Mens rea

Year Zero

Polished black shoes bolted down the deserted street. A single newspaper page drifting on a small breeze became a victim as it caught onto the white shirt of the runner. The man grunted and threw off the page as if it was infected. Sweaty palms dropped to the side, one hand petting the sleek form of a handgun that was clipped onto his belt. The blue pants and jacket bellowed out behind the man.

Slowing down, the man shook his red hair. Raising his hand to wipe off his forehead, he glanced around him. The ragged hair did little to hide the haggard state of existence. In the dim streetlight, one could see the tiny stubs of a beard. Straightening up, the man reached down and tugged at the damp white shirt. He snarled at seeing his large stomach and swore silently to start exercising again if he lived through the night. Regaining his breath somewhat, the man reached up and straightened out the yellow shield that was placed with care over his heart. The BPD letters gave off a dull gleam.

Nodding for reassurance, the cop gazed around his surroundings. He was somewhere in the southern part of the city amongst all the old apartments and stores. The quiet neighborhood and it being past midnight created an atmosphere of nightmarish terror. It was a spoken rule in Bludhaven, don't' be outside after 10, for after that only the truly corrupt and disturbing villains roamed the streets.

Swallowing, he hugged himself as a cold winter breeze blew through his clothes. Chief Redhorn had offered him a transfer to Metropolis, but there was no action in that bright city like there was here in Bludhaven. The only reason he stayed and was out here in the dead of night was because he had heard that some big drug transfer was happening in one of the clubs. As a police officer, he should have reported the incident or go under cover to gather more information. However, when he had arrived in the club, the only thing on his mind was to be part of the cut.

The drug lord's baritone laughter still rang in his ears sending shivers down the cop's spine. Surrounded by thirty bulky guards, the cop knew he was over his head but continued to plead with the lord telling him that he could grant him immunity. The pale white Russian lord had grinned revealing a row of yellow teeth.

No deal, the Russian had said with a heavy accent. Shock gave away to anger in the corrupt cop. Before he knew it, he had opened his big mouth and began threatening the drug lord telling him he would reveal his location. Of course, the lord's grin had disappeared and with a single nod at his men, the cop knew he was done for. That was until the lights went out abruptly. And then all hell broke loss. Gunfire went careening into the air sending sparks of light into the darkness. Painful screams and punches were heard. Sensing that this was his big break, the cop felt his way to the emergency door he had memorized when he had entered the club. Pushing it open, light streamed into the room from the neon blue light of a bug lamp. As he staggered blindly into the ally, he heard the Russian drug lord order his men to chase after him.

And that's how he ended up out here in the middle of nowhere running for his life. Pulling out his gun, the cop checked his load and smiled to see that it was still full. Sliding it back on, he froze. Off in the distance he heard the roaring of a car engine heading his way. Blood drained from his face and instinct overrode his senses once more. Picking up speed in his steps, the cop began to run down the street.

Yet with each step, he felt the car come closer and closer. He could almost imagine it being the Grim Reaper riding after him on a black steed that breathed fire from its nostrils. The redhead was so lost in his imagination that when his cell phone vibrated in his pocket, a high-pitched scream erupted from his throat. Leaping a foot into the air, the cop ran even faster as his slippery hand reached into pant pocket and pulled out the phone. One glance down to see the number and his panic flew into full-blown terror.

Spotting an ally, he screeched around the corner and flew behind a pile of trashcans. Keeping his eyes locked on the small opening, he tried to ignore the slime underneath him or the scurrying of rats feasting inside the cans. Holding his breath to stop inhaling the stench and prevent himself from being heard, the cop waited and waited in eternity.

Finally, a lean black car drove by the ally slowly, two men with tattoos on their faces peering out the windows searching for him. Pushing himself further into the wall, the cop tried to make himself as small as possible. His brain started to ache and his lungs burned. All the while the phone continued to vibrate in his death grip. The car rolled by the ally in a split second. It seemed so short that for a moment the cop wondered if his mind was playing tricks on his oxygen deprived mind.

Not able to hold his breath anymore, the red-haired man released a big breath. Panting, he began to move his lips silently counting to one hundred. When the sound of the engine drifted into silence, he still continued to count. Only when the number one hundred passed his lips, did the cop let his shoulders sag with relief.

A strong wave vibrated through his hand pulling the cop out of his small bliss. Taking in a couple of deep breaths, he looked around the ally to make sure the coast was clear before flipping open the phone and raising it to his ear.

If only he had looked upwards would he have discovered that he was not alone. Perched on the roof was a dark figure, white slit eyes studied the corrupt cop's every move. The crescent moon was hidden behind the polluted clouds that hung over Bludhaven like a second skin. However, the faint white glow gave shape to the figure. Time had done wonders to a man who had decided almost two years ago to make it his mission to purge Bludhaven from all of its sins.

Stepping off the ledge, the full length of the figure was revealed as he stood to stretch his back. Puberty had finally kicked in at maximum speed. The young man had sprouted a few inches, finally morphing into a tall and lean fighter. The slim frame was still apparent but it had become a tool used to trick enemies into thinking that the figure was not a strong fighter. The truth came out when after a few punches; the goons realized that awe-inspiring strength was possessed in those muscles before unconsciousness claimed their minds.

A gloved hand ran through the thick short black locks. The pale skin seemed almost flawless but if one looked closely enough, two faint scars could be seen revealing the harsh life this fighter had endured. If they weren't enough, there still clung a bit caution and haggardness making the young face appear older than the man truly was.

Lowering his arm, the figure leaned back down to peer over the edge, making sure the cop was still talking on the cell phone. The tight black uniform was laced with armor but was flexible enough for the man to fight in. A roll of his shoulders exposed the dark blue V that ran on both the back and front of the uniform, with a streak running down the arms. Besides the colors, thick gloves and steel-toed boots, a black mask covered the most sacred secrets for the man; it's ends slightly pointing upwards. Lastly, on the back a pair of short bowstaffs was locked into place.

And so, in all this time, a ghost couldn't help but think that things had turned out perfect when he soaked in the image of his partner. There was no ounce of the man's former life of Robin either as Batman's sidekick or the Teen Titan's leader. A year and half would do that. All that remained was a new creature that had been forced to purge out all his guilt and cut off all bonds to a bright-filled life. And when given the choice to return back to the blazing heat of the spotlight, he had turned around and chose the rotting corpse of Bludhaven.

"Don't tell me you're bored already?" A once high voice had deepened to a lower tone but still held a bit of sarcastic mirth to it.

The ghost rolled his eye and stepped forward to join the young hero at the ledge. "No, the fight with the thirty wannabe WWE guards was enough for one night."

A smirk tugged at the man's lips, "Aw come on Mastema, there weren't that many maybe twenty at the most."

The said man crossed his arms to show his agitation at the young man's urge to rush off into suicidal situations. It seemed that one flaw had not changed towards the better during their time in both the prison and here in Bludhaven, "No, Robin it was thirty men all highly armed. At least you thought of shutting off the power before leaping in. I would have thought you had learned the lesson of picking one's fights."

The smirk turned quickly into a frown as Robin spared his concentration on watching the cop to send Mastema a dark glare, "I have learned. If I hadn't leapt in when I did, our lead would be dead right now."

Still clad in black and orange, Robin could sense Mastema open his mouth behind the split-tone mask. Before a word could be uttered, Robin continued his attack, "And yes I've been patient. We've been following this excuse of a cop for three weeks not only to make contact with the Russian drug ring but also to find out whom he works for, which right now he's contacting. So shut up so I can listen."

"Shut up?" Mastema lashed out a Robin, venting his anger at his host. "Who asked for my help in the beginning? Who asked for my advice in the first few months in setting up a reputation? And who helped training you in your control of words in order to calm the Titan's nerves when they heard that you had set up shop here? Oh and let's not forget that whole ordeal with Batman practically kicking down the door to your small apartment."

Grinding his teeth, Mastema longed to reach out and grab a hold of those black locks, yank the man's head back and punch him hard in the face to knock some sense in. He wasn't going to stand being treated like dirt. Sure the past few months the two had more fights than normal as the differing views of how to handle such a corrupt city came into full light. Robin wanted to weed out the corrupt cops and head straight for the source. Mastema wanted to fight off the little villains first in order to flush out the true criminal who controlled Bludhaven. Robin didn't want to kill; Mastema did for in his eyes none deserved retribution.

Feeling the ghost seething behind him, Robin bit his tongue from lashing out once more. Times were rough between the ghost and him. On some occasions after a fight, Mastema would disappear so far in his mind that even Robin couldn't coax him out. The ghost would be gone ranging from hours to days. It was during those times that Robin felt the ice-cold void of his mind and it scared him. He had become so used to having Mastema's presence somewhere in his mind that he could no longer remember what it felt like to have his mind solely his own.

Robin felt his shoulders sag slightly, the anger draining out of him. It was during those times and talks like these that reopened old wounds. In over one and a half years, Robin felt prison life slowly fade away becoming remnants of dream. His fear of small places had diminished over time for instead of going into panic mode in the first couple seconds, he could stay in a tight area almost a minute. He had even regained his weight and was a bit over, which was perfect considering his growth spurt.

But at night or on during those eras of silence, the nightmares would return with full force. Memories of the box, of being beaten into the ground, feeling the warm pooling of the drug in his veins were nothing compared to the words whispered into his mind by a dead woman. On some nights, he would scream himself awake or feel the tears running down his cheeks as a memory was replayed in his mind. Crawling under the sheets, Robin's senses would stretch out to hear the Titans run down the hall to check him out or Curt and Kyle snap out at him across the cell in jest. Reality would crash down on him when all that he heard was the dripping of the faucet coming from the kitchen in the small one-room apartment.

He hated being alone and when Mastema was gone, he found himself picturing the covers being the arms of Maura cradling her to his chest. It was a drastic move and he knew it was unhealthy. But, he couldn't remember what if felt like to be held by his mom and the only other mother figure was the Boss, despite her twisted version of it. Robin didn't want like it one bit, but truth dawned on him that Maura was right: he did belong to her in a strange sense. Just like he belonged to Slade and Batman.

Flicking a wary glance at Mastema, Robin forced himself to remember that this ghost was living up to his name as being the demon who would tempt men into sinning, only to turn around and accuse them in front of God. Oh yes, Mastema was the perfect name for the false Slade. At times during the first few months, the urge to listen to Mastema's advice was overwhelming. The villains and cops were immune to the dark threats and slamming into walls. The drastic measures of torturing the villain would be the quickest way to gain information. And the mere fact that the criminals he placed in jail turned around and left the next day made Robin wish to find a permanent solution, which for Mastema was killing them or as the ghost put it 'forever in a coma' injury.

On the toughest nights, Robin would find himself inching closer to the line that separated the hero from the villain but at the last moment he would hear "You truly are a hero" as clear as if Maura was standing right behind him. Memories of the prison flashed before his eyes and the fear of not wanting to return made him step away from the line. All the uncertainty would leave him to be replaced by the still blackness of space.

The snapping of a cell phone signaled the end of the cop's conversation. The redhead man collapsed back against the wall; worry clearly etched on his face. The man kept digging his grave deeper and deeper.

"Mastema."

"Hn," was the ghost's only reply. He was still a bit irked at the ill treatment he had received.

"No more suicide runs for today," were the only words that left the young man's voice before he leapt back onto the ledge planning out his next few moves.

Mastema nodded, his seething lowering down a bit. He had learned over time that the soft tone was a way in which Robin showed his apology towards the ghost. It showed the young man his mortality and reminded him the rocky path he had walked. Mastema had become that reminder and the ghost did not mind one bit. For in turn, the image of Slade could see that he was rubbing off on Robin in the growing ruthless attacks. The lethalness was becoming more and more permanent.

Only time would tell if Robin would stay in the light or fall in the night. And it was the patience of waiting that both men practiced on a daily basis. Cleaning up Bludhaven was a lifetime job and would continue to push their relationship to new extremes.

"What are you waiting for, go before he leaves," sneered Mastema, letting the hurt pride remind Robin that this last fight was far from over. For now, there was a weak peace treaty between them till the night patrol was done.

Robin smirked, feeling a bit of confidence swell in him. The ghost was still with him and that made the loneliness a bit more bearable. No one could understand him like Mastema. The Titans were always there and so was Batman and they talked on a regularly basis. But he could still see their uneasiness when dealing with his new persona. Maybe Curt and Kyle were another pair, but they were living in blissful retirement. One day, he should go visit them…one day…

The cop down below let out a sigh and glanced up to the sky. Instead of being greeted by the dim stars, his face lost all color when a dark shadow fell of the roof and plummeted towards.

"AH!" yelled the cop as he pushed himself off of the floor. Leaping onto his feet, the cop tried to bolt towards the entrance when a gloved hand grabbed the back of his jacket and rammed him straight into a wall. Stars exploded blinding him for a split second, enough for a gloved to tighten around his throat and haul him off of the ground, letting the polished tips of his shoes scrap against concrete.

"Wh-you freak! Let me go right now!" screamed the cop as the identity of his attacker shifted into clarity. Stories about the mythical figure were making the rounds back at headquarters. A nice bounty was on his head not only from the police but also from other interested parties outside the law.

Masked eyes narrowed as a dark smirk darkened the face. Leaning in, the hero lowered his voice into a growl, "My name ain't freak…it's Nightwing." Tightening his grip, Nightwing grabbed one of his short poles and tapped it lightly against the leg hinting at the upcoming pain if the cop didn't corporate, "Now let's talk about your Boss and I don't mean Chief Redhorn."

The only thing the cop could do was swallow in fear at Bludhaven's dark protector. That transfer to Metropolis didn't seem such a bad idea anymore.

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