Pieces on a board
When the click of the lock slid into place, did Robin release a sigh as familiarity filled his bones with the taunt sound. Turning, he let his feet guide to the corner farthest from the door. Leaning against the wall, he slide down letting out a grunt as pressure was relieved off his ankle.
His head rested on the adjoining wall and just as he squeezed his eyes, a few drops of water leaked down his face and dripped onto the floor. Three and a half months. Inhaling a shaky breath, Robin clutched at his shaking chest as more tears tried to seep under his mask.
The last time he could remember of trying to track time, Robin had figured a month. But in reality it had been close to four. So many days wasted in the cell and box when he could have been training and catching the bad guys. Instead he withered away in a prison that he couldn't even break out of.
"But was it truly a waste of his life?" whispered a sane part of his mind. "Were those three and a half months yielding nothing but dead crops?"
Easing his grip on his shirt, Robin took in shuddering breaths. The tears that rammed against the mask, drifted backwards like the tide. No. Not all was lost in those months. The thundering of his heart faded into the background and he could hear Maura telling him of her views. Egyed was in the background rambling on about the affects of the dust. The smell of sweat from Kyle and himself filled the air after Carl applauded a sparring session by laughing.
Cracking his eyes so that he only saw his feet, Robin felt something ease within him. In three and a half months, he had undergone the therapy he needed for so long. Even though it wasn't the ideal situation, he could feel the insights he had learned help him pass through the shock. And the lessons Robin had learned from the others made him shift so the pain from his wounds flowed through him in gentle waves instead of poking him with pitchforks.
Taking in deep breaths now, Robin slid his eyes to see a shadow past from underneath the door. The heavy footsteps rang of Cyborg. Unconsciously, Robin's fingers moved closer together and began to play with each other. Robin would need everything he had learned to face the Titans again without seeing them as his prison companions. And lastly, he had to figure out Slade's true motive of being here before it was too late. The man might have told the Titans one thing but he worked on multiple layers to hide his true desire.
Weariness seeped the strength from his body. Eyes sliding shut, Robin snuggled into the corner, enjoying the soft rocking of the boat. His stomach, full for the first time, emitted warmth through his body that blanketed the aching pain of his shoulder and ankle.
As slow breaths came through Robin's lips, a familiar ghost peered out his dark corner to watch the boy. Slade glanced at the door before narrowing his eye at the figure. He would have to act quickly to push Robin full over to the real Slade. All he needed was to wait for the right moment or for the real villain of the story to take advantage of the situation and rip the hero right from the Titan's hands.
Oh, the irony would be for the record books.
All was quiet on deck. Beastboy perched on the roof of the cabinet. Below him, Cyborg was keeping a close eye on the compass as he drove the boat. He no longer felt safe of having Slade driving the vehicle to who knows where. The said man was no where to be seen, probably down below taking a nap for there was not much else to do.
The girls were clustered out near the port. Starfire was hovering over Raven's shoulder, as the witch checked out Robin's ankle. The quiet leader had arrived at the break of dawn, sitting on a small bench. He never once tore his eyes away from the endless blue as the sun rose over the horizon sending orange light to stain the deck.
Raven wrapped up the ankle, her eyes holding a spark of good news. "It seems the swelling went down and by being careful with the pressure and my magic, you should be good as new soon."
Starfire clapped her hands together, a smile shining brightly, "Glorious news!"
"How's the shoulder?" continued Raven.
Robin rolled his upper body so that his back was against the small wall. "Ok, I guess."
Raven shook her head, secretly wanting to hear Robin declaring that he was perfectly fine. Reaching out, she looked at the fresh gauze and wrapping. Narrowing her eyes, she peered up at Robin. "You did this?"
"Yes." As if hearing her unanswered question, Robin reset his gaze onto the ocean. "Batman is a busy guy."
Scoffing, Raven rocked backwards and stood up. "Next time, let me or someone else dress the wound."
Realizing that she wouldn't get any more words from the boy who was soaking up the boring scenery, Raven shot Star a 'Good-luck' look before checking in with Cyborg.
Starfire walked softly and sat down next to Robin. She watched quietly as Robin moved so that his stomach was pressed up against the wall, his non-injured arm draped against the railing to rest his chin on it.
A soft wind blew up to push away the black locks away from the pale face. Staring at him as if he would disappear, Starfire noticed a few new wrinkles and a strand of white hair. The young face was hardened and seemed to have lost a certain innocent glow about it. But despite the differences, Star smiled as she recognized the set frown on the lips. Even the brow was slightly narrowed revealing to her how Robin was always contemplating something in that mind of his.
Yes, her mind whispered, despite all the differences and the strange words her Robin was still there. Confidence welled in the alien. Gazing down at her hands, which where lying in her lap, Starfire cleared her throat. "Robin, I know that you have only just arrived and I am so glad that you are well." Pausing, she glanced up at the boy but he had not moved a muscle. "And well," Green eyes shifted to the other side, "I have never stopped looking or thinking of you…my feelings have not changed either."
Not even a twitch arose from Robin's body. Starfire felt fear begin to tremble her lip. Reaching out, she placed a small hand on his back. It was then that she felt his muscles clench underneath the shirt. "I know that many things have been happening while you were gone…but, I must know…have you," taking a deep breath, Starfire tried to remain calm, "have you thought about…us?"
After a few climatic seconds, Robin blinked. Keeping his eyes fixed forward, the weary voice that had accompanied their leader since his return made itself known. "I have done a lot of thinking, Starfire."
Green eyes shimmered with a yearning to know what conclusion Robin had reached. But the man in question let wariness flash across his features. "What do you want, Slade?"
Starfire jumped backwards, spinning around to see Slade standing right behind the pair holding a box of checkers. The villain chuckled deeply, "To play a game."
Robin turned so that he faced Slade. Taking in the man's imposing figure, Robin let a frown tug at the corners of his lip. He had heard the man's distinct, heavy footsteps the moment Slade had stepped onto the deck. Flickering his eyes onto the sad girl; Robin patted Star on her knee. "We'll continue late on, k."
He waited for the small nod before rising onto his feet. Taking that as a yes, Slade walked to the stern of the boat, where a bench was. Settling down, he laid out the game and set up the round pieces as Robin arrived. Propping part of his injured leg onto the bench, Robin reached out and turned the board around so that he was black.
Slade tilted his head, "Never pictured you one for black, Robin."
The boy's eyes narrowed, "White's…" Tilting his own head in an almost similar fashion, Robin tried to figure out what the color white represented. Purity and innocence was the first thing that popped into his mind. Yet, Robin knew he wasn't any of things…not anymore.
Slade watched as Robin fell into a blank state. He knew that look extremely well when Robin was his apprentice. It was during those rare times, the boy had soaked up his master's words making Slade grin with delight at corrupting the hero. Reaching out, he moved a single white piece forward. "Your turn."
Robin blinked releasing himself from his stupor. "Right." Moving a black piece to be parallel to Slade's, Robin bit the inside of his cheek as a masked face peered over his shoulder.
"Checkers, how classic," snide the imaginary Slade, "You know he's measuring you up."
"Not now, Slade," hissed Robin's mind as he watched the villain across from him move another piece.
The dark chuckle resonated in his head. "If not now, then when?"
Robin ignored the man as he moved a counterattack. Yet the man didn't hinder in his talk. No, he saw his opportunity and would seize it. "Remember a little exchange, I train you and you return to him." Raising his hand, Slade pointed at reality. "And he seems willing to take you back."
"And what makes you think that?" Robin felt his fingers twitch as Slade hopped over one of his pieces.
Slade scoffed, "He's playing checkers with you."
"That doesn't mean anything."
"I won't go back to him."
A rush of indignation swelled in the ghost. "And may I ask why?"
Robin smirked when he pinned one of the white pieces into a corner. One more move and he could claim a small win. "One of you is enough."
Frowning, the real Slade watched as Robin eased back. He knew that he would have to sacrifice one of his white pieces. But the game was far from the end. He paused when Robin raised his hand and began to rub his temple. Something was wrong and the silence was one of the many truths.
"One is enough," the darkness trembled, "With Maura, you heed to the agreement of never mentioning what took place but with me." Slade clenched his fists. Normally, he would be much calmer than this yet the boy was rubbing off of him and he had happened to pick the boy's short temper. But that was only part of the answer. Things are more than what they appear on the surface. This Slade had enough of being gentle. He could feel its poison clouding his mind and body.
The air shifted and he felt Robin rush to put the barriers that would tie Slade down, but the boy was too slow. With a burst of energy, Slade whipped away the chains. Clamping down on Robin's injured shoulder, he dug his fingers into the wound.
Robin twitched forward in pain, his breath starting to pick up. "Let…go…"
"No," growled Slade. "I will make you see that you belong to Slade. You are his apprentice in every aspect. You've become cold like him, keener to your words; even your fighting is different. And not to mention that you have become accustomed to him."
"Not him," groaned Robin, "You. There is a difference."
"There is no difference." Slade squeezed the boy's injury harder, "The Titans will never accept you back like this. You've changed too much. In the end, you've become a darker shade of yourself and only Slade will welcome you with open arms."
"No more denial, Robin. You know you liked having a strong figure by your side, it's almost like the old days with Batman," Slade smirked as Robin squeezed his eyes shut. "Just give him a try, stay with him for a month or so and then I will be satisfied."
Robin shook his head lightly back and forth. Slade felt a small sting of guilt but he quickly pushed it away. In relief, he grinned. Voice dripping with a world of pain, he purred into the boy's ear. "Do I need to remind you what it's like when I'm not satisfied?"
In the life outside of Robin's world, the real Slade Wilson had stopped trying to coax Robin into the playing the game. For the past minute, he had whispered the boy's name, whose turn was up. Yet, the hero was lost in his own mind.
Standing up, Slade crouched in front of the boy when he spotted a puddle of blood seeping into his shirt from the bullet wound. "Strange," murmured his mind.
"Just do it," hissed the ghost, glancing at the crouching figure of himself. He was so close. If Robin just said yes out loud, Slade could hear him and all would be right with the world.
Robin shuddered. He did not want to be dealing with this right now. Anger swelled at him towards the imaginary Slade. It seemed the man hadn't changed one bit. The darkness began to suffocate him and he realized the all too familiar phantom pains dance across his skin.
Grinding his teeth, Robin lowered his trembling hands to clench at his knees. He tried to erect the barriers but Slade knocked them down with one swift kick. The ghost was determined not to lose this time. His mind raced and he knew that there was only one more trump card left. And it was a card he was hoping to save till the very last moment.
"I suggest you leave," stated Robin.
"Not this time, little bird."
"You wouldn't want a new name would you?"
Slade paused in his attack. He vaguely remembered Egyed telling Robin about a name for him. But clearly, a new name is not a threat. "You're bluffing."
Robin released his anger, pushing back the ghost's hold on him. The said man stumbled backwards, suprised. "No. I'm. Not." With one final push, Robin tackled the man to the ground and quickly chained him up.
Releasing a breath he didn't know he held, Robin opened his eyes and stared straight into the real Slade's eye. "Hello."
"So you're back, good. For I would like to finish this game before we dock," stated Slade's emotionless voice.
Robin nodded and regarded the board as the larger man seated himself back on the bench. Wiping his forward, Robin shook his head. That was a close one. Glancing quickly up at Slade, he couldn't help but acknowledge what his companion had said. Maybe life would be easier if he went with Slade than having to deal the Titan's countless questions.
Picking up a black piece, he set it right in front of one of Slade's pieces. "I'm not afraid of you."
The steadfast tone made Slade smirk with anticipation beneath his mask while another frowned in contempt.
By the time Starfire arrived with a snack, which Robin ate quickly, Slade had won the game. The trio entertained themselves with silence as Slade put the game back into the box and Robin licked his mouth clean of the peanut butter from the crackers. It wasn't till Beastboy bounded across the deck that the silence was broken.
"Land!" With a punch in the air, the changeling bolted back to the front.
"Excuse me," with a curt nod, Slade left the shy couple alone.
Starfire quietly sat next to Robin, a frown appearing as she eyed the dry bloodstain. "Your wound-"
"We can't be together Star."
The abrupt tone made the princess halt in her motion to look at the wound. Her green eyes widened as Robin's own face lowered. "W-why?"
"There are…too many complications…" Robin took a deep breath and forced himself to look into the watery green eyes. "I'm not ready to take our friendship to the next level."
Red lips trembled yet Starfire forced herself not to cry in front of him. "I-I under-understand." Getting up, she wiped her hands on the skirt, "I'm going to get some new gauze." With that said, Starfire walked with a brisk pace away from Robin.
Sighing, Robin turned and gazed back out onto the water where in the distance, he could see the faint hazy outline of land. One bridge burned, another three to go.
The landing was done quietly and the trek to the hidden Titans jet was conducted in record time. Easing off of Beastboy, whom had turned into a horse, Robin eyed the small compartments of each pod.
Cyborg rushed forward and hugged the jet, "Did ya miss me? I cause missed you!" With a kiss, the older hero bounded up to his cockpit and began a diagnostic run.
"Finally, we're going home," spoke Raven softly.
Beastboy slid up behind the witch, "I know! And a marathon of the Lock Ness Monster horror films will be starting. Just in the nick of time!"
Raven bonked the green-haired boy on his head, "Idiot."
Trying to muster a happy mood, Starfire nodded eagerly. "Yes, it will be nice to see Silkie once again."
All eyes turned to Robin to see what he would say about returning home. Yet all that left the leader's mouth was, "There's only five cockpits…"
Cyborg shrugged, "So what?"
"There are six of us." With that Robin glanced over at Slade.
Light bulbs clicked over everyone's head. As if he could see them, Slade shook his head. "As much I as enjoyed the last trip, I will pass this time."
Beastboy was about to say something but Raven quickly covered his mouth and spoke in his place. "Ok then."
Pivoting on his foot, Slade glanced at the four Titans, "I will be back to collect my due." Before any protests could be heard, Slade walked into the shadows.
Robin narrowed his eyes and turned to see each of the Titans' face drained of blood. "What due?"
Cyborg laughed as he scratched his head, "Oh you know, the standard money thing. We had hoped he would help us for free, but you know the man. Greedy as hell." Flopping onto his seat, the half-robotic man yelled, "All aboard!"
Beastboy and Starfire flew to their spots. With her magic, Raven helped Robin sit in his cockpit. Eyes traced in the small legroom and the closeness of the dashboard. Looking up, Robin took in deep gulps of air. As long as the pit was open, he would be fine. Then the sliding and locking of the glass overhead resonated. The rumbling of the jet rising in the air, Robin closed his eyes. All of a sudden, he could feel how small his pod was and it was scaring him to death.
Flashes of darkness and barren walls made him push back into his chair. Feeling his chest begin to constrict, Robin began to sing in his mind.
"Robin, you ok?" Raven's voice sounded concerned. She could feel his rising fear and it wouldn't be healthy if he went into a panic attack.
"F-fine. J-just k-keep ta-talking…" stuttered Robin.
The Titans eyed each other. Robin never had been afraid of heights or closed spaces before.
Beastboy coughed, "So...you'll never know what happened while you were gone!"
The youngest member tried to block out the weak voice of their leader. "Raven had to dress up and was blond!"
"And she might not admit, but she was digging being badass for once," snickered Beastboy.
Raven however, wasn't finding any of this entertaining. "Beastboy," she sneered.
Starfire felt the rise in tension and jumped in. "Yes. It was most fun. But, what is more fun is that Speedy had to dress up like a girl when the Titans East had to go undercover."
Robin smirked, yet the shivering continued. He tried to look outside but his eyes were riveted to the floor below. "Speedy a-a g-girl. Could al-ways se-see him-m as o-one."
And so, Starfire and Beastboy retelling amusing moments filled in the time, till nightfall. Once the night sky blanketed the jet, Robin could only stand half an hour before he snapped. Crying out to Cyborg, Robin ordered the hatch to be open.
"You nuts! At this altitude-" yelled Cyborg
"Then lower us!" screamed back, Robin. The darkness was filling his pit and he felt the light die out from the counsel. It didn't help that the voices were returning, with one being deathly silent.
With Raven's stark command, Cyborg set the jet to skim above the ocean. Opening Robin's hatch, they all watched as Robin stood up weakly and stuck his head outside.
Immediately, Raven felt the fear that had been clenching inside Robin since they took off slowly dissipate. Easing back down on his seat, Robin smiled as the wind whiplashed into his pod. The ice-cold wind felt like heaven and accompanied by the smell of saltwater, exhaustion claimed Robin as he slumped further down and fell into a dreamless sleep.
And on the island they had left, Slade had watched as the jet flew off back to the States. He would see them again not only to collect his due but also to see the extent of his damage. Lowering his gaze, he focused back on refueling the boat. And as the precious gas poured into the tank, he sent his gaze over towards the prison island. There was something more on that island and he intended to find out. Robin was his proof. Besides, his honor still had to be cleaned.