The Black Paradox
Robin bunched the neck of his shirt over his throat. Huddling on the floor, the meager task hid the bruising that was blossoming around his neck perfectly. Glancing up, he took in the made bed. Since Egyed left and Slade reasserted his presence, the comfort of the bed became restrictive. Sliding out, his time with Alfred automatically moved Robin's body to make the bed nice and neat for Maura's return.
It was strange but he could almost picture her coming in and chastise him on not making the bed. Just like his mom use to-
"No, no, no. Don't go there Robin, don't go there," rebuked Robin to himself, his eyes narrowing in on themselves. "Maura isn't Mom, she never will be neither. No matter how much she tries to play the caring…"
The memory of being held against a warm chest, hands holding him tight as if to protect him from the world burned brightly in his denial. To be held like that once again. Robin felt a wave of tears and anguish rise in him. Slamming his head onto the wall, he tried to push down the feelings, but instead it allowed for a few tears to seep past their cages and trickle down his cheek in pain.
He found himself back on the dark landscape where a few remaining large glass shards still glittered in a non-existent light. Off in the corner, he saw a tiny shard begin to grow. Pouncing on it, he held the guilt of replacing his mom with Maura stare straight back at him.
Cracking his eyes open, Robin frowned. He had hoped that the pain from his throbbing head would have kept the man away.
Slade chuckled darkly, "It will take more than that to hide from me now, child."
"I'm no child," snapped Robin backed mentally, but in reality he merely turned his head.
"Yet you still act as one," chided Slade. "Now let us go over the logistics-"
"Of your escape plan? Please Slade, there's no way to get off this island," rebuked Robin.
Slade's shoulders rippled as the man's form lowered into a crouch in front of the boy. Robin couldn't help but feel the man's icy anger push him further back into the wall. Despite Robin trying to tell himself that the man wasn't real, there were times when the line between reality and imaginary blended together.
"Can it be that the almighty Boy Wonder has finally lost hope?" hissed Slade.
"I haven't lost hope," mumbled Robin, flickering his gaze down onto the ground.
Slade reached out and grinned when he saw Robin's chest tighten in anticipation. Instead of carrying out the waited hit, Slade grabbed a hold of Robin's shirt and lowered it to gaze upon the purple and blue marks.
He remembered all too vividly the trembling boy whom he had the under control. To be caught up in the moment of feeling the boy's pounding pulse as his arm continued to tighten around the small neck made the villain smile. But now, he could only frown is disgust.
"Finally figured it out that you are obsolete without me," Robin's whispered words pulled Slade to gaze down at the boy's blue eyes that now stared up at him wary but sharp with observation.
"Don't kid yourself-"
Robin shifted breaking Slade's hold on his shirt. Readjusting it, the teenager couldn't help but grin. "It must torment you to know that you can't exist without me being alive."
"It must torment you as well, Robin. For I am that dark corner in your mind."
The smoldering glare made the villain chuckle. Leaning back, Slade glanced behind his shoulder before focusing back on his captive audience. "You see, while you were purging yourself in the arms of the enemy. I reflected back on some things."
Robin scoffed, "Don't tell me you were bored."
Slade cocked his head to the side. Robin leaned a bit forward, "I thought seeing me suffer was your dream?"
"It is a little for me…but then again I'm not truly Slade," commented the man. Robin's eyes narrowed in confusion that Slade couldn't help but continue to build upon it. "In the basement, I was all about making you suffer. It was my solo purpose…my existence to ensure your death." Slade paused, his gray eye hinting at reluctance to share his thoughts. However, realizing that he needed the boy's trust to accomplish his plan of escaping, he continued. "When I found that I was intact despite your proclamation, I knew that something must have gone wrong. So I hid in the shadows, making you believe you were safe while learning the confines of my new…role."
The slight lowering of Slade's tone might have gone unnoticed the regular listener, but Robin heard it. "You found something."
Slade smirked, letting his eye show his delight at the boy for picking up the unspoken words. "Yes. The doctor was right; the basic programming in me has changed a bit due to the mutation."
Robin cut in, dawning brightening the once dull eyes. "He did something…"
Slade nodded. "I found traces of programs that were not present before. It seems that I-Sla—the mastermind was trying to change the dust to not merely remind you of him but to change you."
"But something must have come up, for he never finished."
"Change?" hissed Robin, his shoulders tensing up fear flashing in his eyes.
Slade raised his eye, "There are training programs present."
Robin tilted his head, shaking it as if he didn't hear right. "Training?"
"Robin," purred Slade. "The escape plan will work."
Disbelief flashed across the young features. Slade saw the mouth begin to open but he cut in, "If you allow me to train you with this knowledge, the chances rise exponentially."
Blue eyes fell in upon themselves, weighing the options. "What do you want in return?"
"What makes you think-"
"It's something I would do."
Slade nodded. The boy was slowly accepting this Slade's existence as well as the criminal part of his young mind. "You return back to-" The lock on the door clicked making Slade shot his attention at the door.
Robin had his eyes locked on the door when Maura stepped through. The woman's face flashed with surprise at seeing Robin rising slowly to his feet from the floor. Her eyes darted over to the bed and a smile shone on her face.
"You made the bed."
Robin nodded, "Yes."
Maura sent a curt nod, "Why thank you."
"No problem." Slade had also risen onto his feet and now stood next to Robin on the wall, watching the woman keenly.
Robin let out a small internal groan. It seemed the man still hated Maura, but who could blame him. Instantly, he slapped himself mentally. Now was not the time to start getting sympathetic towards this imaginary man.
Maura walked over to her desk, searching the paperwork. It had occurred to Robin to look through the papers, but from what he could see from the bed it mostly dealt with the files of other prisoners. Nothing important.
"So, am I free to go considering I answered everything?"
A smile tugged at Maura's lips. "Do you truly believe that?"
Robin shrugged his shoulders, "Thought I give it a chance."
Maura felt a flicker of uncertainity flash in her. It had been awhile since Robin's breakdown and even more days for him to reach this stage of his recovery. His blood samples showed that the drug was no longer present, but she could still see the small twitches and yearnings eyes of the addition still holding sway over the boy. In conjucture with the recovery, something in the boy had died. Those rebellious tones and comebacks was gone. The way Robin held himself even changed. His thin shoulders seemed to sag but tense all the time. His young voice spoke with a sad tone as if he was carefully in what to say or to try and hide the turmoil underneath. But what changed the most were his eyes. Those bright eyes were cautious, their fire a flickering flame instead of an inferno. One would say the boy was completly shattered. But Maura knew that instead Robin was merely learning his station in life and taking her advice on guilt to heart. She was wrapping him around her finger, which would make the step of this experiment go much more smoothly. Yet, it was also the root of her uncertainity, for she no longer knew how to handle the boy without breaking him or ruining the experiment completly.
"But don't you want to learn how to control Slade?" questioned Maura as she picked up a piece of gum and popped it into her mouth. Stepping in front of Robin, she tugged down his shirt to reveal the bruises. "It seems he has returned with a vengeance."
Twisting the side, Robin straightened his shirt as a feeble attempt to gain his meager pride back. But he felt on some level it was useless, for Maura had seen him crash and burn. Shame swelled up in him. Hugging himself, Robin was about to turn to face the wall when he felt a small hand on his shoulder.
Gazing over his shoulder, he took in Maura's soft features. Her eyes shone with understanding. "Your secret is safe with me, Robin. In fact, to help keep your identity a secret, I was going to start calling you Rob for short." Maura nodded gently, "There are many Robs present in this prison. One more will not make a difference. Besides." Maura ran a hand through his tangled hair; "You have changed enough for people not to confuse you with Robin, especially with the mask off."
Robin broke away from Maura, turning fully to face her. Slade had moved to her side and gave a brief nod at Robin, confirming his suspicions.
"What more do you want from me?" growled Robin.
Maura laughed quietly glad to see the anger had not completly abandoned the boy. "Simply to let nature run its' course. At the beginning, we were going to see what it took to change a hero into a criminal. Yet, after realizing that it only took blackmail, that option seemed unnecessary. Thus, we decided on a different plan of action. If you accept our help, you are going to become a hero again."
Robin wanted to laugh. But all that came out has a hysterical whimper that burned his throat. On one side, Maura wanted to shape into a hero, probably her version of a hero by offering help. And then on the opposite side, Slade presented tactics in exchange for becoming a criminal.
In the bowels of this hellhole, Robin realized that he was a crossroads. But unlike the other times he reached such junctions, this one would change him permanently. There would be no going back this time. Blinking away his tears, Robin let a smile hide away the pain. Slade lashed out to try and punch Maura but his fist merely flew through her head. Upset would be an understatement and the fiend stalked off into the distance of Robin's mind. It seemed like this version of Slade also didn't like no one sinking their claws into Robin.
"I will give you to the end of today to reach your decision," commented Maura through the haze.
Robin nodded thanks. Maura let a smirk twinkle her eyes, "Come lets give you a much needed shower."
The walk downwards offered little solace for the teenager. When he stepped into the cold room, where the drain was present, Robin couldn't help but keep an out for Fumio. But the twisted psychiatrist never made his presence known. As the blast of water hit him, Robin merely reached down at the bar of soap and washed his body.
Though it had been a while, he couldn't help but fall back into the rhythm. He felt a bit more clear headed and normal as all the dirt and grim washed off his body. Rinsing off, Robin shook his head and took a quick overlook over his body. Besides a few new scars, particular the one on his forehead, Robin realized he must have lost a couple pounds. His ribs were more visible and the distinct shape of his muscles were gone. Curling his arm up, Robin felt his muscle and realized that his body had fallen out of shape but was now adapting to the work in the prison. A guard opened the door and tossed him a towel. Walking into the next room where he was first given the red uniform, Robin stripped off his old uniform and began to dry off. Ruffling his hair, Robin realized that his hair had grown. It fell about his face in semi-curls in a mop-like style. Robin's mind began to wonder how long he had been here before the turning of the knob broke the silence. He barely had time to cover himself when the door open. Ben stepped in and handed him a black uniform.
Reaching out, Robin gazed down at the color. Draping the new uniform over his small frame the long sleeves of top making feel childlike, Robin couldn't help but continue to run his hands over it. On closer inspection, the black was not totally black. Instead, it seemed a bit more on a gray, washed out black tone.
What did it mean?
Such questions would never have bothered Robin, but his time here had driven the undertones of color home. Getting lost in the color, Robin's mind drifted to the shards. In the days after his realization, Robin had been working through his guilt. Yet the guilt of his parents' death, of betraying Batman and the mind-numbing experience with Slade remained.
Black and orange were the villain's colors and his own apprentice color as black symbolizing his submission to the man. Submission. Robin shuddered at the word. All his life he bowed down to someone. First it was submitting himself to Batman's black crusade and then later on it was subjugating himself to Slade's black thrill. It was always black and submission. The two were intermingled too many times in his life.
A red wave of anger washed through him. Lashing out, Robin slammed his foot on the shards of Batman and Slade. Well, he wouldn't submit to them anymore. He wouldn't be their little puppet. So what if he betrayed Batman. In the end, he prevented future citizens from getting hurt and knocked Slade off his high-pedestal. What more could be asked for from a teenager, from a washed-up hero?
And speaking of Slade, Robin grounded the shards into a fine dust. The criminal was just like Batman. Trying to shape the boy into something he was not: an emotionless fighter. They wanted a non-thinking, dependent tool to point towards the enemy and fire away despite their praises of him using his mind. Well, too bad. Robin wanted to be his own man. And yes, he loved stealing. To have that adrenaline buzz twenty-four seven was addicting, but so was the thrill of tracking down a criminal. It wasn't like Batman and Slade didn't get a kick out of doing undercover work, so why should he wallow in guilt.
Shifting, he turned at the last remaining piece. Hands clutched at the dark material as he made his way to stand above shimmering memory of his parents' death. The black wave of grief lashed out and squeezed at his throat. Crashing on his knees, Robin reached out and picked up the shard.
Cradling it to his chest, Robin let a few tears drip onto the cold floor. "I'm sorry Mom and Dad, but I have to let you guys go." Pausing, Robin fought to work up the courage to say the next few words, but it was getting harder and harder to breath. "I did kill you guys." As if he wasn't sure if they heard, he repeated himself, a trace of certainty now in his tone. "I killed my parents."
The grip of grief loosened its' hold on the teenager, letting Robin relieve himself. "I killed you in not telling you about Zucco. Yet, there is nothing I can about it now except repent for my sin. And by doing that is to stop the other Zuccos out in the world. Maura was right. I am human. And as such, I will make mistakes but I can accept those mistakes and become a stronger person from them."
Before his eyes, the shard dissipated into the still air. "I won't forget. I love you guys."
Left alone, Robin blinked himself back into reality. Kneeling on the rocky floor, Robin stared into the uniform. Black was submission in any form. Yet, it had given him the power to confront the remaining guilt. It had given him a sense of authority within his own mind.
Smirking, the teenager took a deep breath, thoughts clicking into place. He understood now, understood a many of things in life that was once a static confusion. For once, he felt at peace…centered.
Tilting his head, Robin let go of the smirk. "Slade."
Slade had stepped out of the shadows of his mind. "Robin."
The figure nodded, his exuberance oozing off of him in waves, yet when it touched Robin, the boy merely let it pass through him. The stench was still in the air when Slade disappeared marking the appearance of Carl, Ben and Maura. Carl was carrying a paint brush and two cans of paint while Ben was carrying two other cans.
Rising up onto his feet, Robin shot a questioning look at Maura. The woman pointed at the cans. "We're going to put a mark on your uniform. This mark will show to the rest of the prisoners and guards that you are exempt from any punishments hence forth."
"Above the law," thought Robin.
As if hearing his thoughts, Maura smirked, "But if you create any disruptions or try to escape, we'll go back to square one."
The hidden threat of the changing of uniforms and the box was not lost on Robin's account. Instead the boy nodded, his lips parting. "M-Boss?"
Ben and Carl jerked their heads up from their work of laying down the cans in surprise. Maura didn't let the change in title faze her, but she narrowed her eyes in warning. "Yes."
Shifting through his mind to make sure Slade wasn't present Robin spoke the needed words. "I accept your help."
Pleasure filled those gray eyes. "Very well, we'll start tomorrow then." With noting more ot say, she left the room.
"Ok, kid. What color?"
Robin blinked; he couldn't believe it was that easy to convince Maura of his turn. Then again, he truly did want her help.
"Kid!" Carl's loud voice jerked Robin out of his thoughts.
Carl sneered, pointing the brush at him, "What color do you want your mark to be?"
Robin started down at his options, yet there were no labels on them. Sighing, his mind immediately crossed out yellow, green, orange and red. Robin felt his fist curl in at the thought of red. If he could somehow have a color that would calm the rest of the prisoners, display a sense of serenity about him that would fool his opponents and yet enforce coldness? It had to be the opposite of red.
"Blue." The word left his mouth before his mind even reached the conclusion.
Carl nodded. Ben popped off a lid allowing for Carl to dip his brush in. Wiping off access pain, Carl walked up to Robin's form. As if eyeing a blank piece of canvas, Carl pondered his next moves. Then reaching his conclusion, the arm stretched out and two slashes later, Carl stepped back and nodded in satisfaction.
Before him, two broad blue strips went down from Robin's shoulders to meet in the center creating a V-shape. Stepping around, Carl dipped his brush again and painted the same V-design on the back.
"Alright then, we're all-" Carl halted in his speech when Robin snatched the brush out his hands. "What the hell are you doing?"
Ignoring the question, Robin painted a strip of blue down his arms. "There." Handing the brush back, Robin let a smile show. "Thank you."
Carl shook his head, eying the smiling teenager with caution. "You've definitely lost a few marbles from the last time we met." Tossing the brush to Ben, Carl waved his hand towards the door, moving in front of Robin. "Time to bring you back to your cell. You'll have about an hour to rest and get reacquainted with Kyle and Curt before dinner time."
Robin nodded and followed after Carl, leaving Ben behind to clean the mess. Walking quietly behind the guard, Robin let his eyes gaze down and trace the V on his uniform. He didn't know why but somehow it felt right, just like urge to paint the strips down his arms felt right. It was a way to attract attention, yet also blend in with the surroundings, especially with the strips on the guards' uniforms. But it was not only that. Letting himself feel an ounce of happiness, Robin merely nodded when Carl pushed him lightly back into the cell.
Locking his eyes on Kyle and Curt who where sprawled out on Curt's cot, Robin nodded a hello. For the first time, he felt that maybe Slade's plan of escape was no longer impossible. That with this new uniform, anything could become possible. Now all that he had to do was not get too cocky about it or his cover would be blown. And then, like Maura said, it would all be back to square one.