The silence since Robin's entry stretched into eternity. Movement was suspended except for two pairs of eyes that were locked in a never-ending stare down. Three other pairs painted imaginary circles in the air, while the last pair of violet was slowly making its climb up to the giant screen.
Raven whispered, "What do you want Slade?"
The named villain broke his gaze from Robin's form, shifting that steel eye down at the witch, "And here I had thought that you were still the brains in this outfit, my dear."
"I am not your dear," hissed the woman.
Slade chuckled, his deep timber voice vibrating into their bones. They could feel the mocking laughter underneath it. "I hope I have not interrupted something crucial."
Cyborg crossed his arms, "No…" sparing a glance at Robin, he continued, "not yet."
The glance was not lost to Slade, whose eye focused back on the bird to note any changes. All he saw was a weary form, whose shoulders were dropping slowly as cheeks seemed to sink into a hollow look.
"If you want the money-" Cyborg's stern voice filled the lobby.
"The deal did not concern money," interrupted Slade, his voice losing its' mirth.
Beastboy burst into a nervous laugh. Wrapping his arms across his middle, the changeling continued to spill. "You're funny. Never thought you'd be, but I gotta hand it to ya dude. That was hilarious." Wiping imaginary tears from the corners of his eyes, Beastboy ceased laughing to lower his voice sound almost like Slade. "Money? What money?"
Seeing where the youngest member was going with his imitation, Starfire and Cyborg quickly followed suit. Cyborg pulled out of himself a few chuckles.
"Truly, who ever knew that you were such a joker," giggled the alien princess.
Immediately, as if they could read each other minds, Robin and Slade sent heated glares at Starfire.
"Star, don't," stated the void but there was a trace of that deep growl she had heard when Robin had been fighting Mad Mob.
"Don't even compare me to that…clown," sneered Slade's voice, a dark anger revealing itself for a split second.
Starfire felt herself tremble under the glares, her innocent mind not knowing why she had received such harsh remarks. Feeling her frightened state, Beastboy leaned in and whispered into her ear.
"It's ok, Star, you don't know who the Joker is," comforted Beastboy.
"Consider yourself lucky," shivered Beastboy, his eyes shooting over to Robin who was now staring out the window his mind a million miles away. "You don't want to know that wacko."
Starfire nodded, sending the changeling a small smile to show her gratitude.
"Anyways," drawled out Cyborg to pull the two back into the present situation, "Look Slade can't we do this some other time."
"Why? Is it so hard to find a box?" purred Slade, his gray eye narrowing in warning.
Eyes shot quickly over to Robin, fear flashing on their faces. Yet, the once leader of the Titans seemed oblivious to the conversation, eyes still fixed on the world outside.
Raven swallowed quietly, "No."
Slade nodded curtly, "Then drop the box off at the warehouse where we made the deal at midnight. If you don't…then the citizens of Jump City will suffer the consequences." Cutting the line, Slade left the Titans to the crackling sound of static.
Reaching out, Raven shut off the screen, "I'll go get-"
"For his help, you agreed to give Slade a box?" The quiet voice surprised the Titans. They were expecting the rage-filled yells to burst from the raven haired hero.
But yet again, their hopes for the normal were dashed away like the colorful leaves of fall. Cyborg, Beastboy, Raven and Starfire moved in closer to each other as they made their way up to where Robin stood standing.
Shoulders slightly slumped forward; Robin's frame seemed to become lost in the sweats. Despite being back amongst society, prison life clung to Robin like a leech. And it didn't help that the Titans were beginning to think that Robin didn't want to go back to normal, that in a twisted way he was the one clinging to the identity of being an inmate.
Tilting his head downwards a bit, so his loose raven locks partially covered his mask eyes, Robin broke his gaze from the window. "And it isn't any ordinary box. No…Slade knows what he wants…" His voice fell into a whisper as that blazing eye of possession flashed before him.
"Man," Cyborg sighed. He had a feeling that this conversation would pop up, but he had hoped it would happen after their first big talk after Robin's opening up. "You've got to remember, we were getting desperate. I know, I know. I hate to say it, but we were!"
"Desperate times, call for desperate measures," piped in Beastboy. Cyborg sent him a stern glare to silence the younger man. Beastboy smiled weakly before taking a step back.
Tugging at his thumbs, Robin gazed up at Cyborg. "It's the box containing all my research and artifacts of him, isn't it?"
It wasn't a question. It was a statement. Cyborg gulped, feeling a bit scared at how this new Robin would react to such a truth. "Ma-maybe." The small squeak was out of character for the oldest member.
The white lens tilted towards Raven, "You agreed to give away vital information to one of the most dangerous criminals?"
If the rebuke fazed her, Raven didn't show it. "He doesn't know what's in the box, who says we have to give him everything."
The three Titans grinned at Raven's statement. The girl had a brilliant point. There was no way Slade would know all of the true contents in the box.
Cyborg nodded eagerly, tapping his finger on his chin. "That's a good idea. We'll give him back some of his broken toys, newspaper clippings and his mask-"
"Not the mask," snapped Robin, his eyes narrowing into slits.
Surprise at the change, Cyborg felt that he had enough of Robin telling him what to do. "Yes, the mask, Robin. It's time you let go of this obsession with the man. And it ain't like the mask is worth something. Heck, it almost killed you last time with the dust!"
Robin shook his head, an old familiar stubborn streak flaring to life. "I said no. That mask is mine now. You can give the rest to him, but not that one."
"What the hell is your problem?" asked Beastboy. "One moment you're all quiet and don't give a care-"
Robin's attention locked onto the green hero, "I do care. I care more than any of you know of. It's just that I know Slade…I know him."
"Oh really," rebuked Cyborg, "Then do enlighten us, cause if we don't give him back the mask, then he might catch on that the box is not complete."
"He'll know anyway with or without the mask. It's not about the possessions in it," Robin eased back on the anger that was rumbling in him. No one could have that mask. If there was the slightest residue of the hallucinogen dust on it, anyone could reproduce it. In the long run, it would mean that there would be more casualties, that he would no longer be the last to be scarred by its effects. And he had to be the last. "The box symbolizes all my hard work on trying to figure out who Slade is. If he gets his hands on it, it means that I'm back to square one, that no matter what I do he'll always be on top, always be five steps ahead."
The Titans' closed their mouths. None of them viewed the box in such a manner before.
"Power play," whispered Raven.
"Exactly," said Robin.
"No," Cyborg shook his head, "Sorry Rob, but if we don't give him the box with the mask in it to make it convincing, then something bad is going to happen."
"We could always booby-trap it," Beastboy exclaimed, "Give him the box then BAM, cage him up and throw him in jail."
Starfire laid a hand on Beastboy's shoulder, "It would not work, for all we know the real Slade might not be there."
Beastboy's eyes drooped, "It was a good plan."
Raven sparked the next debate, turning her full attention to Robin, "Well, do you have any plans?"
"Don't give into his demands, no matter what."
Cyborg couldn't help but scoff. Robin frowned softly, "What was that for?"
"Don't give in, no matter what," repeated the oldest Titan. "Like the time you interrogated a security officer using the skills Slade taught you."
Since his arrival, Robin's face finally fell apart in an explosion of surprise. "Wh-what?"
Feeling it his duty to continue on, Cyborg braced himself. "We heard about you torturing a security guard from Wayne Enterprises while you were under Slade's apprenticeship. Look, we understand that you did it to protect us and we'll pay that back by taking that cursed box back to Slade. With Slade out of the picture, maybe you can finally open up about the prison-"
"Where did you hear such a lie?" snapped Robin, his shock vaporized in the heat of embarrassment.
"And you trusted him?"
"Well in context of the situation and the fact that you never told us anything, we did to an extent!"
Taking a step forward, Robin leaned forward, "And what context would that be?"
Cyborg frowned and leaned forward, taking up the challenge, his voice rising. "We had two guards and were questioning them to find your whereabouts. But nothing worked, so we let Slade deal with them."
Anger at his teammates wanted Robin to strike out and beat each one till they cried out their apologies. But disappointment draped her arms around his body, holding him in place. "You let Slade kill two innocent people."
"Hey, we didn't hear anything and see nothing, so-"
"He probably broke their necks or strangled them."
Cyborg felt curiosity tug at him as Robin's voice softened, his eyes dropping downwards. He already had the feeling that the boy was lost in memory. Before he vanished, Robin never let his mind drift. Nowadays though, when confronted, Cyborg would watch Robin drift away before him, a blank expression falling on his face. So much reflection and pauses made Cyborg feel that he had seen this type of behavior somewhere. Eying Raven, he noticed her features had tightened sensing the same thing. "How would you know that?"
"During my apprenticeship, Slade did capture a security officer. He ordered me constantly to torture the man into talking. I said no…"
"Till the part where Slade showed you the trigger," added Beastboy.
Robin shook his head and took a couple steps back, "No."
The Titans felt their mouths go dry. Robin bit the corner of his lip and ran a hand through his hair. "Even with his thumb right over the trigger, I couldn't do it. Giving into his demands was not a choice in my mind. I had already given him my identity and reputation to save your lives but I couldn't give him my morals…my soul. He realized that and killed the man right in front of me with a quick snap…before he turned and…"
Silence fell on the group as the truth shed light into their worlds. Robin had not done the same thing they did. But still, their minds worked to justify their actions. If they had not let Slade have his way, they would not have found Robin. It was a necessary act. There were no other options. Just like now. They needed to remove all negative objects that would remind Robin of any type of confinement and that box was one of the main sources. With him out of his room and the box gone, Robin would be able to move forward.
The Titans had to believe it. They just had to believe that the probable death of two victims was not their fault.
Inhaling deeply, Robin let the phantom pains of the beating he had received wash through him. Opening his eyes, he regarded the Titans in a new light taking in their pondering faces. They were still children, learning the ropes of being a hero that expanded beyond Jump City. The Titans were strong, but they did not have enough experience in dealing with the truly psychopathic and mastermind villains. In a strange sense, he had been lucky to grow up in the dark, twisted city of Gotham City where it was filled to the brim with such criminals.
Raven's soft voice filtered through his thoughts trying to break free from the turn of events. Sliding his tired eyes at her, Robin could see that the persecution was about to begin.
"Were you ever in solitary confinement?"
Robin blinked as Raven pushed forward, the strain of keeping her emotions in check evident in the twisting of her sleeves. "The way you move, talk, those long moments were you stare into space are all characteristic of someone who has been isolated for a long time. So I ask-"
"Yes, I was locked away once or twice for bad behavior," responded Robin, "I was also…" Pausing, Robin tried to force the word tortured past his lips, but he couldn't. After all these weeks of recuperating, he couldn't see what he went through as simply a torture session. It was that but so much more. And in that acknowledgement, Robin realized that he was truly messed up in the head. Insanity had taken root in his mind yet Sanity still remained a bright force in the darkness.
"Tortured," filled in Cyborg.
Robin nodded, feeling confidence fill him. Maura was insane in her methods; Slade was insane in his obsession and Batman was insane in his promise. On the other hand, Curt was sane in his advice; Mad Mob was sane in his greed and Joker was sane in his jokes. And in that context, he could be insane in his acts but sane in his words. Just like his two identities, the goodness and evilness in his heart, Robin could balance his insane and sane mind.
This was who he was now. A man walking on the tightrope of existence.
Nodding more fiercely, Robin smirked, "Yes I was tortured. Tortured into fighting senseless battles, tortured into confinement and tortured into drugs" "Don't forget tortured into confessions," added his mind.
"Battles?" questioned Cyborg.
"Con-finement?" stuttered Starfire.
"Drugs!" yelled Beastboy.
"Yes," stated Robin. "And that is why I can't be here. I'm not Robin anymore."
"Don't say that!" cried Starfire, "Sure you have gone through many a terrible things, but we are your friends and we can help you."
"No, you can't Star." Robin let his smirk disappear, letting sadness creep onto his face, "I've gotta do this alone."
"No you don't!" Cyborg marched forward and grabbed a hold on Robin's shoulders. Shaking him slightly as if to knock some sense into the raven-haired hero, the eldest member felt himself begin to break, "You don't have to do this alone. We're friends, no scratch that, we're family. And as such, we stay by each other through thick and thin and we help each other. So you were tortured, do you really think you were the only one to suffer?"
Anger flashed in the black and red eyes of the massive boy. Robin flinched slightly as the fingers dug into his flesh. Steadying himself from Cyborg's onslaught, Robin waited out the storm.
"Well you weren't, you hear me Robin? We did things we're not proud and have to live with the consequences for the rest of our lives." Cyborg slowly let go of Robin, staggering backwards as if he had been punched in the gut, "We know that you're not the same, but neither are we. This mission…this mission."
Raven laid her hand softly on Cyborg's shoulder, violet eyes softening as she took in the shuddering form of her friend. "We all took a hard look into ourselves to find you, Robin. Will you take our sacrifices and throw them into our faces saying that it was all for nothing?" The softness disappeared and when those eyes locked onto Robin, a hint of red was glowing softly in them. "Are you that selfish and cold-hearted?"
The stares burning in anticipation for his answer piled upon Robin's shoulders. Yet the man merely folded his arms across his chest, "Maybe."
Mouths opened to retaliate but Robin raised his hand silencing them. "Listen, it's clear from my end that you guys aren't ready for this darker me, it was easy to see that when I was fighting Mad Mob. You all act as if nothing has changed and it's making me sick. I don't want to go back to the past."
Starfire reached up and wiped a small tear away, "Ro-"
A commanding glance made her stop mid-sentence. The restrained darkness that had ghosted the boat and revealed itself at the school was now seeping out from the small figure. Fixing his gaze at Cyborg, Robin leveled his voice to an emotionless tone. "It also seems that none of you have been thinking about yourselves. You've all been trying to make sure that I accept what's happen to me and move on, but the truth is I don't need it. You four however do."
"We're fine," murmured Beastboy.
"Oh really?" Fixing his gaze on the changeling, Robin sneered, "Then how come Cyborg almost had a breakdown and how did you all get yourself captured by Mad Mob and played like a violin by Slade?"
"I resent that," snapped Cyborg.
Robin marched forward and poked the African-American hero straight in the heart, "I trained you all better than that. And you would have prevented such events, if you weren't distracted by fear but mostly guilt." Narrowing his eyes, Robin leaned forward making Cyborg lean back in weariness. "It's that guilt that almost got you all killed. Guilt that you have to accept and move on before it leads to your death or a loved one."
Breaking away, Robin turned and eyed each Titan, "That goes for each one of you. You said that I wasn't the only one suffering and I acknowledge that. That's why I'm disbanding the Teen Titans till you all heal and are ready for active duty once more."
Right when he finished, screams erupted in the lobby.
"What you can't do that?"
"What the hell?"
"How-what-why-I'm so lost!"
Cyborg lunged forward, grabbed a fist full of the sweatshirt and yanked Robin off his feet, pulling him straight up to his face, "You can't do that!"
Prying himself loose, Robin let himself drop to the floor quietly. "I can do that. As my last act as leader, I'm shutting down the Titans till you all have had a fitful vacation and reevaluate why you are heroes."
Cyborg was about to snarl out once more, yet Robin snapped back with the ferocity of a viper. "As for me, I quit. I'm not longer a Teen Titan so don't come calling for me."
Pivoting on his foot, Robin heard Starfire' soft, trembling voice halt him in his departure, "What of the citizens of Jump City? Do they not need protection?"
Robin let his shoulders sag ever so briefly. Turning his gaze onto her, he let his stare soften to take in her crying form. "They have a great police force and Titans East can come to their aid. If anything, you can call in the Justice League if you want. But they'll be fine, Star. Jump City is a good city."
Smiling for her, Robin let her grateful small smile fill him. Nodding, he finished his turn and walked out of the lobby. As the doors closed behind him, he heard the rising discussion between the true Teen Titans debate what they're next step should be. He had successfully turned the persecution that was meant for him, to the Titans themselves. The foundations of doubt and lies which Slade laid helped him burn the rest of the bridges that tied him to his old image. Maura would be proud
Thankfully, Starfire asking that question made him feel all the better in the aftermath. He was leaving Jump City in good hands. When the Titans would return after their break, they would be stronger than before and shine brightly displaying that there were such things as hope, justice and love in the world.
And that was a symbol he could never become, nor wished to be.
Steps morphing into a full out sprint, Robin realized that it was time to live up to Batman and Slade's expectations. Picking up the reins of a crueler existence, Robin let a mask of indifference fall into place. Time was ripe for the birth of a darker hero: the death of a robin gave rise to a hawk.