To the Left
Robin sprinted forward, his mind a quiet bliss of gray. No raging, clashing of colors and no foreboding imaginary person pushing him down. Twisting, he skidded the rest of the way and rammed his small body into Slade's massive form. The large man doubled over the figure. Gritting his teeth, Slade drove a fist into the boy's kidneys. Neither a grunt nor scream greeted his ears. All there was was a knee slamming into his side. Slade grinded his fist deeper as he pushed Robin's form away. The boy was determined and despite the pain blossoming in his lower back, his prison training kicked in and Robin hugged closer to Slade's form.
He couldn't beat Slade at long distance; even at close range with martial arts the man was impossible to beat. Then again, Robin wasn't on the goal to truly defeat the villain. No. He just wanted make the man wobble on that high pedestal of his. To see the tiniest flicker of fear would be enough to satisfy him for now. Feet staggering as another blow was rammed into his back, Robin dung his fingers into Slade's uniform and with his right fist began to rain punches into the man's stomach. Eyes locked onto steel boots, Robin felt Slade try to pry away but he followed like a shadow sticking close to him.
Wrestling with Robin was a bit of surprise for Slade. The child loved to flip and dance with all types of martial arts in his fights. To change from that wild style to close combat relying only on fists and kicks revealed to Slade how the new hero could become potentially dangerous. It seemed that Robin had finally learned to grow up. Feeling that Robin would be able to handle a change in pace, Slade took a deep breath. Gripping onto the left thigh, Slade yanked Robin off of him and body slammed the smaller figure into the wood, hearing a satisfying crack of wood. Straddling the slim hips, a loud grunt exploded from Robin's mouth. As that sound vibrated in the air, Slade drove his fist straight into the young face, watching as blood splashed out onto the cracks of wood.
Pulling his dripping red fist, Slade sent his fist flying back down onto the boy. Through blurry eyes, Robin screamed in his mind to move. Rolling to his side, Robin felt the vibrations as the fist made contact with the wood. The crack and loud pop signaled the birth of a new hole in the platform. Fear squeezed at his heart as the pain in his face throbbed in rhythm of the shockwaves. Slade had never hit him or anything that hard before…was this the true strength of the man? Had he always been holding back?
Grinding his teeth, Robin let himself remember the drowning, mindless fights with the prisoners, Kyle's simple techniques and Sl-Mastema's painful lessons. Maura's gray impassive eyes bore down on him and he somehow realized in fighting Slade he was fighting her and the stories that she had told the villain. A blood-curdling roar burst out of his mouth and where it came from Robin would never know. All he knew was that it was the familiar rush he felt when he fought against Mad Mob.
Yelling out once more, Robin pushed himself off the ground and with as much strength as he could muster slammed into Slade's ribs. Feeling the man's large arm circle around his throat, Robin forced down all instincts to reach up and break the vice hold. Instead, Robin twisted back so his chest was flushed against Slade's own. Planting his feet on the ground, Robin growled and pushed backwards-forcing Slade to shift ever so slightly in order to brace against Robin's counter attack. That small move was all Robin needed.
Tilt of his head, Robin bit hard into the arm. Warm liquid seeped into his mouth but Robin would not let go. The old bite mark on his leg burned faintly in the back of his mind and that undeniable pain fueled the fire in the dark hero. Slade sneered in the small ear and with his other arm gripped the back of Robin's head and began to pull the boy loose from his arm. After the third hair-jerking yank, Robin ceded and lowered his jaw to release Slade's arm. The bleeding arm lowered. Pulling his head forward and to the side, Robin spat the blood from his mouth onto Slade's mask. The red liquid flew with deadly precision landing with a splat next to the raging eye. Breaking his hold on the raven locks; Slade slammed his forearm into the side of Robin's head. Watching the young head whiplash, the villain threw the boy off of him.
Raising the black glove, the man wiped the running blood off of his mask. Sparing a precious second, he glanced down to take in the bite that was now healed yet the dry crusty blood still rimmed around the wound. His little bird had learned a few vicious tricks. It still remained a mystery if Slade enjoyed this darker colored bird more than the cheerful one of old. As if to answer him, the soft scraping of wood was the only warning Slade received before Robin pounced on him once again.
Jumping backwards, Slade dodged a fist that flew by his shoulder. Twisting, he punched outwards but instead of dancing around it, Robin flew to meet it and at the last second shifted his body to the side so that the fist skimmed along his uniform. Tackling Slade once more, Robin kicked out Slade's knees while he slammed his elbows into the man's chest. Collapsing in a heap, Slade rammed his throbbing knees up into the boy's back. He watched as the pale lips bit into each other so hard that a single drop of blood trickled down the chin. Reaching up, Slade punched Robin hard in the right shoulder, feeling his fist grind into the socket causing the arm to jerk awkwardly. As Robin felt himself fall to the left, his other arm shot and brought Slade with him. Kicking out and punching, Robin fought with wild precision. Not sensing a clear way out at the moment, Slade decided to allow himself to play into Robin's hand and punched back.
The deadly wrestling match of punches, kicks and yanking ended when Slade grabbed onto Robin's leg and with a swift twist dislocated the leg with a loud pop. The white blaze of fire was too much for the younger fighter. A earth shattering scream pierced the air yet was soon cut off when a loud crash sounded the destruction of another innocent pile of boxes with Robin's battered body laying the in middle of the wreckage.
Rising himself off of his knees, Slade dusted off of his scratched and battered armor. Cracking his neck, the gray eye narrowed in surprise when Robin pushed himself forward. Standing on one leg, the boy wobbled slightly and took one step forward before he felt himself fall forward. At the last second with pure determination alone, Robin managed to pull out and stagger himself to lean on the corner of a warehouse for the support he badly needed. His whole left leg was numb and the fire that roared in his joint was in conflict with the massive headache that was his head. But he couldn't give up, not now. Ben had told him live and he would; besides he still had yet to see that flicker of fear.
Slade fought to keep his gaze neutral as his mind took in every movement his ex-apprentice made. He could see the small fingers pry away at a small crack in the trimming, pulling away a sliver of wood. What the boy had planned for such a small and weak weapon, the villain found himself not wanting to know. It was strange conclusion, one that he would have to contemplate when the time called for it. Instead, his body was beginning to tremble with exertion a slight film of sweat making itself known The last time he fought at such a level of intensity was a few weeks ago. The fight with Maura barely counted for she did not bite, bruise his muscles or push his mind to keep up with fast reflexes of punches and kicks. Moving his head to the side, Slade smiled behind his mask.
Robin truly had the makings of becoming a great fighter widening his scope beyond the mere martial arts and bo-staff fighting. He did not possess any of Maura's skills, as he was grateful. It seemed that Maura had merely stated such words to tick him off. If anything Robin picked up, it was that his unwavering will and determination were no longer a raging forest fire that consumed him. The young fighter learned to reign it in, something that he had sorely lacked but no more. Patience finally had made its mark on the hero.
Rolling his shoulders, Slade slide into a defensive stance taunting the hero to come forward with his attack. He was willing to go another round. Despite the will to fight, he would tell that Robin's energy was crashing fast. Two weeks could not restore Robin to his normal endurance just yet. Robin sensed the silent taunt and was about to limp forward when he heard distant talking, particularly a young voice declaring hope for all.
Flickering his blurring eyesight, Robin barely made out of the forms of the oncoming Titans. Slade noticed the change in attention and looked over to east and spotted the flying forms of Raven and Starfire, with a green hawk between the girls. Sighing, the villain felt his adrenaline rush ebb away. Turning back he noticed that Robin had his gaze locked on the villain.
"What is it?"
"It didn't work," rasped Robin, "They're still together."
Did the young man know of his plan to split the Titans? Or was this some other vague allusion? The cryptic statement unsettled Slade for a millisecond. The dead tone in Robin's voice, the soul-piercing gaze and still face revealed to Slade the black lethalness that was emitting off of the boy. It was the same darkness that had hinted itself on the boat. The dark aura spoke of volumes full of harsh learning and bittersweet wisdom. If one didn't know better, the constrained vengefulness could be compared to a certain Bat. However, Slade knew the pointy-earned vigilante and to compare that barely caged monster of rage of the Batman would be unwise. No. Robin's was not as wild as the Batman's. It was like a panther, waiting in the shadows till it was the right time to strike and all the while one could see was its' orange eyes peering out of the darkness. That was what Robin had become when he spoke those words.
The smallest twitch of Slade's eye that one would have missed if Robin wasn't solely fixed on the steel gray eye betrayed the man's thoughts. For a second, Robin thought he had imagined the movement. But when Slade's body eased up from the stance, Robin knew that it had happened. Slade had flinched. A small smile danced on his bruised lips.
"I wouldn't celebrate too much, my boy," stated Slade as he straightened his back, "You and I are far from through."
"For now we are," quipped back Robin. Releasing the small splinter, Robin crossed his arms with slow, rigid movments.
Slade soaked in the image of a confident yet battered Robin leaning against the warehouse wall in the ripped uniform of black and blue. The young man truly baffled the man now. It seemed all traces of the old Robin were gone, yet hope remained with the cocky smile plastered on the small face. Yes, Slade mused. Robin might be a dark creature of the night, still fighting for the righteous. But the fact that the dust still haunted Robin's mind and the cocky smile made Slade chuckle yearning a faint flash of fear to rack across Robin's skin.
"That we are, that we are," Stepping backwards, Slade bowed slightly, "You have grown up, Robin. To see where you go from here with those much bettered suited colors will be most entertaining to watch. Until then," Slade raised two fingers to his forehead and gave a small salute, "I will be waiting for our rematch."
As those purring words reached Robin's ears, the villain was gone, vanished deep into the night. Waiting a couple more seconds to make sure, Robin let out a huge groan and collapsed on the ground. Legs and arms sprawled out; Robin tilted his head against the wall. His lungs continued to inhale air as his mind tried to keep his eyes from closing. But all was in vain. As his eyes closed, he spotted a fuming, bleeding ghost standing off near the edge of the dock glaring daggers at him. The retribution was enough to jolt Robin awake for him to watch as Starfire landed directly in front of him. He barely heard her screaming his name amongst the roaring in his ears before he succumbed to painless nothingness.
Robin laid slightly upwards, flipping through the pages of an old People's Magazine. It was one of the things Starfire would buy in order to understand more of Earth's culture and secretly to be in the know of the latest trends. Shifting slightly, Robin pulled his right leg out from under the blanket and scratched his left foot. A soft hiss escaped his lips, eyes glaring daggers at the propped leg. It had been a few days since the fight. Raven wanted no pressure on the healing leg at all, saying it was best of the overstrained muscles to be able to readjust after being yanked out.
The story he received from an actor-wannabe Beastboy was along the old lines of the Titans arriving to find him out cold. Realizing that their friend was in critical condition, the Titans grabbed the yellow box and took off back to the Tower. Slade was nowhere to be seen. Suffering from a concussion, a few strained bones and the gash on his face, Robin was surprised that he had not suffered any more serious wounds. Some might view the dislocated leg as extreme but not to Robin.
Memories of Slade's overwhelming attacks still sent a shiver down Robin's mind, yet the boy did not display it for the world. Eyes lowering back down to the bright colored photos of actors and actresses, Robin sent a thankful pray to his guardian angle. He wasn't much of a religious person but surviving against Slade in all of his disturbing glory made him think that there had to be a higher being up there.
A spike of pain bolted into his head, the colors getting to him. Closing the magazine, Robin reached out and grabbed the cup of water and the pain medicine. Bracing for the pain, Robin opened his jaw far enough to pop in the pill and take a sip of water through the straw. The stitches on his cheek tickled against his skin making him grimace at what he must have looked like when the Titans had arrived at the docks.
With the eerie timing that only long-term friends could posses, the four mentioned persons stepped through the door of the medical ward. Cyborg was first, shaking his head at the sight of his friend. It wasn't as bad as when they ran into him on the beach, but still seeing the pale skinned, skinny hero laying out in the bed, his left leg raised slightly in a sling and stitches matching his tousled black hair made the half-machined hero feel that familiar cringe in his stomach.
"How you feelin, Rob?" Behind him, Raven glided over the over side of the bed and began her routine checkup.
Robin sent the best smirk he could summon without flinching, "Not too bad."
Beastboy jumped onto the edge of the bed, jostling the patient slightly. Spotting the tensing of limbs, the changeling quickly leapt off, "Eek, sorry—Dude, you're reading that stupid magazine?" Pointing at the said object, Beastboy shook his head, "You need better reading material, say like Zombie Haven the comic book or Return of the Lester!"
"I'm good, can't concentrate too much anyways," mused Robin. It was the truth in its' fullest. All he saw in the magazine was a blur of pictures of people; of a world that he felt a long time he was a part of, but not any more. In the collision of arms, legs, faces and colors, Robin could only think of the fight with Slade and the ominous words he had left him with.
"I must say I rather like drugging up Robin," stated Raven, fixing violet eyes on the questioning gaze of her patient, "He's just like what he was before-" Cutting herself off, Raven lowered her gazed and dug her head further back into her hood. The unspoken words of 'the prison' filled the air with tension. She hadn't meant for the slip up and mentally slapped herself for the brief lapse of stupidity.
Cyborg found himself wanting to remain in this world where everything was like as it should be. Him chewing out Robin for doing something reckless while Raven patched him up like new as Beastboy and Starfire tried to cheer up the brooding leader. And those simple moments had almost come true before the witch broke the bubble. Eyes darkening, Cyborg watched as Robin sunk back into the pillow. The urge to know what had happened was still strong in him, but there were more important issues to deal with. "Robin don't you dare disappear again, you hear me!"
Grabbing the boy's shoulder, Cyborg heard the hiss of pain escape the pale lips. It was the shoulder, which Slade had dug his fist into. Yet, the oldest hero did not relent his grip knowing that the pain would keep Robin in the land of the living. "If you had any doubts about returning to normal, well you just proved yourself wrong. A few seconds ago, you joked like you used to."
Raven nodded, "Your fight with Slade must have been a good thing for I no longer sense that dark presence in your mind."
Beastboy flickered his gaze between the two, before chiming in; "Yeah man, and you stopped Slade from getting a hold of that box. See, you're back!"
A chocked laugh escaped Robin's lips. Squeezing his eyes shut, Robin pulled himself from Cyborg's grip, "Say what you want, but I'm not coming back. Once I heal, I'm out of here."
"No," snapped back a dead voice. It was the tone they all remembered back in the boat.
Feeling the darkness encroach in Robin's mind once more, Raven sent a concerned gaze over the raven hair to Cyborg. While the red did not blink, the chocolate eye reflected back her own emotions. Robin was drifting away from them again and this time it was intentional. They had been trying to build a case for Robin's strange behavior due to whatever torture he went through and the dark presence Raven had sensed. But that no longer could be applied.
Coughing, Raven patted Robin lightly on the hand, "You should be able to get out of bed in about a day and I want you on crutches for about a week." With no acknowledgement, Raven waved the others to leave, "I think you had enough action for today."
Robin merely watched quietly as they all trickled out of the room, his eyes particularly locked on a silent redhead that was standing in the corner. Spotting his eyes on her, Starfire swallowed, "I am glad to see you are doing well." With nothing more to say, she walked out of the room, closing the door softly behind her.
Sighing, Robin bit his tongue to prevent the sobs from coming out. It was too late to turn around. As much as he wanted to for that split second when he joked with Beastboy, to return back to the old days, one mention of the prison and he found himself remembering that he no longer belonged here anymore. Slade was right. All it took was Maura's name or the prison and he was back to being that scared, lost soul.
Silence filled the air, the walls seeming to bear down on the solo occupier in the room. Staring down at the magazine, Robin grabbed onto the black emotionless ribbon seeking comfort in its cold reality. Snuggling deeper into the pillows, the medication kicked in sending his mind to drift away in the wind of sleep. But before he went, Robin called out to the one companion that he had left.
But nothing replied except the dead silence of a dark box.
Robin folded the last tee shirt in the small black duffle bag. Turning, he sent his eyes to roam over his old room. True to her word, Raven let him leave the bed a day after the awkward confrontation. The stitches were removed and Raven finished the healing with her magic, leaving only a small pink scar. Hobbling on crutches had allowed Robin the time to go through everything and pick which things he would take with him while the other possessions were packed and being sent to Wayne Manor.
No one helped him and he was fine with it. During his purges, Robin would catch the glimpses of strained emotions and the urge to speak their request. But the brooding hero shook his head, turned his back to them and hobbled down the hallway. And so, today he stood in his room. Earlier, Robin had turned in the crutches and sent Raven his famous smirk when she said that he was released.
Not breaking stride, Robin rushed into his room and finished packing his belongings. Licking his lips, the hero dusted his hands pleased with himself. Nothing decorated the walls, the bed was normal once more and the closet door was closed. Everything was perfect and clean leaving no trace of him ever being here.
"Must you truly go?"
The quiet voice made Robin's breath catch in his chest. Smacking himself for being lazy, Robin turned and regarded Starfire's form near the door. When she had entered his room, he couldn't really know. The honed senses he had gained from solitary confinement had disappeared leaving him feeling a bit more normal. The only exception was the present goal of gaining back some weight and the old soul he now possessed.
"Yes Star," whispered back Robin.
The alien princess had stayed away from her crush, a boy she still loved with her heart as best as she could. Just standing in front of him made those warm feelings bubble inside for the briefest of seconds. Then she merely had to remember his rejection and those feelings were whisked away. Gripping her forearms, Starfire fought to keep a straight face, "You will be missed."
"You were wrong about us, Robin." Green eyes locked onto the masked ones. This was her only chance to speak her mind and Starfire knew that if she did not do it now, then all was lost. "Yes, we were hurting from what we had to do to save you, but that is what a family does. And we are family, no matter what you say or do."
Robin's lips parted but Starfire raised her hand to silence him. "Let me speak Robin, just this once."
Hearing the strength of her conviction in her voice, Robin nodded and sat on his bed. Starfire crossed hers arms once more and took a breath. "These past couple of days I have been thinking…a lot. And I keep remembering what took place after you disbanded us, resigned and then left to fight Slade.
Cyborg, Raven and Beastboy were all discussing about this abrupt change. Cyborg wanted to run after you and knock the sense into you. Beastboy just wanted to chew you up like a Krizag. And Raven was trying to figure out this change in you. Our emotions were hurt. You hurt us, Robin." Blinking back tears, Starfire hugged herself and slightly turned away from Robin. She had to remain strong or at least appear so, "You were right that we had to rethink our lives and positions as heroes. But you were wrong in that we had to do it alone. We are not like you, Robin. In that moment, when all was lost, we turned to each other. And like a family, we found solace in each other.
Our strength comes from each other. We realized this and Cyborg quickly reformed the Titans. You only had disbanded us, but did not prevent us from reforming. The Teen Titans have to remain in order to protect Jump City and no one else's. It is our duty…a duty you forget."
Guilt flooded Robin's mind. Fingers clutching the comforter, Robin soaked in this radical mature Starfire. Her innocence brightened his day and it still did despite her naivety being slowly destroyed in the process.
Starfire turned abruptly, flinging her arms around him, tears streaming down the tanned cheeks. A small smile peeked on Robin's face; there was the Star he remembered. "I do not know when you cut yourself off from us," sobbed the princess, "when you stopped thinking of us as family. I am sorry that we were not there to comfort you at your darkest moment. But know this, if you ever find yourself in trouble I'll…we'll always be here keeping the light on."
Robin smiled softly and returned the hug before pushing Starfire away gently, "You've must have done a lot of thinking."
Starfire giggled, "Yes and the five dozen jars of mustard can show it."
Shaking his head, Robin frowned, "I still don't get why you like that stuff so much."
Starfire smiled and laughed once more as she wiped her tears away, "I will miss you greatly, but must you really go?"
"Promise to write or do the chatting of the Internet?"
Starfire nodded and smiled once more, "So we can still be friends?"
Robin grabbed her small hand and gave it a light squeeze as he gazed with serenity into her eyes, "Family."
The brightness that he loved so much burst alive on her face. Giving him her famous painful hug, which was more like suffocation, Starfire floated in the air and drifted back to the door, "I will then leave you to your packing."
"You're most gloriously welcomed!" Starfire sent that beaming smile before the door closed in front of her.
Sighing heavily, Robin flopped onto the bed. Starfire just had to put on a struggle and actually won with him keeping some sort of bond to the Titans. But it couldn't be that bad. If he ever needed a rest, there would always be a place here. Smirking, he recalled Star's story. So Cyborg had disobeyed his orders. The eldest hero seemed to already have the knack of a leader. Despite the hardships, it seemed the Titans had gotten much stronger than he thought of.
"Good," smiled Robin, feeling a sense of pride wash in him. He had done his job.
"Job indeed!" yelled a dark voice, all the pain and rage raining down on him like acid rain.
Robin's eyes widened. Reflexes yanked his arms upwards to cover his face as knees begin to draw up in order to protect his middle. A massive fist flew towards his body and all Robin could do was watch as the blackness flew at his face. Memories of flesh meeting flesh, the eruption of blinding pain filled his world. And right when he expected to feel that pain become reality, all that was felt was a tiny breeze. The fist went right through him.
Blinking, Robin found himself staring directly into the blazing gray eye of Mastema. The hallucination formerly known as Slade still retained that massive, towering form the colors of black and orange a stark contrast to the white walls of the room. Surprise lit their faces; this was new. Frustration roared out of Mastema. Lunging himself at Robin, the young hero rolled off the bed sparing a glance as Slade's fingers passed right through his arm, while the rest of the man fell onto the bed.
Robin watched as the instigators of his suffering curled and racked down the cloth. He could only imagine what those fingers wanted to do to him. He quickly pushed away the thoughts. Only he was too slow. The ghost lunged at him again only to watch as his limbs passed through the smaller body. Hands slamming into the wall behind, Mastema snarled as he lowered his face to match Robin. He could sense the small tremors vibrating off of the boy. He might not be able to inflict injuries anymore, but he still could frighten the child at least. "What the hell did you do to me?"
His gaze bore down on Robin, enforcing the frightening image. Robin fought to cease his tremors. "He can't hurt me anymore." The single though manifested itself in the form of a smirk. Spinning on his foot, Robin walked through Mastema's arm and sat back down on the bed. "Let me tell you a story. Back in the day, a certain bird was caged. His colorful identity was stripped away to be replaced by a whole new name granting his master total control no matter how hard he fought back." Pausing, Robin glanced up at his companion, "You might look like Slade but you are not him."
"A name is not an identity."
"Oh yes it is. The moment Slade called me Apprentice, I no longer felt like Robin. It was as if a piece of me had died. I became an angry boy who wanted to hurt people, the perfect apprentice for Slade. He owned me mind, body and soul in those few seconds as that word left his mouth." The smirk disappeared off the cocky face, "I took away your name and gave you another… You don't own me anymore."
Mastema frowned soaking in the words. So, Robin controlled him now. That would explain the painful attack of the bats. As he had been carried away, the ghost thought he would die with all the tearing being done upon his body. Yet miraculously, he survived. His bleeding body lying in an endless box of darkness, Mastema slowly healed himself. He waited for the moment he could extract revenge and seeing that Robin was back in the Tower implied that the real Slade had lost to the heroes. Must he do everything himself?
Swallowing, the faux Slade narrowed his eye and pushed away the thought. He had not figured on this shift of power. Robin had successfully pulled out his ace in the hole and for now would be in control. Smirking behind his mask, he realized that maybe this was not as bad as it seemed.
Sensing the change in demeanor, Robin rose softly off the bed, caution tugging at his features, "What?"
"You're just like him."
Robin snarled and bowed down to pick up his bag, "Shut up."
Laughing, Mastema walked with Robin up to the door, "Using his methods to control me, Robin I must say that I am surprised…and proud."
"Mastema, go crawl back to whatever hole you came from," sneered a wounded Robin.
The man only seen by Robin nodded and stepped back into the shadows of the boy's mind. Feeling the presence leave him, Robin heaved the bag over his shoulder and walked down the hallway without another glance into his room. Upon entering the garage, he was not too surprised to see the newly reformed Teen Titans cluster around his bright red R-motorcycle.
Beastboy stretched out his arms and handed Robin his helmet. "Don't drive all crazy now, it's not Cycle Racing V."
Robin flashed a grin as he took the helmet, "Gotcha."
Turning, he watched as Raven walked up to him, "Where will you go?"
"Places." Robin shrugged. It was true he didn't have an agenda. "I'd thought I reintroduce myself to the world again. It seemed like she changed…for the better." At those words, he shifted his eyes to Cyborg.
"You did good," walking past the new leader; Robin patted him on the shoulder. Stepping up to the cycle, Robin tied down his bag and climbed onto the bike. Starfire was the last to walk up to him.
Wrapping her arms around him, she gave him a light squeeze. "Safe travels."
Robin patted Starfire on the back, "You guys be safe too." Star was the one this time to break away. Smirking once more, Robin pulled on the helmet, roared up the engines and streaked out of the garage.
Driving through the underground tunnel, Robin fought the urge to look back. He could picture Beastboy and Starfire hugging each other as Raven went to make a pot of tea. Cyborg would stand in the garage till everyone left before saying goodbye and shutting off the lights. They did not want to say goodbye, but everyone must say those gut-wrenching words sometime. It was part of growing up.
Slowing down on a slope, Robin grinned as the hatch lifted revealing the outskirts of Jump City. He still hated small dark places and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel reminded him of that treacherous crawl through the vent. Driving into the light of moonlight, Robin almost wished to smell the exotic air, hear the buzzing of insects and see crystal clear sky. But all that greeted him was the cold stagnant air of dawn, the dark skies slowly becoming a light blue off in the distance.
Turning a corner, he punched in a code and sure enough up ahead in a deserted ally, a garbage can opened up to reveal another cycle inside. Parking the R-cycle, Robin hopped off quickly. Moving his bag onto the old dark brown Harley, Robin flipped open his visor and removed the mask.
Blinking the tears away, he couldn't help but smile. To see life no longer through clouded lenses made him appreciate the freedom he had now. Tucking the mask into his pocket, Robin gunned the old cycle laughing at the puttering of the engine. Backing up, the hero realized that ever since he came back, the small things in life meant so much to him. The smell of gasoline, the slick feeling of the handles and the rough terrain of tarmac lifted the boy's spirits up. As the concealed mini-garage closed, Robin spared a glance at the looming Titans Tower off in the distance. It sparkled but now with the sun's dim rays, it seemed to glow with a supernatural light. A feeling of dread filled Robin. For so long, he wanted to return home and now that he was, he was leaving again.
Yet, deep down, he felt this was the right decision. Star's words echoed in his mind, easing away the pain of leaving. He was not truly leaving home. They would always be there for him. And that certainty made it easier for him to face down the lonely highway as he drove off with only his duffle bag, cycle and a silent imaginary friend.
-Later that evening-
The sun was beginning to set, creating a luminous orange glow over the city. The harsh workday was winding down yet the true trouble lay ahead in beating rush hour traffic. Driving for most of the day, only taking time for pit stops, Robin turned into a small gas station. Kicking down the rest, he pulled off his helmet, shaking his head free. It was tempting to ride without the helmet; he could only stand so much of being cooped up in it. But Alfred's voice echoed in the back of his head about safety first.
Draping the helmet on a handle bar, Robin slide off giving his legs a quick stretch. Making his way to the pump, his blue eyes swept over the area. On the corner were two men huddled close together trying to hide the pipe from suspicious eyes. Near to the station, a gang with teardrop tattoos on their faces gathered together, smoking and drinking while watching their territory. Lifting the pump, he turned and inserted the nozzle in the tank. Hearing the click and rush of gas trickling down the hose, Robin let his shoulders droop slightly, back bending a bit. The dirt caked jacket; pants and boots along with a smeared cheek helped him blend in a bit more with the rough neighborhood. Eyes cast downwards, they snapped up when he heard yelling across the street. In an ally, he saw two women in high heels and revealing cloths chewing out a skinny pale man with an oversized fur coat.
"Welcome to Bludhaven," read Robin as his eyes swept past a tattered billboard with the ideal blond woman waving down at the street. With a perfect smile and perfect clothes living in the perfect apartment, the billboard was far from the truth. Bludhaven had never been that type of city, even when that sign was erected. A few miles south of Gotham City, Bludhaven was known as the Sister City to the crime riddled one up the river. Once a major whaling port, the city was now a rival to Gotham in terms of crime, corruption and a police force that did not give a single glance to the problems that plagued the city.
Bludhaven was so corrupt that even just standing there, Robin could feel the grim of pollution and the troublemakers fall on him. Shifting, he reached into his pocket and popped in a piece of gum. With rush hour underway, it would take him about two more hours to get to Wayne Manor and wash away the stench of the city.
"I'd think, you would be use to it?" mused a dark voice. Stepping out from behind him, Slade walked up past the cycle and surveyed the traffic.
"Prison life isn't as worse as this," shot back Robin.
Slade chuckled, sweeping his arms out while spinning around to face the traveler, "Come on, criminals hanging around in the open, dirt everywhere, not a breath of fresh air…"
Sighing, Robin rolled his eyes, "Fine, it is like prison-"
"Like home," corrected Slade. Walking back to stand by Robin's side, he eyed the smaller man, "Why are we going to Wayne Manor?"
"To pick up a few things and tell Bruce that I'm alright."
"Uh, huh." The disbelief in Slade's voice made Robin stare at the nozzle hoping that it would pump faster. He should have gone to the more modern stations than this fifty-year-old one.
"No please don't!"
The pleading of a young girl pierced the air the same time the pump shut off. Pulling out the nozzle, blue eyes flicked over to the source as a hand returned the pump back onto the handle. A little behind the station, four teenage boys were crowding over a small African-American teenage girl with her little brother both dressed in simple hand-me downs.
"Give us the candy, Goldilocks," sneered the head leader, tanned skin, wild black locks and lisp hinting at his Hispanic heritage.
"P-please, we only get it once-"
"Once a year because dear old daddy and mommy don't have jobs, Wha wha wha," mocked the leader pretending to wipe a tears. His comrades laughed at their leader's acting. Bellowing his chest, the wild haired one snapped his fingers signaling to a lanky black teenager to reach down and pull the little boy away from the girl.
The girl lunged forward trying to reach for her brother, while holding the small bag of MMS's. "No!"
Extending his hand out, the leader sneered, "Give us the candy and he won't get hurt."
The girl's shoulders shook with fear. Her deep brown eyes full of concern and love for her brother dimmed to a blank expression. Without any words, she placed the bag of chocolate candy in the older boy's hand.
Grabbing it, the leader leaned down, "Don't let me catch you here again unless you've got payment for safe passage." Grinning at the girl's shaky nod, he thrust his head to the back of the store, leading the small band to a small ally towards the ruined section of the ghetto.
Hearing little sniffles, the girl looked at her crying brother and pulled him into a tight hug. Feeling his small body cling to her, she couldn't hold it anymore and let the tears run down her face. The scraping of shoes made her freeze and hug her brother even closer. Peering up through her braided hair, her eyes locked onto an older teenager in dusty leather clothes. Raven locks tousled about as if he had just gotten out of bed. But the hair and brown smears on his cheeks only made his sky blue eyes that shown with gentleness more appealing.
Feeling a blush rise in her cheeks, the girl shifted her eyes downward, not knowing what to expect from this strange. Her little brother turned in his arms and his own wide black eyes took in the stranger.
Kneeling slightly down, Robin held out a small bag with the station's logo on it, "Here take it." Through the thin plastic, the tiny bags of MM's, Reeses, Jolly Ranchers and lollypops could be seen.
The girl frowned, her bitter experience of being picked on throughout her life making her wary of this gift. That and her father's preaching of never taking charity rose in her: just because they were flat poor doesn't mean that they did not have to grovel and sell away their honor. "No thank you. Whose to say that ain't poisoned?"
A small tug of the teenager's lips was the only signal of his surprise at her answer, "It ain't. I just thought that-"
Raising up on her feet, the girl allowed her anger and frustration at the day's events lash out the man, "Just because I got robbed, threatened and my folks barely make any money, doesn't give you the right to treat me like charity. I don't want your pity!" Grabbing her brother's small hand, the girl marched down the ally where the teenage boys had gone.
As the small frame of the girl and her brother disappeared around a corner further away, Robin let out a pent up growl. This was a stupid idea.
Mastema snickered as he traced a finger over a sprayed painted gang sign, "Couldn't agree with you more."
Robin ignored the man. Thinking he could cheer her up by giving her candy instead of leaping in and saving the day by beating up the bullies truly was pitiful. But he wasn't here to start a fight and considering the environment it was the best choice at the moment.
Staring down at the bag of candy, Robin grinded his teeth and tossed it into the trashcan. The candy was worthless to him.
"You know, we could have used that candy for something," grinned Mastema. He could sense the boy's frustration and it delighted him. He was a sadist and was proud of it. Maybe he could live without direct physical contact, Robin was tormenting himself pretty good without him.
Short, clipped steps signaled Robin's departure back to the cycle. The ghost walked slightly off to the side and studied the boy's features. Blue eyes zoned in on him, "What?"
The cold, authoritive tone sent warnings trickling down Mastema's spine. Oh, he remembered that stern face from prison, right before Robin stalked over and fought Katarou in that idiotic fight. "You better not be thinking what I'm think-"
Reaching his cycle, Robin's lips tightened slightly into a smirk, eyes shining in a dark mirth, "Maybe."
"And pray tell me why?"
"This city needs it."
"Like you said, this is home."
Mastema shook his head and motioned his hand to the side. Robin glanced across the street to where the ghost indicated. The woman that had yelled earlier was now leading the pimp up the stairs of an apartment, closing the door behind her. Quickly feeling disgusted, Robin shot his gaze to the corner where the two druggies were laid out against the sidewalk big grins plastered on their faces. Lastly, he shot a glance at the gang, who were staring straight at him, all conversation ceased. He knew the message: leave or we'll make you.
Hopping on the cycle, Robin gunned it on and slowly drove out back into the street. Stopping at a red light, he whispered to the impersonator. "Mastema, I don't know why you work so hard to push me into Slade's arms."
"Simply because that is what I am."
"Yeah, but the man abandoned you. Left you as a failed experiment."
Robin felt Mastema's anger bristle against his mind. "So what if he did, he is still the creator."
"No, Egyed and Fumio are."
"Why are you bringing this up now," sneered the ghost, his tone taking on the offensive. It only made Robin smile underneath the helmet as he started driving once more. He knew he was right. Mastema might deny it, but deep down the man was angry with Slade for locking him in Robin's mind.
Leaning further down, Robin kept an eye out on the exit signs, "Because if I'm going to do this, I need your help."
Curiosity ebbed the turmoil water of anger into a still lake, "What in God's name do you need my help for?"
"To watch my back," Robin swallowed, "We were a team back when I escaped into the jungle and if we-"
Slade sighed, shaking his head, "I should have known."
"…We can prove them wrong," nudged Robin with an imaginary elbow into Mastema's side.
Silence filled his mind. Two major green signs zoomed into the horizon. Robin feared that he had screwed up his chance in getting Mastema to join him. Throwing the candy away had banished away any thoughts of merely roaming around the world. That girl had ticked him off and it wasn't because she rejected him. It was because he could see himself in her shoes and scream out those same words. He could taste the despair and loss of hope.
Sure in the prison there were such emotions, but they faded away in time for the inmates realized that this was their life and why waste one's energy on such trivial emotions when it could be directed in running the self-sufficient prison. But that was a prison. It was expected. To be in the outside world, in place where American ideals of freedom, education and happiness was advertised everywhere, Bludhaven did not have this excuse. These people should have hope, feel free and appreciate everything around them like Robin was experiencing instead of fearing it.
A large sign pulled over his head: Gotham City two miles away meaning Wayne Manor was about four miles.
"Maura would be smiling in her grave to see that you picked up her mind games." Bitterness and weariness mixed in a perfect blend the murmuring voice. "Fine, let's do this. It will be fun to watch you fail or better yet be tainted by this city."
"Glad you agreed, Mastema," Forcing the smirk to disappear, Robin let adrenaline pump in his veins as he steered his motorcycle into the off-ramp, the sign reading: Downtown Bludhaven, ½ mile.