The Titans found themselves sitting on the beach of some deserted island, staring out over the ocean. The sand was warm beneath them, and the cooling breeze washed them with exotic smells. It would be a tropical paradise if a certain raven-hair boy was with them. Cyborg sighed loudly, lowering the map down onto the sand, "I don't know where to go, you guys. The ad we found in the Commissioner's desk pointed to that island resort. Maybe Robin's is still there."
Starfire stopped trying to build her small sand castle and sent Cyborg a worried look, "But that man said that Robin was on one of these islands, hidden in some prison. Why would he lie to us?'
"Because he wanted us off his trail," pointed Raven out, drawing her hood over her face more in a lame attempt to block the sun.
Beastboy sent another smooth stone flying over the water. "So let me guess, we're going back."
"Yep." Cyborg stood up and dusted off the sand. Raven was ahead of him, already preparing pre-flight status.
"Goodbye beach. Goodbye tropical island. Goodbye-Umph" Starfire yanked the changeling towards the jet, her eagerness at finding Robin shimmering off her green eyes.
A small hand pressed itself on the floor against the corner. Another hand aligned itself against the fingertips. The first hand rose quietly into the air and landed in front of the other. Hands slide against the smooth wall in the darkness measuring the length of the box. Robin blinked, even though there was nothing to see. "Twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven."
The low voice croaked in exhaustion when the hands returned to their original position. Repeating the number in his head, Robin raised his hand and began to do the same method up against the wall. With nothing but touch and his eyes adjusting to the blackness, Robin's mind began to paint a picture. Fifty hands across and seventy-seven hands up with four walls, a floor and a ceiling were the dimensions. One crevice was where the food came in; the other was one for the door, which led to the light. Leaning against the wall, Robin stretched his legs across the box. Arms folded, he let the burning pain of the stretches occupy his mind.
The only way Robin knew he was awake was when he felt his eyelids raise themselves up. The harsh rubbing against his eyes sent enough sparks of light to explode to jolt himself awake. Reaching out towards his left, he smirked when his hands made contact with the food. Eating the food slowly, Robin licked his fingers clean before stretching out his arms. With nothing more to do, he stared dead ahead conjuring an image into his mind.
Cyborg was running in a field, trying to catch the football before Beastboy morphed into a bird. He pictured the warmth of the sun, the smell of ocean and the birds chirping in the breeze. Turning, Robin saw Starfire and Raven smiling at him. The alien princess flew up towards him, encircling her arms around him.
"Robin…there is something you must know."
"I…I wish to be more than friends."
"We can't." Pain swelled in his heart. Colors faded, the warm colors drizzled into a gray world. Laughter ended and all he heard was the grunts and screams of pure rage. Reaching out, Robin wished to brush away the strands of her hair, but the red burned, sending enormous pain throughout his body. Red was pain and he didn't want anymore.
Staggering backwards, he bumped into Beastboy, the changeling glaring at him. "You broke her heart, Robin. What the hell were you thinking?" Beastboy raised his arm. He didn't even touch the Boy Wonder for Robin was already flinging his arms out.
"Don't touch me!" Green meant possession and he didn't want to be a mere object.
Raven and Cyborg advanced towards him, shouting in unison. "You left us behind!"
The sun shone brightly behind them burning away all his senses, except his hearing. The yellow bricks of accusations flew at the boy. The stoning of a hero was taking place in the dark universe.
A scream pierced the blackness, exploding life into the dead air. Panting, Robin shot up and stared ahead, masked-eyes wide with fear. Sweat trickled down his forehead. Reaching up, he blindly wiped away the precious water and brought it to his lips soothing the cracked skin. Shivering, he pulled his legs up to his chest, hitting the metal plate. Ears finely tuned, Robin picked the plate up and with his fingers ate the precious meal, sucking on the ice-cubes that were being provided.
The water tasted like boiled eggs, but he did not care. Faint warmth filled him and his body began to feel at ease. Laying the empty plate back in its' spot, Robin narrowed his eyes where he figured the door to be. Water. Food laced with the drug. It all added up to one thing.
"Water plus drug equals long, long time in box," quipped Robin's croaked voice, falling into Curt's unique style of talking.
Dread began to fill him, but Robin quickly pushed it down. He needed to stay focus, keep his mind occupied while he rode out the long solitary confinement. Lying on his stomach, Robin reached out and ran his fingers around the metal plate's edge. To break the unnatural silence, he began to hum an old lullaby his mother used to sing to him, when he was a child.
Boredum pressed his masked eyes closed. Falling back into the realm of dreams, Robin looked out across the colorless field. Red, yellow and green streaked towards him with deadly accuracy. Knowing full well, what the colors would bring, Robin sprinted towards a black tree, clambering up its' massive branches. The three-toned arrows zipped through the gray leaves. The hero hugged himself closer to the tree, as the leaves fluttered past him.
"What does it mean to be a hero?"
"Why are you a hero?"
"What makes you tick?"
"Teen Titans, what is their importance?"
The leaves whispered the questions into the wind, sizzling the words into his mind. Questions to which he realized he only had half the answer to. Fumio would be pleased with the answers, but thewoman…the Boss he had overheard one moment long ago, would not be satisfied. She reminded him way too much of Slade and in acknowledging that similarity, Robin knew he had to get out of here no matter what. He could no longer wait for the Titans. As much as he knew the Titans would chew him out for not waiting for them, Robin would rather risk their tempers than die in the prison.
Resolution drove the whispers away if just for a little while. Opening his eyes once more to the silence, Robin laid on the ground. He didn't want to sleep for fear of the nightmares. He didn't want to reminisce on memories of his friends. The longing of home would drown him. Feeling that the world was moving outside of him, Robin waited.
The lithe body kicked out against the wall. Restlessness was building up. Stretches had eased away the urge but that was eons ago. It no longer worked. Growling, Robin punched out at a wall. He hated this box, this cage of darkness. He wanted to fly; heck just to stand up and stand on his tiptoes would make him smile with joy. The soft bang was the only sound he heard besides his own breathing. Rubbing his sore knuckles, Robin welcomed the pain.
He hated not being able to see. Reduced to his other senses, Robin felt them begin to heighten. He could begin to feel every crevice in the floor. He could smell his own odor. The bland taste was all his taste buds could remember. And the lack of sound was driving him insane. The constant beating of his heart and his own voice only made the suffocating silence more severe.
"Jingle bell, Batman smells!" screamed Robin. "Might as well face it, you're addicted to love!" Panting, the boy gulped before singing out the first words that popped into his mind.
"Dude, you suck. Come on, rap has the best lyrics in the world," chided Beastboy, his green eyes glowing in a corner.
"Shut up, BB. Rock all the way, Rob," snapped Cyborg, his red eye a dull glow in a corner. "ACDC baby."
Another pair of green eyes shone with joy, "No, friend Robin must sing the song from the purple dinosaur."
"Please, no Barney songs. How about some Evanescence?" chimed the purple eyes.
Robin groaned and pulled at the corner of his eyes to make sure he was still awake. "Great, now I'm hallucinating."
"Hehehe, the probability of going insane divided by sthe tay in solitary confinement minus any outdoor interaction is a hundred percent." The chipper voice of Curt whispered into his right ear.
"Humph, told you kid, no escape." The gruff voice of Kyle spoke the feared thought into his left ear.
Robin banged the back of his head on the wall, "Shut up, I'm getting out of here."
"Keep telling yourself that kid," the slick voice of Fumio oozed into the silence. The eyes of his friends melted into the eyes of his captors. Fear shot up Robin's spin. No, no don't start associating the Titans with these crazy freaks. No!
"But it's too late, you're already afraid of the colors of your uniform," continued the Asian voice.
"Yes, yes. See, all you have to is enjoy the drug and no more injuries. Just give in," chimed in the gleeful voice of Egyed.
Shivering, Robin crouched into a ball, hands gripping the back of his head. "No, I won't give up. I won't give up. Won't give up. Won't give up."
Muttering his mantra, Robin rocked softly back and forth in the box, trying to drive away the traitorous thoughts in his breaking mind. But more so, he fought to hide away from the pair of gray eyes in the farthest corner, the eyes that he knew would morph into a single steel color.
Ben slide the key into the lock. Sending a look over to Carl, who nodded, the guard opened the door, spilling light into a cell that had not seen light in ten days. Sitting dully on the floor, hands laid at his side, one leg stretched out as far as it could, the other tucked in, Ben sensed something had changed in the boy.
Coughing as the smell of stench slowly rolled out, Carl moved in and blocked the light. Robin blinked his narrowed eyes. "Come forward."
The rough voice yanked Robin's head upwards, the exhaustion that plagued his body turning into adrenaline. There was someone else. Some other sound came from the blinding light beyond the box. Doubt plagued his mind. What if this was another one of his hallucinations? But the light-deprived eyes felt the searing pain and knew that this was reality. There were days and nights once more.
Crawling out, Robin moved out into the middle of the hallway. Halting, he stretched his back out and moved up one knee at a time. Ben slammed the cell door closed. The loud bang scared Robin, making him jump onto his feet. Shaking, his ears ringed as Carl grabbed his forearm and tugged him into a walk. Feet slide against the floor but soon fell back into the soft pitter-patter of walking.
The light still blinded Robin. Even though it was a dull, neon light, it was still too bright when compared to the darkness. Supernovas exploded to life every time he blinked blocking out any sense of direction. The voices of fellow prisoners bombarded his small form, making him cringe. It was too loud, too bright and the hand on his forearm was driving him crazy. It was an overload.
Ben gazed down at the boy, eyes widening at the rising chest and heavy breathing. Poking Carl, the guard motioned at Robin. Carl halted and turned Robin towards him. Robin was breathing hard now in short gasps, his masked eyes were closed and the shivering had grew worse.
"Easy, Robin. You're hyperventilating," Handing his shotgun at Ben, the man began to rub the boy's back, "Breath in. Breath out."
"To-too mu-much," gasped Robin as he tried to draw in the precious fresh oxygen.
"I know. Close your eyes and picture yourself back in the box."
Robin followed the orders, the image of the black box filling his mind. The familiar environment eased his racing heart. He heard Carl's voice muffled in the background, "Now just keep them closed. Open them when I tell you."
The boy nodded and let himself be led. As the steps continued to increase, Robin felt his raw over-stretched senses begin to ease. The rough ground against his bare feet no longer felt painful. The loud screams and taunts fell into a comforting bickering. The smells became a welcome relief compared to the stall air of the box. Licking his lips, his tongue could taste his sweat mingled with the dry specks of dirt that fell from the air.
Suddenly the footsteps halted. The hand left his forearm, "Open your eyes, slowly now."
Masked eyes cracked open, taking in a small round chamber, housing boxes and tools. Realizing that he never had been in here before, he quickly etched the room in his mind before spotting Fumio grinning ear to ear off to his left and the Boss standing directly in front of him.
Stepping forward, Maura took in the ragged superhero. The black spiky hair hugn in shambles around his pale face, enhancing the sunken eyes that hide behind the mask. Leaning down, she reached out and tucked a strand of black hair behind the boy's ear. "Robin. You hate being compared to a criminal why?"
Robin's rational mind tried to come up with a vague but satisfied response, but he was caught off guard. He had expected Fumio to ask the questions. Not her. Her simple movement and caring tone was already careening him off balance. "I-I."
Resting a finger on his lips, Maura gazed into those white lenses and let a soft frown grace her features. "If you don't tell me, the box will become your permanent home."
Those simple words brought forth an honest reaction. Robin's body straightened up, tense with fear. Masked eyes snapped to attention, his breathing picking up slightly. He barely had kept his sanity together. Friends turned into enemies, enemies into turned friends, they all waited for him the corners of the box.
"Tell her the truth, just this once. Save yourself before its' too late," whispered his tired soul. Swallowing, Robin gazed down at the ground. In a scratched voice, he began to answer. "I…I pretended to be one once…"
"Oh?" Once again, that caring voice pulled the words out of his mouth.
"He figured it out though…made me do ter-terrible…things…"
"Steal…fight the Titans…betray my roots…" Guilt swelled in his chest and started to push precious water out into the corners of his eyes. He had never forgiven himself after all this time.
"Why did you do this?"
"He…would have killed them…had to save them…"
Maura lowered her eyes to hide her growing irritation as Fumio started to bounce back and forth on his feet behind her. "Who was this man?"
A distant look took over Robin's face. His voice fell into a trance, anger and fear outlining each syllable. "One eye. Black. Orange. Slade."
The woman leaned further and brushed her lips over Robin's forehead in a motherly fashion. "It is ok, now. You did the right thing."
Robin shook his head, "No, I didn't!" Backing up, Robin tried to fight off the conflicting emotions that rose within from Maura's kiss. A part of him wanted to punch her, another wanted to run away, and an even smaller part wanted to bury himself in her arms. Finding himself briefly thanking his solitary, scripted words poured out his mouth, "He made me his apprentice! He trained me! Don't you see! I'm not a hero! Not anymore! Heroes are men who are selfless, self-sacrificing and confident in their goals. They care for their friends and will do anything to save them. But I'm not either of those things! I put my team in danger for my own selfish goals. I don't sacrifice myself for them; I do it so I can personally put the criminal in jail. Slade was mine, not theirs! I had to retain my honor and by doing that-"
Gripping his hair, Robin chocked back a sob. Hope fluttered in his stomach, wishing that Fumio and Maura had bought his speech. Yet, something else was beginning to threaten his act. Relieving his time as Slade's apprentice was too much. The guilt was as blinding as the light and as suffocating as the darkness. But, he would not let it overcome him completely. Grinding his teeth, Robin lunged out to punch at the Boss as he pushed the guilt back into the over-stuffed tin box. The woman narrowed her eyes and stepped back. Fear didn't even dance across her eyes as a fist came out of nowhere, pulling Robin away from Maura. Kicking out, Robin yelled in frustration as Ben pinned the boy's arms behind his back.
Fumio laughed, the chilling voice freezing Robin's movements. "Finally! Robin, Robin. You did it. You answered all our questions. You are a hero due to your wounded pride and desire to fix those mistakes you made with Slade by joining the hero community. Such a shame really, I was hoping for something more virtuous. Oh well." Sliding his pen into his white jacket, the Asian marched up to the Boy Wonder, his chest thrust out, his whole aura screaming of his victory.
Robin growled quietly, body tense with rage as the man marched out of the chamber, Carl right behind him. Left with only the Ben and Maura, Robin shifted his gaze back at the leader. To his surprise, Maura locked a cold, disappointed glare at him. Anger had tightened her features and Robin could finally see the toils of her position on her face. Here was a woman who reigned with terror and strength, constantly having to prove herself over and over again. Her determination drove her without any care to the ones' around her.
In a twisted way, Robin saw himself in her. The revelation brought in another wave of rage. Snapping, Robin spat at Maura, "What? I answered your stupid questions!"
As Robin lashed out his anger, Maura let hers fly like daggers at him. "You might have answered his questions, but not mine. The Titans and your sin with Slade is not what drove you to become a hero. Something else did and I will find out what it is."
Pivoting on her foot, Maura walked down another chamber. Robin felt his mouth fall open. She was asking the ultimate question, the one he thought he would be able to avoid by leading Fumio to his own conclusions of why he was a hero.
Yet, Maura had seen through the half-truths. Robin frowned. It was like the woman could peer into his soul. She was reading him like an open box, so much like another villain. Feeling Ben yank him backwards, Robin lowered his head. His body was exhausted from the outburst. Maybe if he just- No! Biting his tongue, Robin let the pain shake off any fog from his mind. The drug was already holding him back; he didn't need his body and emotions doing the same thing.
Ben and Robin broke into the main chamber. Robin gazed into the mines, hoping to see Kyle and something more. He couldn't take this anymore. His last trap had only caught one rat, but not other. Deep down, Robin heard a loud crack and knew that if he went one on one with Maura, he would lose. Eyes shot down towards the tunnel, where he could almost hear the box whispering at him. Shivering, Robin squeezed his eyes shut. He would die before going back into the box.
Maura jumped into the plane, the jeep sending a dust cloud into the air as it drove back to the prison. Taking in a deep, lung-filled breath of fresh air, Maura closed her eyes and let the sun's rays ease away her troubles. Robin had answered the questions. After all this time, he had finally cracked during the long solitary confinement. Yet, there was still defiance radiating off him. He would answer their questions, but not all of them, especially when it came to the truth of why he was a hero.
Running a hand through her hair; Maura forced her mind to replay the events. Where had she gone wrong? Robin was supposed to be a shattered boy, telling them anything they wanted. Instead, the boy cracked, spilling some of his contents. The dam was spilling water but was not laid to waste by a roaring river. The military plane eased off in the air and zoomed towards the main island with extraordinary speed. The small group would arrive at their destination in two hours, instead of the usually five-hour boat trip.
A small tap jerked her out of her thoughts. Turning, Maura smiled as one of her men offered her a beer. Nodding a thanks, she took a small sip and stared out over the blue water as if it would provide the answers she sought. Robin had her stumped. She didn't know where to go on from here to break the boy. He had an iron will that amazed her.
"What did you do, Slade?" mused Maura, "To make the boy fear and hate you so?"
"Boss, we got an incoming call from base," announced the pilot.
Frowning, Maura leaned forward, setting her beer in the cup holder and picking up the cell-phone. All personnel were ordered not to call her except for emergencies. Holding up the phone to her ear, Maura let her anger warm up her voice, "What?"
"Boss, we got a problem."
Maura rolled her eyes at Egyed's muttered voice, "Really."
"You see, um…"
The sharp tone forced the man out of his nervousness, "Robin's escaped."
Closing her eyes, Maura rubbed her temple feeling a headache approaching. Tonight, she would need more than one beer, probably a bottle of wine and a strong shot of whiskey. "Go on."
"Well, Ben was walking Robin back to the cell cause Carl was called elsewhere, a disturbance in the food court. And well, Robin was still in a daze from his long confinement. But then, he attacked and bolted down the mining tunnel."
A soft groan escaped her lips. Shoulders sagging, Maura leaned against the cold window and gazed out over the clouds. The mining tunnels were the only ones that housed ventilation shafts that led straight to the surface of the prison. If Robin found one of those shafts, he could climb his way out and break out of the prison. And with his friends flying around, it would be easier to catch their attention. And if he escaped and told of the prison's location, Maura might as well kiss her exile goodbye.
Her heart constricted slightly at the mere thought of being forced to return back to her family. She hated them for ruining her childhood. As if by the will of some higher being, her thoughts trailed to an old memory when she was around five years old. Her older cousins and stepbrothers had locked her into one of the many butchery houses. Running through the halls, she had tried to find the way out but all the doors were locked. Finally, when she was about to give up hope, she spotted that the front door was open. Maura still remembered the surge of hope propelling her small body forward, blond curls bouncing over her shoulders. Her small hand reached out, scraping the door's edge when a net was pulled upwards underneath her feet. Clawing at the rope, she cried when her cousins and stepbrothers stepped out of the shadows snickering at her foolish. Leaving her hanging there, they all marched out of the house, slamming the door behind them.
The high-pitched voice of Egyed pulled Maura to the present. Frowning, she mustered her hatred for the family to bring back clarity. As much as she detested repeating any of the activities her family did to her, desperate times called for desperate measures.
"Let him escape, Egyed."
Maura sat up straight, her headache gone. "Let him take a sip of freedom before dragging him back down to reality."
Egyed seemed speechless for a moment, "…then what…?"
"Fumio and you are big boys, you decide. Just don't crush his mind into dust." Nothing more to say, Maura snapped the cell-phone closed. Gazing at the timer, she realized that they only had an hour and half to go. "Speed up, we're wasting precious time."
"Yes ma'ma," whispered the pilot, the tightening of his jaw revealing his fear of the cold-hearted woman next to him.