Darkest before the Dawn
Robin tried to keep his mouth shut, really he did. All the boy did was turn his back to the two men and tried to drown out the noise by humming a little chemistry song to the beat of Frosty the Snow Man. Robin just had to convince himself that he was back in that interrogation room handcuffed to the table.
A groan rumbled darkly in his throat. Sagging forward, Robin crossed his arms on his legs and hung his head solemnly. He should have known that Maura would place lessons within lessons. If he could block a criminal's cries then why not an innocent man; he had to make the choice of who was worth saving. The Boss lived by the notion that the needs of many outweighed the individual. If an inmate broke the rules that jeopardized the precarious balance in the prison, punishment was enacted. The same could be said about the world that existed beyond these volcanic walls. Katarou and Fumio both caused disturbances in the prison. Katarou was simply a bully. And Fumio, well he made people insane.
"Then again, you're a bit biased when it comes to that man," commented Slade, making himself known by sitting down next to Robin. "So…"
"Kill two birds with one stone. Let Katarou beat Fumio to death and then he'll get thrown into the box and die that way," huffed Robin.
Slade tilted his head downwards, "A bit dark, don't you think."
"What? It's not like I can stop it. Maura's right in that as a hero, I can't stop every single crime. I can't catch every villain. But, to be a hero, you've got to do the next best thing and pick my fights, to make them worth enough…" Robin's head shot up, eyes widening. Turning slowly, his mouth fell open slightly making him gap at Slade. "You…you say the same thing in our sessions. You tell me to wait for the right time…"
What happened next only pointed out how this imaginary Slade in Robin's head was becoming drastically different then the real one. His eye sliding upwards to the left, his head slowly turning away screaming the 'What me? Like I would ever think of such a thing' look.
"Don't lie!" screamed Robin's mind. "You're just like her, just like Maura!"
Slade halted, "Don't compare me to that witch, boy. Just because her ways all of a sudden match my own training to be a-"
"Villain," sneered Robin. "Well, screw you."
Slade swiveled fast punching Robin hard in the face, knocking him onto the ground. A few prisoners spared a glance at the fallen boy before shrugging and resumed their previous task. Robin pulled himself upwards off the ground, holding his aching jaw.
"I'm not deaf and blind, Slade," stated the boy coldly, "But I can't wait any longer. You promised that we could escape, but you haven't done nothing remotely useful that would ensure that plan." Standing up, Robin yawned to ease the pain away. "Maura's getting bold and if I stay here any longer, I will become what she wants: a 'hero' who thinks he's a god. Then it's only a hop and a skip away to becoming a villain, just like you want me to be."
"And here I thought you were actually making progress and not going insane," mocked Slade. "Guess I was wrong."
Robin ignored Slade and gazed down at his uniform, eyes soaking in the blue V. "I'm done playing in the shadows, pretending to be the good student." The intoxicating rush of authority roared through him. "I know what's right and wrong, when to make choices." Turning, he faced the smirking Katarou who was wiping some blood off his face. Taking in a deep breath, he stepped around the bench and started to make his way to the criminal.
Slade realizing what his crazy student was doing reached out and clamped down on the boy's upper arm. "You are not going to fight him."
"Yes I am." The response was automatic. Robin's eyes were narrowed in on the massive criminal.
The ghost sighed, "You already got your revenge on Fumio, now wait for Katarou to get his punishment. We both know Maura won't let this act pass."
Blue eyes seemed to fall in upon themselves, as if they considered Slade's word. "I'm not doing this for Fumio."
"Why else then?"
"I like to fight, Slade. I love the challenge." As those left his mouth, a smile crept upon Robin's face. Twinkling eyes gazed up at Slade. "I love challenges and Slade is the greatest challenge of them all. So, that's why I see you, why in some twisted way I love Slade. I love what he represents." With one swift tug, Robin broke free from Slade' grasp.
"Robin!" Slade tried to lunge at the boy, but he couldn't move one inch. It was if he was entrapped with a clear box. It seemed Robin was figuring out of to control him in leaps instead of baby steps. How the boy was learning-
Slade's eye widened. Of course, the brat had double-crossed him and was training with Maura. And if that woman was helping him with more than finding his 'heroism.' She and that sadistic doctor were showing Robin how to deal with the dust. With an animalistic grow, Slade kicked hard at the barrier and watched with a seething eye as the boy marched to his doom.
Robin fought to keep himself from laughing with joy. He had done it. He had faced Slade and showed the man his place. Now all he had to do was think of a name and maybe he'd be back to being normal. Whatever that was.
No one seemed to pay attention at him. Bending down to slide past one watcher, Robin caught out the corner of his eye a dried out piece of wood. Attached to the ends were two old gears. "Must be a homemade weight," mused Robin.
Reaching out, he picked up the stick and slid the gears off. Gripping both ends tightly, he slammed the stick down on his knee, snapping it in half. Splinters flew into the air and Robin knew that the makeshift weapons wouldn't hold up too long. But, he just needed it long enough to get a head start in the fight.
What he had told Slade was true. Robin liked to fight and seeing an old enemy here made him want to test what he had learned these past days. But that was only part of it. The small core remnants that had remained all this time surfaced and he had to protect Fumio from Katarou. Glancing done quickly at the bleeding man, Robin knew that the psychiatrist had suffered enough to repay his own inflictions upon the hero.
Tightening his grip on the sticks, Robin lunged at Katarou. At the last minute, Robin jumped up, slamming one stick into Katarou's face. Saliva and blood flew from Katarou's face as the man went spinning into the ground. Landing on the ground, Robin continued his attack. Prisoners scattered behind Katarou. Turning his bleeding nose, the bald criminal barely raised his arm as his surprised attacker slammed the wooden stick on his arm.
Wood exploded, sending the top part of the stick flying into the air. Katarou pulled back and sent his left fist flying towards this young stranger. The boy's blue eyes hardened as the body bended backwards. The large fist flew past the feet. Katarou snarled and launched an attack. The boy landed lightly on his feet and quickly pivoted to his right then left, dodging fist after fist with the remaining stick hanging patiently in his hand.
"You little-" Katarou lunged both hands flying at the boy's throat only to grip onto air as the boy flipped over his head.
Landing hard behind the massive man, Robin spun and kneed the man hard in his side. He didn't break and carried through by twisting so he faced Katarou in the front and smacked the stick against the man's other side. The wood strained and splintered upon impact.
Katarou roared in pain and grabbed Robin's wrist before the younger fighter could flip away. Robin growled, trying to break his wrist out.
"Not this time, brat," sneered Katarou as he grabbed a fistful of Robin's shirt, picked him up like a rag doll and slammed him into the ground.
Stars exploded before Robin's vision as all oxygen rushed out his body. Katarou crouched over his frame tightening his grip on the shirt. Fighting to focus his vision, Robin heard Slade yelling at him.
"How many times must I tell you, don't fight like an acrobat!"
Robin just regained his bearings when Katarou's fist slammed into his cheek knocking his head to the side. Spitting out a little trickle of blood, Robin saw Slade standing amongst the crowd, eye glaring at him promising a world of pain when this was all over.
"No more pain," moaned Robin.
"Then fix your mistake and fight," hissed Slade, his voice barely a whisper in the roaring of the crowd, but Robin heard him loud enough.
Turning his head, Robin took a deep breath and spit a small amount of blood on Katarou's cheek.
Anger flushed the man's cheeks crimson. Raising his bloodied fist, Katarou drove another punch downwards but Robin was ready this time. Jerking his head sideways at the last minute, Robin heard the crunch of fragile flesh and bone slam into the ground. A painful yell resonated above him.
The fist loosened and Robin took the opportunity slam his palm hard into the massive chest, right where a weak spot was. The small but focused move sent Katarou's back arching break his hold on Robin. The boy slide back but not before kicking the man hard in the chain. Flipping onto his hands and feet, he sprinted back to where a beaten Fumio was trying to prop himself up.
Turning so the man didn't see who was his savior, Robin bent down and picked up his two shattered pieces of wood. They might have been half their original size but he had learned that size didn't matter when making a weapon.
"Keep the sharp ends pointing towards you at a slight angle. Ram the dull in to create maximum force then twist and slash." Slade's voice from one of the training sessions echoed in Robin's head. As Katarou rose and staggered to Robin, his eyes glowing with rage, Kyle's own advice came forth. "Protect your sides at all costs."
Tightening his arms muscles to brace for the coming blows, Robin steeled himself, lowering his body into an almost cat-like posture.
"Why? Why are you-" The broken voice of Fumio was something that Robin did not expect.
"I do it because…" Robin let a small smirk dash across his face, "I chose to."
Before Fumio could summon enough strength to continue his questions, Robin ran to meet the thundering criminal. A fist flew over Robin's left shoulder as the boy slammed a fist into the man's large arm, trying to break his defense.
The exchange of blows continued to rain down on both fighters, each one trying to break the other's defense. Off to the sidelines, Ben watched quietly till he felt a tap on his shoulder.
Carl nodded his thanks of informing him on the fight and watched it for a couple seconds. "He's still good."
Ben gave a curt nod.
"I'll go tell Maura. She wouldn't want to miss this."
Ben's fingers moved forming shapes in the air. Carl sighed, "True, the fight would be done by the time she got down here." Reaching to his side, the guard pulled out his talkie, "Boss, come in."
Maura was seething. The guard that had run by the infirmary earlier was trembling before her. On the desk laid a tiny telegram from the mid-way station.
"Have we heard anything from the two men?"
Leaning back, Maura tilted her head down and began to rub her temple. This was an unsuspected turn of events. She didn't mind the Titans snooping around, but how they captured two of her guards at the new agency was a bit too close for comfort. Had the Titans been able to figure out the code in the ad? And if so, what was happening to her guards?
Lips thinned in agitation. Whatever was happening, she knew one thing. The Titans wouldn't torture the guards. They were too soft and good for that type of interrogation. "Do we know what happened? How did they find the new agency?"
The guard shifted on his feet, "Actually, this peasant visited the agency a few hours after the incident. In exchange for money, he said that there were these strange group of people he spotted at the old agency. One of them was green."
"Not only that, but," the guard paused licking his lips. "The man saw a glimpse of a tall figure in the background, something to do with the color orange but it was hard to tell."
All feeling rushed out of Maura. Her head fell forward, eyes sliding shut. Just when she thought things couldn't worse. The woman was finally getting to Robin, gaining his trust and in a sense making him hers. But…
With the presence of the imaginary Slade still roaming around in the boy's head, she never knew what to expect from Robin anymore. Not to mention the brief flashes she would see of doubt that enforced the notion of the boy acting as a double agent. She didn't mind, actually a bit amused to see how the boy would handle and blend these new teachings.
And now, it seemed Fate would not let her see work's completion. The Titans and now a man that might be Slade… Maura could only picture her father laughing at her from Hell. It seemed that her payment for killing her parents indirectly had come.
But Maura knew for one thing. She wouldn't go down without a fight, even if it meant taking Robin out of the picture. No one would ruin all her hard work on the boy.
Carl's voice trickled through the radio, "Boss, come in."
Maura waved the other guard away and picked up the radio as the door shut behind him. "Yes."
"Robin's in a fight."
"So." She had more important things to worry about at the moment, like how to hide her prison.
"It's against Katarou, who earlier had beaten up Fumio."
"Fumio still there?"
"Yes and it seems as if almost Robin is protecting him."
That small information made Maura drop the radio and bolt out of the room. Maybe before he had confessed, she could picture Robin protecting someone. But not anymore, especially towards a man who had forced him towards breaking.
The boss made it to the outlook over the gym in record time. And right there before her, Robin and Katarou were at it while Fumio was watching wide-eyed a few feet away. Katarou sent a powerful punch into the boy's back. Robin stumbled a bit before slamming the butt end of a stick into the next oncoming punch. With his other arm, he twisted his hand and slashed at the arm. The sharp barbs drew lines of red. Not waiting for any retaliation, Robin dropped the sticks, leapt into the air and delivered a roundhouse kick to Katarou's face. The baldhead jerked sideways sending a tooth flying soaring. Staggering, the criminal's eyes rolled up into his head and collapsed onto the ground in a heap.
Landing on his feet, Robin took in a shuddering breath before turning to face Fumio. The doctor glared at the child, waiting for an attack. But the anger vanished quickly when Robin knelt down and scanned the man's wounds.
"Don't you dare," snarled Slade as he stepped out of the crowd.
"What no congratulations, I feel so loved," snapped Robin back. He was still on a buzz from the fight.
"Fine you want a lecture on this idiotic fight, then I'll give you one. First off, you revealed too much of your style to make yourself predictable. Then you lost concentration and fell onto the ground. Once you're on the ground, you might as well throw in the towel."
Robin sneered, "Is that all?"
"You won by using what I taught you. Which means, we can escape soon. And I mean soon. Maybe tonight, if you're impatient."
"I can wait, no use rushing and getting killed."
"You would like that wouldn't you," smirked Slade, "Then you don't have to worry about me."
Remembering his revelation before the fight, Robin let his honesty shine through, "Maybe." Slade growled as he felt himself being locked up once again in the boy's mind.
Fumio watched in strange awe as the boy's face scrunched up. Eyes darting back and forth and the psychiatrist right away knew the child was schizophrenic. Suddenly, those blue eyes snapped to the present locking eyes with him. A small frown tugged the boy's lips down.
"Don't start," hissed a dark voice from the boy's lips.
Fumio quickly nodded. After his stay in the solitary wing then working in the mines had forced the doctor to realize the three harsh rules of the convicts. Number one: Don't humiliate. Number Two: Don't question. And Number Three: Don't stare.
The crowd began to break up resuming old activities as they realized that the fight was over. Guards moved in and immediately dragged the unconsciousness Katarou out of the chamber. A group of guards walked over to Robin and Fumio.
"Boss wants to see you two."
The two prisoners nodded. Robin rose first and upon realizing that Fumio has having a bit of a struggle helped the man up onto his feet.
The doctor sent a small smile of thanks. Behind the guards, the two prisoners limped up to Maura's room, where the woman in question stood lowering the radio from her mouth.
Immediately, Robin sensed that something was wrong with her by the non-existent glint of achievement in her eyes. The black eyes studied the two ragged men with an almost nostalgic gaze.
Fumio's hair was tangled up in dirt and knots and she could tell the wounds he had received from her still ached by how the man leaned to the side. The tilted glasses signaled that they were on the verge of breaking. Along with an appearance of man beaten constantly by the bullies, Maura knew that Fumio finally had learned his place.
"I think you learned from your mistake."
Fumio frowned, narrowing his eyes at Maura. "I did nothing wrong. You've done worse."
"But I didn't kill Robin." Maura paused and felt a small glimmer of glee at the man's shock, "If you hadn't forced him back into the box, the child wouldn't have died from fever and shock."
The Asian man felt his shoulders collapse, "I'm sorry."
Maura gave a tiny curt nod, "I accept. It's not like we couldn't learn anything more from him. He was contaminated, had the remnants of the dust within him."
The door creaked open and Egyed entered the room carrying a tray containing a glass of water. Setting the tray on the ledge of the window, he turned and laughed at Fumio.
"So, you're still alive. That sucks," grinned the doctor.
Fumio barred his teeth at the man, "Shut up."
"Egyed, it seems Fumio has learned his lesson. Why don't you take him to the medical room and patch him up."
Fumio sent a questioning gaze at Maura as Eyged began to lead the man away. Maura sent him a small smirk, "Welcome back."
Relief that he was leaving a nightmare spilled onto Fumio's face as he left the chamber. When the door clicked after him, only Maura and Robin were in the room.
"Tell me, Robin. Why did you fight Katarou?" The emotionless voice sent warning signs blaring in his head.
"Because I wanted to," replied Robin. He was on edge now, picking his words carefully. Something wasn't right and he could feel Slade's own apprehension blending with his.
Maura leaned against the wall and crossed her arms. "Wanted to? Come now, you wanted to humiliate one of your past adversaries. And we both know that you love to fight. No, what gets me is why protect Fumio, he harmed you?"
Robin nodded, "He did, but he has paid for it."
"And that is why you rushed into battle. I bet Slade didn't like it."
"No, but…" Robin gazed down at the ground, "Right before I kicked Katarou in the head, Slade told me to ram on the stick into his gut. It was sharp enough and where I was positioned, I could deliver the final blow."
Maura raised an eyebrow, "So that's why he dropped the sticks." "Then why didn't you?"
"Despite what you've been teaching me about how heroes must chose a person's path and Slade training me to fight, I realized that both of you want a vigilante. You both want a person who's not afraid to kill." Robin brought his blue eyes upward to stare at Maura with confidence in his eyes. "It's not a person's place to take another's life. I won't become a killer. Not again."
Silence fell upon the pair for a precious few minutes till Maura laughed softly. Pushing away from the wall, she made her way to the tray and picked up the glass of water. "You truly are a hero."
Robin's mouth fell open, "What?"
"Robin, it doesn't matter how many criminals you lock away or the mistakes you make or even who or how you fight. All that matters is that you face temptation regularly, hear the Devil's sweet words and you still say no."
Walking till she was face to face with Robin, Maura handed the boy the glass of water. "And that is why I need you to do something for me?"
"Huh?" still in a daze, Robin reached out and held onto the glass. He a hero? But, he didn't feel like one, not like the first time when he went out with Batman as Robin. All he felt was shock and humility. He only did what was right at the moment with no doubt in his mind. It was no longer about pride or even the trill or to prove Slade and Maura wrong. It just was.
"I want you to promise, to swear on your parents' graves that you will not tell a soul what has happened to you during your stay here or even mention this prison or the people. Do you understand?"
"I swear," whispered Robin.
Maura smiled down at him, for once showing warmth that he only remembered in the haze of his breakdown.
Her hand rose and her fingers ran through his hair as Robin took a drink of the water. "You and I were alike, you know that. I lost my mother to my father but unlike you, I killed my father by exposing him. I never wanted to see another child lose their parents in such a cruel manner and when I was asked to become the leader in this project, I jumped at the chance." Smiling softly, she took the glass from Robin's tired hands and set it quietly on the ground.
Gathering the swaying boy in her arms once more, Maura continued to run her hands through his hair. "I wanted to shape you after your breakdown, mold you in a way that I knew was effective to help others in a more direct way beyond these prison walls." Her eyes revealed a deep sadness that she had embraced a long time ago. Gazing at the boy in her arms, she slowly lowered them to the floor as Robin fought to stay awake. "I still do. And that is why you're going home."
Robin's head fell against her chest, his breathing become slower. Maura's hold tightened on his small frame. Licking her lips, Maura lowered her head to his ear, so only Robin could only hear her hushed voice. "But I didn't just change you, you changed me as well." Biting her trembling lip, Maura couldn't hold back a single tear that fell from her hazy eyes. "For once, I felt that I had the son I can never have." A soft sob passed over Robin's skin as his blue eyes closed. "May God have mercy on my soul."