One step taken, another ten miles to go
The warmth began to crack, but the boy curled deeper, smothering out all traces of the outside world. He wasn't ready. The only sensible thought on his mind was stay in this blissful existence where he felt nine years old again. Nothing in Hell's depth could touch him in this bubble, but that was all about to change. Outside the glass walls, a dark storm clashed together. Pure lighting burst in the clouds, sending electricity raining on his shelter. The deafening thunder shook the ground. There was pain out there: tremendous, unbelievable boulders of gut-wrenching guilt wishing to be forgotten.
And how much he wanted to forget, but the storm outside didn't agree. The bubble shimmered with events wanting to be remembered, to trap the bright soul once more in an ocean of guilt. A large clap of Heaven's bell hit against the bubble. Robin shifted and covered his ears, trying to block out the sound. Dressed in simple gray rags, the boy sniffed. The darkness couldn't hurt him in here, but something had happened. Something shifted the storm into a hurricane.
As if to acknowledge the point, a gust of over a 100 mph winds roared over the bubble, making it strain to stand upright and protect its' special cargo. Robin collapsed on his knees, covering his head as the bubble cracked and shattered in perfect timing with a deafening thunder. A brief moment in time allowed him a brief intake of air before the ocean swallowed him whole.
Blue eyes snapped open, a painful hack of carbon dioxide exploding out his body. Inhaling hurt even more. Lungs tried to remember how it felt to breath normally. To his body, it felt that he was drowning and what his eyes were showing him was false. He wasn't in a room with rocky walls, or lying on a bed.
Something warm shifted behind him and Robin found himself being propped up. The warmth pressed into his shaking back and rubbed circles. What appeared to be an arm, wound in front of him and Robin couldn't help but clutch at it. Leaning to the side, his head rested against the source of the warmth. Riding out the waves, Robin's mind narrowed onto the task of forcing air in and out of his lungs. Eyes lulled back to closure.
"That's it, Robin. Breathe."
A woman's voice floated through his numbing mind. A childish voice groaned in protest from being ripped out his blissful comfort. Yet, another part sought to grow closer to voice. The smell of cut hay mixed with spices and blossoming summer air brought a smile on the pale face.
Snuggling closer, he heard the thumping of a strong heart. In his mind, the woman had her long black hair loose, falling like curtain of lace around her shoulders. Sparkling blue eyes shimmered down at his small form. "Robin…"
The circular motion stopped and pulled away leaving behind a whiplash of artic air. Robin whimpered and lifted himself away from the chest. Blinking slowly to break free of the grit on his eyes, Robin frowned and turned to gaze upwards. Why had his mother stopped?
Thin lips were about to betrayal the question when all motion stopped. Instead of blue, gray eyes stared down at him coldly. The smell of summer was gone, evaporated into an air of staleness and dried blood. The scene wavered and Robin felt his body tense as the wave inside surged, drowning him once more.
"Get away from me!" Flinging out his arms, Robin ripped himself free of the smoldering warmth coming from Maura. Backing away, he didn't even let out a yelp when he fell off the bed and landed hard on the floor.
Maura leaned forward and looked down at the distraught figure. "Calm down."
"No!" screeched Robin as he scrambled on all fours and darted to the nearest corner in the small room. Glaring daggers at her, Robin fought to force precious oxygen into his clenching lungs. "Just, go away!" Fresh tears stabbed at the dry eyes. "I can-can't believe, can't believe, no, no, no, no" Falling into a state of shock, Robin began hitting his head with the palms of his hands. "Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid."
Maura soaked in the…what word could she use? Insane child? That was the only word that popped in her mind and could remotely explain the turn of events. One moment she remembered dozing off lightly after Robin passed out, curled up on her lap. The next thing, he shot up wheezing, fear etched on his face. Her hands had acted on their own accord to ease the fallen hero back to reality. Then it all went to hell in handbasket.
Mom. Robin had called her mom. Disgust froze her blood and she fought to keep from knocking the boy off her lap. Yet, Robin had done that for her the moment those lost sapphire's recognized her.
A painful scream clawed her mind away. Maura sneered and slide off the bed, fists clenched at her sides. Robin started to bang his head on the wall. The teenager was supposed to be feeling better, not falling into shock. Leaning down, she grabbed a hold of the small wrists with one hand while the other slapped some sense into Robin. The prisoner fell silent, blinking away tears. Like watching a movie unfold, Maura let go and eyed Robin with a predatory caution as the pitch-black pupils dilated to normal.
"I-I re-rem-ber," croaked Robin, unconsciously drawing his legs to his chest and his fingers beginning to play with each other. "Y-you ma-de me t-tell."
Maura kneeled down, her own dry throat mustering the kindness of a concerned mother. "How do you feel?"
The boy's face scrunched in concentration, his battered, shattered mind still fighting against the currents of his confession. "Sic-k. Ti-red." A soft pause and Robin's eyes drew a blank look as they stared down at his hands. "Empty."
The woman nodded and reached out to pick up Robin. But, Robin jerked back into the wall and a small spark of anger glowed in his eyes. Smiling softly, Maura realized that the shock still held sway over the boy, yet it was good to see some of his old flame back. "I'm just going to put you in bed."
"Because after such an ordeal, you need rest."
"Don't touch me." The abrupt, ice-cold tone sent a small shiver down her spine, hinting that the boy-lost as he may be-was lethal. An injured animal was always more dangerous than a healthy one. Instead of cringing, Maura reached out and hauled Robin to his feet.
The boss ignored Robin and dragged him to bed. "You have confessed your darkest guilt, now you need to rest before accepting them."
"Ain't accepting the same as confessing?" muttered Robin; letting his feet drag a little behind him.
"No." Flopping him on the bed, Maura reached out for the blanket. "You only spilled, now it's time to clean the mess."
Robin nodded slightly at her words. It would account for the destruction that the storm left behind in his battered soul. But still, he couldn't…didn't want to believe that he had given up so easily. Curling up on the bed, Robin bit his lip till a tiny bit of blood trickled down his chin.
Maura reached out and wiped it away before it stained the bed. "Why did you say you killed your parents?"
The young face seemed to collapse once more into itself. A part of him, a part that was dying fast, argued to not tell her anything else. But his mouth had a different plan. "I could have told them that I saw their murderer leave the tent. I could have warned them that something wasn't right, to do the stunt with the net this time. I always trust my instincts, even when I was young, but that night…I didn't..." Robin's voice trailed off beneath the blanket.
The woman felt her eyes drawn to pillow, where her picture laid in secret. Robin flickered his gaze back up at her and noticed that Maura's gaze wasn't on him. Frowning, Robin felt an anger boil in him that this confession wasn't heeded. "Well?" he barked.
Gray eyes glided to face him. "Well what?"
"Aren't you gonna say something?"
"Like what!" throwing back the blanket, Robin weakly pushed himself upright, "How about 'Don't blame yourself,' or 'It's not your fault,' or how about my favorite, 'You couldn't have done nothing.'"
Maura sent a smile at Robin and for a minute the boy saw a flash of understanding. Shaking his head, he looked again but the smile was now cold. "You want me to say something. Alright, how about 'A guilty mind shows that you are human.'"
"Huh?" Robin's eyes narrowed as a side of his lip curled upwards.
"You are not a superhero, Robin. You ranted as much last night. So, don't think of yourself as some mini-god who can foretell the future. You are a male human teenager who has to make a choice based on the information he has. Sometimes our instincts can be right or wrong, but we will never know till we make a choice. And with the choice, come repercussions that we tend to mull over thus giving rise to our guilt." Pausing, Maura licked her lips slightly, choosing her words carefully. "And feeling this amount of guilt makes you," Jabbing her finger lightly on his nose, Maura smirked, "One of the good guys."
Wiping his nose against the back of his hand, Robin frowned, "Oh?"
"Yes, for criminals do not feel guilt. Or at least the bad guys don't." Standing up, Maura gently laid Robin back down. "Do you want a piece of advice?"
Robin froze minutely at the question. He remembered how Slade told him that Maura was dangerous with her words. If he said no, then she might think he was hiding something else and start the whole ordeal over again. And if he said yes, then she might think that she held all the keys and get cocky. Thinking the latter held the better options; Robin nodded, "Sure."
Tucking the blanket tightly around his small frame, Maura leaned down to his ear, "You killed your parents." Placing a kiss on his temple, she moved upwards and patted him on his stomach. "Accept it."
Shoes clicking on the ground, Maura made her way to the door, "I'm going to get some dinner. You better not get out of that bed or the box might have another round on you." The door groaned open and slammed shut without a reply from Robin.
For the boy found himself immobile in a warm cocoon of a blanket. His body tried to fight the warmth that seeped into his bones, but soon all of the past days' activities caught up to him and his eyes slide closed. But while his body rested, Robin's mind couldn't help but play over and over again her words.
Maura walked past the kitchen, her footsteps betraying the sudden urge to run. Finally, she felt the brush of cold air and keying in the code, the door parted before her to reveal a dark beauty. Stepping out under a large cliff covered by brush, the camoflauged metal door sealed shut behind her. The ground crunched underneath her boots as the woman made her way towards the beach. Feet knew the way and after a couple minutes of walking, she turned and leaned against the rocky cliff side, taking in the hidden cove. Volcanic rock lined around it providing a curtain-like privacy, yet above the night sky sparkled with an intensity that still awed her.
Kicking off her boots, Maura shrugged off her jacket and pants. Clad only in her simple shorts and black tee, the woman slide into the pleasantly warm water. It wasn't too hot or cold, just at the right temperature to massage away her cramped shoulders. Settling on the ground, leaning her head back against the edge, Maura let her body float in pure relaxation. But her mind reeled as gray eyes lost themselves in the sky.
She had always known that she wasn't special. That there were countless other children that thought they had caused a parent's death. But to realize that Robin was one of those children…was like her…brought her shock riding up on a wave of guilt. Oh, the boss knew the pain of losing a parent. She might not have lost both like Robin did, but she never did regard her biological father a parent.
Growing up in the mafia and considered as an albino, Maura's mother was her best friend and the one thing that was right in the world. Sure in the beginning, she loved her father but that all changed when he slapped, humiliated and disowned her in front of the family. She was only ten.
Over the years, Maura grew even closer with her mother, trying to protect her from the rest of the family. But her mother just smiled and took the brunt of everything, as long as it didn't involve hurting her child. Thus, Maura grew and during a semester in college, her father invited her back to the house. He smiled, those black eyes feigning regret. With words laced in what he thought was love, Maura was restored her honor in exchange for her taking an assignment out in the Pacific Ocean. Yet, she now knew how her father operated and searched for the true explanation of why.
When her father handed Maura a bottle of wine to take to her mother, Maura did as such knowing that she needed to yearn her father's trust. It only took a small sip of wine for the poison to extinguish the only light in the woman's life. A few years later, struggling to live underneath a volcano, Maura sent out evidence of her father's crimes to the Italian government, CSI and the UN. Before the prison lost all contact to the outside world, she received word that her father had committed suicide, revealing his true colors as a coward.
Her father's death and her mother's by her once innocent hands led Maura to realize a certain truth in the world. Burying the guilt was a destructive method; she saw it clear as day in some of her prisoners and had undergone the process herself. But another way was to accept the guilt and move on. There was nothing in the world that could change the past. Her mother was dead. The prisoners she ordered to their death were dead. And the only way she could function was to rationalize. Her mother had to die for her to achieve this standing, where the information of their research was critical in preventing the rise of true villains. The prisoners had to die in order for Robin to indirectly come into their possession.
"Everything has a purpose," whispered Maura to the stars. Sighing, she submerged herself underwater to hide the few tears that streaked down her cheek. "What was the purpose of forcing Robin reliving all his guilt? What was the purpose of almost losing a teenager to madness?"
Her mind plagued her ice-cold soul and all she could think about was how Robin felt against her. How after all these years, she could comfort someone, when nobody had been there for her. How, she had used a mother's love for personal gain. Guilt trickled down the ice, melting it slightly. Maura let the process flow through her. It was getting harder and harder to feel guilty about anything, but Robin hit it hard when he called her Mom.
Reflecting back, Maura realized that she had grown close to the boy and now with this bond of orphans between them. She couldn't carry on with her plan. She wouldn't try and turn the boy into a villain. He had answered that whole area by his explanation of blackmail.
Squeezing her eyes shut, Maura felt her oxygen-deprived lungs begin to shudder. White dots sparked to life underneath her lids. Her mind ignored the pleas and flew through the questions:
Why was he hero? Robin screamed out that it was his guilt, which seemed wrong for a hero in her mind didn't seek redemption.
Where did one draw the line between hero and villain? It all seemed to depend upon the person. There was no line, but gray and perspective. Robin blurted that out in his confession of how he liked the criminal side.
And lastly, what makes a criminal? In the eyes of the law, it ranged from thief to rape to taking over a country. But in the criminal's mind, they did not do anything wrong, only what they had to do to survive. Yet, in Robin's mind, murder had marked him as a criminal.
With so much answered yet so much still unexplained, Maura realized in the depth of the cove that these questions would never be truly answered. The mysteries of human nature would remain hidden under the depths of flesh and bone. Then what could she seek? What would only help her but the rest of society as well?
Her body bolted straight up propelled by the answer. Breaking the water, Maura tilted her head back, gasping for air. Wiping away the water from her face, Maura's eyes fell onto a bright shining star. Smiling widely, the boss felt the guilt of hurting Robin and her dead mother dry up. She had a new goal now with the fallen hero. If the real truth didn't satisfy, then she would create her own truth.
It was time to go against the flow of their work on the criminal mind. Starting tonight, Maura would work towards one goal. What makes a lost boy become a hero?
Robin turned in his sheets, drawing the blanket closer to him. Blue peeked under the semi-closed lids burning the crevices of the wall into his mind. Maura was the first person ever to agree with him, which scared him like no other. She told him to accept the fact. Well, he did…didn't he?
"Then what's with the guilt?" sneered a dark voice. "Why do you hide it? Why do you choke up every time you say it?"
The rational part of him shook himself dry and pushed away the babbling crybaby and the crazy, ranting child. "Well what does accept mean?" croaked Robin to the wall. "It means to either receive something or acknowledge something. But I already acknowledge all my guilt…of murdering my parents."
Squeezing his eyes shut with his hands, Robin shook his head. No, this went beyond mere recognition. Acknowledge was close but acceptance was a higher degree. One had to believe it with heart, soul and mind, to speak of it without uncertainty for it to be accepted.
Hands slide down his face revealing freezing blue eyes. "Without hesitation," the feeble voice spoke with a softness reserved for reverence.
To be without uncertainity, he would have to become guiltless. Robin would have to accept his actions and not feel one ounce of regret. By doing that…an image of how impassive Maura had been when she announced that she had killed all those prisoners flashed in his mind. Her cold abrupt manner had made her strong, the lack of doubt in her decision made her at ease with her actions.
Just like Slade. The criminal had taken the lack of uncertainty into the realms of pride when he pushed the trigger button forcing Robin to fight his friends. The guilt of killing mere teenagers bounced off the man's shoulders, not once hindering the powerful punches as he punished a disobedient apprentice. Even the death of Terra did little to evoke any emotion from the man except revenge for a wounded pride.
Turning onto his back, Robin stared up at the ceiling. Could he become that? Did he want to become a monster like Slade or a robot like Maura?
The one-worded answer brought a strange calmness to settle the wind within him. A stern look befell his face. Knowing he was onto something, Robin shut his eyes and found himself back in the shattered remains of the bubble. Picking up a glass-like piece of the bubble, Robin stared into the reflection of the white skull mask of Red X.
Feeling too much guilt would drive one insane, while too little would make one inhuman. He could either become a paranoid citizen or a gleeful villain. Taking a deep breath, Robin felt the water ripple to a stillness. The thunder and lightening rumbled off in the distant.
"Red X was a mistake. I hurt my friends physically and betrayed their trust. I stole chips that Slade could have used to destroy Jump City. I almost lost my life…" Robin felt himself begin to chock as the guilt rose in him. The piece of the bubble became sharper, stabbing at his palms. The water surrounding his legs began to ripple strong, tugging at his pant legs.
"But-but I liked it too. I liked creating a new persona, a darker persona than Robin. Going behind everyone's backs without their knowledge made me feel that all of my training with Batman was for nothing." Pausing, Robin noticed that the water became still again, the glass piece no longer bit his skin. "Being Red X gave me a thrill that even as Slade's apprentice couldn't compare with. He was of my creation. He had no link to the past. I liked being Red X and am not ashamed to say that I created him."
The last sentence Robin found himself speaking with a strong voice, facing the image of the skull head-on. As if accepting his conviction, the water level dropped a mere inches and the bubble piece disappeared. Robin could still feel its' weight in his hand, but it no longer was a barrier.
Lowering his hand, Robin found himself smirking ever so slightly. He had taken one step down a path. He didn't know how it would end, if more guilt would arise or vanish. But like Maura said, he was only human. Now the question was if he would remain a good guy or fall to the dark side.