disbelief, shaking his head shortly after. He knew that that little piece of information was important, but he had to get to get back to the matter at hand. “So you’re telling me that he made the entire gang disappear, but didn’t kill them, just as a favor to you?”

“In a word... yes.” Raven’s voice was back to her usual monotone, trying not to read into the implications that Speedy was trying to insinuate.

“So... you do realize what this means don’t you?”

“That your daughter is safe and there won’t be any gangs harassing you ever again?”

“That Robin loves you enough to actually do that for you.”

Raven was taken aback at what he said. She could feel a sudden wave of resignation come over the usually proud archer. It was as if he accepted that he wouldn’t win against Robin. There was something in that act that made him give up on his competition against the master.

“He made a phone call. It didn’t even last a minute. I don’t think that really says anything.” She tried to play it off, seemingly unaffected by the strange surge of emotions from Speedy. But she knew that even her own brand of nonchalance wouldn’t change his mind.

The archer shook his head. “Raven, he’s supposed to be a heartless criminal mastermind. He doesn’t recruit people- he kills them. But for him to go out of his way, to change the way he operates just for you, so you could help me out, means so much already.”

Before she could even interject, he came closer to her, and simply placed an arm on her shoulder. “Raven,” he began once again, “thank you for getting Robin to help me and my Lian out. Maybe...” his lips began curving into a smile as he said this, “maybe you’re just the person to get Robin to change, back to the good side.”

Raven’s eyes widened at what he said, since those were the same words that Batman told her. That was the same mission he gave her only a few weeks ago. But with all of her recent conversations with Robin, she highly doubted that she could do anything to bring him back to his old self. She could feel it in his words, in how he revealed his secrets, the inner workings of his mind to her. She knew that Robin had no intention of going back to his heroic ways. And yet everyone seemed to believe that she was the key to allow him to escape the evils of his soul.

“You have no idea what you are saying.” Raven spat out, feeling an unwanted pressure being placed upon her shoulders. She stormed out of the room, leaving a dazed archer inside, wondering what he could have said to frustrate the empath.

Raven avoided Speedy for the duration of that week; he barely even saw the swish of her cloak no matter how much he tried to approach her and talk to her. He wasn't sure what had just happened, but he was certain that everything had changed for them. He didn't long for a chance to claim her heart anymore. With what Robin had done, he somehow knew (and accepted) that he was the one who rightfully owned her heart. This was, of course, in spite of the fact that he was an evil criminal mastermind that almost killed him. Well, he decided, when it came to love, nothing really had to make sense.

Raven, on the other hand, finally compiled all her data and presented her work to Cyborg. It took her a grueling week of research, but she had more information on Robin's organization than any other investigating body out there. Which meant all they had to do now was to figure out their next move against the former Titan leader.

“Okay, so we’re here to discuss our next options regarding Robin and his apparently vast criminal organization.” Cyborg announced to the combined group of Titans West and Titans East. They were all seated in the couch in the common room with serious expressions on their faces. They looked nervously at Cyborg, fearing the next words that were going to come from his mouth. From the way he was standing in front of them, he seemed to be ready to wage a war.

"Raven, what do we know about Robin's organization?"

She was startled for a moment, especially with how Cyborg called her out like that. But she simply cleared her throat and began her report. "From what I found out, he's been making deals with drug lords and crime bosses, and he's been recruiting villains not just in Jump, but in other cities as well. By using his front as a vigilante, he was catching villains, only to break them out a few days later, with the condition that they'll be working for him. Which was why Cinderblock suddenly appeared in Steel City a few days after Robin 'caught' him in Jump."

"Yeah, and he sent that ball of taunting messages to us." Beast Boy interjected, frustration coloring his usually cheery voice.

Raven was caught off guard by Beast Boy's sudden outburst. Though he didn't say much, she could feel his anger rolling off of him in waves. And she wasn't used to that kind of rage to come from the usually happy-go-lucky shapeshifter. But then again, this ordeal with Robin has brought out a side of him that she had not seen before.

She cleared her throat, in a futile attempt to alleviate the hostility his comment caused the group. "Aside from that, there have been reports that he's been absorbing crime syndicates all over the country, consolidating them into one, huge organization. They aren’t really sure how he does it, but if this is true, then he will probably be in control of all the illegal groups all over the country, making him the most powerful villain in America."

"Dude, is that even possible?" Speedy suddenly asked, masking his concern with his normal, relaxed tone. "I mean, if he was that dangerous, shouldn't the League have at least tried to stop him by now?"

"That's the thing." Bumblebee replied, getting up from her spot on the couch. "We tried contacting the League but they didn't have information on this new organization. And we didn't really have clear evidence to connect it to Robin to it, so we just gave it as a tip."

"Which they probably won't even take seriously." Beast Boy muttered to himself.

“Okay Beast Boy, you’ve been dropping all these comments through the whole meeting. So if you want to say something, you’d better say it now.” Cyborg suddenly called his best friend out, as if he was embarrassing him in front of the whole group. The Titans were surprised to say the least at Cyborg’s behavior. They thought that he couldn’t simply call him out like that, especially since they were almost inseparable with their meat-tofu wars and Gamestation duels. But when Cyborg became the leader of the Titans, he could suddenly be cold enough to reprimand his best friend without even thinking of what he could be going through.

But the cybernetic teen wasn’t the only one who had changed in the Tower. Beast Boy suddenly stood up from his seat, anger blazing in his green eyes. He faced his best friend with an enraged expression on his face as he finally spoke, “You know what, I will actually speak out for once.” He turned his angered gaze toward Raven, who was seated on the sofa, her eyes revealing how confused she was with the recent turn of events.

“This is all your fault!” he screamed out, his finger pointed at the empath.

“What? How is this my fault?” Raven shouted out, her monotone acquiring a sharp edge to it.

“Because of your stupid romance with Robin, he’s waging war against the Titans! Before we know it, every villain in America is going to come to the Tower and defeat us all!”

“First of all, just because he admitted his love for me on national television, doesn’t mean that there is something going on between us.” She was standing up from the couch as well, dark energy pooling around her hands. “And secondly, what does that have to do with him being an evil criminal mastermind? How can you even logically implicate me into his crimes?”

“Oh don’t play dumb with me! He’s harassing us so that you’d finally come running into his arms. Well why don’t you just do it, huh? Why don’t you just go to him and leave us in peace?!” Beast Boy came up to her and pushed her with his arms, which sent her stumbling onto the common room floor. That was when the other Titans decided to intervene. Cyborg and Speedy held Beast Boy back from attacking Raven again, while Starfire and Bumblebee helped her up from the floor.

“Beast Boy, I have no idea what has gotten into you but I do hope you start considering your next words because they might be your last.” Raven threatened as she pointed her hands at the shapeshifter, dark energy pooling at her fingertips. If he said the wrong thing, she would send him into a merciless dimension where he wouldn’t get out alive.

“Wasn’t that exactly what he said? Right before we left Jump City, you talked to him on top of the T-car, and those words came from his mouth! He said he would leave us alone if you’d just come with him!”

Raven’s eyes widened at what he said; she didn’t think that anyone heard their conversation on top of the T-car, especially since she had put up a shield to protect them. But she remembered how he had begun to doubt her even before they were attacked by the Slade-bots. With his suspicions and his supersonic hearing, she realized that he had overheard their conversation: he heard Robin’s offer to her, he heard of her promise that she wouldn’t give up on him despite everything that he had done.

“Is this true, Raven?” Cyborg asked, still in his authoritative tone.

She only looked down in resignation as all of the other Titans turned their gaze toward her. She could feel so many emotions coming from them that she couldn’t pinpoint from who they were coming from- anger, confusion, pain, shock, disbelief. All the emotions were muddled before her, and she felt like drowning in their depths.

“We were all so lost then. I knew I couldn’t leave you all so broken and confused. I had to stay to help us get back on our feet. I couldn’t go with him until we were all strong enough.” She said, barely above a whisper. Her admission rung clearly through everyone’s ears, reminding them of the implications of her actions.

“Well you should’ve just left us alone! Now look at where we are right now! We’re about to be attacked by a madman! You could’ve stopped this, Raven! You could’ve spared us! But now we’re all gonna die because of you!” Beast Boy screamed once again, thrashing against Cyborg’s and Speedy’s grasp.

“Beast Boy calm down! No one is going to die here, okay?” Bumblebee interjected, doing her best to calm the shapeshifter down.

“And besides, would you really rather have Raven give herself up to an evil mastermind just so you could live happily ever after?” Speedy added, glaring at him through his grasp. “It’s not like you would’ve done the same if you were in her shoes.”

“Don’t you think that the only reason why this Tower is still standing is because I’m in it?” Raven stated, still with that cold edge in her tone. She had calmed down greatly, reining in her emotions before she could inflict damage to the Tower or to Beast Boy. “If I do go to Robin, what do you think is going to stop him from attacking the hell out of this Tower?”

“But he said he wouldn’t hurt us if you went to him.” he said in a defeated voice.

“Villains aren’t a man of their word, Beast Boy. Shouldn’t you know that by now?” she replied, glaring daggers at the changeling.

There was a pregnant pause that came over the common room as everyone tried to calm down and assess the situation before them. Only steadying breaths could be heard while they all tried to figure out what to do next.

“Raven’s right, we can’t trust anything Robin says.” Cyborg finally spoke, once again assuming his role as the leader. “But at the same time, we can’t really sit around here like idiots while he makes his organization stronger and stronger. We have to stop him while we still can.”

“And how do you suppose we do that?” Bumblebee asked, irritation suddenly present in her tone.

“We can’t let him push us around anymore. If he is determined to attack us, then we have to do everything in our power to stop him. It’s time we bring the fight to him.” Cyborg announced proudly, as he threw his fist up in the air, as if he were calling them to war.

Excitement came in the room as the faces of the Titans lit up in enthusiasm. Cyborg’s words gave them the direction that they needed to get past the predicament that they were in. Unfortunately, not all of the Titans were thrilled to hear their leader’s speech.

“No, we can’t.” Bumblebee said, her voice disrupting the mood in the common room.

Everyone turned to her, puzzled as to why she would be the first to reject the idea. With all their eyes on her, she took this as an opportunity to voice out her opinions. “Me and Sparky have been talking about this for awhile now, and c’mon guys, do you think we’re really ready to take on an entire organization of not just low-life thugs, but villains too? We’re lucky if we actually beat these guys one by one, but a whole army of these things? Do you think we’ll even stand a chance against them?”

“But if we don’t do anything now, Robin could attack us at any moment and we’ll get caught off-guard and then we’ll all be dead!” Cyborg spat out, once again glaring at his girlfriend because of their difference in opinion.

“Well if we charge in there unprepared then we’ll all be dead just the same!” She raised her hands in frustration, glowering back at the cybernetic teen.

“I’m the leader here and we’ll do as I say!” he shouted out, pointing proudly at himself.

“Well I’m the leader too and this is my building you’re in right now!”

The whole room tensed once again at Bumblebee’s words. They knew that she was right, that even though Cyborg had been acting like the leader throughout this whole meeting, Bumblebee was still the leader of Titans East, the place that they have been for the past few months. And it seemed that the Titans West have overstayed their welcome in Steel City.

Bumblebee heaved a sigh before finally opening her mouth to speak. “Okay, why don’t we just vote on this to see what we’re going to do, since any option we take will inevitably lead to our deaths.” She raised her hand halfheartedly in the air. “Okay, who are for staying in Steel City, gather more information and probably wait for the Justice league to help us out?”

Raven, Mas y Menos and Speedy had their hands in the air.

“Okay, and who are for attacking the Titans West tower and risk losing our lives against a criminal organization we barely know anything about?” This time she didn’t even raise her hand.

Cyborg, and Beast Boy’s hands were in the air. Starfire was about to raise her own hand when Aqualad stopped her from doing so.

“Why aren’t you guys voting?” Bumblebee asked, instantly noticing the Atlantian’s actions.

“Because… we’re leaving the Titans for awhile.”

Gasps could be heard across the room. It would seem that too much was being revealed to them in one sitting. Any more mind-blowing revelations and their brains would have exploded all over the common room.

“Excuse me, you’re what?” Cyborg blurted out in disbelief.

“Look, I know that this is horrible timing but we’ve been thinking about this for awhile now and honestly, we’re not ready to risk our lives just for some vendetta that you have against Robin. Plus, we’re probably one of his primary targets because of Starfire’s past relationship with him. It’s nothing personal, really. We’re just trying to find the best way wherein we can get out of this alive.” Aqualad explained, trying to make the others see their side.

“But you can’t leave now! If we’re going to attack Robin, then we need all the help that we can get!” Beast Boy pleaded desperately.

“With our current members, we’re already greatly outnumbered. But if you guys leave us then we won’t stand a chance against them.” Cyborg said, doing his best to still have an authoritative tone, though he was basically begging to the Atlantian.

“I’m sorry guys but…” before Aqualad could even say no, Starfire held on to his wrist and looked at him with imploring eyes. “Starfire…?” he asked dumbfounded.

“Boyfriend Aqualad, I know that we have talked about this, but I do believe we can not leave our friends at a time like this. I do want to visit your kingdom, but as a Tamaranian, I do not back down from a fight. Our friends require our assistance, and I will do everything in my power to help them.” She stated her thoughts with a burning determination in her eyes. She would not back down, not from anything.

Aqualad let out a defeated sigh and closed his eyes, trying to weigh his options to see which would be best for them. He pinched the bridge of his nose as he finally said, “Fine, we’ll help them. But if we’re going to attack, we can’t waste any more time waiting for something to happen. If we’re going to do this, then we have to do this now.”

Cyborg threw a victorious gaze at Bumblebee, knowing that his plan would come to fruition. Bumblebee could only roll her eyes at the proud actions of her boyfriend, but she knew when she was beaten. They had no choice but to bring the fight to Robin, even if it meant that they were walking to their defeat.

“Glad to have everyone aboard in this mission.” Cyborg said proudly, calling everyone’s attention through his confident, authoritative voice. “Now here’s what we’re going to do…”

And though everyone listened intently to Cyborg’s plan and seemed to agree with it, all the revelations that were exposed in that meeting had affected them more than they had realized. Each and every one of their evils have come out of the open, and it would only be a matter of time until their broken selves would be the cause of their own downfall.

Meanwhile, inside the other Titans Tower, he was grinning wickedly at the events that had just transpired. His plans have unfolded perfectly, and soon enough, the Teen Titans would destroy themselves with their own hands.

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