One Step Closer
It was a beautiful, crisp summer morning. The sun had risen several hours before and was now high in the sky, reflecting off of the waters that surrounded Titans Tower. Birds were chirping outside and the city was now in full swing, people having started their days. The Tower was silent, the only sounds coming from the occasional creak that the building produced.
A young woman walked through the large doors into the main room and headed towards the kitchen, ready to start her day. She had already been reading for the past two hours, but she didn't consider her day started until she had her morning cup of tea. She walked over to the stove and placed a kettle full of water over a burner. She looked up at the clock on the microwave and was shocked to see that it was already eleven. She was always in the kitchen by ten, perhaps she had read a little bit longer than she had initially thought.
Across the room, another young adult was sitting at a computer, reading a composite of several articles. He could hear the sound of cabinets being opened and closed, but didn't turn to see who was in the room with him, he was too engrossed in his research. The woman poured the water into a mug and walked over to the couch, a book in her hand. She sat cross legged with the book spread out on her lap and swirled the spoon in her mug as she began to read.
The room remained like this for another hour, Cyborg sitting at the computer and Raven sitting on the couch. Every so often, the whoosh of a page being turned or the clacking of the computer keyboard could be heard. Both of them were too immersed in their activities to look up or acknowledge each other. This was often how mornings went for the Titans, no one speaking to each other and everyone off doing their own thing. Sometimes Beast Boy and Cyborg would play a video game, but it wasn't the same. Both of them knew that they were doing it just to cheer each other up, not that it ever really worked. They just needed to get their minds off of the situation, even if it was for a few minutes.
The doors slid open and a now more rested Starfire walked in, her hair still matted and flying everywhere. She did however change her clothes. Nobody looked up as she walked in and she sighed, walking into the kitchen. She didn't like cooking much anymore, so she just threw some bread into the toaster, no longer caring what she ate.
After eating her un-buttered toast in silence, Starfire walked over to Cyborg, wanting some form of friendly contact. She was getting so lonely and depressed. She stood next to him, looking curiously over his shoulder at the computer monitor. Cyborg clicked out of something, leaving the computer on the desktop screensaver. He turned and faced Starfire, a small smile on his face.
"What's up Star?" he asked, his tone friendly. She looked at him, her face full of innocence and naivety. She held her hands behind her back and rocked back and forth on her feet.
"What is it that you are looking at on the computer?" she asked, her voice sweet and curious. He scratched the back of his head and looked down.
"Um, I was just browsing the web, you know, random stuff." He looked back up at her face, hoping that she would leave it at that.
"Oh," she sighed. She was so trusting, it made Cyborg feel bad just thinking about it. "I guess I will leave you to the browsing of the web then." She looked at him hesitantly, hoping that he might stop her and ask her if she would like to do something. After a few moments of silence she turned around and trudged out of the room, her body slumping. Cyborg felt really bad, he knew that she could really use a friend right now, but he was too busy. He turned back to the computer and pulled up the webpage he was looking at before, re-reading a certain passage in it.
"What were you really looking at on the computer?" Raven asked, still looking down at her book. She could spot Cyborg's lies from a mile away, he was not a natural. She had a feeling that she knew why he had lied to Starfire; he always did so when he was searching for Robin. Cyborg stopped reading and took a deep breath.
"I am looking into that lead in New York," he sighed. Raven looked up, her face disbelieving.
"What, that thing that Beast Boy was going on about? That was asinine. You can't be serious." Her voice was impassive as usual, but one could hear a hint of condescension behind it. Cyborg exhaled, he knew how it sounded. He didn't believe it himself, but he had to give it a chance.
"Look, I promised Beast Boy that I would look into it. It was the only thing that would calm him down and get him to drop it. Plus, I have found some interesting things about the murders." Raven raised her eyebrows skeptically at him. She could not believe that he was falling for this pathetic excuse for a story. Beast Boy really did know how to stir up trouble. Seeing the look she was giving him, he decided to explain himself. "I am not saying that it is connected in any way to Robin, I am just saying that I found some interesting stuff on the guys."
Raven sighed; she came to the main room for peace, not this. She always assumed that she wouldn't have to put up with this with Cyborg. Was there no one that she could just sit in silence with? Starfire always cried and brought up Robin and Beast Boy was just an agitating presence to be near. Though, Cyborg had always been more realistic with their searches for Robin, so she decided to just hear what he had to say. He could at least be reasoned with, unlike someone else. "Go ahead," she sighed.
"Well, you see, one of the guys who were murdered was known on the street to work for a major crime boss. From what I have read, he supposedly was in charge of 'keeping the peace', or choosing who was to be taken out of the picture," he paused and thought for a moment. "I don't think that he actually did the assassinations himself, but I know that he was in charge of them. Well at least that is what I believe to be true." He stood still, contemplating about what he had just read.
"What about the other?" she asked. He looked puzzled at the question, not understanding what she was asking. "The other, you said murders, plural."
"Oh, it was just his bodyguard, also known to work for major crime organizations such as drug cartels." He turned around to face the computer again, pulling up the website for the New York Post. Raven continued to watch him, thinking about what he just told her. It was interesting, but most likely not related to Robin in any way. Drug wars happened all the time; it could have been a cartel dispute or a disagreement with the mafia. He turned back towards Raven, his expression thoughtful. "I was thinking, Raven. You know how at the beginning, when Robin first got kidnapped, when we did a lot of research on Slade?" Raven nodded at him. "Well, remember how we learned that he was an assassin for hire. I just thought, maybe it could have been him, getting revenge for not getting paid for a job or something." Seeing the look he gave her, he raised his hands in a gesture of peace. "I am not saying that it is! I am just saying it is a possibility, we can't rule it out completely, you know?"
"So what do you want to do about it?" Raven asked. It was more of a theoretical question as she didn't believe that it was actually Slade. There were tons of assassins out there and who knows if it had even been an assassin acting? It could have been revenge for a previous wrongdoing, it could have been anything.
"I think we should just keep an eye on New York for a while. All I am saying is that we can't rule it out completely. It is at least worth looking into a little bit." Raven looked at him, thinking about all that he had said.
"Fine, but don't go telling Starfire, I don't want her getting her hopes up again. I don't think this has to do with Robin, but you are right, it is worth looking into." With that, she sat back down and continued to read her book, letting everything that Cyborg had said mull over in her head.
-Nearly Two Years Ago-
It was early in the morning and the sun was just coming up, still half concealed on the horizon. It had been several hours since Titans Tower had been attacked and the clouds of smoke had long since dissipated, exposing a massive hole in the top of the tower. Ash covered the ground around the tower, turning the small island a smoky grey. Inside, more ash coated the entire floor in the main ops room, or what was left of it. The only sounds inside the tower were those of objects collapsing and beams falling from the roof.
A soft moan sounded in a hallway far away from the ops room. Ash had managed to float its way through the hallways across the whole top floor and was swirling in the air. A young girl sat up, coughing, and grabbed her head. She felt like she had been hit with a truck. The smell of smoke filled her lungs, much to her distaste. She opened her eyes, trying to focus her vision as the room swirled.
"Ughhhh." She sat for a few more moments and watched the dust twirl in the air, a million tiny specks dancing in the light. Her mind was foggy and she couldn't quite think straight. "What happened?" she asked herself, feeling her headache worsen. She stood up and looked down the hallway, not quite recognizing where exactly in the tower she was. Her vision was still blurry and she couldn't read the nameplate on the door next to her. Where did all this dust come from? She walked down the hallways, curious to see what was going on, yet cautious as she saw the potential danger in the situation. She was in no condition to be using magic.
The further she walked, the thicker the dust became. At one point, it became so dense that she had to shield her mouth with her cloak just so that she could breathe. She continued to follow the thickening dust until she reached the front doors to the ops room. They were half shut and bent beyond repair, it looked like someone had attempted to ram it down or had thrown a small explosive at it. She wedged her way through the doors and walked into the room, or at least, what was left of the room. A giant gaping hole exposed the entire back end of the room and the sun could be seen where a wall should be. Half of the floor was missing as well, allowing her to see down into the floor below.
She walked carefully into the room, making sure that wherever she stepped didn't collapse under her. The kitchen remained mostly intact, though nothing would be functional and half of the appliances were bent, but it was still better than a gaping hole. The floor cut off shortly after the kitchen, leaving very little of the living room still standing. Everything was blackened and the room had a pungent burnt smell to it. She walked around, assessing the damage with disbelief. What the hell happened?!
There was debris everywhere and it was hard for her to tell what was what. Above her, a light was swinging back and forth, hanging narrowly by a wire. She looked down at her feet, which were now covered in ash, and examined the track marks she had left behind her. In the corner, some ash started to shuffle. The girl turned around, thinking that there might be an intruder, when she heard a sneeze. A veryfeminine sneeze. She ran over to the lump in the corner and brushed the remaining ash off of it.
"Starfire, what happened?" Raven asked, her voice weak and strained. Her usual monotone was gone, but her face remained as stoic as ever. Starfire sat up and winced in pain. She may be a Tameranian, but she was not immune to muscle soreness, especially after a day like yesterday. Raven was bending down over her and looking at her face. She looked up at the empath in confusion before looking around the room, her face full of shock. "Starfire, what happened?" Raven asked, this time emphasizing the question. Starfire looked back up at Raven, her mind trying to catch up.
"W-we were attacked….and then…. I-I…" She continued to look around the room, straining to come up with the words. Her eyes began to swell with tears and Raven stood up. Where were the others? She walked over to the edge of the room and stood next to the hole. The floor below was lit with sunlight and pieces of their couch could be seen scattered across the floor. Raven could make out two forms, both lying completely still next to each other and covered with ash. She took a deep breath and concentrated, trying to summon some portion of her magic. Starfire stood up and started to walk around the room, remaining completely silent. Raven was now levitating down into the room below and had landed softly on the floor. She ran to the two lumps and brushed them off. Cyborg appeared to be okay, but Beast Boy looked horrific. He looked like the product of a slasher film. His head was sticky with dried up blood and his hair was now completely red. His clothes were ripped to shreds and he had gashes everywhere. Anywhere that there wasn't a cut, there was a bruise. Raven couldn't find one inch of his body that did not have an injury on it.
Starfire flew down and landed next to her. She dropped to her knees and started to shake Cyborg, trying to wake him up. Raven was not feeling at all well and did not know how much magic she could use, but decided to attempt to heal Beast Boy's head as it was a serious injury. She sat down and leaned over him, chanting her mantra while her hands glowed white. Cyborg began to stir next to her and she glanced over at him before looking back at Beast Boy.
"Oh, man," he moaned. Starfire watched him silently, her eyes glazed over. "What happened?" he asked. He could hear Raven chanting softly next to him as his mind started to flood with memories. He could see the Sladebots… Beast Boy being thrown against the window… A bright flash followed by a bang… He moaned again, now fully remembering the previous night's events. Raven had stopped chanting and was now sitting on her heels, looking down at Beast Boy. He was so damaged; she never wanted to see him like this, ever.
"What exactly happened to you guys? And what happened to the ops room?" Raven knew that it was an explosion, but she wanted further detail. She looked over at Starfire and Cyborg, as both of them were now remembering.
"Sladebots. Hundreds of them. Attacked us in the ops room. We fought them, and then they suddenly just stopped…. I was trying to wake BB when a bomb went off, blew up the entire room… That's all I remember." Cyborg's voice was somber, none of his usual mirth and humor in it. Starfire nodded in conjecture, not having anything to add. She gazed at Beast Boy, looking at his blood soaked head. They were lucky to be alive. Starfire was the closest to the bomb, but since she was Tameranian, it only knocked her unconscious. Cyborg and Beast Boy, had they been any closer, would have died. Luckily, the floor collapsed under them, throwing them to the floor below and keeping them out of the worst of the explosion. "What happened to you?" Cyborg asked.
Raven sat there for a moment, trying to remember. "I think I was attacked by someone, I am not quite sure," she whispered. Why couldn't she remember? She could see images, flashes of a figure and red lights, but that was it. They sat in silence, no one knowing quite what to do or say. Cyborg looked at Beast Boy, watching his chest rise and fall steadily. He was so worried that Beast Boy wouldn't make it last night. He just hoped, begged that he would wake up soon, that he would be okay. Starfire looked up at Raven, a thought finally entering her mind.
"Raven, where is Robin?" she asked. Raven sat there for a moment, trying to think back, and then gasped, her memories now flooding back to her.
Robin began to stir, feeling groggy and confused. He could hear something in the distance, but he couldn't make it out. It sounded like someone was out calling to him. He rolled over and tried to wake himself up.
"Robin…" a voice called. It echoed in dead space, it was almost ambient. He listened intently, trying to figure out whose voice was calling him. His other senses started to return and he could feel his legs tingling.
"Robin…" He stretched and started to open his eyes. It was extremely bright and all he could see was stunning white light. Everything was blurred and he began to rub his eyes through the mask. The voice sounded very familiar, he knew it well.
"Starfire?" he groaned. He could hear her; she was calling out to him. He was so relieved to hear her voice; there was no one else in the world that he would rather see more right now. Where was she?
"ROBIN!" the voice yelled. Robin bolted up, alarmed by the sound of the voice. That was definitely not Starfire; it was a man's voice, deep and musky. His eyes began to adjust and Robin looked up, seeing a large figure standing tall over him. He knew that voice; it was a voice that he had never wanted to hear again. His vision focused and Robin could see him, Slade.
He jumped up, promptly falling off balance afterwards and grabbing his head. "Don't make any sudden movements. The toxin I used to gas you is still in your system," Slade said, his voice already condescending. Robin looked up at him, anger in his face. He ran towards him and threw a punch, which Slade quickly stopped. Gripping his fist, Slade threw Robin back to the ground. "What did I just say," he demanded.
Robin massaged his hand and looked up at Slade, his face defiant. "Let me go Slade! I don't know what you have planned, but whatever it is, you aren't going to get away with it!" he yelled. Where were the other Titans? He began to look around, but Slade was the only other person in the room. The room was moderately sized and extremely plain. The walls were an asylum white and the floors were a light brown wood. There was a twin bed along the wall to his right and a small dresser and desk to his left. He would go insane being stuck in this room for any more than an hour. "What did you do to my friends?!"
"Ah but you see Robin, I am going to get away with it," Slade retorted, his voice smooth and confident. "This time, you will not be getting away. This time, I will not make any mistakes with you," he declared. His eye was deadly and it gave Robin an uncomfortable feeling. He must have something planned; Robin was just thankful that he couldn't see his face under the mask. As much as he wanted to know who Slade was, he never wanted to see what was under that mask.
"Where are my friends?!" Robin yelled. He needed to be sure that they were okay, the last time he had seen them they had been running into battle, unbeknownst to them. He couldn't live with himself if something happened to them, to her. Slade continued to gaze down at Robin, annoyance already washing over him.
"There is no need to yell Robin. Your friends are at the Tower, they should be waking up just about now," he said. He did not intend to kill any of them, so he made sure that none of the Sladebots finished them off. Doing so would just give Robin nothing to lose, which would not be good for Slade's plans. Robin was relieved, but still furious. He didn't even know whether or not to trust Slade's word, though Slade was never known to lie when asked a direct question.
"So what the hell is this? Where am I? What am I doing with you!?" he spat. Slade did not like being spoken to in such a manner and slapped Robin hard across the face, leaving a large handprint on his face.
"You will not speak to me in such a manner. Things are not like they were before Robin. I will not put up with you talking back to me this time." At this Robin became concerned. 'This time'… What did that mean? Robin had a feeling that he knew; he just hoped that he was wrong. "I assume that you are wondering why I kidnapped you." Robin glared at him, wanting to tell him just what he thought of him, but feeling the fresh handprint on his face, thought it best to hold back his tongue. Slade took Robin's silence as a yes.
"You are going to be my apprentice again Robin. Though, like I said, things will be different this time. I will not tolerate any disobedience, whatsoever," he emphasized the last word. Robin could not believe what he was hearing; did Slade not learn his lesson last time? What was his problem?
"The Titans are going to know exactly what you are doing. You can't threaten me with their lives anymore; so I guess your little plan isn't going to work," Robin said, his voice mocking. Slade had come very close to beating the living hell out of Robin right there, but decided against it. He needed Robin awake for the rest of his speech.
"Ah, but Robin, I am not going to threaten your friends' lives this time." Robin looked genuinely confused and caught off guard at the statement, much to Slade's gratification. Slade smirked under his mask, very happy with how things were going.
"So how the hell do you plan on keeping me here? You think I am just going to be your apprentice for fun?!" Slade chuckled darkly and Robin's stomach flipped. What did Slade have planned to keep him here? By the sound of that laugh, it couldn't be good.
"You are going to be my apprentice and I will tell you this only once. If you defy me in any way, either by trying to escape or by contacting the Titans, I will kill someone; doesn't matter who. There will be no warnings, so I suggest that you be a good boy and follow orders from the start. I know that you wouldn't want innocent blood on your hands." Robin stared daggers at Slade, how could someone be so sick?! To kill innocent people, just to acquire an apprentice! This man was mentally ill; of course Robin always knew that. He didn't know what to think, was Slade actually serious about this?
"What, so you are going to randomly kill someone every time I try to escape?!" Slade was evil, but not that evil. Was he? Robin had never seen him kill anyone, he had just never thought about it before.
"Not just if you try to escape, but if you defy me in any way. And I assure you, it will not be some random shooting on the street, it will be in cold blood, right in front of you... Do not doubt me," he added. He was quite scary when he talked so casually about murder, it was unsettling, but Robin didn't want to admit that he feared the man. Surely he wouldn't kill innocent people! Robin just gaped at him, not knowing what to say.
Slade smiled, feeling satisfied with how things went. "Good, we start training tomorrow." He turned around and walked to the door. Robin jumped up and abruptly ran after him, he did not want to be trapped in this room. Slade walked through the door and slammed it shut in Robin's face, leaving him to pound on the door for an hour before finally sitting down on the bed to drown in his thoughts.
It had been several hours since Cyborg and Raven's talk. Raven had retreated to the roof to meditate and Cyborg had looked over the recent news in New York. After finding nothing more of interest, he went to work out in the gym. Just as Raven had her meditation, Cyborg had his work outs as a way to escape. He liked being distracted, even if it was just for an hour. Being able to focus on something positive helped him to cope with the situation. He was in the middle of lifting heavy weights, having finished his cardio earlier, when the doors slid open. A young teen walked into the room and approached him.
Cyborg looked up, straining to hold the weights. Beast Boy was looking down at him expectantly. He took in another breath and lowered the weights with a grunt. He sat up and wiped his forehead with a towel that had been lying on the bench. "What's up, BB?" he asked, although he knew exactly what Beast Boy was here for.
"Did you look into the lead I found?" Cyborg looked at him for a few moments, breathing heavily. "You know? The one in New York?! Don't tell me you already forgot, because you promised!" Beast Boy really wanted Cyborg to believe him and he couldn't do that without at least looking into it.
"No, BB, I didn't forget. I looked into it this morning, just like I said I would," Cyborg reassured. He didn't exactly want to tell Beast Boy about what he found and he certainly didn't want to encourage him. Beast Boy had a way of getting too excited about leads; it wasn't good for the team. Beast Boy raised his eyebrows with anticipation.
"Well? What do you think?" he asked nervously.
"I think that something could be going on in New York," Beast Boy jumped up in excitement and Cyborg raised his hands, indicating for him to stop. "That doesn't mean that it has anything to do with Robin though, so don't go getting your hopes up, BB." Cyborg stood up and walked over to the water cooler. "Now, don't tell Raven that I told you this, but we are going to keep an eye on things in New York. Just as a precaution," he added. He hoped this would satisfy Beast Boy, at least enough to get him to drop it from daily conversation.
"So you do think it's Robin!" Beast Boy declared, excitement swelling up in him. Cyborg turned around, a cup of water in his hand.
"I never said that! I only said that we were going to keep an eye out on New York, don't go making a big thing out of this Beast Boy." Cyborg looked down at him, his expression commanding. Beast Boy was just so beyond thrilled that Cyborg was even considering it that he didn't care if they were only "keeping an eye out" on New York. They were one step closer to finding Robin and that's all that mattered.