It was an hour and a half to midnight. An eerie quietness filled the docks, with a slight fog rising off from the ocean. With a crescent moon covered by a thick blanket of clouds a stage of creepiness presented itself on the wooden planks.
Walking with measured steps, the figure of a tall and massive figured moved through the fog and shadows as if it was his home. Halting near a pile of boxes, the shadow cast a scrutinizing glance around the small open area inside the warehouse. It seemed that he was the first person to arrive at the meeting place.
Perfect. Taking in a few steps, Slade paused when he noticed a square mass on the floor begin to take shape. It was only a few inches away from another stack of boxes and had blended easily in the background. But now on closer inspection, the villain realized that the pristine shape of the yellowish brown box with a snug top did not belong amongst the worn crates.
It seemed the Titans had beaten him, but no matter. If his carefully placed words did their job, the team would collapse in a matter of moments. And with the team down, he would show Robin the falsehoods of being a Titan and take the boy willingly away from the path of righteousness. And given that the he was still healing from his time with Maura, the boy's mind would be exposed allowing Slade to play with his thoughts and motivations.
Taking a step back, Slade was on the verge of merging back into the shadows when he noticed movement off to the right corner. His eye zeroed in on the small figure merging from the shadows. The lithe frame, unruly black hair and the white mask did little to hide the former identity of the newcomer. Yet the colors were not the same.
The uniform was slightly baggy, long sleeved and definitely made of cloth instead of spandex. A faded black was the main color with what appeared to be a blue V painted on the front and two blue strips running down the sleeves. It was a total change from the bright colors of green, red and yellow.
"Like the new uniform?" asked Robin, his voice steady in the darkness, arms folded behind his back.
"Interesting choice of colors," Slade responded, not sure how this turn of events would lead to. It seemed that Robin was no longer a weak individual. What a shame. "You're alone."
Slade shook his head and took a few steps so that he was now fully inside the warehouse. "Tsk, I thought you would have learn your lesson Robin."
Robin seemed to ignore the comment as he walked quietly over to the box, "Robin's…gone at the moment. But you can still call me that for now, I guess."
"Then what should I call you?"
"Don't really know." With that, Robin lined his foot flush with the back of the box and kicked it over to Slade, "There's the Titans' payment."
Slade raised his hand, "With all due respect, I'll open the box in a different location."
Robin scoffed, "It's not wired, Slade."
"Don't be offended that I don't believe you."
Robin smiled softly. Yet in the pale light Slade saw the thin, small line and found it a bit disturbing. This was no fake, adrenaline pumped smile. No. It was a smile he would see on his enemy's face when they knew something he did not.
Feeling the stirrings of anger and glee that the game was not yet over, Slade lowered his voice to a purr. "What is it, Robin?"
The smile widened. "Nothing much," Robin eased his hands to the front and held lightly in his left was a black and orange mask with a crack running down the orange side with a single hole for an eye.
Stillness filled Slade as he watched Robin walk towards him off to the right. Spinning the mask on his finger like a basketball, Robin halted in the entrance. "But that box is worthless without the mask isn't it?"
"I know all about the dust, Slade. A farewell present for me or was it more of a last attempt to convert me into your apprentice again?" With a snap of his wrist, Robin tossed and caught the mask swiftly. Masked eyes narrowed slightly and the smile morphed into a grin of confidence. "Either way, it was a fun night. I almost died thanks to you."
Slade tilted his head downwards to glare at the boy, "I do not know of this dust you speak of. Just because-"
"He told me everything Slade," interrupted Robin, his voice rising slightly, "How you were working with the nanobits, changing their programming in order to turn me when you were not around."
Slade felt this hidden card crumble in his hand. He had indeed worked on the dust in order to enforce his hold on Robin. With no evident results and the mere fact that the Titans appeared in his lair interrupted any future work. But he wouldn't show it to Robin. "What makes you think I want the mask? Clearly the dust has failed."
Robin turned his head and held the mask up so he was face to face with it, "It's too important. Just like the box has all my hard work, this mask holds yours." The young face tightened as a flash of dark rage burned his soul. "So much pain and suffering from something so small."
Warning bells rang through Slade's head, "Robin, what are you doing?"
Lost in his world, Robin gritted his teeth hard. He had faced the Titans and now it was his time to conquer Slade, both of them. "It ends here." Bending down and shifting so he was between the mask and Slade, Robin threw the mask like a Frisbee into the air.
"You brat!" Slade lunged forward but the mask flew by his outstretched hand. He and Robin could only watch as it skipped like a smooth rock over the water. With one final splash, it disappeared under the dark blue washing away all traces of the dust.
Clenching his fists to restrain himself from killing Robin right away, Slade turned his head locking his heated gaze with an exact restrained glare radiating off of the boy. Heated conversations collided within the supernova that exploded between them. The twitching of fingers, the tightening of muscles, lips tugging downwards and eyes blazing with untold worlds of painful promises formed the silent dialect between hero and villain. No words were needed. Each knew that this time it would be a battle that would only end in the hoping of death.
With a dancer's grace and perfectly timed movement, Robin twisted himself as a metal fist flew by his ribs. Drawing back his arm, Robin sent his own fist slamming at Slade's temple. And like in the old days, Slade shifted his massive body so his right hand caught the fist. It was a familiar dance that the two knew in their dreams. Slade narrowed his eye, knowing without doubt that Robin would push forward, which in turn would make him lose his balance.
However, Slade's expectations were disregarded. Jumping backwards, Robin yanked his capture fist free. The single eye rising ever slightly was all that betrayed Slade's surprise. With his body in mid-air, Robin kicked upwards sending his steel boots right into Slade's face. Finishing a back flip, Robin landed in a silent crouch on the ground at the same time Slade crashed onto a knee, his side facing the hero.
Robin felt himself pause, a memory of him in the same position staring across to find half of Slade's mask broken away. In a brief instance, the man's identity was revealed to the world. Yet, life was cruel and let the shadows hide any physical clues. So now, Robin found himself holding his breath as Slade's hand rose to check his mask.
"You had your one chance to see my face, Robin," wheezed Slade through his intact mask. "You will not be granted another."
In a blink of an eye, Slade's hand dashed to his belt and threw a spinning disk straight at the hero. Robin barely had time to roll to the side, covering his head as the disk exploded in a fury of light and shrapnel behind him. The pure force of the blast threw his light body into the air before slamming it back down on the weathered wood of the docks. Skidding on his back, Robin bit back a scream as he felt his skin begin to burn and tear away. Coming to a stop, he blinked away the tears, enough to see through the mist a large figure running straight at him.
Throwing himself into a roll, he pushed himself off the ground, legs spread out to balance himself. Hands planted firmly on the ground, Robin felt the rush of wind as Slade's arm flew by him. Pushing off his left arm, he ducked a powerful kick. Flipping himself, Robin let out a quick sigh of relief to find himself back on his two feet. Yet, the pause was short lived when a steel-gloved hand slammed into his chest.
Air erupted out his crushing lungs as Robin was once again sent flying backwards. As the boy crashed into a pile of crates, Slade eased back into a straight posture. Under old pretenses, the villain would have held back on the force of the punch. But he was no longer in the mood to pamper Robin. The boy had destroyed his only means in controlling the child. His backup of supple was destroyed by Terra and his contact with the dust had been killed. All was lost.
Watching Robin stagger free of the debris of boxes and spitting out blood onto the ground, Slade looked once more over the new uniform and realized that a certain yellow utility belt was missing. Clicking his tongue in disappoint, Slade let his anger show. "Don't tell me Maura has tamed you to such a disgraceful level."
Masked eyes snapped wide and the boy's figure froze in mid-rise. "What?"
"You're on the defensive, not once fighting back and you're not even armed." Folding his arms, Slade scoffed. "I thought I-"
Robin's body began to move once more but with more caution. Eyes flickered off to the sides in the dark shadows as if he was expecting someone to walk out any moment. "You mentioned the Boss's name."
"Maura, yes." Seeing the boy's reaction to the woman's name was interesting. Fear straightened his body; anger darkened his features but in the smallest flashes hope danced on his eyes.
"He's mine," whispered Maura's words sparking a wave of humiliating rage within him again. Teeth grinding into each other, Slade set out to dash such hope. "Maura will not be coming any time soon."
Hearing the murderous tone, Robin shrunk back slightly, eyes locking on the seething villain. "You killed her?"
"Yes. She is dead."
"You killed her," repeated Robin softly. Blinking he gazed onto the ground. She had known in the letter she was going to die, which was why it was so finite. Grief rose in him threatening to choke him. In the two weeks since his return, Robin couldn't help but keep a lookout for Maura or anyone that could work for her. Not like he wasn't, the whole promise of not telling could become void now in terms that Maura was dead.
A familiar void fills his center at a steady pace. It was the same soul-sucking static that had filled him when he had watched Slade's mask burn in a river of lava. To have such an overpowering figure wiped out existence almost made him mad last time. To his relief, Slade had returned back from the grave and was once again slashing his way through villain history. Blinking slowly, Robin shuddered in grief, trying to pry himself free of the void. Maura wasn't coming back. As much as she reminded him of Slade, the probability that she could rise from the dead was too small. No, Slade was through in his work and if he said someone was dead, they were dead.
"Don't tell me you're grieving over her?" snarled Slade, "She's the reason why you are in such a pitiful mess!" Robin's flinch did not go unmissed by Slade's keen eye. The small movement caused a small idea to flare brightly to life in his mind. Raising his voice so that it held a constant, plain tone Slade continued his attack. "Maura told me much of what she did to you, making you beg and cry like a new born baby."
Masked eyes shot up, fear of not wanting others to know what had happened to him tightening his lips.
"To her dying breath, she always bragged about how she destroyed you. I would yell back at her telling her that you were just putting on an act, that you could never be broken." Taking a step forward, Slade waited for the boy to take a step back but he did neither. "But it seems that she was right and if she was right in this" a wave of his hand towards the still figure drove home the point, "then her declaration of you being hers might as well be true."
Something flashed on that young face, "Boss said that-"
"You are hers," quipped Slade with a flick of his wrist to cover up the disgust rising in him.
A flash of Slade's possessive glare flashed in Robin's reeling mind, "But I'm…"
The unspoken 'yours' fell into the dead air. The unspoken yet close confession fueled Slade's dark wishes. It seemed that Robin's skill at reading him had improved. Then again it might be his heightened awareness for the time being. The affects from prison life didn't just disappear in two weeks. No matter how hard Robin tried to appear healed and confident in his actions both in front of the Titans and just mere minutes ago, the image was dissolving rapidly to reveal a struggling boy who was lost in a whole new world all due to the name of one woman. Slade should have known that it would take a person of the opposite sex to destroy Robin. It was Eve that gave Adam the apple and banished human kind for all eternity from the Garden of Eden.
Raising his right hand as if to inspect his fingernails Slade watched the internal battle that was waging within the boy. It was time to see if Robin had inherited any traits from Maura. He already could count out the word games. Now it was a matter if the boy picked up the sly cunning of the fox.
Robin didn't know what made sense anymore. Maura said he was hers? That woman should have known better! Like hell was he someone's property. All the pain he went through, she said he was free. Free! Fixing a stare at Slade, Robin wanted to smack himself for almost saying he belonged to the villain.
"Freudian slip," mused a dark voice. The dust's mocking tone urged Robin to scream out. He was not a property of Slade either. Robin had been trying to prove that point to his imaginary companion. And here he was contradicting himself.
Tightening his fists, Robin pondered that the two villains might have held him captive and tortured him. But despite everything, even being shattered, he had held onto something precious within him.
"You still say no," Maura's words blew into the coals, creating a burst of flames. She knew that he had not been broken entirely. Then why…why did she say he was hers? The word son drifted through his mind like a single leaf, as if he should remember something critical. Even if Maura called him by such a title, to still claim possession over him like an object whipped betrayal across his mending heart.
Tears welled up and for once, Robin was glad for the mask. Tilting his head downwards to hide his shuteyes, pain blew harder into the flames sending a forest fire to wipe away all traces of grief. He would show Slade and Maura that he belonged to no one, that despite his flaws, he was a hero no matter what.
Sliding his eyes open, Robin kicked out, sending up a shard of wood. Catching the projectile lightly, the hero gritted his teeth and locked his gaze on Slade. It was time to get serious. It would be like the gym back in prison. There would be no room for mistakes or talking. Just simple fighting.
Flying into a full sprint, Robin slashed out with the piece of wood towards Slade's left side. Slade swiped the hand away allowing for a small fist to slam right into his face. Skidding a few steps, Slade smirked at seeing that young face burn in a familiar rage. There was his boy. It seemed underneath all the insecurity, questioning and doubt created by Maura, the reckless streak had somehow survived.
Punches and kicks flew towards him with astounding speed and ferocity. Blocking and punching, the two moved in a circle moving slowly towards the edge of the docks. Jumping into the air to avoid one of Slade's kicks, Robin flipped over the man's head and landed in a crouch. A second later he kicked up at Slade's solar plexus. Yet the large man danced to the right and reached out to grab him. But Robin rolled off to the left. Grabbing onto the extended arm, Robin leapt up into the air and scissor kicked underneath Slade's chin. A grunt escaped Slade's mouth. Grinning, Robin let go of the arm and fell onto the ground, kicking out to sweep Slade's legs out from underneath him.
Slade fell to the ground with a thump but quickly kicked down Robin's rising form and jumped back onto his feet just was the boy recovered and stood up as well. The two eyed each other before launching into another series of heated attacks. The scrapping of boots and slapping of contact echoed down the barren walkways and warehouses. Even the dark blue waters stilled themselves enhancing the sounds of the brutal fighting occurring above.
Sliding on his feet and hands burning with their contact to the wood, Robin heaved in a much-needed breath of air. Despite the two weeks, his body was still not used to fighting at such an extreme level for a long duration. This was way different than the mass chaos of group fighting. Blinking away white sparks, Robin shook his head free. No. He wouldn't give up now. As he rose, he blinked away another supernova revealing a black elbow flying straight into face. Red filled his vision as a loud crack deafened his ears while rivers of blood filled his mouth.
Staggering backwards the young man spit out a mouthful of blood from the busted right cheek. Blood oozed down his face. Black and purple blossomed across the cheek making the small patch of white bone all the more noticeable. Hauling in another breath as blood still poured into his mouth, Robin jutted forward spilling more of the red liquid out onto a black rectangular form that seemed to be impaled in his stomach. The blackness retreated out of his body allowing for undying pain to erupt in his gut. Gasping for breath, Robin collapsed onto his knees cradling his bruised muscles.
Steel boots stepped out of his sight. Lifting blurry eyes, Robin took in the collected form of Slade, who seemed to survey the damage.
"You surprised me there for a moment. For someone who's been in prison for awhile, I must say you still have your fighting style, just not the endurance."
Slade's conversational tone made Robin want to pounce the man, but an invisible force decided to take advantage of his exhausted state. Instead of flying upward, Robin's crushed face fell down onto the wood, splinters stabbing at his flesh. A scream wanted to burst out of his mouth as wood poked at his cracked cheek but all that came out was a whimper.
"I guess this little fight is over." Smirking underneath his mask, Slade pulled out a needle from his belt. Narrowing his eye in amusement, the villain watched as Robin's own widened and his battered body began to struggle to get up. "Don't worry, I'm not giving you a drug."
Something akin to longing flashed on Robin's features. For a moment, Slade wondered if Maura had drugged the boy, for the look reminded him too much of an addict. Pushing away the anger-induced thought, Slade marched forward when he realized that despite the desperate movements Robin had yet to get up. It was if some unseen force was pinning him to the ground.
"He told me everything Slade," echoed past words. Halting, Slade's mind clicked at the hidden indication behind the statement. A dark chuckle passed through the slits of his mask. "The dust is still affecting you."
"No!" snarled Robin's huffing voice as he twisted his upper body to no avail.
Denial written over the boy's features, Slade crouched in front of him. Shaking his head, Slade ran a hand through the boy's sweat drenched hair before gripping the boy's face earning a painful scream, "You truly belong to be, if not physically then mentally. There's no escaping it."
Releasing his hold, Slade wiped his bloody hand on the back of Robin's uniform. Shakes rattled the small frame as Robin's eyes locked onto the slowly moving hand that held the needle. "No…" panted the hero. Desperation fueled his body to break away from the imaginary Slade's hold, who was pinning the boy successful above him.
A hand shot out and grabbed onto the wrist, trying to push it away. Longings for the drug that Egyed gave him tickled his system as the needle glinted softly in the moonlight. But the horrors of withdrawal sharpened his mind. Grinding his teeth, Robin held on tight as his Slade reached out and tried to yank away the arm. "Not going to fail."
The real Slade huffed, "Now, Robin it's only something to put you to sleep."
Shaking his head, Robin bore holes into the hand, "I'm done being an object. I'm tired on way too many levels." Squeezing his eyes, Robin pushed harder.
The ghost leaned down and hissed, "You're too weak, Robin. You've always been too weak. Nothing is going to save you now, not even that dead witch Maura." Peeling back the layers of rage he felt towards his host, the creation known as Slade laughed knowing that his full strength was too much for the boy to handle.
Feeling his hold slip, Robin heaved, "You forgot your first lesson."
"Oh?" quirked Slade, "And what would that be."
"Don't reveal all your cards at once," Gathering up his own walls of resistance, Robin titled his head to the side to stare straight into the one eye that had kept his company for what seemed like eternity. "This is not your fight."
Slade shifted his body to increase his hold, "What did you say you brat?"
"Leave…Mastema" Revealing his trump card of a new identity, Robin waited for the ghost to obey his command.
But nothing happened. As seconds trickled by with agonizing slowness, Robin felt the burden that was the ghost lift of his aching body. Slade blinked, confusion radiating off of him. And then came the flapping of wings. The ghost heard it too and looked forward. Thousands of bats flew right into him. In a vortex of leather wings, Slade let loose an animalistic screamed as he felt his body being torn apart into ribbons. With his bleeding body, the bats carried their prey into the darkness of a small box. The loud slamming and locking of the door signaled that the event was over as quickly as it began.
Blinking back his own pain, Robin shifted his mind to the present. Inhaling a deep breath, Robin lunged forward slamming the arm right into the ground. Twisting his body so he was flush with Slade, Robin punched right into the wrist breaking it and forcing the hand to relinquish its' hold on the needle. At the same time, he head-butted the villain and broke free, grabbing the needle and rushed forward to create a distance before turning to face the man fully on.
Slade shook his head free of the stars. Bringing his injured hand to his chest, Slade rose as the bones healed themselves. Rotating the wrist, he waited for the boy's surprised reaction but nothing came. Instead, all Slade saw was an expressionless mask fall on the young face. Blinking, Slade noticed how old Robin looked like confirming that whatever just happened between him and the dust would not be in the villain's favor.
As if to prove his hypothesis right, Robin crushed the needle in his hand. Dropping the glass shards, he sprinted straight towards Slade the stubborn will of a hero glowing like a volcano's lava.