Mens rea

Family till the end

Life filled the Titans Tower to the brim to make up for the almost four months of despair. Two weeks disappeared in a blink of an eye since the young superheroes had returned. Thanks to Raven's magic, Robin was able to walk and soon run all over the island. His shoulder also was healed in rapid time. The Titans were still stunned at how anxious Robin had been to get outside after Raven gave him a 100 diagnostic. Before she even finished her sentence, the raven-haired boy bolted out the doors. In one bound, he leapt off a boulder and jumped into the ocean. Even on rainy days, Robin was running and jumping through the obstacle course with energy none of the Titans ever saw in him.

Yet, Cyborg and Raven put down their feet when thunderstorms rolled through or at night. An almost pouting sad expression would flash across Robin's features but then he would nod in compliance and slump down on the sofa, watching whatever Beastboy had put on the TV. He never trudged back to his room and locked himself in till he went to bed. His old room wasn't the only place he avoided like the plague. The small bathroom was off-limits. Robin took his showers and other activities down in the large gym bathroom. Afterwards, he would walk out barefoot into the large area and begin his workout.

Robin never ate till one of the Titans grabbed him and led him up to the kitchen. Sitting quietly like a well-trained child on the stool, Robin would wait as Starfire prepared his meal. Never once did Robin voice what he would like for breakfast, lunch or dinner. He would only mention a thank-you before plowing into his food, till every crumb was eaten off of the plate. When done, he placed his plate in the sink, thanked Star once more and did his daily walk outside.

A routine was building in the Tower between the Titans. They lived like roommates instead of the family from the past. Robin existed in his own sphere and the Titans were in the other, only meeting in the common room. None was plainer than the silence between Starfire and Robin. The Titans knew that Robin had turned the alien princess down, breaking her heart. Only Beastboy was able to coax out a small smile from her time to time. Realizing how far Robin was, the four Titans tried to reach out, inviting him for movie nights, games or for a simple patrol. Robin only agreed to the activities that were restricted to the island and Tower, never once venturing beyond the water to Jump City.

That strained relationship shattered when one night Beastboy and Cyborg decided to play stankball—cops and robbers style. Robin agreed and was chasing the robber Cyborg down the hall, trying to gain a good aim. Skidding to a halt, he pulled back his arm ready to fire the smelly wad of dirty socks when the other robber Beastboy—who had been a mouse—morphed into a ram throwing Robin into an open closet. Changing into himself, Beastboy slammed the door shut, unintentionally locking it. Yelling to Cyborg to run for it, the 'robbers' bolted down the hallway towards the prize. In the middle of an adrenaline rush, the two boys had forgotten the cockpit incident.

Violet eyes snapped open. Losing her meditative peace, Raven flew out of her room, her dark senses feeling the crushing wave of blinding fear emitting from somewhere in the Tower. She met Starfire in a hallway, where they could hear an animalistic scream echo down the barren walls. Cyborg and Beastboy ran into the girls and led them down to the closet where they had ambushed Robin.

There in the hallway, Robin stood shivering, the door hanging on one hinge. His right fist was bleeding, wooden slivers jutting out from his knuckles. The hole he had punched above the door knob was a stark manifestation at the brute force the smaller man had used to escape from the closet.

"Dude," whispered Beastboy in awe.

Hearing the soft voice, Robin twirled around and sprung. In a flash of gray, he pinned the changeling to the wall, his red fingers wrapping themselves around the tender green flesh of a neck.

"Don't. Ever. Do. That. Again," growled a dark voice, the masked eyes mere slits on a fuming red face.

Beastboy squeaked. Breaking his hold, Robin clenched his fists and marched back to his room, slamming the door and locking it for the first time in two weeks. No one said a word; even Beastboy was at a loss of words as he rubbed his neck feeling the bruises that would appear the next day. Slade's words hinting at a darker persona made the Titans shiver in the hallway. They just had their confirmation.

"That's it," stated Cyborg after a few moments of silence. "I'm gonna make Robin talk."

Raven reached out to touch the African-America hero, but he shrugged her off. "Cy-"

"I don't care, Rae. I know you said we should wait for him to open up, but you saw what he did to Beastboy!"

"I believe Cyborg is right," chimed in Starfire. Three pairs of eyes locked on her forcing the alien to squirm slightly under the pressure. "Robin is a proud person and he will never tell us anything unless we ask of him. For example, we still do not know what happened to him during his apprenticeship or even his time with Batman."

"She does have a point," mumbled Beastboy, "Getting info out of him is worse than pulling teeth."

Raven sighed, placing her hood back on her head. She didn't like it but her friends had a point. Pretending that nothing had happened was getting them or Robin no where. If anything, it was harming them and Robin's burst of rage was a sign. She only hoped that this course of action would prevent any other explosions from their leader. "All right."

The Titans walked briskly to Robin's room. It took less than a minute for Cyborg to hack into the lock. Their backs straightened up in anxiety as the door slide open. The sight that greeted them made the heroes realize how much healing Robin still needed. The most obvious change to the room was the bed. Somehow, Robin had smuggled in cinderblocks, raising the bed off the ground a few feet. Underneath, two blankets and a pillow provided a sleeping nest creating an almost bunk-like appearance. The mattress itself did not bear any marks of a sleeping form.

The curtains were thrown wide open when in the past; they barely let in any light. The closet that displayed the colorful uniforms had yet to be open. Only the small dresser had drawers flung up, revealing the gray and black sweat pants and tee-shirts that Robin wore day in and day out. The same was for the bathroom, where the door was only opened a crack as if Robin wanted to go in but at the last second changed his mind. The last object of observation was the desk. The mass chaos of broken weapons, notes, newspaper clippings and tools were once littered across the surface. The Titans had left the mess; afraid to disrupt a system Robin might have used to layout the artifacts. But now, the objects were organized in neat little piles and rows.

And next to the desk laid an unopened box addressed to Robin with no return postage. The box had been delivered a few days ago to the Tower. Passing the security scans, Cyborg handed the box over to Robin with the others awaiting eagerly for him to open it. Yet, all Robin did was placed it next to his desk and there it had remained.

"Done looking?"

The curt voice startled the heroes. Turning their heads as one to the side, their gazes rested on the sitting form of Robin. The small figure was crunched up into the corner, his legs drawn up to his chest, arms wrapped around them in a casual manner.

Beastboy coughed and nudged Cyborg forward. It was the Tin Man's idea to confront their leader; he was just along for the ride.

Cyborg rubbed the back of his head, suddenly aware how nerve-racking this situation had become. It had seemed like the right thing to do at the time, but now seeing this bizarre behavior accumulate in the room he didn't know where to start. He wasn't a mind-reader. Well, might as well do what he did with every problem and confront it head on. "We need to talk, Robin."

Robin leaned forward to rest his chin on his knees, "If it's about Beastboy, I'm sorry." Masked eyes fell downwards, "I was…just caught up in the moment."

"And that's it," continued the half-robotic man. "We don't know what's going to set you off or even why. But if you tell us, we can avoid what happened in the hallway or even in the jet. And maybe…" This was asking a lot. "if you tell us why, then probably the problem will go away."

"It won't."

"Don't be so sure-"

Tiny hands squeezed at the knees. Despite eating all the food, Robin had yet to gain back a healthy weight. And the skinny look was only emphasized by the moppy hair that had yet to be reintroduced to gel. With this factors combined with a fading black eye and a scar on his brow, a hollow look befell Robin's features. "I am sure."

"Oh?"

Raven stepped forward, interrupting Cyborg. "You don't have to listen to them, Robin."

Confused looks sprouted on each Titans' face. Robin merely raised an eyebrow, "Them?"

"There's something or someone in your mind," explained the gothic witch, "I could sense it the moment we met when I tried to reach you telepathically."

"That was you?" Robin shook his head, "You just caught me off-guard, that's all."

Raven frowned, "I know what I sensed, Robin. I don't know what they're telling you, but you can trust us. We're here to help you."

"Help me?" sneered Robin. "What exactly does your help imply? Cause trust me, there are different types of help." Pain throbbed briefly in his chest and head. Thanks to Maura and Slade, he no longer excepted help with face value.

Cyborg sighed, feeling as if they weren't getting anywhere. "Robin. Just stop over-thinking everything. We're your friends for goodness sakes! We just want to help you find yourself."

"Myself?"

"Yeah, I mean come on." Flinging a hand to the closet, Cyborg let his frustration begin to show, "You haven't set foot beyond the island and you're not even wearing your costume. Before, we couldn't get you out of it and now it's like you're avoiding it like a disease. What's the problem, man?"

"I just don't feel like wearing, that's all. It's been almost four months ok! I'm just getting used to wearing a mask." Robin shot back. He wanted to avoid this talk. Deep down, the boy knew that he had been avoiding it for two weeks. Maura would be disappointed in him in that in such a short time, he fell back into denial. The brief time locked in the closet had set him off like a bomb. All he remembered was that he had to get out. That blinding fear and determination made him lash out at the figures that were guards in his mind.

His bare hands tingled with the feel of Beastboy's neck and a wave of nausea passed through him. His friends were right. It was time to reveal some things or who knows and he might do something worse than almost strangling a friend.

Uncurling himself, Robin stretched out his legs but remained seated. "Fine."

The Titans blinked, not expecting the quick agreement from Robin. Pouncing on their surprise, Robin began examining his fingernails. "I was a bit of a fighter, which ended up with me in solitary confinement for a long time." Biting the corner of his lip, Robin flicked his gaze out the window, reminding himself that he was no longer inside an underground prison. "Being locked up in what essentially is a box…"

Starfire walked up to Robin. Squatting down, she placed a gentle hand on his knee. "This confinement of solitary…made you afraid…"

"Of small, dark, tight places," finished Robin.

Feeling ashamed that she had placed her concern over their relationship beyond Robin's new nightmares, Starfire pulled him into a tight hug. "Forgive me Robin for being selfish."

Robin grimaced slightly in the hug, "Nothing to forgive you about, Star." Flinging his gaze to Beastboy, he flashed a small smirk, "Sorry about the neck."

Beastboy laughed, "Hey, don't worry about it."

Cyborg joined in the shaky laugh, "Totally understand now, so no smaller, dark, tight places."

Robin nodded a thanks, taking in the guarded eyes of Cyborg and Raven. He knew that they wanted more of a confession, but this small step was enough to satisfy them for now. He would still need to explain the phobia of his uniform and the city. His shoulders slumped when Starfire released her hold, that beaming smile shining brightly on her face.

"In joy of this breakthrough, I suggest we have a party!"

"Oh yeah!" Beastboy cracked his knuckles.

Raven coughed, "I think Robin should pick what we should eat."

Young eyes filled with excitement locked onto him. Robin ran a hand through his hair, "Um…porridge…" Right when the word left his mouth, he gazed sheepishly down at the floor. He knew it was a bizarre request but he couldn't help it that he had a craving for the prison mush and the closet thing that to it was the watery oats.

Awkward silence filled the room. Realizing that his friends were stunned, Robin smiled upwards at them. "Just kidding. Pizza's fine."

The four Titans breathed out in relief. "You had us worried there for a second, man," chimed Cyborg.

"Worried! I had a heart attack!" shouted Beastboy, throwing his arms in the air.

Raven sent a dark glare at the changeling. "Well, let's go and order it."

Starfire gave Robin one quicker hug, "I will come and get you when the pizza has arrived."

"Thanks." Robin waited till the group was almost out the door, "And guys-"

"Yeah."

"Thanks for…this…"

Robin let himself bask in their warm smiles, even after the door closed and their footsteps could no longer be heard. Slumping against the wall, Robin sighed loudly and rubbed his eyes.

"Almost flawless," commented Slade, who was sitting on Robin's mattress his feet resting on the floor.

Robin sent a hurt look at him, "Almost?"

Slade, whom had been prowling in the back of Robin's mind since their return, scoffed. "Porridge?"

Throwing his arms into the air, Robin slapped himself, "Yes, porridge. Look, I'm sorry if I'm craving the mush but it's a hard habit to beat. Not to mention, I hate making food decisions."

"Yes, yes, I get the point. But wouldn't it have been easier staying with Slade."

The room seemed to chill. For there it was the reason for the conversation. Turning his head slightly, Robin narrowed his eyes at the man. "Ever since I've ran into the real one, you just can't let go of the subject."

"Not until I get a yes."

"Well, you won't." Twisting, Robin rested on his knees before the looming figure not in the least bit intimidated. "So drop it."

"You're not the only stubborn one."

"Why?"

"We had a deal."

A dark smile that would have made the real Slade proud appeared on the boy's face. "Deals are meant to be broken."

Slade wanted to bark back but a red light blinded the pair before drowning them in a siren. The thundering of footsteps pounded down the hallway.

"Yo, Rob." The door slid open enough to allow Cyborg's head to jut through. "It's Mad Mob. We might need you on this one. You coming?"

Robin rose onto his feet, shaking his head. "You guys go ahead. I'll keep an eye on things from the Tower."

Disappoint flashed on the older boy's face. Robin could clearly tell he had wanted him to don the bright colors on and yell the familiar charge.

"Alright…later," Popping his head back into the hallway, Cyborg ran down to the garage where the rest of the team waited.

A few minutes passed before the alarm ceased its' wailing. Stepping out of his room, Robin with Slade trailing behind him made his way to the common room. There on the screen, an image of Mad Mob breaking into a high-security bank played like a movie before his masked eyes.

"Why didn't you go with them?" True curiosity peaked in Slade's tone. "You're a hero who answers to his city's call for help?"

"Because they want the old Robin back," replied Robin as he punched in a command to zoom in on the action. Beastboy and Starfire just arrived and were pounding through the metallic soldiers. Soon, the others joined them and they disappeared into the bank. "If I can't put on the uniform than I don't have the requirements to defend Jump City."

"Well, if being a hero is so confining…"

Robin shot Slade a threatening glare, "Don't go down that road. I won't be a villain. Going to prison once was enough for me."

Crossing his arms, Slade smirked, "But it was fun wasn't it?"

A bewildered look widened Robin's eyes, "Last time I checked, you hated it as much or as more than me. Do I need to remind you of a certain woman?"

"Maura is one of a kind."

Robin couldn't help but chuckle. The woman had made an impression on both of them. "Do you think he went after her?"

"Who?"

"You know…"

Slade sighed, "Probably. You know how possessive I can be."

Robin felt the hidden meaning under that statement. His imaginary friend pointed out a crucial characteristic that defined Slade: the villain didn't like others playing with his things. And as much as Robin hated to admit it, he was one of Slade's things, even years after his apprenticeship ended.

"Yes, I-" A sharp alarm rang from the counsel. Focusing on the screen, Robin typed in a few commands, finding the source of the signal coming from Raven's comlink.

"What's going on?" inquired Slade.

Frowning, Robin hacked into a bank security cam. The screen revealed four captured Titans being hauled away by a whistling Mad Mob. "It's an emergency beacon. As you can see, they're captured."

"Which means, that they need backup," locking his cold stare on the smaller figure, Slade watched for Robin's reaction. "They need Robin."

"I know." But the question was, was he ready to be the Boy Wonder.

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