Robin was panting hard, sweat stinging his eyes. His arms were crossed over together on the bunk bar. Resting his forehead on his arms, Robin watched as the sweat dripped onto his cot, leaving behind dark spots.
Slade was leaning against the wall near the sink. "Your two minute break is over."
Robin gulped, pushing himself away from the bunk. Staggering two steps back, he shook his head clear of the black dots. Rolling his aching left shoulder back, Robin wiped the blood away from his cracked lip. Slade had decided to kick start the training with a little spar, which ended with Robin on the floor clutching a bruise rib.
"Reflecting back on past fights will not help you. Focus!" advised Slade.
Robin raised his head in response.
"Good," stepping away from the wall, Slade folded his arms behind his back. "Now do the sequence again."
Wiping the sweat away from his face, Robin threw a left punch followed quickly by a right thrust of his elbow. Sliding his feet, he was about to do a knee jab when Slade dashed forward. With a quick right palm jab into the upper left chest, Slade slide his feet out knocking Robin hard onto his back.
"How many times must you fall before it kicks in that you are exposed during that turn," chided Slade, "Not only is your chest open, but your footing is unsteady."
Moaning, Robin bit back a harsh remark. Rolling to his side, his ears heard the clenching of material. Quickly doing a back flip, Robin watched as a fist flew by his face missing him by mere inches. Skidding until he crashed into the bars, Robin sent a nasty glare at the man.
"What was that for?" snarled Robin.
Slade merely smirked, "Seems your senses have heightened. It means I can initiate another training program. But until then, you will master this one." Turning his back to the boy, Slade raised his right hand and waved slightly. "Again."
Robin gripped the bars and raised himself to his feet. He needed to do this, needed to get stronger to get out of this place. He could no longer rest his hope on the Titans, best behavior or Maura herself. Taking a couple steps to give him space between the bars, Robin raised his arms and followed the motions of sequence again.
The massive fist flew straight at his chest once again, but this time Robin was ready. Inhaling, he tightened his chest to brace for impact and root his feet to the ground. As the fist was mere inches away, Robin grabbed the wrist. Twisting, he shifted so the fist went flying underneath his arm. With a base, he swung his knee upwards and delivered the powerful slam into the man's chest.
The grunt made Robin smile. But his victory was short lived. Balancing himself on one foot, he mentally kicked himself of his predicament. Letting go of the wrist, he fell backwards as an elbow whizzed by his head. As soon as the air was clear, he flipped back up; spun on his hands as he did a back flip, sending his feet slamming into his opponent's chest before breaking clear.
Landing in a crouch near the bars, Robin gave himself a little breather. Curt was on his bunk, clapping at the entertainment. Kyle took a couple steps back, his massive hand massaging the place where Robin's kick had hit him.
"Nice little move there," mumbled Kyle as he slowly straightened up. "The thing is though, you could have taken me out if you weren't so…" Flashing a dark smirk, the hit man's voice rumbled with a cough, "bouncy."
Robin raised an eyebrow, sending his sparring partner a confused look. "Bouncy?"
Curt busted out laughing, "Good one!"
Nodding with self-approval, Kyle dusted off his hands, "Bouncy. You flip around like a freakin fish out of water."
Robin felt a wave a red heat burn his cheeks, "A-a fish?!"
"Look, flipping around is good for long distance. But for close combat, no martial arts training can save you." Stepping into the center of their small cell, "Sometimes, good ol' fashion fist-fighting is the best. Get what I'm saying?"
Robin nodded, his wounded pride sulking back into the shadows. Batman had kept trying to drill that same lesson into him ages ago. But, he could never abandon his acrobatic nature. The pressure of a hand on his shoulder made Robin tense up quickly, his eyes widening slightly in fear.
Gazing upwards, he took in the rough face of Kyle. "You're a good fighter, kid. Don't get me wrong. Same time tomorrow."
With that the man patted him on the shoulder. In one pull, the hit man landed softly on his cot. Outside the cell, Robin could hear the guards yelling lights out. Today had been a full day and his body was one big sore muscle. Trudging back to his heavenly cot, Robin let out a tiny yelp when a pale hand wrapped around his wrist.
Crazy green eyes peered up from the darkness. Snarling, Robin wanted to slap Curt for scaring him. He knew that he didn't truly hate the man, but Kyle's words made him fear what he was becoming. Curt could be him in the future.
"Not anymore though," stated a warm voice in his mind. "We've been though Hell, still am, but we've reached the bottom. Now it's just a climb upwards that's going to present a problem."
Realizing that there was nothing but up, to rescue, to see the sky again, Robin let go of his anger towards Curt. The man had lived here for who knows how long, had set up permanent residency in the bottom of insanity. He wouldn't be like him, but Curt could be another type of teacher.
"What is it Curt?"
A flicker of calm sanity hardened the eyes. The new gaze made Robin think that maybe there was hope for the ex-professor. "They like to come out at night."
With nothing more, the sick glee swallowed up the green. Letting go of the wrist, Curt buried himself deep in the sheet.
Blinking, Robin let out a deep sigh. Flopping onto his cot, Robin yanked the thin sheet from underneath him. Tossing it over his body, he let the still night lull his mind. What did Curt mean that they came out? It was making no sense till the darkness behind his mind morphed into an all too-familiar warehouse. Slade was sitting cross-legged on the floor.
"Oh." Now the riddle made perfect sense. With the conscience at rest, the subconscious was free to reign and that included any invisible friends.
The criminal raised his hand and gestured for the boy to sit. "I watched the fight between you and Kyle. It seems you finally mastered that move. Good."
Robin sat in the same style across from Slade, "So what are we doing now? No offense or anything, but I kinda would like it for once to have a peaceful, dreamless sleep."
Slade chuckled, "Once you earn it, maybe. But, no, I thought I would teach you what I mentioned earlier about your senses."
The boy frowned. Maybe now was a good time to pinch himself awake, but his body had collapsed in exhaustion. There was no way he was about to move when he just found a comfortable spot.
Seeing that he was trapped, Robin rolled his eyes. "Fine, what is it?"
"It has nothing to do with fighting, boy. Actually, you can merely rest."
Slade released that all too-familiar evil grin that Robin had grown accustom to in this prison. He was about to jump to his feet, when four black walls sprang up around him. A black lid slammed shut above him encasing him in darkness.
The villain rose to his feet and walked over to the box. "Solitary confinement has its' benefits, Robin." Over the loud banging and screaming, Slade closed his eye and relished the feeling as fearful memories of the boy's time in the box flashed through him. "Good night, Robin. I will release you in the morning."
Blue eyes snapped open, a silent gasp a ghost across his lips sprung Robin's body forward. Bolting upright in his cot, Robin panted. Sweat was dotting his forehead and made his body cool off as the shivers racked his body.
"Told you, night plus sleep equals playtime for them."
Robin peered over to Curt, who sat on his own cot, grinning up at the boy. Kyle was before him stretching his arms.
"Good morning," was all the man said.
"Morning," replied Robin. Sliding the sheet off, feet padded over to the small sink. Turning on the knob, he splashed the lukewarm water on his face. Only a few seconds ago did Slade release him from the box. Fearful of what was to come, he dashed into conscience. Robin couldn't help but hate the box even more. Right when he thought he wouldn't have to go back in there again, Slade creates one in his own mind.
Biting the inside of his cheek hard in frustration, Robin allowed the blood to fill his mouth. What was the point in this training if only to drive him more insane? Heck, did the program even exist?
"Actually, it does."
Robin jerked his head to the side, bracing himself against the sink as Slade appeared next to him. The criminal nodded a hello. "The program is to help strengthen your mind to any mental invaders."
Seeing that Slade had his arms crossed in the front, the boy realized that the man had no intention of fighting…yet. Spitting the blood into the sink, Robin watched with a muted fascination as the water washed away all traces of the pink. "Strengthen my mind, psh. I hate it, Slade. The box is nothing but full of silence."
The light crunching of dirt behind him made the boy freeze. "What is it?"
Robin turned and peered over his shoulder at Curt. He was surprised that the man seemed a bit shocked that Robin had heard him coming up. Behind Curt, Kyle was already waiting at the bars, with Carl and Ben halting right in front.
He really needed to fix the problem of becoming totally oblivious to the outside world when he was talking to Slade. But still, the fact that he heard Curt…
Slade chuckled, "Your body remembers longer than the mind. We'll resume training when you return."
Melting back into the shadows, Slade left the boy's mind quiet for once. Robin dried his hands quickly on his pants and followed after Curt. While the small group grew in number as they made their way to the cafeteria, Robin realized what Slade's new exercise was after. Smirking, Robin couldn't help but applaud him for his stroke of genius. It truly did seem solitary confinement did have its' advantages. His senses were slowly getting accustomed to their heightened state, picking up every noise to fill up the silence.
Breakfast went without hassle. Curt seemed to be in a really good mood. Every minute it seemed he wanted to share why he was so joyous, but Kyle and Robin would stop him to save their 'innocent' ears. By now, Robin was able to finish his mush quickly before it became too cold and his energy was vibrating slowly back to full life. Despite the sore muscles, Robin couldn't wait till he was sparring again with Kyle. It was nice to find some order, some semblance of his old life shaping itself in this place. Kyle sent a cold grin over his shoulder before entering the mines, letting Robin know that he too looked forward to the evening.
With Curt being led back to the cell, Robin didn't protest as Ben escorted him to a large room that overlook the gym. Maura was there, watching the prisoners below with dull interest. Egyed glanced up from his paperwork and groaned.
"Didn't I just patch you up?" snapped the doctor as his eyes racked in the boy's frame, particularly the boy's meager attempts to hide his aching side.
Robin sent a playful smirk as he was ushered to sit on the floor. "Well, maybe when you teach me how to control the freak in my brain, it will stop."
"Please," scoffed Egyed, "Do I look that stupid to you?" To emphasis, he slapped Robin hard with the ice pack on the head before placing it on the boy's bruised side.
Robin took a hold of the pack, his other hand rubbing his head, "Like that will help."
"Actually it did with some prisoners," retorted Egyed, "Pain made them center themselves in reality."
Robin nodded briefly before sending his eyes flying upwards to Maura. The woman was leaning against the window frame, her eyes still glued to the scene below. Warm feelings fluttered through Robin. This woman, despite her cold exterior, had braced the waves of his confessions with him. Now, she was willing to help him become a hero again…Maybe she wasn't so bad? Yet a part of Robin's mind knew that there was a catch, would always be one no matter what had transpired between them.
"Now. Let's begin shall we." Egyed's voice broke the silence. Robin focused his attention back on the man. The red-hair doc flashed one of those disturbing Joker-smiles. "The imaginary person, Slade, likes to come out at night. It's the whole deal with the subconscious thing, but there is a way to prevent him from disturbing your sleep."
Robin growled as a tight frown darkened his face. Eyged could tell that the boy was irked that he had lost a good night sleep simply because the doc didn't tell him the trick. "What you're a smart boy, so don't give me that attitude."
The loud snort made Eyged chuckle. Oh, how he loved ticking the boy off. It was good to see that not all of the boy's personality was gone.
"Well, what is it?" questioned Robin.
"Simple. You count sheep."
Eyged sighed, "You have to keep your mind busy, that's all. Filled with mindless buzzing noises so that Slade can't be heard over them."
"But wouldn't that keep me awake?" The caution in the boy's voice betrayed his fear that he would never again have a peaceful sleep. That was a new emotion coming from the boy and Eyged flashed a glance up at the silent Maura knowing it was all her doing.
"For awhile, but then you will simply stop from exertion and fall asleep, and Slade will be too weary to take advantage of the silence."
The boy's face frowned, his voice falling into a whisper too old for one so young. "Then you don't know him like I do."
Realizing that his patient was losing his zeal, Egyed decided to poke and prod the boy once more. It was his specialty after all. Taking out a penlight, he poked the boy at one of the exposed bruises on his arm.
"OW!" Yanking his arm up to his chest, Robin rubbed the injured bruise, "What was that-"
"You should name him."
The blunt tone of the statement caught Robin off guard. Not sure what he had heard, Robin let his surprise show, "W-what?"
Eyged nodded, as if pleased with himself. "Name your imaginary friend."
"But he has a name. It's Slade," replied Robin.
"It looks like Slade, but he doesn't act like the real one does he?"
The question made Robin halt in his confusion. "No," he answered carefully.
"So their personalities are different?"
"That's because the probes are a blank slate to begin with and pick up characteristics from their host. Thus, the Slade in your mind is carrying both traits from yourself and what you think of Slade."
The explanation however left out a critical aspect. If that was true, then the probes also picked up some characteristics the real Slade had added. But still, the doc had a point. "So, he's like a conglomeration of many traits."
Egyed clicked his tongue, "Yep. Pretty much a whole new identity."
"Thus the new name," inquired Robin, making sure he followed the crazy doctor's reasoning.
"Mm hum. Exactly." Pausing, Eyged sat down on the floor and leaned forward as if sharing a secret with the boy. "So what's his name?"
That simple question sparked the discussion for the next few hours. Robin would listen quietly, questioning on occasion for clarity as Eyged talked about the different ways previous subjects broke free of their imagined world. Techniques ranged from self-inflicted wounds to singing to dreaming of girly things to quoting Shakespeare. Yet all the things tied to the simple fact that distraction was key.
And through the lessons, Robin's mind couldn't help but wonder what would he call Slade. He had grown comfortable with the name but what if he ever ran into the real Slade or told the Titans of his predicament.
He would never tell the Titans what had transpired here in this prison. Robin would only give them the basics but that was it. His friends didn't need to worry about the man inside his head or his drug withdrawal or any the other emotional and mental scars he now carried.
When Robin came back to reality, he realized he was lying on the ground. Reaching up, he rubbed his eyes clearing away the grit that had accumulated. Pushing himself off the ground, Robin realized that he had fallen asleep sometime during Egyed's lecture.
Glancing around, he searched for the doctor but the man was nowhere insight. But a small part sighed in relief when he noticed that Maura was still present. The woman was now resting in a chair, starting to read a worn-out book. Gathering his feet underneath him, Robin merely sat on the ground and waited. He didn't know how the woman wanted to approach his training to become a hero. One thing he knew though was that this was a test, in a strange sort of way. And he knew that a mad Maura was not the best thing in the world.
Thus, the pair sat in silence. The voice of the prisoners below was a comforting jumbling of noises. Blinking slowly, Robin pinched himself to keep from drifting back to sleep. It didn't help that his stomach began to rumble betraying his hunger. Glancing back up at Maura, Robin realized that Maura was almost finished with her book. Did that much time truly pass?
Sighing, Robin was about to speak when he felt a dark presence shift in his mind. Frowning, he realized that it was time to put Egyed's advice to practice. Closing his eyes, Robin took in a deep breath and began to sing in his mind annoying pop songs. It was trick he had picked up in the box, one that he had almost forgotten if it hadn't been for Slade's lesson last night. If it was the villain's intention for him to gain the ability to ignore him, Robin wasn't sure of the why. Maybe, he would learn in the future but for right now he needed to be patient. Heck, he had never been more patient than today. Usually, he would have blown up by now and been screaming at Maura to train him—
Blue eyes snapped open, the foreboding presence blasting away in revelation. The bright look of one finally figuring out a hard problem filled the room with simple happiness. Maura peered over her book, her gray eyes shining with content. Closing the book, she allowed for Robin to see her smile.
"A hero must be patient in all things he does." The soft voice of the woman finally washed through his mind.
A small laugh escaped Robin's lips. Batman had mentioned such a thing long ago, but youth had substituted the needs for patience in waiting out a villain or negotiations with that of recklessness. Sure he had tried meditation with Raven, but the pressures of being a leader had made his patience with life run out quickly.
Placing the book on a small table, Maura furthered her words. "The question is why are you patient now? What is different?"
Not evening questioning her motives, Robin licked his lips still in a daze from the afterglow of the revelation. "Because, I think I finally realized that not everything happens at once. That going out to seek something causes more trouble than it would if you merely waited for an opening." Locking his eyes on Maura's face, Robin continued, "I weighed my options and decided that the less painful but more productive way would be to see what you did. I guess, what I'm trying to say is that I'm more careful now, that rushing headfirst into things is not the best idea. That's what landed me here in the first place."
"This prison forces you to be patient, to take one day at a time otherwise you'll just hurt yourself in the end." Robin's voice dropped off, his face falling off from the high as he remembered the events that had transpired since he had arrived.
Rising from her chair, Maura walked over to Robin. Offering her hand, she smiled as Robin's smaller one latched onto hers. Pulling him up, the woman couldn't help but feel satisfaction that the boy was trusting her this much. That he even reached what she was trying to prove with her silence was a miracle in itself.
"Let's get you some dinner."
Robin nodded. Following Maura, he couldn't but ask the woman. "Is everyday going to be like this?"
Maura chuckled. It seemed that in his waiting, Robin's energy would flow out of him in questions. "No."
"Good, cause I think I would rather endure Egyed's freaky smile than your silent treatment."
"Come now, am I that bad?"
Robin trotted up so he walked besides Maura. Flickering her a taunting gaze coupled with a cold smile, the boy replied. "Maybe, Boss." With that he broke off and entered the cafeteria.
Watching the boy grab his bowl of mush and glass of water, Maura couldn't help the daunting feeling rise in her. As the boy joined his two cellmates, her mind replayed the last look the boy shot at her. It was a look that screamed the boy wasn't all he was showing to her but also made her question its' existence. Maybe it was just the lighting, maybe it was her own hunger or maybe she was becoming a bit paranoid. Either way, Maura knew that she shouldn't trust Robin's turn completely.