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         “So, do we have a deal ?”

         Slade’s voice is cold and demanding. His face is as inscrutable as always behind the half-lit mask, an icy eye skewering Robin on the spot.

         (Roast bird.)

         The man towers, backlit by the screens showing the status of Robin’s friends. Alive, for now. At Slade’s pitiful version of mercy. Robin’s fists clench and unclench in green gloves. He doesn’t notice.

         He knows that Slade isn’t offering him a real choice—they both know how he will answer. There’s not one speck of Robin’s soul that would let his friends be hurt in his place. There’s not a bit of his mind that doubts Slade would kill them if he refused, if only out of spite. Fear makes Robin’s heart quicken, fear for his friends and for himself, but not real fear.

         Deep down, he believes he will survive. Everything else has worked out. Slade has been beaten before, and even his most twisted plan yet will fall to Robin’s ingenuity (or Batman’s, if it comes to that, which it won’t.) The possibility of following Slade’s orders forever is not one he can fully conceive nor one he tries to imagine, a horror lurking just below his pulsing blood.

         “Yes,” Robin says, and with a word he sells himself for the lives of his friends.

          Slade grins like a shark behind his mask.


         Robin wakes up and he doesn’t remember where he is for the first five seconds, which are the best five seconds of his day. After that, the last thing he can recall is Slade leaning in, breath on his face— Slade’s alive after all —and a piercing pain in his neck. Robin rubs it to find needle marks under his fingers.

         Drugged. And god knows what else.

The drug that’s giving him his killer headache, he surmises. It’s not helped by the bright lights streaming in through his closed lids, and Robin shifts his body to put his hands over his eyes, only to realize with a shock that he’s naked.

         His eyes shoot open, fingers groping at the area over his eyes. He sighs in relief at his mask still nestled snugly under his brow, eyes opening under the white lids of the mask. Robin’s right—he’s completely naked under the rough sheet that covers him, white like the rest of the small room.

         Which means Slade—undressed him

         Robin feels nauseous, wrapping the thin sheets around him. He goes through a mental inventory of his limbs, nothing more bruised than usual—he can remember the ones on his arms were gained from blocking Slade’s blows, the ones on his thighs from falling to the ground and rolling. Nothing feels out of place, and he feels slightly better about it all.

         It occurs to him that Slade won’t give him back his Robin uniform, and he has to pinch his arm to get himself to sit up and his mind to work.

         The room is small and a faded off-white that reflects the bright lights too much. Robin’s mattress is shoved up against a corner, and he can feel the rough plaster behind him. There’s an open door frame to his left, and he can see dirty tiles and a rusted sink through it. A bathroom. In front of him, a steel door locks him in.

         It reminds him of Slade, for some reason.

         He squeezes his eyes closed, centers himself. The situation, his friends’ lives on the line, causes anxiety to pool in his belly, but he pushes it down. It’s just another part of the life of a crimefighter, Batman has taught him. He’ll have to find a way out of this by himself, without his friends; find a way to deactivate Slade’s nanobots. But he can’t fail. And until then, he’ll have to play along, no matter how much the thought makes his gut curl with revulsion.

         Do it for your friends.

         That, he can do. That’s what he’ll always do.

         The door creaks, whirring gears giving warning before it opens. Robin pulls the sheet over his body with a squeak that he really hopes Slade doesn’t hear as the door creaks open and the man appears.

         From the floor, Slade towers even more, but Robin refuses to be intimidated. Even as he looks down to make sure his body is totally covered.

         Slade throws something onto the floor. Robin peers over to see a white T-shirt and pants. “Get dressed,” the man rumbles.

         Robin looks up at him, momentarily confused; Slade doesn’t move. “But I—Can’t you . . .”

         “Do you really want to test my patience so soon?” Slade says sharply. Robin fidgets awkwardly and then grabs the sheets and pulls them around himself to hide his body. He picks the clothes off the floor, eyes still on Slade, who stands as immovable as ever. He hurries into the unbarred bathroom to change.

         The place is narrow, only a toilet and a sink; barely enough space to change in. He hurries, paranoid that Slade will appear in the doorway to watch him with his one merciless eye. The clothes are rough against his skin as he pulls them on, and there are no tags, just plain white fabric meant for exercise. It’s the kind of thing he’d wear in the cave for training with Bruce.

         Robin pulls it on hurriedly and slows his steps when he walks out the doorway. Slade stands there, passive and unmoving as ever. “Follow,” he commands, and Robin winces at his own subservience even as his feet behind to move.

         He follows Slade through white passages, the same type as his room—no windows. Robin purposefully moves more slowly than Slade until the man grabs the collar of his shirt and yanks him bodily forward, Robin wincing and stumbling.

         “Don’t play games with me,” Slade warns. His hot breath is in Robin’s face, Robin wincing and struggling against him. His hands pry at Slade’s grip on his shirt, but to no avail—he never was able to get the much stronger man off of him once he had gotten a hold. Robin’s left with a vicious glare, trying to bring up the contours of Batman’s face in his mind to perfect it. “This is not the battlefield, boy. Here, I am your master, and I expect to be treated as such.”

         The declaration of control, of dominance, makes every ounce of Robin’s brain lash out. “Fuck you.” His face explodes with instant pain, and seconds later he’s spitting blood on the ground while stars dance in front of his vision. Slade puts his hand down.

         “I control the lives of your friends, remember?” he says silkily. “Is your dignity really the hill you want them to die on?”

         Robin grits his teeth, now stained pink. Metal fills his mouth, but it’s not entirely unwelcome; it’s real, and alive, and fills him with adrenaline. His teeth grind, but he doesn’t reply.

         “Answer me,” Slade says softly.

         “No,” Robin grinds out.

         “No, what?”

         What? He can’t mean . . .

         Robin grits his teeth, lip twisting to sneer at him. A horrible, evil man. His rival and enemy in every sense of the word.

         And here he is.

         Forced to do everything he demands.

         The weight of it seems to bear down on him, fist curling at his side and a hand clenching on Slade’s gauntlet. Slade seems intent on making him submit, rubbing in his defeat. And yet he’s right—there’s nothing Robin wouldn’t give for the life of his friends, not even his pride.

         “Master,” he spits. Blood stains the floor from his mouth.

         “Good boy,” Slade says smoothly, and Robin’s anger hikes up another notch. Slade drops his shirt and spins on his heel, Robin stumbling to regain his footing. His face forms a snarl at Slade’s back, but he doesn’t protest as he moves along.

         I will get you, Slade, he promises, as much to the man as to himself. When this is all over, I will end your career as a criminal. Slade marches on, oblivious to his thoughts, but they make Robin feel better. He’s escaped more dangerous situations, and he’ll escape this one.

         Hopefully, a little voice in his head adds traitorously, and he squashes it like he wishes he could squash Slade.

         The room that Slade settles on is just as blank as any other, the huge steel door towering over Robin. Slade takes off his glove to reveal what looks like a perfectly normal hand, scanning his thumb against the lock. Seconds later, the door is opening, Slade putting his hand on Robin’s shoulder to pull him inside.

         Robin shirks away from the touch, glaring, before giving his shoulder a shake and heading inside himself. The room is huge, at least by the standards of his own, and it has one obvious purpose: training. It smells new, though, not like the old-feet-sweat of used exercise rooms. He can see that the pads that line half of it wall to wall, the equipment and staves that sit at the edges.

         “You’re going to train me?”

         “You are my apprentice,” Slade explains, amused. “I don’t intend to let you get away with subpar skills.”

         The moniker sends angry itches down Robin’s spine, but overall he actually feels – relieved? It could be worse, though what exactly worse would be he doesn’t care to theorize about. He loathes Slade tell him what to do, but as long as he’s forced to, getting a chance at fighting him is better than sitting around in his room. He shifts on his feet in preparation, though he stops when he sees Slade’s gaze lingering on him.

         It feels . . . uncomfortable, even though he can’t see the man’s face, like he’s being evaluated and picked apart. Slade has a way of always making him feel small.

         Slade makes his way across the floor, boots echoing on the weird material. Robin follows with shorter strides, adrenaline rearing in expectation as he wipes blood off his lips. Slade hands him a bo, one that, Robin notes, was made specifically for his height; it balances perfectly in his palm. Just like his clothes.

         How long has Slade been planning this? The thought that it could have been so premeditated sends shudders down his spine, like so many things about Slade. He’s not given time to think about it, however, because Slade’s staff is coming straight at his head without any warning. Robin ducks, and they begin—

         It’s familiar, at first, the back and forth between them—almost as if they really are on the battlefield.

         “Don’t be stupid. More weight on your back foot,” Slade says, infuriatingly casual as the side of his staff pushes Robin to the ground. His boot comes down on where Robin’s chest would be as the boy spins out of the way, jumping back on his feet.

         Robin can only stare in mild wonder and then anger as he realizes his enemy is correcting him—training him. “Don’t tell me what to do!”

         “I’m your teacher now, boy. Do as I say, and it might hurt less.” He punctuates it with a searing feint and kick that leaves Robin gasping.

         The next time a blow lands, Robin rocks onto his back foot and lets the force rattle through his bones.

         This time, his shoulder isn’t the only thing that smarts, and he has a feeling his pride will be taking more blows than he does in a sparring session with Starfire.

         Except now, Slade’s condescending voice tells him exactly what he did wrong every time he misses, every time one of Slade’s glancing blows hits his skin.

         There’s something else, too, and Robin becomes more and more furious as he’s straight up unable to hit Slade. The man seems to dodge too easily. Robin’s blows always whip through the air millimeters from the man’s body. It’s not any different from his regular tangles with the man—here and now he is one on one, with no planning, against someone with documented metahuman abilities. It’s the kind of opportunity he’s wanted for so long , and he jumps to action with enthusiasm. It’s quickly dimmed by frustration.

         Slade twists and turns and dodges and moves like the wind. Robin’s never remembered him this fast, this dangerous—this lethal . He curses and dodges, barely able to get hits in, the exhilaration of it all giving away to pure frustration.

         Why can’t I HIT HIM? Was there something in the drug?

         Fights with Slade are the biggest challenge that Robin has ever faced in his short career as a hero, but now the challenge seems impossible.

         “You drugged me,” he says.

         “Yes.”

         “Trying to train me in an unfair fight?”

         Slade laughs lightly. “No fight is fair. The drugs aren’t making you weak. I’ve just been holding back, my boy.”

         “I’m not”—Robin aims a nasty spinkick before flipping away; it glances off Slade’s gauntlets—“your boy.”

         “Perhaps not yet,” Slade admits.

         With a yell of anger, Robin launches himself at him.

         But failure makes him angry, and he struggles to control himself. He can’t tell if the heat beading on his skin is from his anger or his exertion.

         “Frustration is making you sloppy,” Slade says. His bo catches the side of Robin’s leg as he charges, tripping him to the ground. Slade leans over his back. “Practice precision. Control yourself.” His dialogue is nothing like the taunting of battle or his threats to Robin’s friends; it is simply the commands of a teacher.

         He sounds for all the world like Batman. How dare he act like Bruce.

         “I do what you say because you’re blackmailing me, Slade. That doesn’t mean we have any—any real relationship.”

         Robin grunts in anger, pulling himself forward embarrassingly across the floor. He jumps up and spins on Slade. Now anger really has flushed his face.

         “You will still obey me when I train you, boy.”

         Robin stalks him in a circle, eyes fixed on Slade’s mask. Slade moves in turn, orange and black bringing to mind a tiger ready to pounce—and Slade isn’t tame like Selina. They stay that way, gazes flickering back and forth.

         “Planning to make me better so I can finally beat you and save my friends?”

         “You assume you would ever be able to win against me,” Slade says, unbothered.

         Robin feints to the left, sliding under and between Slade’s legs at the last second. He’s on his feet, swinging at Slade’s back. The bo connects with the most beautiful sound in the world. Robin has to quell his small triumph, jumping back to avoid Slade’s counterattack.

         It’s something. Something to show him that he can do this, a small way to exert influence. He grins in satisfaction. “Is that so!”

         They go back and forth, Slade’s cool voice making Robin furious enough to try and hit him. The rhythm is almost calming, reminiscent of the Batcave—sparring with Batman and Batgirl. It’s familiar, if a bit painful when Slade gets in a good blow. He doesn’t know how long they fight—much longer than any of their previous ones, much longer than any sparring session of his has gone before. Robin begins to wonder if or when Slade intends to end it, but he refuses to ask. He refuses to give his hated enemy the satisfaction.

His only measure of time is the pain that the exercise incurs. Robin’s muscles ache, and he has to start correcting for their weakness in his strikes. Slade seems just as unflappable as when they began, moves conserved and strikes lethal.

         “Pace yourself,” he advises.

         Robin glares at him. A gasp. “I know how to fight, Slade. I’ve learned from better.”

         He can almost hear Slade’s derisive snort from across the room.

         They continue.

         Robin’s breathing starts to come shorter and shorter. He has to pause between strikes to get more air in. Mouth open, he heaves in oxygen, but there’s nothing to do but keep on fighting. He’s not sure how long he pushes forward, locking his pain away in a small part of his mind where it can’t make him less effective.

         Slade is still as silent as ever.

         They continue.

         Robin’s muscles go from aching to burning. His strikes are uncoordinated. He stops landing even the occasional one on Slade. His feet feel like they could collapse under him at any moment, and he keeps them under him with sheer force of will.

         Slade is still as fast as ever.

         They continue.

         Sweat pours down the back of Robin’s neck. Rivulets stream down his face and he can’t help but think, vaguely, that the gel must be washing out. It tastes bitter on his tongue. He can feel his pants sticking uncomfortably to his legs when he moves.

         Slade is still as strong as ever.

         They continue.

         Robin’s knuckles are white as he spins and slashes with his staff. He can feel his hands shaking. White dots dance in front of his vision like stars. Every time he swallows his throat rasps. The back of his throat and his ears ache. He desperately wants nothing more than to lay down on the ground and pull in air like a drowning man, soothing muscles that are now on fire.

         Instead, he pulls on every inch of his will to keep on fighting like his life depends on it. The imagination gives him a burst of adrenaline; he blocks a blow by Slade and retaliates with a vicious jab at his legs. Robin jumps.

         He catches the bottom of his foot on the staff. Robin falls backwards with a grunt as the wind is knocked out of him. He lays there, foot throbbing, wheezing up at the ceiling. Slade’s staff finds its way to his neck.

         Just a reminder that Slade has gotten the killing blow this round.

         Robin grimaces, his exhaustion dulling the loss of his pride at losing. He rasps through his nose, still unable to speak—not for lack of trying.

         “Get up,” Slade says. The staff leaves Robin’s neck.

         Robin stares at the tiled ceiling for one more second.

         Slade kicks him, hard, in the ribs. Robin lets out a yell as he’s flipped to his side, gasping at the new pressure on his lungs. “Wha-!”

         “I gave you an order.”

         Robin makes a spitting motion to the side as he turns and slowly rights himself on his hands and knees. Getting to his feet is more painful now that he’s lain on the blessedly soft ground. He presses the pain down. There are any number of protestations he could make, a thousand reasons why this isn’t fair—but that would require admitting weakness.

         And you never let enemies see your weak spot.

         Robin stands and glares defiantly, rubbing his ribs. Not cracked, but he’s all too aware that Slade’s steel-toed boots could easily have shattered bone. The idea that Slade might be going easy on him makes him sick, but that might just be the nausea from exertion.

         Slade attacks, again and again, and this time all Robin can do is dodge. Attacks are met with more pain, and parrying sends shockwaves down his arms that threaten to knock him over. Pain defines every rasping breath he takes, exhaustion threatening to make him keel over whenever he moves too much on one side.

         His eyes are filled with the same fury for Slade as always, even as his most common jumpkicks degrade and he has to resort to more ranged attacks. Slade seems to have somehow infinite stamina, moving faster than ever, blows hitting harder.

         Robin goes down for the second time when he fails a kick he should have known better than to attempt. Slade grabs his ankle. Robin hits the floor on his bruised rib and lets out a yell he can’t hold back, almost on his stomach in pain. The mat smells like new as he takes wheezing breaths.

         “Get up,” Slade says.

         Robin tries to move but everything hurts and he has to anyways. He heaves himself to his knees, almost falling over from the dizziness. He stumbles on unsteady feet, coughing.

         He lasts two moves before Slade slams him bodily into the mat. Robin feels his nose crunch and start to bleed, the metallic taste of blood filling his mouth. It smears on the floor. Robin watches it drip, trying to move.

         “Get up,” Slade drones, fuzzy and hard to hear.

         Robin gasps with the pain of it, barely able to push himself to his knees. Blood pounds like drums in his ears, in time with his frantically racing pulse, heart trying to bring blood to every corner of his body. He’s on his feet. Why is he doing this? What . . .

         He’s on the floor, staring up at Slade’s mask, right before a boot comes down on his wrist. Robin yells, louder this time, trying to pull it out from under Slade’s shoe.

         “Get up.”

         “I . . .” Robin’s face burns. He feels sweat trail down the sides of his cheeks like tears. He tries to move desperately, scrabbling at the mat with his forearms. His wrist aches. Robin’s up several inches. He’s staring back up at the ceiling.

         This blow to his ribs definitely cracks something. Robin chokes on a yell, turning to the side so he doesn’t drown in his own saliva. Can’t he see--! I can’t—

         “’thought this was supposed to be training,” he rasps. “Not a beating.”

         “Oh, but it is,” Slade says. His mask leers over Robin’s face, somehow predatory despite only one visible eye. . “This is a lesson, my boy. A lesson on the very simple premise of our relationship.”

         Robin opens his mouth to respond, angry, and can manage only a pained, shallow gasp as Slade presses down on his chest. He leans into it this time, boot shining in the light of the room.

         “You are my apprentice. I am your master.” Robin glares up at the hated voice. “I require obedience, and I demand respect. This is my due. Because—” Robin gasps in air as the boot mercifully loosens on his chest “—I have won, and you have promised me my payment for having the mercy not to end the lives of your friends.”

         “That’s not—” Robin’s voice is cut off in a yell as Slade’s boot really does shatter something in him, a rib or two most likely, as he rolls again to the side. Pain shoots up through him, deeper in him than the time he broke his arm, too close to dangerous things. He tries to breathe, and it hurts. All he has are shallow gasps.

         “I’m getting tired of your backtalk.” Robin gasps up at him, pain pulsing in his chest like a deep bass drum, echoing in his ears. “Let me enlighten you as to your position. It seems not to have quite sunk in yet. Regardless of the status of your pitiful friends, you are here with me. There is nobody who is going to come to save you, and nobody who—to be quite frank—can hear you scream.” He crouches down. “Except me, of course.” Slade resumes his circling, Robin following him with narrowed eyes. “And I can do anything I want.”

         Is Slade trying to scare him? His voice sends shudders down Robin’s spine, and yet—he’s been fascinated by and dealing with Slade for years. He’s not about to bow out now, even if Slade does have the momentary upper hand.

         The only thing he fears is for the lives of his friends. What happens to me doesn’t matter, he thinks, and the thought jolts him for a second. It’s not that he doesn’t feel fear, but . . .

         Robin is sure now that there is very, very little he wouldn’t do to save his friends. Why does he have the feeling that Slade is going to push him to that limit?

         “But you won’t,” Robin says, absolutely certain of himself. “You won’t kill me, and you won’t hurt me too badly. I still have to be your ‘apprentice’.”

         Still worryingly willing to hit him, though. The broken ribs that send spikes of pain every time he breathes attest to that.

         “True,” Slade muses, though Robin knows he’s not oblivious to the air quotes. “However, I think you’ll find there is a lot more between those two things than you would like to imagine.”

         His eye rakes Robin up and down in a way that makes him shudder despite the heat on his skin from the exercise. There’s a subtext there that Robin will have to decipher later—but with Slade there’s always subtext. That’s why Robin thinks he’s never really been able to let go of him, never gotten bored with poking at the layers like he has with so many other villains. Slade seems to sneer down at him as he paces.

         Robin sticks out his foot.

         It’s a half second impulse to Slade’s circling, a sweep that’s he’s known so many times before, anger making his foot move quickly. It smashes into Slade’s steel toed boot with an almost painful noise. Robin winces, pulling back. Slade looks down.

         He laughs, once, nastily.

         “You never cease to entertain, do you?” Robin tries to struggle as Slade leans over, grabbing the collar of Robin’s white t-shirt. He hauls him up. Robin thrashes, exhausted muscles trying to eke one more surge of adrenaline out of their situation before going limp.

         Everything hurts. Slade’s pulling up on him only puts more pressure on his ribs. Robin tastes blood. That’s bad. I know that’s bad.

         He faces Slade with all the resolve he still has, finding it still lingering in the back of his mind, to his appreciation. Slade’s breath warms his face. His rasping mask fills Robin’s ears. Robin’s foot hurts.

         “As far as you are concerned, former hero,” Slade says softly, “I own you. Every part of you is mine, to do with as a I wish. You will call me Master, you will do as I say, you will not talk back, because you exist to serve me. If you pretend otherwise, you will be punished.

         Today’s lesson is that you cannot win .”

         “I will never stop being a hero,” Robin says, a voice of complete and absolute assurance. Slade’s punch hits him in the stomach, right on his broken ribs. Robin curls in a C shape around the gutting pain, unable to find the air to yell. Blood spatters Slade’s mask. Robin realizes it’s his own as he slumps, choking. Pain lances through every vein. I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe

         Robin gasps in a breath that tastes of metal. He hangs limply from Slade’s one-handed grip. The back of his neck starts to ache from the fabric digging into it.

         “Do you understand?” Slade asks.

         Robin just stares. Blood trickles down his chin. He doesn’t see the backhand coming, but he feels it reverberate through his skull. His neck snaps to the side, his mouth filling with blood. Pain blooms on the side of his face.

         “Do you understand?”

         “Yes,” Robin snaps, too fast for his own liking. I can hear you, Slade, he bites back, and feels filthy.

         You can’t fight if you’re beaten half to death, he reasons. It still stings.

         “Yes . . . ?”

         “Master,” he spits.

         “Good boy.”

         Robin does not feel fear.

         (Not yet.)

         What he does feel is the beginnings of an inky hatred blooming in his chest.

Chapter Text

            “Lift your arms.”

         Robin stares distrustfully at Slade, every muscle tense—the ones that don’t ache painfully, that is. He raises them, slowly. Slade moves over to the table that he sits at, towering over him. Robin grits his teeth in his shadow. The side of his face aches at the memory of pain. Slade still stands with the corded danger he always does, but for once in the time that Robin has seen him he isn’t attacking, planning to attack, or even lurking in the shadows. He simply seems intent on his business.

         Slade’s fingers grip the bottom of his shirt. Robin has to hold back a flinch, but Slade only pulls it over his head with a swift movement, stinging the wounds. He hates the feeling of Slade’s gloved hands brushing over his skin. Robin is too exhausted to shy away from the feeling, from Slade’s eye taking in everything about him. The shirt goes on the table. Slade’s fingers prod roughly at Robin’s stomach and ribs, hitting sensitive areas that Robin can’t help but make small noises of pain at.

         Slade hums thoughtfully. Bandages wind around Robin’s chest, taped and tied, cementing his fractured bones in place. He tries to ignore the casual intimacy of it, the thing that he and Babs would do before she got shot, or the kind of taking-care-of that Alfred does.

         There’s no chance of that relationship here. Robin knows better than to think that after Slade beat him into submission. His cheek still aches. No, Slade just wants to make sure he doesn’t heal so badly, his body that Slade “owns” isn’t marred by crooked ribs. The man wants to keep him a perfect apprentice.

         Robin seethes, silently, privately, and thinks of revenge.


 

         Slade shoves him back in his room without—notably—feeding him. Robin tries not to aggravate his wounds as he collapses into bed—not tired, but exhausted bone-deep and aching. He knows it’ll hurt more tomorrow, because these things always do. Robin can’t help but try and begin to comb the walls for bugs, but he’s left in the piercing darkness after five minutes and has to fumble his way awkwardly back to the hard cot. Slade is good at hiding whatever it is he uses to keep track of Robin—he always has been. Robin simply doesn’t have the energy to find it tonight, even if the idea of Slade watching his every move keeps him up much longer than he should be and makes him more tired when Slade rudely wakes him up for training the next morning.


 

His face swells where Slade hit him—where Slade continues to hit him when he mouths off or doesn’t do something fast enough or forgets the master . It makes him look deformed, he thinks, bruises standing out against the paling skin. Robin does his best to clean himself throughout the days, but there’s only much he can do with the dirty water in the sink—though he didn’t last before he gave in and drank it. His hair gel washes out soon enough, leaving the dark strands hanging down his face and making him look like a greasy ghoul. Dark circles form under his eyes from the sleep he isn’t getting. Robin checks every day to see if he’s getting noticeable skinnier, but his muscle mass seems stable so far, even if he’s only fed intermittently.

         He doesn’t look the same, doesn’t look like Robin, the Boy Wonder, the leader of the Teen Titans, Dick Grayson. Robin tries to shake off the feeling, a small thread in the back of his mind, but it refuses to go away and he’s forced to simply shove it down and ignore it as best he can. Slade never calls him by his name, not Robin, just boy, as in come here, boy, listen to me, boy, correct your stance, it’s pathetic, boy, are you stupid, boy.

         “I am Robin,” he says into the mirror, almost unfamiliar lips moving. The words come out small and tinny, but they make him feel better.

         That is one thing Slade will never be able to take away from him.


 

         Robin loses track of time painfully quickly after the first day. He tries his best to mark the days that pass in the darkness and piercing light of his room, but there’s nothing at all to use. On the days when his training with Slade leaves him with open wounds, he uses them to make a mark. They’re always gone when he comes back in the evening. Slade has a vested interest in keeping him off his balance and unsure, and Robin knows it all too well. A half-remembered segment on interrogation tactics crops up in his mind and he shudders at the other methods. Hopefully Slade won’t—or the situation won’t progress long enough—for the rest of them to be useful.

         He heals quickly, he thinks. Some days he wakes up feeling rested but most he doesn’t, others he stumbles out in a haze of tiredness and Slade calls him weak so many more times during training, taunting and hurting him.


 

         Robin never does Slade’s bidding happily, always glares and grunts and snarls, and he’s pleased with the small bit of resistance. Slade is always keen to pull out the trigger and remind him of their deal when he gets too cocky, and all of Robin’s resistance fades instantly. He tries not to think about his friends if only because he spirals into worry and fear because if there is one thing that he cannot, will not, will never abide it’s the deaths of his friends. Slade doesn’t feed him regularly and Robin doesn’t get enough sleep—he can’t figure out the schedule that Slade’s keeping him on—and the constant exhaustion just makes it too easy to fall into line when Slade commands something. Robin fights back viciously in his mind whenever he feels himself slipping into apathy, letting his gaze flare up at Slade’s or scowling at him.

         He thinks about the anything I want, the sheer power that Slade has over him, and digging in too deep makes him shudder. It gives him motivation to try and plan a way out, at least, but—

         --but Slade is insistent on stripping him of his free will and has all the tools he needs to functionally do it and no concept put into practice has ever really horrified Robin this much. It’s a sick thing to do, Slade’s sick—but Robin knew that.

         Now he’s just so much more devoted to bringing him down.


 

         What if you never—

         Robin shoves the thought to the bottom of his soul with such force that he almost feels sick.


 

         Robin heals quick enough, even if he still can’t really keep track of the days. Slade still doesn’t go easy on him, even if he avoids the points where he could do the most damage to the cracked ribs.

         Robin still doesn’t win, can’t even score hits some days as the hunger and isolation and sleeplessness bear down on him.

         I was going easy on you.

         The patronizing words ring in his head, bounce back and forth in his brain. Slade is so much more impossible to win against than he ever was, and . . .

         And.

         Have Robin’s attempts up until now been a joke? Slade, watching from behind the scenes, chuckling at Robin’s audacity believing he could challenge Slade, physically or mentally?

         He always has been one step ahead. But this is something else, something crueler, like a cat playing with a mouse before snapping its neck. Now, he’s telling Robin that his accomplishments—his only real accomplishments, the only ones he had to work for, to stay up nights for, to think and pace and hope for—came from nothing? Were given to him like Slade deigning in his oh-so-powerful state to throw Robin a bone? Robin doesn’t want to believe it. The instance with Red X: he tricked Slade some, long enough, he’s stopped Slade from his objectives before, beat the people that he sent after them. No, Slade can be beaten, beaten by Robin, because he has before. Before Slade knew him, before he was invested enough in their rivalry to bother to play with him.

         The stakes now are just so, so much higher, and the odds are even less in his favor.

         That’s what heroes do.

         They beat the odds.


 

         “Again. This time, try and put some effort into it.”

         Robin spins his staff to his other hand, stretching out reddened fingers. He’s lucky that he has more energy today—he got a decent night’s sleep and the more than usual of the flavorless mush Slade feeds him, or else he’d be keeling over from exhaustion: their usual end to the sparring sessions.

         He takes several steps back, cocking back his foot to push off. Robin accelerates in two long strides, planting his staff on the padded floor. Seconds later he’s flying through the air, over Slade’s head. He lands with a shock, turning—slammed into the wall with a force to rattle bones. Shit.

         Slade’s body presses in on him, hand braced against the side of his neck. Robin winces as the side of his face digs into the wall. One arm is trapped between him and Slade’s bulk, the other unable to find an angle to fight back.

         “Too slow,” Slade says contemptuously near his ear. Robin grimaces as the angle on his shoulder starts to smart. He can feel Slade’s body heat—not covered in armor but for the mask, in a training outfit like his. It’s sweaty and too-warm. “On your feet sooner. More momentum.”

         Robin sighs irritably.

         He’s pressed painfully into the stone, exhalation cut off with a grunt. Slade does so hate backtalk. Robin suffers every time, his shoulder angling uncomfortably—reminiscent of the time Slade twisted it two—three? days ago. He hisses through his teeth. “Do I need to repeat our earlier lesson?” he asks softly.

         Robin grinds his teeth. Slade rubs his face in every single second of his forced servitude, a solid wall of muscle and danger pressing him down. Slade’s fingers press against the back of his neck, rough callouses against the sensitive skin, surprisingly warm. His other hand presses into Robin’s wrist, right on the pulse of his veins.

         It’s too close, too intimate, skin on skin, Slade pressing on him as if he wants swallow him up. Robin shudders and tries futilely to twist away before giving up and leaning against the cold wall, so different from Slade’s heat.

         “No, Master,” Robin grinds out.

         “Good,” Slade says, right in his ear. Robin flinches, going tense, still unable to move, Slade’s hand splays on his neck, palm pressing near his ear and pinkie spreading into his hair. Robin stays stock still at the movement and the contact and feels like a deer in the headlights. Something about this is . . . not right.

         The second lingers.

         Robin loses his patience, trying again to jerk away from Slade’s hands. “I get it, okay? Now just—move away.”

         “No.”

         “Slade!” Robin shimmies his shoulders and tries to move his neck to get away from the now burning body heat. He can feel Slade’s breath on his ear, rasping sharply, every inch of the man against him but especially his hands, all sending itches under his skin. He struggles more desperately this time before going limp. What the hell?

         Just when he thinks he can’t take it anymore, Slade moves away. Robin’s shoulder moves back into place instantly, burning with pain, but the relief of getting Slade off of him outweighs it by much. Robin can’t see the expression on Slade’s face at all. What is he thinking?

         Robin scratches and rubs at the back of his neck and his sore wrist. He wants to get Slade’s sickly warm touch off of his skin but it lingers despite his best efforts. Robin can still feel the fingers on the back of his neck as he scratches viciously, unsure quite what urge he’s fulfilling but recognizing its sheer intensity all the same. Slade still regards him with one eye, emotion inscrutable. Robin moves to a defensive posture on instinct, but the man turns.

         “We’re finished,” he says, and that’s the end of that.


 

         Robin dreams of Slade holding him down in the darkness while he thrashes. He wakes up with his fists in the sheets, shuddering and sweat through. He doesn’t remember in the morning.


 

         Robin knows that the day is different when Slade throws a skintight black bodysuit down instead of the regular white training clothes. It’s one day he’s actually managed to rest, and he wakes up feeling less fatigued than he has previously. He still goes to the bathroom to change, still staring at Slade as he gathers up the sheets. Slade just keeps an eye on him as usual as he trails into the bathroom. Robin slips easily into the—spandex? Probably a spandex-kevlar weave, high grade. It’s just his size, and he shudders again at how much Slade seems to know, at Slade’s fingers on his skin so he can learn.

         More pressingly, he wants to know what Slade is going to have him do that requires such protective gear. It can’t bode well. Slade has been known to hurt him badly without bothering with protective gear, so whatever inspires him can’t be good.

         Robin feels exposed in the tight material, but he always feels exposed when it comes to Slade and his gaze. The path they follow isn’t the normal one to either the dining room or the training room. It’s much longer, more winding and changing. Robin hears the deep whirring, the small background of the complex becoming louder and louder as they approach. The walls change from white to shallow grey before turning dark as they approach. Robin takes specific note of the path.

         Slade taps in a longer code than usual before opening the huge steel door and passing through. Robin is lead into the biggest place he’s seen in weeks, towering so far above he can’t see the top. The cracks and edges hide in the darkness, overcast by the whirring, working gears. Some of them are larger than Robin, or even than Slade, casting monstrous shadows as they slowly spin. Robin stares around in something like awe. It’s reminiscent of the Batcave, dark and dangerous, the edges blurring and falling away into nothing. He can feel the gears vibrating up through his feet and working through the bones in his chest.

         Slade moves as if he’s been here a thousand times and Robin moves absently in his footsteps, still dwarfed by the machinery. It’s meant to intimidate, he assumes, as if Slade’s figure, mask, and danger weren’t enough. Robin wonders if it’s for his benefit.

         Then he sees the chair—the throne on the dais—and he can’t help his eyebrows shooting up. It’s intimidating, lurking high above them—and yet. Slade thinks he’s some kind of king of his own complex. It would almost be a joke, if he didn’t hold the lives of Robin’s friends in his hands.

         “See something you like?” Slade says, noticing his expression.

         “All I see is pride,” Robin tells him.

         Slade laughs. “A bold sentiment for a small boy.” Robin glares, almost turning red.

         “I’m not a boy.”

         Slade hums. “We’ll see, won’t we?” He takes the steps to the throne, pulling something out of his black outfit. It’s a small remote, not unlike the trigger he likes to pull out to threaten Robin with at every turn. At his behest, a large screen flickers on across from them. Blue light shines across the dark room, lighting up a smaller chair sitting at the row of screens. Robin stands trapped between them, looking at the bright blue.

         “You’ve performed poorly in training so far,” Slade says smoothly, voice just loud enough to be heard over the soft gears. “I think something else might be good for you.” With a flick of his wrist, blueprints light up the screen in front of Robin. Robin stares, feeling small under the light, taking in every aspect anyways. Strangely . . . something about it looks familiar? Is it the plan to Slade’s—no, he wouldn’t show that to Robin.

         “What’s that?”

         “That’s the floorplan for the building that you’re going to steal from,” Slade says. Robin starts back, staring from the screen to Slade, features twisting into something ugly.

         “Steal it yourself, Slade,” is out of his mouth before he knows what he’s saying as anger sets in. Slade’s sinking low enough to force him into breaking the law for his own gain? No dice, as the Penguin is fond of saying.

         “Boy,” Slade says, perfectly dangerous, “come here.”

         “Are you crazy?” Robin asks. “You expect me to—”

         He cuts off as he sees Slade dip into his belt, gloved hands coming out and caressing the trigger meant to kill his friends. Slade’s eye gleams. Robin freezes, going stiff at the unspoken threat

         “Come here.”

         Robin does, eyes trained fearfully on the trigger the whole time. Slade’s fingers grip it in a vice, but as Robin comes to stand before the man—climbing his ostentatious but strangely intimidating dais in the process—he wonders how hard it would be to distract him and snatch it. His eyes linger, though he snaps them back to Slade.

         It’s not fast enough to see the vicious punch that knocks the wind out of him. Robin is left coughing on his knees on the dais, embarrassingly close to Slade’s steel-toed leather boots. He’s glad he can’t see blood this time.

         “I think you should have learned by now that you don’t get to say no to me,” Slade says calmly. “You always seem to forget about your friends. Do you need a—”

         “No!” Robin says desperately, not even thinking of the consequences. “No, no—”

         Slade kicks him with the disturbingly close steel-toed boots. Pain explodes in Robin’s face. This time, blood from his nose spills down his upper lip as he barely manages to avoid bouncing down the dais steps.

         “Do not interrupt me again,” Slade warns. Robin grits his teeth, now pink with blood. He pinches his nose shut—thankfully, not broken. Robin is painfully aware that Slade could easily have kicked him harder. “If you disobey me, or fail to get this device, I will kill your so-called friends. And to be honest”—here, Robin can sense the cruel smile—“I can’t say I wouldn’t enjoy it. So don’t temp me, hm?”

         It begins to sink in that Robin doesn’t have a choice here—shocking—and that what Slade is insistent on him doing is stealing. It’s just like Slade to flex his power like this, ironic and cruel. A hero protects his friends, Robin tells himself. It’s still heroism. It’s not like I’m killing anyone. The thought of Slade forcing him to kill someone is shoved to the very bottom of his mind the instant it appears.

         It won’t come to that.

         Robin stands up, still holding onto his nose.

         “Answer me.”

         “No,” Robin says, teeth grinding in defeat. “Master.” The humiliating words come out tinny from his pinched nose, something that would be perhaps funny in other circumstances.

         “I’m glad we understand each other,” Slade sneers. He passes Robin, going down the steps. Robin follows. He wipes blood on his thin suit, and it blends in with barely a gleam.

         Slade pulls out a sheaf of papers from what seems to be his desk at the bottom of the bank of computers. Robin notes the pocked that he slips the controller into for further reference, right before he’s looking down at the papers Slade hands him.

         Wayne Enterprises.

         Robin can’t help but choke when he sees the name, blood bubbling up in his throat. Some of it drips right onto the AY of WAYNE, smearing it slightly.

         “Something the matter?” Slade asks casually.

         Robin shakes his head instantly. “N-no. Just. Just that’s a—pretty big company.”

         “Have you ever known me to think small?” Slade asks. Rhetorical, or at least Robin’s going to pretend it is, lest the hated admittance of ‘master’ slip past his lips once again.

         Does he know? Is all Robin can think. He can’t. There’s no way. Bruce—Bruce keeps it all so . . . so secret. Robin’s heart pounds in his ears anyways and he tries to take deep breaths to calm himself, hoping Slade doesn’t notice. Coincidence. It’s a coincidence. Don’t react. Thankfully, Slade seems intent on something else as Robin carefully turns the page.

         What he sees are blueprints to the upper floors of the Wayne Industries towers—a little familiar, but something Robin hasn’t actually memorized.

         “Memorize it,” Slade says. “I’ll quiz you.” The glint in his eye promises, as always, punishment for failure. Robin turns the page. On it is a real blueprint, this time of a gun based in—red Kryptonite? Robin isn’t much of an engineer, but he’ll know what to look for. “It’s in a safe here.” Slade takes a pen, roughly marking one of the sides of the map. “Hidden behind a painting.” Not good, Robin thinks. One of the worst things. Something capable of destruction in the wrong hands. And no hands are more wrong than Slade’s. “I expect you to retrieve it.” A pause. “Or you can expect your ex-team to be down another member.”

         The paper in Robin’s hand crumples halfway at the threat. He doesn’t notice. “They’re still my team, Sl—” He turns red as he realizes he’s not willing to risk further punishment. “No matter what happens,” he mutters.

         “Really?” Slade asks. He looms over Robin. “You may think so, but how long will they? Will they keep their faith in their great leader mission after mission in my name? After years of criminal activity?” Robin pales. A year. “How long will your friends keep faith in their former leader? Even the most loyal have to give in sometime, hmm?”

         “You’re a fool if—”

         Robin is on the floor coughing blood before he knows what hit him. God, Slade is fast. He can’t get up before he feels a gloved hand yank on his hair, pulling his neck back painfully. Robin grits his teeth in anger. “I don’t tolerate disrespect, boy. You should know that by now. Any longer and I may have to teach a more permanent lesson.”

         Robin doesn’t want to know what that means and he hopes to god he never finds out as he gasps in Slade’s hold. He could get out of it—has to resist the urge when it comes to Slade’s fury. “Do you understand?” Slade says, fingers closing dangerously tight on Robin’s throat. Robin coughs—

         “Yes. Master.”

         “Good.” Slade lets him go, leaving Robin gagging on the floor. “Pick up the papers.” Robin fumbles around obediently near Slade’s boots, face burning from the frustration, humiliation, and anger of it all. Slade is vicious and cruel—Robin’s always known that—but here and now it’s on a more personal level, one that stings more than ever.

         You’re learning about him, a deep part of Robin whispers, the one borne from Bruce’s teaching, the one that stays up late nights with Slade plastered on the wall in front of him. Slade is brutal, but not unfair: he won’t attack without the provocation of Robin’s disobedience. While Robin has little hope for his friends’ safety in the long term, he has some that if he cooperates, he won’t get hurt.

         It stings him on a level he never knew imaginable that he has to quite literally bow to Slade and call him “master” and obey his wishes. Some effing hero you are. It is, however, manageable, especially if he imagines all the things he’s going to do to Slade: lock him up and never let him see the light of day for his crimes. For threatening his friends.

         Robin holds onto the papers as Slade pulls up a diagram on the screen, much easier to see. He walks back to the dais, Robin trailing behind him as Slade sits—lounges—on the chair as if it were a throne.

         “Sit,” Slade says. There’s not room on the chair, and Robin’s expression must show confusion. Slade lets out a small laugh, so normal that it jars Robin for a moment to hear it coming out of the mouth of his worst enemy. “On the floor, boy. At my feet.”

         Robin’s jaw works as he stands, face aching, in front of Slade. His eyes narrow.

         His feet fold underneath him, face burning, trying to quell the feeling of being a child in kindergarten. As he stares at the information in front of him, he almost wishes he was.

         “What am I stealing?” he can’t resist asking.

         “Look at the blueprint,” Slade replies from so far above him. It’s a power play, Robin reminds himself. Don’t let it get to you. He’s doing it on purpose. He does everything on purpose. “It’s a laser gun powered by red kryptonite developed by Wayne Industries’ Special Research division.” Robin does. It’s informative so far as he can understand it, sure, but it doesn’t give him the information he really needs to know.

         “What are we going to do with it?”

         That strange, almost sincere laugh again. “You, boy, aren’t doing anything but stealing it for me. The rest is none of your concern.”

         Robin frowns.

         Kryptonite. Does Slade think he can take on Clark? Is he running a job for Luthor? Either way is bad news, nothing Robin wants to help with.

         He doesn’t have a choice. Robin will just have to pray that whatever harm he does will be mitigated by other, more successful heroes.

         Bruce will understand.

         Please understand.


 

         Hours later, it blurs in his mind as Robin leans dejectedly against Slade’s chair. Slade’s solemn voice never lets up as he presses Robin relentlessly on every aspect of the information until Robin can see the floors in his mind and imagine the gun in his hand. Some small part of him wants to cry in frustration. It’s easy enough to ignore.

         Robin will never give Slade the satisfaction of seeing him cry. That’s one thing he’s sure about. Especially not over some stupid diagram.

         He’s actually relieved when Slade stands up and declares them finished, taking the papers from Robin’s hands. He flips through them, making sure they’re all there before pressing them into his belt—some of them still spotted with Robin’s blood. Robin stretches, bending back as far as he can go and then forward to touch his toes. Halfway through he notices Slade regarding him silently with that one eye of his. Robin feels something crawl over his skin and he stops, suddenly feeling small.

         Slade moves, and he follows. He’s fed well today, swallowing down the flavorless food as best he can. Beggars can’t be choosers—even when his eyes ache with lack of sleep.

         Robin collapses into bed without even bothering to check for cameras, but anxiety keeps him awake. He has to find a way to get his friends away from Slade’s clutches, considering that Slade intends to use his influence to the greatest effect. This just ups the ante more—but it gives Robin a chance to do something. He doesn’t know quite what it will be, but—

         He can feel the starvation and the fatigue eating away at his mind, even after such a short time. The exhaustion that comes from constant training isn’t good either. Robin is young, but not so stupid that he doesn’t notice Slade’s attempts to break him down. Fear curls in him, ignored completely. This is a chance I can’t afford to waste.

Chapter Text

            Robin wakes up—not refreshed, exactly, but less exhausted than he remembers. His muscles are less sore due to the lack of training yesterday. He almost finds himself feeling grateful towards Slade before he instantly shuts off the feeling. Robin will not thank his captor for basic necessities.

         Slade stands in the doorway and passes him the apprentice gear. It occurs to Robin that Slade must have a uniform he wants him to wear. He wonders if he’ll get the robin outfit back and a surge of real excitement fills him. The black domino mask that he’s managed to keep on is all he has left of it so far. Robin keeps having nightmares where it falls off.

         They don’t go to the room with the gears—the throne room, Robin’s mind thinks traitorously—instead making a detour to a smaller room. Slade throws it open to show a sight Robin has never been more grateful for—a shower. Robin steps in the room with a sigh of relief. It actually looks nice, not like the rusted, creaky sink in his room.

         “Five minutes,” Slade says. Robin wonders how he’s going to tell the time when there are no clocks in the complex. His eye bores into Robin.

         “Aren’t you going to—”

         “Four minutes, fifty seconds,” Slade says. He doesn’t close the door. Robin burns. He stares at the mask before calculating the filth on his own skin against embarrassment and Slade’s unrelenting gaze.

         Robin strips in record time. He refuses to meet Slade’s eye as he reaches behind the shower curtain. There’s not time to let it warm up, so he’s left shivering under the freezing water and grabbing at scalding soap. He jumps out, from the cold water to the ice of Slade’s eye, wrapping himself in a towel as quickly as possible. Robin rubs himself down, trying to preserve his modesty. He notices how bruised he is in the neon lights, purple and green and blue crisscrossing everywhere from the training. It’s nothing new, but now . . . it feels less like well earned relics of battle and more like marks of abuse. 

         The last bit of his hair gel has washed out, leaving it stringy and wet around his face. He looks like a ghost, an effect only heightened by the black jumpsuit.

         Slade still coldly observes. Robin hates it. He feels vulnerable, skin itching. There is no situation in which his nemesis should be seeing him like this but—here they are. Here Robin is. So much for dignity.

         He shakes off his hair further as Slade walks to the gear room. Robin always keeps up after the first day, even with Slade’s long legs and good foot and a half on him. Being around him so long does a lot to pound the size difference into his mind. Something that was intimidating in the heat of battle . . . is now even more intimidating, unfortunately. Robin makes a face.

         Robin can feel the vibrations in his feet even before they get to the throne room. They echo through his bones uncomfortably—or, perhaps, it’s just nerves. He prefers the former. Slade goes right to the side, finding a glass case Robin hadn’t noticed before (or maybe it wasn’t there?)

         The uniform inside is in Slade’s colors, but much too small for him. The signature S hovers above the breast, black and orange with pads to protect the wearer. It’s nothing special.

         “For me,” Robin says.

         “A real uniform. Not a costume,” Slade sneers. The déjà vu of Bruce saying the same thing washes over Robin like a wave.

         “I know,” Robin snaps.

         “Really?” Slade asks sarcastically. “I suppose that’s why you run around looking like a clown straight out of the circus.” Something shudders through Robin at the last word. No—he can’t. He DOESN’T know. “You have potential if you stopped playing at “heroism” like it’s a game. That’s one thing your mentor understands. Apparently, he didn’t pass it on to you.”

         Batman and his soldiers. One of the reasons Robin wanted to leave Gotham in the first place. Just like Slade to echo him like a parrot.

         “I don’t treat my friends’ lives like a game,” Robin growls.

         “Really?” Slade taps his belt. “Then why are you talking back to me like you have the right, apprentice?”

         Robin’s mouth snaps shut, instant fear gluing his jaw together. Slade’s right. What is he doing? It’s so easy to forget, even with Slade’s cruel tones and the oppressive chambers, the life that is on the line. Robin curses himself for his thoughtlessness and selfishness even as fury at Slade roils in his gut.

         Slade lets out a pleased hum that only infuriates Robin more. The man ignores it, as usual, pulling out a small key and opening the case to show the uniform. “Put it on.”

         Robin steps forward, staring at the orange and black, the silver colors on it. He reaches out slightly, almost wondering if it would disappear—but no, the armor is as firm under his fingers as the ground is beneath his feet. He slips off the boots first, stepping into them, making his way up under Slade’s blazingly cold stare. Shoes, gauntlets, gloves—they’re all picked up and applied, one by one, slowly overtaking Robin in something that is only ever Slade. Robin feels like he’s being consumed and engulfed, wishing for all the world for his gaudy and impractical costume (the one from his parents, from Bruce, the one he chose.)

         It’s just fabric.

         It’s just a symbol, he tries to tell himself, the cloth slipping over him. But that’s all they are, in the end, the Titans and the League and Robin and Slade. That’s why they wear costumes and hide their faces, why Batman is barely real and hardly known.

         You might as well be Slade’s already, a small, traitorous part of him whispers, but Robin shuts it out. His soul, the thing that has carried him this far—that counts for something. It has to count for something.

         The small S goes right over his heart, so much heavier than its brass should allow for. Robin feels it hang there in the silence, broken only by Slade’s smooth tones—

         “Very nice. Hello, Renegade.”

         Renegade.

         The word slips off Slade’s tongue and sounds vicious in the soundwaves it occupies, a fundamentally wrong part of the universe.

He turns, Slade still regarding him. The man holds something out in his gloved hand and drops it into Robin’s twin. It’s likewise (kind of obnoxiously, Robin thinks) branded with the S . He recognizes a communicator, obediently slipping it into his ear. Next, Slade moves over to another case—

         “I’m not killing anyone.”

         The twin knives glisten in Slade’s fingers as the man turns a dangerous eye on Robin. Robin grits his teeth to avoid the flinch that comes with Slade’s anger—his inevitable blows.

         He should have flinched. The razor edge is at his throat in seconds. Robin’s fists clench and unclench at his sides, breathing shallowly as he keeps his eyes on Slade. Blood wells at the tip.

         I’m sorry hovers on the tip of his tongue, he notices with surprise and more than a little disappointment in himself.

         “One more word out of you,” Slade says casually, “and I’ll carve that symbol you hate so very much on the skin underneath it.”

         Robin’s eyes widen. He licks his lips, stuck between a rock and a hard place—

         “You will take the weapons I so generously give you. If you fail because you hold back, you will not be the only one feeling my wrath.” The knife hovers dangerously before flicking back to Slade’s body. The man’s body language relaxes as if he’d never been angry in the first place, Robin’s breath filling his lungs once again.

         With a flip, the handles of the knives are pressed towards Robin. Robin takes them, clasping weapons of death in his fingers, true fear over what Slade might ask of him sliding in with the rest of it, climbing up his throat.

         Slade’s not pressing the issue.

         Not yet.

         How long does Robin have, he wonders, before Slade tries to force him somewhere he can’t return from?

         The knives press easily into sheathes on his back, made for the express purpose, Robin realizes. More of Slade’s planning. It’s not very surprising anymore, though . . . no less disturbing. He stares up at Slade for his next instructions.

         The slideshow flicks to the next pictures—these ones in color, showing the top of the WAYNE building, grainy security photos of the corridors showing personnel moving around in fast motion. Slade zooms in on a small part of the picture. “Your target.” It appears to be a nondescript painting, but Robin knows that it hides a safe behind it. He nods silently, unwilling to acknowledge Slade with the words he inevitably demands.

         “And one more thing.” Slade pulls out another document, passing it off to Robin—a string of typecast letters and numbers and symbols. “The code to the safe.” Robin stares at it, eyes brushing over the combination—not something he could easily memorize, even with his trained mind. Instead, he puts it into his belt, folded tightly but unable to forget it.

         I’m really doing this. God, I’m going to rob Bruce.

         He can’t hold it against me, right? Considering the circumstances, but . . . he’ll think I’ve betrayed him. They’ll all think I’ve betrayed them.

         Slade approaches him, a strange look in his eye. Fingers lay on Robin’s padded shoulder, almost paternal, heavy. Robin’s glad there’s space between them, enough that he can’t feel the heat on Slade’s palm. The hand twists, Robin caught underneath it as immobile as if Slade were holding him down as it trails to his neck, fingers too close to his jugular. Robin doesn’t look away from Slade’s cloaked face, unable to as his muscles tense under the contact. Flinching now would be as bad an idea as running away from a tiger.

         Pain pricks in his neck and Robin’s eyes widen involuntary as he realizes what’s happening. A second time. Drugged.

         He passes out in Slade’s arms.


 

         The weather in the City is biting, different from the cooler temperatures that Robin remembers from when Slade first picked him. He’s still fairly warm as he scales the building, thankful that Slade doesn’t see fit to freeze him as well as starve him. The communicator crackles in his ear, Slade’s soft breathing audible when the wind against the side of the building stops. He doesn’t speak for long chunks of time, simply watching, leaving Robin to speculate what he’s doing on the other end of the line. Planning something nefarious, probably. Something Robin will have to . . .

         Something he can’t untangle. Not with his friends’ lives on the line.

         Robin tries to ignore him, tries to pretend for a few seconds that he’s climbing the wall of Wayne Enterprises in Jump City for a reason that’s perfectly normal to his strange superhero life, and not his new one as a sidekick to a villain. The air, neither stale nor recycled, is cool on his face. He’s not truly free, but he can fantasize about finally being away from Slade and his overbearing presence, from the constrictive place.

         He snakes up easily, weapons secure on his back. Gloved fingers dig into nooks and crannies when they’re available—spikes pressed into the wall to hold onto when they’re not.

         Twilight brushes his shadow onto the pale window as Robin counts it, double checking in his mind to make sure that it’s the right one. It is, and he’s thankful for the small railing that he crouches on. It’s short work to cut the locks and pry the window open. Robin lets down on a soft rug with only a rush of cool air to show his passing. The window is shut behind him.

         Robin has only seconds to disable the security cameras before they see him. He plays with the idea of letting himself be seen but discards it, painfully. Even in the pale light the room seems more home than Slade’s cold hideout. Robin figures it’s probably just the W logo above the desks and computers, but it makes him feel a little bit more grounded.

         Clipping the security camera wires in a place that he’s spent so long studying with Slade is easy. It won’t be long before whoever’s out there notices, however, and Robin gets going down the long halls. Before he leaves, however, he spies a clock on the wall. It seems almost out of place after so long without one.

         7:36

         And there’s the time. Not that Robin knows the day or even the week . . . even so, it’s grounding. Makes it all seem more real in a way that the blurry training with Slade is hasn’t. Robin realizes that’s part of what the man is going for. More tricks to keep him off balance.

         He takes a deep breath. 7:37. I can do this.

         It’s easy, actually, to slip past the cameras or disable them. The real security is put into the safe, not the ways of making it impossible for people to slip in or out. Robin flickers around the halls deeper into the building, memorizing his way out so that he can get back if something goes suddenly sideways. God, it’s good to move.

         If his friends lives weren’t on the line, it would almost be relaxing to do something so simple. Robin flicks a small flashlight as he gets to the point in the map he knows the safe is at. It’s hidden behind an abstract of a large cat, staring out at the viewer through green, predatory eyes as trees snake out behind it. It’s orange and gold under the flashlight that Robin grips between his teeth, hands grasping on either side of the sharp frame before lifting and pulling it away.

         The glowing blue screen that flickers on behind it is almost expected.

         “Good boy,” Slade says. Robin flinches and hisses. Slade chuckles at his shock at the other end of the line. “Forgotten about me so soon?”

         Never.

         “No . . . master,” Robin mutters.

         He can almost hear Slade’s grin.

         The keyboard that’s provided under the security lock is surprisingly normal looking. Robin digs into his pocket for the combination. He feels vulnerable standing in the hall, Slade’s voice in his ear only making that feeling more intense. The paper comes out, Robin’s eyes flicking over it as he types it in. The keys light up under his gloved fingers. Fancy.

         Seconds later, he hits the enter key.

         The screeching noise that responds sends shockwaves through him even more surely than Slade’s smooth tones. Everything seems to turn red at once as Robin stares desperately around him. The safe clicks and beeps. Lights flick on all around him, blinding him.

         He can hear commotion, fingers fumbling with the mistyped password. This time, the double checks every letter, number, and capitalization, furtively glancing down the hall as he’s pinned in the light.

         The seconds tick down as he wastes them.

         Robin holds his breath as he flicks the last letter in.

         The vicious beeping fills the room again. Red lights. This time Robin can hear running footsteps. Fear really takes over this time, the shock of being found out making his heart pound faster. He tries to make sure he’s not misreading anything in Slade’s rough hand, but every symbol is unmistakable. Flickering fingers tap it in again—

         Nothing.

         “Get down on the ground!” The security man’s call. Robin’s hand is in his belt and flicking towards him before he knows what’s happening. The S shaped things Slade has supplied him with fly through the air. Robin’s aim is off, the thing is strange—

         The guard screams as it impales him through the forearm. How sharp . . .

         Robin makes a move to get up and leave—

         “You don’t have the item,” Slade observes dangerously.

         “No, but—”

         “Do you think I'm joking when I threaten your friends, boy?”

         “No!” Robin hisses. There’s no way to hide in the long hall. He’s a sitting duck. If he weren’t so stuck, he could slip into the ceiling and get away. “The password’s wrong. It’s not working. I put it in twice, Slade.”

         Thoughtful humming. “Don’t mock me with excuses.”

“I’m not !” Real desperation. “Whoever gave it to you was—misinformed, or they changed it, or . . .”

         More footsteps. Robin presses his body against the wall in futile

         “Don’t lie to me.”

         “I’m not! I swear!”

         “I don’t believe you. You’re playing games with me—and that is not something I tolerate from my property.”

         The hiss on the line makes Robin’s neck shudder and his hair stand on end. He pretends it’s just the static and not the voice.

         Not the claim.

         Instead, he jumps against the wall to avoid another guard rushing down the hall at him, flipping in the small space and just barely not banging his head as his feet come down on the man’s shoulders. He grunts. “I have to get out of—”

         “You will get me that weapon or your friends will die.”

         Robin chokes. “Please, you have to understand, I promise, Slade . . .god.” He’s glancing behind him, pressed up against the wall and trying to get a good look at the safe, still blinking red. Robin fumbles with the fallen guard, trying to find something in there that can help him—stun baton, maybe, to short circuit the thing. He finds something better: a key card. His gloved fingers find the barcode as he takes the steps back to the safe, trying to find a scanner—

         There. Desperate fingers flip it over and put it over the red lines.

         Nothing.

         Robin tries again, frantically. Nothing.

         “Slade—"

“My finger is on the trigger, boy. Do you want to hear your friend’s screams when I have my nanites eat them alive ? I hear it’s a nasty way to die. Painful. Messy .”

         A pathetic sound slips passed Robin’s lips at the thought. Anger curls in him, desperation overtaking it as he wracks his brain. “Please, I . . .”

         The WAYNE logo stares at him from the safe, silver and sharp.

         WAYNE ENTERPRISES.

         Robin remembers, suddenly, Batman as the CEO of the company, pressing something into his fingers.

         Wayne Enterprises Override.

         Robin chokes, half in relief and half in fear, wracking his mind to come up with something he knows he memorized. He remembers the clock from earlier, time no longer comforting, instead a steady ticking that wears down on his mind. He grasps, it slips, the fingers of his mind close around it . . .

         041607

         The letters appear as clearly in his mind as he saw them that day, written in Bruce’s cramped handwriting. A date—the day, little more than six years ago, when the two of them met. Strangely sentimental for Batman, but Robin didn’t say anything about it. Simply memorized it, shredded it, and threw it away.

         Stored the feeling he’d had when he looked at those letters away in his chest, touching his heart. A small memento, useful only in its sentimentality.

         Until now. Robin stands in front of the safe, fingers hovering over the keys, Slade in his ear, security down the hall, his friend’s lives on the line.

         A common criminal.

         Robin shuts his eyes tight until he realizes he can’t type the code in without them and opens them just enough, wincing with every letter. Betraying Bruce, betraying what he stands for. It’s necessary, he reminds himself. Batman’s lectures on leaders having to make tough decisions come to mind again. Robin steels himself.

         The safe pops open.

         Robin wants to cry, but he doesn’t have time. Fingers grab the metal case inside and clamp around the handle. Someone yells.

         “I have it,” he says.

         “You’d better,” Slade tells him.

         Robin is off. He hears a gun go off behind him. Plaster shatters on the opposite wall. Feet pound on the carpet. Robin stops short as he sees the shadow around the corner, rushing in front and sliding to the floor. The man trips. Robin jumps over his body. His mind flicks back to the memorized maps as his breath sounds in his ears and he pounds through the building. The training over the past . . . months? . . . has strengthened his body, even as bruises ache across his skin.

         It still feels good to run.

         Robin bursts out of the window into the cold air with exultation. He flips, flies, drifts through the city air. The moment seems to hang in absolute freedom.

         Robin hits the ground that is the top of the other building and rolls. The case digs into him and he hisses. Dirt streaks on his suit. He’s up, running across the building, making his way to the rendezvous as fast as his legs can carry him. Suddenly they don’t quite seem long enough as they pound across the buildings. Robin barely makes some of the jumps: Jump City is much less tightly packed than Gotham, shinier and more vibrant in the night. He doesn’t realize what he’s running from until he stops short, puffing.

         “Very good, apprentice,” Slade murmurs in his ear. Robin winces. The guns of the place security aren’t what scares him, nor is the concept of being cornered by them. The only thing he’s really scared of is the one he can’t escape, looming over him with a finger on the trigger.

         He can only hope the fist doesn’t clench around the throat of his friends.

Chapter Text

            Robin enters the warehouse minutes later, holding onto his prize with a white-knuckle grip. The place isn’t any colder than the city. Robin leans against the wood in near-relief. He stares up at Slade, the man back in his bulky suit. The man leans casually against one of the wooden shelves, eye fixed on Robin. Noiselessly, he holds out a hand.

         Robin walks up to him slowly, footsteps audible in the huge place. He realizes how tight his grip is on the slim metal box, and they loosen as he passes it to Slade. Slade takes it, flicking the thing open with a gloved finger. His eyes rove over the contents. Robin feels nerves coil in his gut, unable to shake the overwhelming feeling that he’s being judged.

         Is there something wrong with it?

         “Very good,” Slade says. The thing clicks shut with a snap. Robin doesn’t even see what’s inside of it.

         You just handed over a dangerous weapon to a supervillain, a part of him whispers. Robin quashes the anxiety. He doesn’t know exactly what the thing he gave Slade is capable of, nor what the man plans to do with it—and he fears the worst.

         He always does, with Slade.

         Slade puts the thing back on the shelf with a small noise and regards Robin. Robin feels pinned—

         Pain sends shocks across his face. Robin is forced to the side, holding his head. He only has time to make a small noise of question before Slade’s fist hits him in the gut. Robin doubles over, coughing and choking. Slade’s hand is on the back of his neck, pressing in, Robin gasping. The wind goes out of him sharply and he struggles to breathe, wavering in his stance as Slade lets him go. Slade’s fist hits him underneath the chin this time. Robin feels his teeth clack together. Blood from his tongue fills his mouth. He stumbles, hits the other side of the wall painfully. Crimson drips down his chin.

         Slade brushes off his fist, tone as smooth as ever. “That’s for forgetting the proper mode of address, boy, and for playing games with me.” Robin squints at him through the smarting wounds, aching against the piece of furniture. He realizes suddenly he’s tired, and he hurts.

         “I wasn’t—”

         Slade raises his hand. Robin’s eyes go wide.

           He knows what Slade wants to hear. Robin shuts his eyes behind the mask. “Yes, Master.” The defeated words slip past his lips and sound in the room. He’s almost too tired to bother to be properly ashamed about them, to hate Slade as much as he should.

         “Apologize.”

         “I’m . . . sorry. Master. It won’t happen again.”

         “Glad to hear it,” Slade purrs. “At least I know you’re trying, hm? Seeing your performance, I almost doubted it. I thought the ex-leader of the Titans would put up a better showing . . . but that’s what I get for being optimistic.”

         Robin stares, mouth still glued shut, protests on his tongue. Slade’s mask is as impenetrable as ever, but his body language shows amusement and mockery. “You fumbled the passcode, alerted the guards, and showed the whole wide world what you were after and who you were. I’m surprised the Bat trained you. I think he’d be disappointed if he saw the disaster this mission was, don’t you?”

         Robin opens his mouth to answer the rhetorical question. Slade cuts him off. “I know he would. And he’s going to be able to see you fail it on all the security cameras you missed.”

         Bruce. Batman is going to see him, he’s going to look, he’s going to think . . . It all comes crashing down on Robin, the fatigue of the night and the adrenaline and he feels his face fall, feels his eyes burn. He blinks any tears away. Crying in front of Slade—showing weakness that he knows the man will exploit—is unthinkable. Robin is strong, no matter what Slade thinks of him, and he will survive.

         Even if this is another scratch in Slade’s bedpost, another foot that Robin is sinking into the quagmire of Slade’s mind games. He’s a hero, he’s been trained for this—

         It hurts. His friends will see him. They will think he’s betrayed them, and that, beyond anything else, makes him want to scream. I never wanted to hurt you! he wants to yell, but Slade will do his best to make sure that they don’t speak again. Bruce is the worst of it, because Robin has just stolen from him.

         He hopes Bruce knows that it hurt every inch of him to do it. Robin’s had to make compromises before, and this is just another one. Leadership requires tough decisions, Batman would tell him.

“I hope your hesitance at robbing Wayne Industries won’t be a problem when it comes to later missions, hm?”

         Robin’s eyes snap open. “What?”

         “Trouble stealing from the illustrious Mr. Wayne? Can’t say I can relate,” Slade sneers. “You can take the boy out of Gotham . . .”

         Robin’s teeth grind. “I don’t care about Wayne,” he snaps, a little too quickly.

         “Are you sure?” Slade queries. “He's quite a fascinating man, really. Pretends to be too stupid to run a company, yet it plugs along just as well without him. More rumor than person, really.”

         “I wouldn’t know,” Robin says stiffly. Something horrible curdles in him and wraps around his throat. Slade looks at him like a predator looks at his prey. Robin’s foot is still caught in Slade’s bear trap.

         “Wouldn’t you?” Slade murmurs. He moves in, and Robin is suddenly aware of the man’s bulk, the shadow he casts in the light. Robin tries to glance to the side but Slade is closing in too fast. “He’s an interesting man, Mr. Wayne. Orphaned as a child. Pours millions of dollars into charity each year. Strange finances, when you look at them.” He leans in just a bit further. “Adopts orphans.”

         Robin’s breath catches. He stares up at Slade, the cold and piercing blue drilling into him, and suddenly the mask that hides his face seems thin as parchment. “Wh . . . what are you . . .”

         “You have a pretty face, Dick Grayson.”

         The bottom of Robin’s stomach drops out as he gasps audibly under Slade’s brutal stare. No. No! He doesn’t . . . he can’t—

         “I—I’m n-not—”

         “What did I say about playing games, boy?”

         Robin shuts his mouth. He feels acid burn in the back of his throat, something falling from his stomach through his legs and through the floor. If he knows who I am he must know who Bruce is he must know who Babs is he must know who my team is he must—he can—he—

         “That’s better,” Slade says with a smile. The look makes Robin sick, adrenaline flooding through him. He’s aware of his breathing catching and steadies, it Bruce’s voice coming back to him, teaching him how to control his emotions. “I thought you might hesitate when it came to stealing from your dear old Batman, but you seemed so much keener to break in than I thought.”

         “You threatened to kill my friends.” Robin can’t keep the incredulous, pained note out of his voice. I didn’t like it. I didn’t want it.

         Should I have fought him more on it?

         Slade laughs. “So I did. That offer still stands, by the way.” Robin stares at the ground. God, he knows who Bruce is, he knows who Robin is . . .

         “How long?” he asks desperately. “How long did you know . . . my name?”

         Slade approaches slightly, one foot in front of the other. “A very, very long time, my boy.”

         Robin’s head shoots up to look Slade in a bright blue eye that shows no hint of dishonestly—though, he supposes, if anyone could lie like a pro, it would be Slade.

         I’ve been holding back, Slade’s voice echoes.

         Robin’s teeth grit as Slade seems to loom larger in his perception.

         “I’ve known your name as soon as I started really looking into you and the Bat, Richard.” The name sounds unnatural and cold on Slade’s tongue. “I just didn’t need it to defeat you.”

         I’m not defeated! You will never defeat me, Slade!

         “And I need to know your name,” Slade says lightly. “So that I can take it away from you.”

         “Take it—?”

         Robin recoils from a slap across the face, cheek burning as Slade continues as if there was no interruption. “You see, you belong to me now. That was the deal we made, no?”

         This time he stares at Robin clearly expecting an answer.

         “Yes—it was. Master,” Robin mutters to the floor.

         “And so, you have only what I give you,” Slade murmurs. Fingers brush Robin’s chin, tilting it upwards to face Slade’s orange and black half mask.  “You are my apprentice, and nothing more. Not Robin, not Grayson, not Wayne.” He leans in, Robin almost trying to move away. “Just mine.”

         Robin’s breath is coming shallow. His eyes narrow behind the mask.

         “This whole escapade cinches the deal,” Slade murmurs. “Batman’s precious protégé stealing from him, for me. A fitting beginning to an apprenticeship.”

         Robin settles for glaring at him with loathing he hopes makes it through his mask to Slade’s.

         “What’s that look for, apprentice?” Slade leers. “After all, it was a deal you agreed to.”

         A deal that Robin can’t renegotiate the terms on nor rescind. He feels something in him deflate. Slade’s got another thing on him, what else is new?

         He beats that thought down as far down as it will go. You have to fight him. Especially since Slade’s goal is to do nothing less than break him to his will, a thought so cold it makes Robin shudder.

         “A deal I’ll obey,” he says, “so long as you hold up your end of the bargain. Keep my friends alive.”

         “Well of course,” Slade replies. “You’re the one I’m interested in.”

Robin just stares at Slade as the man moves across the room, hopefully losing interest in taunting him. Carefully, he slips one of the razor-sharp S boomerangs under one of the boxes. He’s not sure how much good it will do, but . . . he can’t just stand here and let Slade go on with his plans. It’s not who he is. He can’t let it become who he is.

         Robin memorizes the spot, eyes flicking over the rest of the warehouse as Slade returns.

He comes back with a glass of water and offers it to Robin. Robin looks down into the glass, eyes flicking back up to Slade suspiciously. “Is it—”

         “Drugged, yes. You’ll fall asleep. If you don’t drink it, I’ll hold your nose and force it down your throat,” Slade interrupts, without inflection. Robin stares at him, watches the water, and realizes how thirsty he is.

         He downs it all before he can waste any of it, feeling it go cool down his throat. It tastes of something stale. Robin has to take a step forward to keep his balance, nearer to Slade—he falls down and the mercenary catches him easily in his arms. Robin’s last thought is a desire to get away from the uncomfortable warmth.


 

         Robin wakes up naked.

         Again.

         Slade’s stripped him, gotten his hands all over him. Robin has never wished for a shower more in his life. Instead, he just rubs the thin sheets against his torso and stares up at the lit ceiling. He’s glad he didn’t hide the boomerang in his uniform. He shudders to think what Slade might do if he found it. Are you endangering your friends? he asks himself, anxiety curling in his stomach. Has he forgotten the stakes already, or is it more important to fight back against Slade?

         If I get the trigger, I can secure their freedom for good, he reminds himself. No risk no reward. Do you really think Slade will sit on that trigger and those nanites and never use them?

         Do I really think that I can deactivate it without Slade finding out?

         Robin closes his eyes.

         He’s the leader.

         He’ll have to make a decision eventually. Or the lack of one.


 

         Robin’s marched into the throne room on aching legs. The screens loom in neon, casting harsh light on the both of them. It only makes Slade look more sinister and Robin smaller. Slade plays back fuzzy security footage, flicking lazily at the remote while eyeing Robin. The boy in orange and black jumps and kicks on the screen, kneeling near the lockbox before dashing away. People fall in his wake as he stumbles through the building, finally casting himself off the roof.

         “Pathetic,” Slade says lightly. “I thought my training might actually make a dent in your incompetence, but it seems I was being optimistic.”

         Robin’s lips twist.

         “Do you have anything to say to yourself?”

         “I’m sorry, Master.”

         “Hm. Not good enough, I’m afraid,” Slade says, his tone one of a teacher tsking at a naughty child.

         Or a pet.

         Robin shivers.

         Slade approaches and Robin braces for another beating. He doesn’t want this, he aches, the drugs are wearing off . . .

         Slade hand goes for his mask. Robin’s fingers catch at his face, two quick steps back, hand splayed across his nose and forehead. “No!”

         Slade’s hand stops, still hanging in the air. “What have I told you about saying no to me?”

         Robin bends under his gaze. “You already know my name, Sl—what point does it have? Just—it can’t do any harm, right? To let me keep it?”

         “I think you misunderstand the point of punishment.” Slade’s voice is tinged with amusement. “Take it off, or I will. I won’t ask again.”

         Robin’s teeth grit, something painful snaking through him. He wants to say please, but he won’t beg Slade. Not for this. Not for—just a symbol. Nothing important. Nothing that means anything.

         His hands shake as he lowers them from his face. He can’t bring himself to peel it off himself. Instead, Slade looms over him, fingers gently picking up the edge of the black mask and slowly pulling it off of his face, sweat and dirt coming up with it as it hangs pathetically in Slade’s fingers.

         “Open your eyes,” Slade murmurs. His fingers play against Robin’s cheek. Robin’s eyes open, blue meeting blue. The tips of Slade’s gloved fingers linger on Robin’s face.

         “Very nice,” he rumbles. Robin grimaces under his touch, eyes blinking in the face of the light and the vulnerability of his state. He feels like Slade is looking right through him, stripping his defenses down with sheer willpower and getting to the core of him, like a man peeling open a mussel to get at the meat inside.

         Slade’s fingers leave and Robin tries not to audibly let out the breath stuck in his lungs. “I trust you’ll do better next time,” he says.

         Robin’s face doesn’t change, Slade’s lips making a mirthful noise. “There will be a next time. I can’t possibly deny you after you enjoyed it so much, can I?”

         “After I . . .”

         “No use pretending,” Slade leers. “The suit monitors your vitals. I could hear your heart beating in excitement as you stole for me right here.” He taps at one of the screens, splayed in red and green numbers.

         “That wasn’t . . .” That was fear, Robin thinks, but he refuses to admit such to Slade, instead staring at him with twisted lips.

         “It’s alright, my apprentice,” Slade purrs. “You can admit you enjoyed the thrill of stealing for me, the adrenaline of getting away from the law. Getting one over on your old man.”

         “I hated every second!”

         “That’s not what your heartbeat says.”

         “I will never enjoy stealing for you,” Robin snaps. “You forced me to take from Batman! Are you crazy? There’s no way I would . . . be happy about that.”

         “Did I strike a nerve?” Slade murmurs.

         “I didn’t . . .”

         “Ah, but you did.” Slade grins. “And even if you’re so sure you didn’t . . . well, you’ll learn to like it.”


 

         Robin is pale in the mirror, the place where Slade tore his mask pale and not covered in dirt.

         It would have fallen off soon, he tells himself, splashing cold water over his face, rubbing it at the bloody bruises on his knees. Anxiety still eats away at him, exhausted and hungry and sleep deprived though he is, churning in his gut. He stays awake, staring at the darkness that falls upward to the ceiling, worrying about Bruce. Robin needs to get a message to him, needs to let him know that Slade is onto him. Onto them.

         Robin wants to ask if he knows who Kori and Gar and Vic and Rae are, but it didn’t slip past his lips, fear curling in him. Once again Robin is on the bottom, as ignorant about Slade as he ever was, and Slade is five steps ahead and laughing in his face.

         Would Bruce believe you?

         Robin huffs, turning, trying to bury himself in the sheets. They’re not enough to stave off the cold of the room. Another thing that’s intentional, another part of Slade’s plan to wear him down with not enough food and too much exertion. Robin can already feel his mind slipping, dulling, himself becoming more desperate.

         It begins to sink in that he may not ever be leaving. It didn’t seem real before that, before the mission, but now . . . Slade towers over him and knows so much and promises Robin that he will never go home. That he will stay here forever bound to him in the purgatory he’s created.

         That he will learn to like it.

         Something inside Robin redoubles at the thought. He thinks of the S tucked beneath the boxes—a small defiance. A piece of hope. The stakes have been raised so much, so soon, so terribly . . .

         And sooner or later something is going to have to break.

Chapter Text

            The days drag by like barbed wire, every one grinding into Robin’s skin a little bit more, wearing him down a little bit faster. Every time he feels the word ‘master’ slip past his lips, every time he kneels at Slade’s feet as the man sits on his throne, Robin feels something in him crack a little bit more.

         “I am Robin,” he whispers to himself in the mirror every morning, Slade unable to hear him as he stands so far away. He traces the symbol in his bedsheets, or on his skin, or on the floor, places where Slade can’t see it but Robin can know that the symbol burns in spirit. It feels crazy to do—to have to—but if Robin doesn’t remind himself who he is, who will? A hero, a Wayne, a Titan. All things Slade wants to strip from him along with his mask. All things Robin refuses to give up.

         Slade never holds back when they train. Instead, Robin falls into bed with bruises staining him, wincing from another defeat. He imagines that he’s getting better. Slade trips him and pushes him into the ground, uncomfortably close. Corrects his technique. Demeans him, lets him go.

         Did you like stealing for me?

         Slade’s voice is in his head all the time now, even in the scarce moments where he’s left alone.

         Did I like stealing for him?

         That’s what his heartbeat said. What Slade says his heartbeat said. He’s the only source of information Robin has and he likes it that way and Robin knows but . . .

         The thought climbs into him and worms into his brain and he can’t let go of it. He thinks about Bruce and some days he actually has to stop himself from crying over the feeling of failure he’s created in himself, the fact that he’s unable to live up to what Bruce would want, that he’s stolen from him.

         That they think that he’s a traitor.

         He hopes they don’t. He hopes they still believe in him. They know him better than this, don’t they? Bruce has to know that something is wrong. World’s Greatest Detective, and all that.

         Robin forces himself to believe in it. He doesn’t think he can stomach Bruce thinking he’s been betrayed, and yet . . .

         Robin knows without a doubt he would take that pain to save his friends from Slade’s predatory eye and an itchy trigger finger. He doesn’t know how he would do it, but he knows he would.

         If Slade forced his hand. It would be another victory for the man, another piece wearing Robin down to . . . what? Nothing at all? Something that obeys Slade without a thought?

         That is something Robin knows he will not let himself become.


 

         Days blur in Robin’s mind. He’s been trained to try to keep things like this straight, but time wears him down. Robin is always exhausted from something or another. Slade makes sure he’s always bruised, always hurting, always falling right to sleep despite his anxieties and the fear blooming in his stomach.

         Bruce will save me, he tells himself, if I can’t save myself. Batman has to be a match for Slade. He’s stronger, or smarter, or faster, than anyone Robin has ever met. Robin privately suspects he could even take down Superman if he tries. He wonders if that part is lingering hero-worship from when he was a child, but he can’t quite shake it.

         Robin suspects there’s just something about him that makes you believe that he can do anything, from his eyes that cut to the hands that seem able to unravel any puzzle or bomb. There’s nothing Bruce—the Batman—can’t do if he puts his mind to it, Robin knows.

         If it comes to that.

         But it won’t, he promises himself. He’s been watching where Slade keeps the trigger, the movements he makes. It’s kept in the front left pocket, one from the one on the far left, pulled out whenever Robin does something particularly infuriating.

         Slade’s finger hovers over the tip less and less these days, but the jolt of pure fear that goes down Robin’s spine at the threat never changes. The thought of it actually happening is something he can look at with nothing more than pure horror, even as the thought is almost unreal.

         A world without his friends seems impossible. Without Vic, or Gar, or Kori, or Rae, the world wouldn’t be right. Slade threatens that world, impossibly, more than ever before.

         Robin tries to push down his aching dread.


 

         He almost gets used to it.

         Robin catches himself falling into the rhythm of it once or twice, only to curse at himself in the mirror for his complacency. Slade’s words are cruel, his blows hurt, but at least he never attacks without provocation.

         Things begin to change—really change—the day Slade drops more than the white cotton exercise clothes on the floor of the room that Robin sleeps in. Robin doesn’t notice it, only grabbing at the cotton and going to the door, as is his usual routine. It’s only when he comes back out to Slade still leaning casually in the doorway that the man’s voice alerts him.

         “Aren’t you forgetting something?” Slade is at ease, yet his huge form blocks the doorway. Robin looks down, nonplussed.

         “I . . . “

         “On the floor,” Slade says. There’s something in his voice Robin doesn’t like as he turns around several degrees, looking for the offending item. He finds it several feet behind him, curled and black on the floor. It’s almost soft in Robin’s hands as he flips it around. Silver gleams in the pale light—a buckle.

         SLADE’S, the plaque declares, engraved. Robin knows how the valleys he would feel if he cared to run his fingers over the workmanship. It’s too short to be a belt. Much too short.

         His stomach sinks. Robin turns. Slade stands only a foot behind him, close and silent, eye regarding him with something Robin knows by now is mirth.

         “What is this?” Robin asks. His voice is softer than expects.

         “It goes around your neck,” Slade tells him.

         Robin feels his face burn as he takes a step back. “What—I’m not wearing this!”

         Slade takes another huge stride closer to him. Robin has to look up if he doesn’t want to see only the black of Slade’s suit. “Of course you are,” he murmurs. “How else would I show my oh so loyal apprentice who he belongs to?”

         The taste of the bland food Slade feeds him burns in the back of Robin’s throat.

         Collar.

         “What is—you can’t just . . .” Robin stares at him. But he can. He can do whatever he wants.

         And “whatever Slade wants” is putting Robin in a collar like some kind of . . . dog. An attack dog, to do his bidding and put down his enemies when Slade commands. Another fucking symbol. The kind Slade seems so fond of, from the one on Robin’s uniform to stripping Robin of his name.

         Trying to, Robin reminds himself.

         “I’ll put it on for you, if you like,” Slade offers maliciously. “Either way, I’m afraid . . . “

         Robin stares down at the thing in his hand. Expensive, silver. SLADE’S. His eyes blink, deprived of their mask, so easy for Slade to read his emotions at a glance while the other man’s face is completely hidden.

         Just take it, he insists. Humor him. Robin’s lips turn down, and he remembers everything else he’s been forced to take from Slade, from the beatings to the “training” to the mockery.

         I can put it on myself, is what he means to say. It should be what comes out of his mouth.

         It’s not.

         Fuck you,” Robin hisses. He throws the thing to the floor at Slade’s feet, inches from the man’s boots. It falls pathetically to the ground with a small clank. Robin rides the unexpected, vicious anger that overtakes him. His foot comes down on it. It stings, Robin’s bare sole on the ground, but he doesn’t care. The foot comes down again as Robin grunts, grinding it into the floor at his heel.

         Like Slade’s been trying to grind him.

         Robin imagines pushing Slade’s stupid face into the ground, cracking his mask in half, burying that hated S symbol forever.

         “I thought I’d managed to teach you something, boy,” Slade says. He turns, icy eye narrowing at Robin. “However, if you insist on throwing a temper tantrum, I may have to go with something a bit more old-fashioned.”

         Robin’s first instinct is to cower at Slade’s anger, to flinch and beg forgiveness. He hates himself for it. It makes his heart burn with fury. “Try me,” he snarls. Robin drops into a fighting stance. He almost forgets how much everything aches from training. Ribs bruise from where Slade fractured them . . . weeks? . . . ago, from where he smashed his bo into them yesterday.

         Slade’s eye gleams.

         A black clad fist comes out of nowhere. It hisses inches in front of Robin’s face. He only dodges because he’s grown used to Slade’s movements, saw the cords of muscle beneath Slade’s black shirt move before he began to strike. Robin jumps back off the collar, arms in front of his face. He lashes out seconds later, blocked by a heavy gauntlet. Slade blocks all the blows he throws with minimal effort, Robin growling at him like an animal.

         He’s cut off when Slade’s fist hits his gut. Robin slides back on his heels, choking and trying to breath. Slade approaches slowly, eye piercing the boy in front of him. Robin grimaces, stepping back—

         Robin’s sole hits the side of the wall as he sets himself off of it, the bottom of his foot hitting it with a slap. The kick hits Slade in the side of the mask, head turning with a crack. The top of Robin’s foot hurts like hell and he hisses as he lands, barely managing to throw a second kick.

         Slade sees this one coming. Robin stares into his eye in seeming slow motion as Slade’s hand clamps around his ankle, rough and bruising.

         Robin barely manages to roll as he’s thrown, coming to a stop as his forehand slams into the wall. He feels the blow reverberate against the stone, even if his body absorbs most of the impact. Robin growls. Something slips down his forehead, more than sweat—blood. It smears on the wall behind him.

         Slade crouches down as Robin assesses the damage, stumbling to his feet. This shouldn’t be so easy for Slade. He realizes how weak the lack of food and sleep has made him—how exhausted he is, even from last night.

         Easier to control.

         The thought makes him furious. He watches Slade’s fingers close around the leather of the collar intended for Robin, eyes narrowing. “I won’t let you put that—that thing on me, Slade.”

         It dangles in Slade’s fingers, held lightly before the gloves clench down. “I’m your master, boy. You don’t let me do anything.”

         Robin hisses, charging at him, twisting his body into the most vicious punch he knows. His feet hurt badly, blood blurring in his vision—

         He hits the ground, shockwaves cascading up his hands. Robin realizes seconds later that he’d lost his footing, that Slade had—

         Tripped him.

         His face burns, pushing himself up only to feel the rough tread of Slade’s boot on his back. Fingers strain against the hard ground, blood dripping from Robin’s forehead to stain it, fingerprints in red on white.

         All to no avail. Slade leans down, pressing. Robin collapses against the ground, gasping for breath as his ribs constrict under Slade’s heel. “’m not—No!”

         Fingers thread through his hair, clamping down on his scalp. Robin shakes his head viciously, feeling pieces tear out in Slade’s fingers.

         “Stop it!” Robin hisses, trying to bend his legs back to kick at Slade’s knees, get any kind of leverage beneath him. He tries to move his shoulders, make it as hard for Slade as possible when he feels the pressure increase as the man leans down. His breath rasps through the mask.

         “No.” Slade’s voice is perfunctory, basic. “This is your lesson for today, apprentice.” Robin growls, reaching fingers up to claw at Slade’s hands and try to pry them out of his hair.

         “Get your psychotic—hands—AH!”

         Slade slams his forehead into the ground a second time and Robin sees stars. He lets out a horrid gasp as a weight settles on him: Slade, straddling his back, knees digging into his shoulder. Robin can barely breath and he rasps for breath, tongue hanging out, air hissing through his teeth.

         The rasp of leather against his skin makes Robin’s fight renew all over again, shaking his head. Slade’s hand closes around his throat and Robin gags, scrabbling uselessly at the floor to get away.

         “I will punish you for every second you fight me,” Slade murmurs. Robin lets what little air he has out in a yell—

         But the leather slides on anyways, slipping through Slade’s fingers, rough on Robin’s neck. It makes his skin crawl, makes him want to scratch at it. Robin puts every ounce of his sapped strength into going against it but it slips across his skin, tightening at the back—tight enough to stay on, light enough not to choke him. Seconds later a small clipping sound. Slade’s grip loosens, Robin coughing onto the floor as his head tilts forward. The floor is cold and slick from his blood, the leather secure around his neck. It seems to bite into the skin of his chin, hanging heavy on his shoulders.

         Robin’s anger trickles away into despondency as Slade’s weight moves off him, letting him breathe again. He takes in air as he gets, aching, to his feet. Fingers fumble with the collar. It doesn’t give way to his violent pulling—he’s crimped it, Robin realizes, seconds after trying to make out what’s going on by touch. Robin can feel the leather, hands dancing over the cold letters he knows so well.

         SLADE’S.

         Robin shivers, but the disgust doesn’t leave him, just cascades down his body and curls up under his skin, there to stay. He feels his lips turn down in disgust, hatred. Fingers curl, uncurl.

         Fingers fist.

         Slade is as calm as ever.

         Robin yells, charging several feet—

         Slade’s finger hovers over the trigger, movements as quick as lightning. Robin skids to a stop.

         Everything comes crashing down. The collar seems to choke him as Robins’ fists fall, hanging at his sides. He opens his mouth to say something, reality kicking in.

         The anger doesn’t leave, it simply smolders.

         “Your games are no longer amusing.”

         “I’m sorry, master.” Robin’s eyes close slightly as he grimaces, feeling disgusted. My friends.

         Slade’s fingers hook in his collar, nails painful. Robin’s dragged along, grabbing at the collar to no avail. Seconds later he stares at himself in the reflection of the small mirror. The black and orange mask and form loom behind him, shadowing but not enough to ignore the pale boy in the mirror. He doesn’t look like Robin, or a hero, with bags under his eyes and pale skin and blue eyes that look . . . scared.

         Robin blinks, makes his expression fiercer.

         The collar just makes him look like a caged dog.

         SLADE’S.

         He claws at it, the letters scraping under his fingernails. A hand closes around his wrist and draws it down.

         “You look very nice,” Slade purrs. His hand lands heavy on Robin’s shoulder and Robin chokes on air that Slade wrung out of him. Robin thinks he might be turning red as he stares down at the dirty sink, longing to wash himself off in it.

         Another hand on his shoulder. Robin feels his head hang, fists unclenching pathetically.

         “Nobody will be able to mistake you for a Titan now, you know.” Fingers press at Robin’s throat, too close, brushing over the collar. Slade is too close, always too close. “Not for anything but mine.”

         The thought of anyone seeing him like this makes Robin redden slightly. He bites his lip. Mine is almost what he expected to be printed on the collar, but he supposes this is as close as Slade can get.

         “Don’t be ashamed,” Slade murmurs in his ear. “It’s been inevitable since our rivalry began, apprentice. You didn’t actually think you could win?”

         Robin’s teeth dig into his lower lip, not quite drawing blood. Slade’s hand caresses his neck. “Answer me.”

         “ . . . I still do.”

         “Of course.” Slade sounds amused, indulgent, almost.  “You know, you’ve been very disobedient today. It’s almost like you forgot that it’s only my mercy allowing your friends the breath in their lungs, hm?”

         Robin pales, all bravado gone. “N-no. Never.” Oh god, please tell me—“I’m sorry, please don’t—I’ll obey you. Master. I won’t . . .” The collar burns on his neck. “I’ll do what you want. Whatever you want.”

         “I know you will,” Slade says smugly. Robin seethes. “However, I cannot let such . . . behavior go unpunished.”

         Robin stares up, wide blue eyes facing him in the mirror, another shock that he doesn’t have his mask. “Please . . . “ He licks his lips. Forces himself not to beg, even as every bone aches from Slade’s abuse. “Don’t . . . not my team.”

         “They’re not your team anymore,” Slade sneers. He turns, fingers still hooked uncomfortably under Robin’s collar, chafing the skin. Robin tries to pry him off halfheartedly, stumbling along across the room—

         “The Titans—they didn’t ask for this, they didn’t do anything wrong, Master, please, I’m sorry—”

         Slade spins. “No, I don’t think you are. But rest assured, you will be.”

         Robin’s heart drops to the floor. He can’t stop something from choking in his throat, unbidden.

         “However, this punishment is for you and you alone. Do be grateful it does not include your friends. That is not a mercy I will be granting again, the next time you attack me.”

         Tears are blinked back roughly. Relief is the balm that soothes the anger and guilt in Robin’s gut, even as fear trickles back in.

         “Thank you,” he says. It slips past his lips before he realizes it, and too late Robin knows that he means it.

Chapter Text

            The walls of the complex are bare and white. They remind Robin of the hospital Bruce sent him to when he broke his leg, minus the scent of antiseptic and the inescapable reminders of sickness. This place is colder, without the halfhearted reminders of humanity and comfort. It fits Slade well, Robin thinks. Slade strides along the halls, every inch as arrogant as always, Robin stumbling to keep up. He hurts from the beating. The collar is snug around his neck. It itches.

         Robin doesn’t scratch it.

         There’s a sense of foreboding as they move along. Robin can’t help his nerves from shuddering, the same feeling when he’d done something wrong and his parents had found out. The waiting for punishment, as if Robin is just a child, and Slade is here to reprimand him.

         Like a twisted version of a father.

         Like every single thing Slade does, Robin knows that this will hurt. He snarls at himself for lashing out.

         A leader shouldn’t put anything above the lives of his friends.

         What kind of leader is he, abandoning his team? It’s for their own good—

         It’s a line of thinking so circular that it has been eating the end of itself inside Robin’s head for—days and weeks and however long he’s been languishing here under Slade’s fist. He tries to stop the small voices inside his head from arguing and sneering, but they never seem to shut up.

         Failure.

         Coward.

         Idiot.

         Each real, terrible—truths? Can that be true? A part of him believes it, stewing in his gut, but Robin’s not even sure if he can trust that any more. Slade always has had a way of getting into his head.

         Being unable to escape from him for even a day lets the thoughts that were born in the time preceding his capture scream even louder.

         Slade’s code unlocks a door that whirrs open with foreboding. Robin feels the tenseness in his muscles as he walks in, glancing around—he can’t see much until Slade flips the light on. It’s just as bare as the rest of the place, whitewashed stone encircling him as he steps helplessly through the doorway. Robin’s come to the conclusion that the complex must have been built for a much larger group, with so many empty and useless rooms hastily customized for Slade’s manipulation of Robin. Here, in the small place, the only new thing is a pillar. Against it is a strap that, as Slade leads him to it, Robin realizes is for his hands.

         “Take off your shirt.”

         Robin’s fingers shake against his will as he obeys. He bites his teeth together, hard, reminding himself that he is Robin.

         The leader of the Teen Titans, no matter what Slade says. That’s what Robin believes. What he has to.

         Fabric flutters to the floor like a white flag of surrender. Slade’s hands catch Robin’s wrists in an uncompromising grip, guiding him upwards.

         Robin doesn’t dare resist as straps clamp around him, holding him there. He can feel the air against his back, cold. It raises goosebumps.

         Whipping, his mind supplies. Old military punishment. Pirates too. Painful, nasty. Leaves scars.

         The thought of Slade leaving any more scars on his body makes Robin pull halfheartedly at his bonds, to no avail. He hears Slade’s footsteps echo in the room, moving away to grab something. Robin hates not being able to see him, every sense and muscle straining to make sure he knows where he is and what he’s doing. Slade moves away and then returns—

         “I’m afraid that this will hurt quite a bit, my apprentice,” Slade says silkily. “Do feel free to scream. Nobody can hear you but me, after all.”

         Robin grits his teeth.

         “Twenty-five lashes should teach the lesson, I think.”

         Robin’s eyes shut. He doesn’t want this, doesn’t want any more pain. He just wants to curl up and go back to sleep and never think about the collar that burdens his neck or the trigger Slade’s fingers curl around ever again.

         That’s a luxury he does not have.

         “One.” The stern word is all the warning Robin gets before the whip cracks mercilessly through the air. Robin’s skin splits wide along burning nerves, opening veins and blood to air that should never touch it. He tastes blood on his tongue and realizes he’s bitten into it. Blood runs down his back as his legs spread to keep their balance.

         “Two.” The pain registers, slipping across the other wound and multiplying the agony. Robin lets out a choking yell that he can’t seem to hold back. His chest slams against the pillar painfully, arms stretching uncomfortably. Just my height.

         “Three.” Air curls through the wounds, burning brands on Robin’s skin. The sting doesn’t leave, only intensifying as Robins muscles move, slashed and cut into by the whip. He tries to relax but finds he can’t—

         “Four.” Robin yells loud in surprise and pain and curses himself for letting Slade see his weakness. He finds himself gasping against the pillar, pain pooling salty tears in his eyes. They are blinked away quickly, but not quick enough to avoid the next lashing, the next amused-blank statement of ”Five.” Robin hangs from the bonds, every breath sending pain and blood coursing down his back.

         “Does it hurt, apprentice? There’s more where that came from.”

         It hurts, all of it, crisscrossing canyons of agony that only build on one another. The whip is heavy and it cuts deep and Slade is strong and his slash is merciless. Every slash seems to make his muscles jump and jerk, slamming him against the wall.

         “Six.”

         “Seven.”

         Tears run down his face. He doesn’t know where he’s getting them—doesn’t want them to be there, wants them to stop. Eyelids squeeze shut with the will to make them stop but they don’t, trickling down his chin. Weak.

         “Eight.”

         “Nine.”

         He realizes he’s screaming with every crack of the leather, crying out in pain when he can get the breath in his lungs to do so. Blood spills down the back of his legs, even as his knees bend helplessly. Aching shoulders take the brunt of his weight, tugging at the burning lashes inked on his back in blood.

         “Ten.”

         Any attempt he tries to make to right himself stops when he’s pressed against the pillar again and again, cold on his face. He can feel himself drooling, unable to wipe the warm saliva off of his face. Blood is as hot as the pain that brands him, so cutting that he can’t tell the difference between them.

         Fingers curl at his chin, dipping through the tears and sweat as Slade leans in, body heat so close—Robin tries to pull away, pathetically, as Slade whispers in his ear. “Remember, you earned this.” Soft and incriminating and Robin bites his lip to stop a hopeless noise from twisting up from his gut. Eyes press shut as Slade moves back and he braces once again for the inevitable pain as the whip cracks.

         “Eleven.”

         “Twelve.”

         Robin didn’t imagine whipping could hurt this much as he twists and hangs at the mercy of the leather. One of the slashes cuts up to his neck and he arches, hissing, trying to get away from the unstoppable force that tears him open again and again. Rivers of blood wet his back and his hair as Robin shakes his head slightly. Pain courses down his back at the feeling.

         “Fourteen.”

         “Fifteen.”

         He’s sobbing in gasps now, not just tears from pain but tears from distress. Robin’s back is a landscape of ravaged flesh, veins torn open and spilling themselves across pale, bruised skin. The edges of agony twist, skin hanging open as cool air brushes where it’s never meant to be.

         All Robin can hear is the crack of the whip, Slade’s smooth voice thankfully lost in the pain and air between them. His heart beats, skips its beats, in the hollows of his ears, like the rushing of the waves. Fingers shake in their bonds, wrists rubbed raw as he flinches with every strike, the sharp sound preceding it only making him more terrified. Lashes crisscross, digging deeper into his skin as they pull Robin apart at the seams, shredding his skin as surely as if it had been run over with spinning blades.

         “P-please . . .” The sound is inaudible, should be, but Robin is somehow sure Slade heard it, can almost hear his dark laugh echoing behind him.

         Or is that real?

         The whip cracks for the second, the third, the thousandth time. Robin screams.

         Nobody can hear him but Slade.


 

         When it ends, Robin can’t feel it.

         He hangs there, cold sweat and blood and pain against stone, spit smeared against his face. Robin’s back screams in pain, nerves mercilessly shredded and blitzing signals of agony into his mind. The smell of blood permeates the room, stains every part of Robin.

         Rough hands close around his and Robin makes a small noise of protest. The restraints around his wrists are lessened, falling away—

         His knees weaken and give out, Robin sliding down the pillar helplessly for several seconds. All he sees is blurry colors, blinking away his tears and pain. Strong hands catch under his shoulders. Robin finds himself face to face with Slade’s orange and black uniform, bruised forehead bumping against his armor. A small, muffled noise of confusion slips his lips. Robin can’t seem to get his mind to work, can’t seem to register anything beyond hurthurthurt. He realizes absently that he’s drooling.

         Slade laughs softly.

         The hands hoist him, pull him forward. “Ah-ahh - !” Pain. Slade ignores him, as he always does.

         “Shush, pet. It’s all over,” Slade murmurs, Robin barely registering any of the words. Slade half-pulls half-carries him through the door, gripping him hard enough to bruise. Blood drips down his legs and stains his bare feet. The white floor that comes slowly into focus is stained red. He tastes it, too, in the metal of blood and the scent that he knows comes from him.

         Slade sets him down on the ground and this time Robin keeps his balance by spreading his legs. He leans a shoulder against the wall and hisses as it strains against his open wounds. Robin’s tugged by his arm again, stumbling into a room so bright it makes him shut his eyes. Legs fold as Slade presses him against the table, making him sit down. He moves near-silently. Robin’s eyes adjust, blinking at the white wall across from him.

         Slade is in front of him again. Fingers clamp on Robin’s chin and he shudders but doesn’t resist. The single, ice-blue eye stares into him, head tilted. “It hurts, hm?”

         Robin blinks up at him, eyes wide. He nods dazedly. The movement makes it hurt more.

         “Good.” Slade’s hands grip Robin’s wrists, fingers easily closing all the way around. He digs into raw skin left by the restrains, pulling Robin’s hands above his head. “Don’t move.” Robin stays obediently, biting an already bloody lip at the pain. He bleeds freely, all over the table, absently feeling it soak his pants.

         Slade comes back, winding bandages around Robin’s torso soundlessly. Robin hisses as they touch him, gritting bloody teeth as his ravaged skin is pressed on with rough fabric. Slade makes no noise as he twists the bandages around. Robin feels dizzy as the fabric presses against his wounds, winding tighter and tighter around him. He can feel it pressing in, feel the blood dripping from every facet and collecting in the fabric. The feeling burns, but he feels himself coming back to the present, to the white room, to Slade’s hands on him and dual colored mask staring him down with a merciless, half-interested eye.

         “Stand up.”

         Robin pulls himself forward on shaking hands to shaking feet, hitting the ground with a painful jolt. He looks up at Slade, the man’s uniform fuzzing and twisting into strange perspective. “Wh . . .”

         Robin passes out against the older man, face nearly smashing into his chest. Slade catches his shoulders easily, pulling him up, keeping him off the floor.


 

         Robin wakes up staring at a white ceiling.

         His throat is dry.

         He hurts.

         Darkness overtakes him.


 

         Robin wakes up in darkness.

         It’s not the real darkness, not the right kind. Not the darkness of Gotham City that hides the Bat and his brood and lets them flicker in and out of the shadows with their justice. This darkness pries and twists at him, lapping at the edges of his consciousness and trying to bite into him with teeth of shade.

         Robin stands in the middle of it, staring out at the mass of it—it’s like a living thing. He realizes he’s cold, the place biting into him, and he pulls his red robin jacket further around himself for warmth. He still shivers, stepping forward to get out of the cold and into someplace warmer.

         Instead, silver materializes in front of him, up and down and melted into the ground. Robin looks up, but the bars travel so far up into the sky he can see them connected to the moon, holding him in place. He puts his fingers on them but they burn, and his hands come away bleeding.

         “Dick!”

         Something swirls beyond the bars, some new darkness, this one . . . not Gotham-familiar but raven-black, down feathers twisting through the air. Two white eyes form the face of a little girl, a girl Robin’s age, with a hood and a cape and pale, pale skin.

         “Dick!” She’s yelling for Dick, for him, loud and visible. She comes closer, staring with open eyes, and all Robin can do is wave his hand out through the bars and gesture her over. He tries to open his mouth but he can’t speak.

         The girl turns and wings flap, curling up out of her back. “Dick! DICK!” Shrill voice yells for him, dying in the thickness of the darkness. She looks through him, past him, walks away as the black parts to swallow her up. Robin is left alone, staring through the bars.

         He can get to her if he just gets through the bars, he knows, he can find her and help her and help himself. Robin sticks a hand through the bars but they narrow around his arm, catching at his shoulder—forcing him to stay back, unable to get through it. But I have to. Robin knows that he has to, that he can, if he just tries hard enough, if he—if he twists his arm back and pulls in his stomach and flattens his face like Bruce taught him. Boots go through first, slim as paper, and Robin has to take all his concentration to keep his body small. Skin tears and peels as he presses himself through the small bars, torso getting bigger and smaller and gelling itself through. The last bits of Robin’s fingertips merge with his nails as he retracts them into his arm, finally pulling through the horrible silver bars of the cage. He tries to stare around, finding the direction that the girl went in—

         Robin tries to run after her but his paper-thin legs collapse under him, melted body unable to take the strain as he screams and falls to the ground, through the dark—

         “Hello, Dick,” murmurs the voice of Slade, and Robin looks up to see the sky split in black and orange, a gash in the middle making way for a mouth—

         Robin tries to burrow back into the darkness, fall back, but something grabs his wrist—both his wrists, wrapping around as painful as they always have been.

         “Let go!”

         “No,” Slade whispers, and it echoes, bouncing off the blackness all around them like a chorus. Robin is hot and itching and too close to him and Slade is grinning right in his face, gash down from the sky and stretching into the distance. Teeth are pointed and sharp and drooling, bright orange-red eyes staring without lashes. Robin screams, and screams, and screams, and Slade’s lips come down to Robin’s face and his tongue his hot on his skin and Robin is swallowed whole.

Chapter Text

            He wakes up, and his throat is dry. Robin swallows, almost choking on the lack of any kind of spit, staring up at the too-well lit ceiling.

         Everything hurts. It feels like his body is knitting itself back together with five inch needles and Robin can feel every last stroke, every last click of the needles reverberating in his brain. He can’t help a small groan from slipping out between his lips, almost embarrassingly.

         The light stays there, buzzing softly, as Robin wonders whether it’s worth getting up to get something and risk the burning pain in his back.

         He falls asleep wondering.


 

         The short rustling of fabric and footsteps makes Robin blink open his eyes, dry and painful. He sees a shadow looming against the white of the walls, truly noticing who it is when the telltale mask comes into view.

         “Good morning, apprentice,” Slade purrs.

         “How long . . .” Robin rasps, unable to think of anything else to say.

         “Twenty hours,” Slade says casually.

         “That . . . no, that doesn’t sound . . .”

         “Drink.” Robin opens his lips obediently, dropping off his words in his desperation for water. He sputters slightly, swallowing the cool liquid as if his life depends on it—for all he knows, it might. He protests as the glass disappears.

         “Ah-ah, you’ll make yourself sick,” Slade murmurs. He sets the glass next to Robin’s bed, firmly out of reach.

         Robin drops back to sleep with frustration on his tongue.


 

         When he wakes up again Slade is gone, his appearance firmly placed as a foggy memory or dream in the back of Robin’s mind. The lights are still on, less painful than Robin remembers. He sits there, staring at the ceiling, until he realizes he’s horribly thirsty.

         Robin groans as he sits up, every inch of his back on fire. It hurts just to move his arms, bandages wrapped tightly around his torso not doing much to help with the hurt. He can see blood on the bed underneath him, dark red on off white. Some of it dribbles down his back. Robin tries to ignore the itching feeling.

         It wasn’t a dream, Robin realizes, steeling himself for the pain to come as he reaches an arm out for the water. It goes down his throat lukewarm, the glass falling carelessly on the bed as Robin gets sick of the pain that reverberates through his torso. As he lays back down with a grunt, he realizes he’s been stripped naked.

         Again.


 

         “I know you’re not asleep, apprentice,” Slade warns. Robin’s eyes flick open instantly, staring at orange and black. A split second of déjà vu—and then it’s gone, back into the depths of his subconscious. All that’s there is Slade.

         This time, he’s holding a glass of water in one hand and something that looks like plain oatmeal. To Robin, nothing has ever looked as appetizing. His parched throat is thrown into sharp contrast. “I trust you’ve learned your lesson?”

         Robin grimaces. “Yes, master.”

         “Good.” Slade leans over him, throwing Robin in shadow as the man blocks out the lights. Fingers brush Robin’s bare cheek. They’re rough, but not in the way the gloves are rough—they’re calloused, slightly warm. Human hands, cupping Robin’s face, something that should be gentle but instead makes Robin’s insides shudder. Slade’s hands. “It’s perfectly normal to forget your place sometimes, and require correction. Temper tantrums, however, will not be tolerated.”

         Robin’s teeth grit under Slade’s hand. Those are the words he used to stop—the collar, still heavy on Robin’s neck and aching in his heart, now burning.

         “How I choose to show my ownership or exercise my authority is none of your concern. Your job is to obey—and your friends are always there to help you remember who is the master and who is the apprentice.”

         Robin feels his heartbeat in his cheek, under Slade’s fingers.

         “Understood?”

         Eyes flick to the black clothing that covers Slade’s skin. The words still burn his throat, but they seem lesser this time, more palatable.

         “Yes, master.”

         “Good. Now—apologize.”

         Robin looks at him, mouth slightly open. It closes sharply. The water is held in Slade’s hand, tempting and necessary. His eyes glance down at the pale sheets that thankfully cover his naked form. “I’m sorry, Master.”

         Slade regards him. “You don’t sound it. Perhaps another twenty lashes?” Robin’s eyes widen at the words.

         “No! No, Master—I’m sorry.” This time he is, not for making Slade angry but for fighting, for the pain that burns in his back, for the stupidity of lashing out. The futility of fighting back, here and now, in that way.

         His face burns from how easily Slade pulled the words out of him. Fuck, his back hurts, little burning rivers trailing down his skin and searing into muscle.

         You can plan, a voice whispers in his head, you can fight back in other ways. The sharp object left in Slade’s hideout calls out to him, possibly accessible.

         “Don’t let it happen again,” Slade murmurs, fingers brushing the collar as Robin’s teeth clench down. He retreats, thankfully, Robin taking a breath again.

         “Now, apprentice, would you like something to eat?” Slade’s voice is laced with something that sets off Robin’s alarms, even as he nods hesitantly.

         “Yes, please,” he says softly. He’s tired, angry, doesn’t think he can look Slade in the eye and make him angry again.

         Fear?

         Is that what this is?

         Robin stares down at the water and the oatmeal that Slade hands him. He doesn’t miss the plastic spoon even as he grabs it in his hand to begin to eat—

         Slade’s bare hand grips his wrist, and Robin notices the hair on it is—white? Or is it just the light? His detective’s brain files it away for later, even as he looks up at the mask.

         “Aren’t you forgetting something?” Slade purrs.

         “Thank you,” Robin says, after half a second’s confusion, “master.”

         “Good boy.”

         Robin tries to ignore him as he watches, leers, lords his possession. Robin feels like he can’t even be bothered as he digs into the food, scolding himself for not being aware enough—but god, he’s hungry, he can’t find it in himself to care as Slade watches him shovel down oatmeal like Cyborg.

         The thought almost makes him pause his eating but he doesn’t, just presses it down and locks it away and promises himself he will see him again.

         It seems so terribly out of reach, now. It hurts.

         Light shines off the bowl when Robin hands it back, gulping down the last swallow of cool water. Slade takes it, still frustratingly expressionless, and yet—if Robin had to guess, he’d say he was smiling. The thought makes him shiver slightly.

         He promises himself he’s not afraid of Slade.

         Robin’s mind curls in on itself, pressing aside the humiliation and power that Slade exerts at every minute, just to prove that he can control Robin’s activities. Control his body—

         But not his mind. Never his mind. Robin folds that part of himself that thinks and that resists and that hates deep into his mind, imagining brick walls building up to protect himself from the defeat.

         It is a defeat, all of it, the burning pain in his back and his easy submission to Slade’s will—

         A defeat that Robin will take for his friends, because he must, because there is simply no other choice.

         He finds himself tugging at the collar, rubbing the skin raw, trying to get it off. Robin is glad there is no mirror in the room that he can see himself in, marked by Slade.

         Owned , Slade’s voice whispers in his mind.


 

         The days that Robin spends recovering are barely remembered and hardly counted. What little hope he had left of knowing how long he’s been under Slade’s thumb fades away in his fingers—months, at this point. Months, culminating in an incident he knows that he will have the scars from for the rest of his life. Every movement he makes stretches old wounds and makes them bleed. Eating is painful and unpleasant but Robin pushes through. Slade is giving him enough to eat for once. Asshole doesn’t want me to die for once, Robin thinks spitefully as he downs every drink of water that Slade brings him.

         The worst part of it all is when he has to use the restroom, once or twice a day—dragging himself out of bed with a hiss of pain and slowly, torturously making his way across the small room to the even smaller bathroom. Robin tries to wash off parts of himself with the freezing, metallic water, but he still feels filthy at the end of it—still bleeds all over his sheets. Every trip leaves him exhausted, curled up naked on the floor with his head spinning, dizziness and pain overtaking him.

         Slade might help him.

         Robin thinks he would rather die than ask.


 

         Robin can’t help himself starting when he hears the door open. Slade is always the one to come through—Robin pretends he’s startled because he’s afraid of Slade, because he wants to stay alert, but he knows the truth is that he can’t stop himself from looking forward. Slade is always there with something to eat, to drink, something to keep Robin alive.

         Dependence, Robin’s mind whispers. It does nothing to help. Sometimes Slade makes him ask, or waits there in the doorway, leaving Robin to look at him expectantly with nervousness in his gut. Power trip , Robin thinks, but he knows better. It’s a calculated ploy to remind Robin who holds the cards here.

         If Slade wanted to, he could starve him.

         The thought creates only a dull chill. Robin has been living with Slade hanging over his head for too long to be truly afraid, now.

Here Slade is, tall as ever, masked as ever—hands still bare and pale compared to the rest of it. This time, however, he comes with a roll of bandages and a water bottle, pulling Robin up easily by the collar.

         Robin closes his eyes and grits his teeth, wincing as the pain as he forces himself to stay upright without Slade. His arms support him painfully—even if he knows that it’s not as bad as it was before.

         “Raise your arms,” Slade commands. Robin shifts uncomfortably, his winces showing on his face. Slade strips off the bandages without warning him, without delicacy, leaving Robin hissing through his teeth. Snowy-white stained red unpeels onto the ground like some sort of disturbing fruit, curling at Robin’s feet. Slade’s fingers brush his skin, rough and calloused. They feel detached.

         Slade examines the wounds. Robin lets out an “Ow!” as fingers brush at the gouges, still bleeding sluggishly. Gouges that Slade placed in his skin with brutal, unforgiving efficiency.

         “I’m afraid this will scar, apprentice,” Slade says as he pulls out the bandages. He doesn’t sound remotely sorry. “It will serve as a reminder, hm?”

         Robin doesn’t reply, just stares at the bandages on the floor. They’re getting it bloody, cold floor. His blood. Slade squeezes a sound of pain from him seconds later as he winds the bandages back around his chest. Robin bites his lip, tasting blood from the scab. Why is Slade bothering to take care of him? Making sure he doesn’t die, Robin supposes. Can’t let the apprentice keel over from—blood loss?

         “Is it infected?” Robin asks. There’s a small bit of fear shattering in his gut in the silence between them. It dissolves when Slade replies with a neutral, “No.”

         That’s some relief. At least the damage to skin and muscle won’t be exacerbated or fester into some of the pictures that Batman showed him—

         Robin doesn’t want to think about Batman and the code he typed in so shortly ago—a betrayal. A message, he hopes, if Bruce can get it. Bruce has to have gotten it, has to have known.

         Has to have believed that Robin would never betray him.

         Slade rips tape and presses it against Robin’s side shortly, digging into bruised ribs. Robin winces but doesn’t let himself make any noise. He leans in, mask close to Robin’s ear. Robin freezes.

         “You’re welcome,” Slade purrs.

         The door closes with a dry slam.


 

         Robin has time to think when he stares up at the ceiling, back sending burning waves through the forms of his muscles. Moving hurts, agony twisting through his muscles when he attempts it. Push-ups don’t work, because he collapses after ten of them, gasping with exhaustion on the floor. He’s getting stronger.

         It’s only so much time until Slade puts him to work again, fighting until he passes out. In the meantime, there is nothing to do but sit and wait and stare at the white ceiling—when it’s not covered in the darkness that Slade brings when he considers it time to sleep. Robin sleeps in the light or the dark, dropping off before he knows it, thoughts blurring into dreams. A bat chases him through a darkened corridor that opens onto the top of Wayne Enterprises, Robin jumping off of the roof—only to forget he doesn’t have wings any more, falling and reaching out to his mother who screams in his face and cries with the roar of the crowd.

         He wakes up feeling sick.

         This isn’t what it would be like if he was at the tower—if he was there, he would be trying to leave while Kori and Rae pinned him down, and he’d have to fight Gar for the Xbox but would probably just end up half asleep on the couch while Gar fought with Vic about who was winning.

         Robin never thought he would miss those screaming noises, but staring up at the ceiling so unsure of his future, cold and alone in a place he knows only Slade is there to see. He wishes he could talk to Kori one last time before he left—

         When the last thing he said to her was angrily talking about how he needed to go find Slade. When the last thing he told them was demanding that they follow him to go find Slade. When all they had to hear about was Robin locked in his room, searching for Slade.

         That’s the last memory they have of him.

         I guess you’ll have to make some new ones when you get back, Robin thinks fiercely to himself. He will not stay here all his life, will not let the fear that crawls over his skin when he thinks of how long he’s been here become truth. His life is too long to spend it biting back threats under Slade’s thumb.

         Never seeing his friends again.

         I’m sorry, he whispers.

         Robin closes his eyes and thinks of their arguing, smiling, screaming faces. Are they thinking of him? Do they know what happened?

         Are they looking for him?

         Robin drifts off in a haze of pain, and he dreams of kissing Kori on top of Titans tower while Raven sits at the sun and Beast Boy plays volleyball.

         He’s happy.


 

         The days drag on in purgatory. Robin gets stronger every day, pulling himself across the ground a little easier. Healing is quicker than he might have thought, but he, as always, has no way to tell how much time is passing. The feeling is suffocating and strange but just more of Slade telling him how much power he does not have and does not get. Robin can handle that, can play a part just as well as anybody else.

         It’s something Bruce taught him.

         Robin thinks he would like to kiss Kori when he gets back. She’s pretty, he can think of her so well, knowing that she’s still there.

         That’s what Slade threatens, Kori and Vic and Gar and Rae, the team. Their passion and friendship and loyalty and empathy and caring. He’s taken Robin away and Robin needs to has to m u s t find a way to get back

         But can he risk Kori keeling over and screaming as the nanobots eat her from the inside out? Or maybe she’ll just be sitting there playing with Silky and her eyes will go dull and blank and dead, falling limply back on the couch. Maybe Slade will catch her on the way back to her planet, because he knows who they all are now, thanks to Robin and his carelessness. Maybe Kori will die in the air, crashing to the ground and cracking already dead bones on rough concrete.

         That’s silly. She’s not that fragile, she’s Tamaranean.

         The image can’t leave his head. Would he subject himself to a life under Slade’s thumb to avoid even the smallest risk of it happening? Is it worth getting the team back together, saving Robin from Slade, if they could die?

         It’s the kind of decision a leader is supposed to make.

         Robin doesn’t know if he can.


 

         He wakes up and the collar is digging into his neck. The pain is what pulls him out of the dream, something dark and raining and screaming he can’t properly remember. It’s gotten twisted around, putting pink lines in pale skin. Robin tries to get fingers between the leather and his neck to make it more bearable, but it only helps a little. Mostly he tries to ignore the collar—impossible when it’s almost all he wears, when Slade can’t help but brush his fingers over it fondly and dare Robin to protest with his one all staring eye. Robin doesn’t, just sits there softly—sometimes stewing in anger, sometimes too tired to care that Slade is running his fingers over him again and again. Just as always.

         This time, it’s a small, uncomfortable fix. Robin has to keep his fingers near his neck to stop it from chafing any more, but if he’s being honest, he doesn’t have anything better to do. The blanket keeps him barely warm enough, Robin huddling under it with only his body for warmth. He can’t curl up very well because of the pain in his chest.

         The collar hurts. It hurts more than just skin, seeming to burn into his soul. Just leather and steel, Robin has to remind himself daily. He calms himself with promises of home.

         Home.

         Robin reaches under his body, not quite thinking of what he’s doing.

         HOME.

         He can feel the lumps in the mattress, the skinny thing giving easily under his hands. He swore he could feel the springs when he slept on it the first night - weeks? - ago. Now, they’re a comfort. Sharp. Dangerous. Robin doesn’t know how he’s going to rely on them, but he knows any kind of metal is dangerous. He knows that he could pick the lock with it, perhaps. Get in and mess with the wiring. Robin knows that Slade will kill his friends if he tries.

         But he needs something. He needs some kind of assurance, something to rely on.

         Even if he’s just pretending to resist Slade’s whims.

Chapter Text

            “I am Robin,” Robin says to the ceiling, with conviction he doesn’t quite feel.


 

         Slade shows up at the door the day that Robin walks to the bathroom without falling over once, easy and strong. He’s there as soon as the lights turn on, throwing the clothes on the ground with the same awful, expressionless mask.

         “Get up, boy.”

         Robin stares up at the ceiling with pain echoing through his body. His eyes close, he prays to keep them closed and simply drift away to his dreams again. The light still cuts into them like a pick. Pleas hang on his dry lips, but he knows they will go unacknowledged.

         He’s almost too tired to care if Slade catches an eyeful of him, halfheartedly wrapping the sheets around himself as he goes to dress. Modesty isn’t something he’s been afforded, and there’s some part of him that just doesn’t care anymore.

         That part scares him a little.


 

         Robin passes out after what can’t be more than twenty minutes. The wounds on his back tear open, bleeding through the bandages and making the wounds stick to the white outfit. He collapses, gasping for air, muscles failing under him.

         He hates that Slade has to catch him.


 

         Things go back to normal, almost. It makes Robin shudder that he’s almost thinking of this as normal, as the backbreaking impossible pace that Slade demands as expected. The pain in his back slowly recedes, even if he can’t tell how long it is. Wounds ache every time Slade hits him.

         He thinks he might be getting better, but Slade never says anything except acerbic notes on his style and his posture and his abilities and his reflexes.

         “Why did you even bother to try to train me if you think I’m such a hopeless failure?” Robin asks him once, when he’s too tired to think better of it. Slade catches his throat by the collar, tilting his head up to look in his eye, breath in his face.

         “Because you have potential. I don’t like to see it go to waste on someone like the Bat. You could be . . . useful to me, and dangerous, in time.” The hand drops. “Now, however? I suggest you get back to practicing the basics you can barely master.”


 

         Anxiety begins to pool in Robin’s stomach when Slade leads him once again to the shower. He notes that he’s slept well enough to function this time as the water runs over his back, washing away the grime of days. It stings as it pounds down—not that it hadn’t been washed before, but now the pressure makes him shudder. Dried blood pools pink before it’s swept away down the drain, Robin for once not bothering to clean his back using the caustic soap that Slade provides. He just scrubs off the dirt and sweat as best he can, mildly wondering how Slade can stand to be around him. How has Robin not noticed how badly he smells these few days?

         He’s getting used to it.

         Getting used to all of it.

         Robin grinds his teeth as he washes the slime out of his hair. His gel is long gone, and his hair lays in pathetic little strings. Just one more thing to separate him from who he is—who he chooses to be. He tries not to look at himself in the mirror as he towels off, stepping into the orange-and-black costume as fast as he can. So, he was right. What’s Slade going to make him do now? Steal for him?

         Real fear pools in Robin’s gut now. Slade can make him steal from his friends to help him, and Robin will have no choice.

         And what about killing?

         Robin shuts the thought out of his mind with a grimace.

Slade leans in the doorway, looking bored. “Don’t waste my time.” Robin is next to him in seconds with a mumbled “I’m sorry, Master,” following him through the cold halls.

         Every step just makes the things clawing at his gut worse, reminding him of what Slade made him do the last time this happened. He slows, and Slade pulls at his collar, jerking him along with two fingers against his jugular. Robin gags, stumbling, but keeps walking. He notices his face burning, detached.

         The room is as huge and imposing as Robin remembers, the gears whirring in the background, like some kind of huge nefarious machine pumping away at schemes too large for Robin to have any conception of. It makes him feel small, smaller still as Slade steps up the dais to lounge in his throne. Robin steps up behind him. Slade’s eye regards him.

         A snap of the fingers. Slade points at the ground at his feet. Robin stares, lowering himself slowly in defeat. He leans against the chair with a sigh, studiously avoiding Slade’s boots inches to his side. It bites into his back painfully, but he can’t find it in himself to care.

         “Your next mission is of particular importance,” Slade purrs. The tone is not anger, but it sets off Robin’s fear for another reason, for the sheer satisfaction in his voice that Robin knows comes from tormenting him. The screen flicks on.

         Right next to the graphs of Robin’s team, the viruses that pollute their bloodstream.

         The Titans Tower.

         Robin can’t breathe. He just stares, the picture probably taken from a newspaper article, grainy and in poor resolution and nothing like the real thing. There’s a part of him that’s so glad to see it. Home. One of the homes that he has, the one in Jump City with his friends. Where his room with the grainy pictures of his parents and the photos of him and Bruce and Alfred where Alfred is only halfway in the frame because he had to run the camera’s time limit, where the pictures of Slade are still up because he was tracking him when he left. He thinks it might be several seconds before he sucks a grateful breath of air back into his lungs, staring at the thing in front of him with pain curling around him.

         “This is your target,” Slade drones.

         “Please . . .” Robin’s forehead meets a curled fist, the words out of his lips before he realizes what’s happening. Begging.

         Maybe I don’t deserve the room-

         “What was that, apprentice?” Slade asks, voice heavy with amusement.

         “Nothing,” Robin mutters. Slade makes an amused little hm sound that lets Robin know that Slade heard him.

         Thought it was funny, because if he hadn’t, he would have let Robin know with his fists.

         “You know the codes and passcodes,” Slade says, with all the assurance that he exudes. It’s not something Robin can deny, and he stares dead-eyed at the tower that his friends live in. Cy designed it, and Robin has the override codes that only Cyborg has the override-overrides to. He had them built into the system, in case something happened and he needed them to save his friends.

         He didn’t think that he would ever be on the end of that scenario, but he should have expected it. Prepare for everything, Bruce’s voice reminds him, and Robin shrinks down from the angry glare. How could I have expected this?!

         “I want you to go into the vault and get me the latest thing you took from Dr. Light—the spectrum processor. It’s small enough you can carry it with you, and go in and out very quickly. You’ll enter through the air and exit off the roof. No more than ten minutes, do I make myself clear?”

         “Yes, Master.” He barely remembers anything about the battle with Dr. Light—except that Cyborg seemed very interested in the technology involved. Robin doesn’t need the blueprints this time, but Slade gives them anyways. He seems to like to rest on ceremony sometimes. Robin wants to ask how he got them, but it doesn’t seem worth it to invite more of that voice, or to risk angering Slade, even though he doesn’t know what about it he would find to be mad about. Slade seems in a good enough mood not to mind, now that Robin thinks of it, can almost feel the grin behind the mask.

         When did I become so attuned to his moods? Sometime in the months he’s spent with him, with the only other person, threatened with horrible violence. Robin’s back aches. I wanted to know Slade. Now he does, in ways he’d never imagined (he smells like spice and artificial pine and sweat and danger and his fingers are like a vice and he sounds like a smooth vinyl record up close and his fingers are rough like used sandpaper and three times as mean.)

         When Slade hands Robin the glass of water to be knocked out, Robin downs it obediently, without a second thought, gaze fixed on the half and half mask, staring into the icy eye until black blurs his vision and he crumples.


 

         You’ll return to the warehouse when you’re done, Slade had instructed him, and the tiny part of Robin that still feels . . . hopeful, had reared its head and reminded him of the spiked weapon under the boxes, imprinted in Robin’s prodigious memory. A weapon, Robin’s weapon, even as it is carved with razor edges in Slade’s cruel S shape. The rest of the weapons adorn Robin’s person. Twin blades hang heavy on his back, untouched. Razorangs and bombs with Slade’s insignia fill the belt, matching the symbol on his chest.

         The symbol on the collar that shudders on his neck, reminding him who he’s working for. Who owns you, Slade’s voice whispers, hated.

         “Get ready,” Slade says into his ear in real time, lodged tinny in the earpiece that Robin wears. Robin braces himself in the wind, whirring past him at god knows how many miles per hour as he hangs on the precipice, staring down at the top of Titans Tower belong. Robin chose the spot himself—surrounded by water to make it more difficult for enemies to sneak up on them, just close enough to the city to be a good operating center and just far away enough not to be bothered. He’d scouted out at least ten sites before the building began. Going in through the top was something he’d considered, even set up the Titan’s security for, but Slade’s stealth plane is hanging above the Tower too steadily for even Cyborg’s machinations to detect them, skilled as he is.

         Robin hopes he can. Hopes he knows they’re coming, even though he shouldn’t hope, even though he knows in his mind that everything needs to go smoothly for his friends to live.

         Hope is the one spite he has against Slade, and he pulls it up from inside himself to keep himself warm as the air moves coldly past him and the chills of the assignment he’s taking pool in him.

         “Three . . .” Slade’s voice says, smooth in his ear. “Two . . . One.” Robin sucks in a deep breath of air. “Jump.” Robin steps over the edge.

         He’s falling, air whipping hard against his body so hard it hurts, stuck in a tunnel where he can barely move his hands. Robin’s limbs are bulky, difficult to move, and his muscles act strangely in the absurdly high pressure environment. The top of the Titans tower rushes towards him, outlined in slightly fogging goggles.

         Robin considers never getting into position, simply letting himself fall until he crashes, broken, against the pavement, a mess of blood and bones fighting through skin and viscera.

         He discards it absently, and thinks that the thought should disturb him more than it does. Instead, it just sounds dully in his mind like everything else. His limbs twist anyways, thumb clicking at the button on his palm. The suit sprouts webbing between his arms and legs and shoulders, slowing his rate by several hundred percent, and Robin spirals down.

         An intruder in his own home.

         Black boots hit the ground hard, Robin almost biting through his tongue again as he rolls across the concrete. A quick inventory afterwards tells him nothing is injured, just bruised. Almost as bruised as he gets from Slade’s abuse. Robin gets to his feet slowly, pressing a finger to his earpiece. “Landed.”

         “Acknowledged. I’ll be watching you, my apprentice.”

         Robin lets the words echo in his mind.

         He remembers standing up on this roof with Star, a month or so before the incident with Slade, laying back on the concrete and stargazing. Star had managed to tear him away from whatever his project at the time had been—nothing so important as his work with Slade. She’d dragged pillows up from the common area and set them on the roof before the last of the summer heat dwindled away. It was high enough that they could look up and see the stars spread across the sky like the sugar that Star sprinkles liberally on her pasta and look down to see the city lights blinking up at them like Tamaranean eyes.

         “This is actually pretty nice,” Robin found himself admitting. A pause. “Best view in the city.”

         “I find Earth has become much more dear to me than I have expected,” Starfire says. Green eyes look sideways at Robin, who quickly flicks his own away to pretend like he wasn’t looking. “The places . . .” Fingers in a small hand lay between the two of them, like an offering. “And the people.”

         “The team is . . . “ Robin begins, and then stops. Looks up at the flickering stars. “I’ve, um.” He doesn’t look at Star. His own hand, glove slipped off minutes ago, stretches out between them—finding nothing, to his own embarrassment. Robin moves to pull back, but a strong hand wraps around his own, fingers intertwining. Robin takes another breath of heady night air. “I—didn’t think the stars could be so pretty. Or . . . the things that come from them.”

         Fingers squeeze him.

         He squeezes back.

         “Get moving.”

         Robin all but jumps at Slade’s angry tones, feeling the hairs on the back of his neck only go down when he remembers that Slade is far away from him. For now. Fingers curl into fists as Robin prepares to sneak into one of the only places he has ever called a home like an intruder.

         To steal from his friends.

         Robin will have to get in and get out, because he knows he can’t face them. Not like this, not with . . . everything he is. Everything he’s not.

         The door is locked, but Robin gets in with a quick scan of his thumbprint. There are override codes, but they would give away his identity quicker than using his thumb would. Nothing moves, the time of day just late enough that everyone would be getting to bed. Unless Beast Boy was on a particularly tough gaming marathon, everyone would be asleep—or, at least, in their room, in Raven’s case.

         Lights flick on as Robin moves down the corridor, everything coming back to him with a pang. Being back here almost physically hurts, like the whipping scars are in more places than just his back, like Slade carved the Grand Canyon in his soul and tried to wrap it back up with bedsheets. Right to the left is the exercise room where he should be sparring with Cy, and to the right is the room he can curl up in. The urge to go, so simply look, is almost overwhelming—but Robin knows that if he goes, he won’t be able to control the lump in his throat and that the ever-present demon lodged near his eardrum wouldn’t let him. Instead, he steps forward, trailing his way through the rooms to find the trophy room. (Gar had suggested they make a maze to make sure intruders had trouble getting in, but Robin had shot him down with a more intuitive setup instead.)

         Every nerve is raw to the cool air, but Robin sees nobody around as he moves the short distance. The tiled floor could have carried his sound a long way, but Robin knows how to move on it. He knows every bit of the place. The door to the security chamber comes up huge in his vision. Robin checks behind the corner before going up to it, feeling grossly vulnerable.

         Robbing his friends. Only his second crime, against the people he cares about and the law that he claims to uphold. Fingers shake as he scans the thumbprint. The door opens loudly, Robin wincing and resisting the urge to scuttle off to the shadows before anyone sees or hears him. Bright lights meant to show off the objects in the collection shine down on top of him, and Robin has to quickly slam the button on the left to make sure that Beast Boy’s voice welcoming all visitors to the museum doesn’t blare out of Cyborg’s old speakers. The door swings closed, but the lights remain, hot on Robin’s skin and the black and orange that covers him. He can’t remember the last time he was here, specifically. Robin saved the evidence that Slade left in his office, in a box or pinned up on his wall where he could see it. All that’s here is the things taken from smaller villains, in cases or on walls or wherever they’d seen fit to put it. It’s well organized, thanks to Robin and Raven’s efforts.

         Robin’s eyes comb the placards for the spectrum processor. It’s recent, so he doesn’t have to go far to find it, finger following the words. Eyes flick up to the top of it, where the instrument should be—

         Nothing there.

         Robin’s stomach slams into the ground at his feet as he grimaces, looking on the floor and waving his hand over the space on the pedestal where the small device should be. Nothing.

         “It’s not here,” he says.

         “You won’t be leaving that tower without it,” Slade replies almost casually. Robin can feel the threat in his voice through the line. Fuck. Robin glances around the room, not expecting to find anything. Where could it have gone?

         Cyborg. The answer comes to Robin after only a few seconds’ thought. Robin’s fists clench in frustration as he remembers how Cyborg had mentioned wanting to take a look at it when they brought it in from Light. He must’ve taken it to his workshop. That’s not good at all. The workshop is a whole level down, making it much easier to get out, but Robin knows he has no choice. He’d hoped not to have to go down to the next level.

         Robin rarely uses the elevator, instead preferring the stairs for their speed. He can’t use it now, risk being slow and making more noise. He pads across strangely empty rooms, feeling as if he should be in his pajamas getting up for a midnight snack, overdressed for the occasion. Nobody makes a sound, and Robin starts to relax slightly as he slips down the stairs and into the main room. Beast Boy isn’t there snoring, like Robin was worried he might be, but the detritus from his snacks and a pizza neatly polished off are left in the room.

         It’s only a day old. They ate it, the day before this. Robin’s friends are alive, eating, playing, saving the city, just as real as they were without him. It all seems so distant, but it aches in the canyon in his chest, torn open at the horribly familiar scene. Every step Robin takes through it pulls at stitches, sending something jabbing into his guts. Nails press into his palms even through the fabric of his gloves.

         Slade will kill them.

         Slade will kill your friends.

         It’s a twisted mantra that flows through his mind as he clings to the shadows and steps into Cyborg’s machine shop. Robin doesn’t understand most of the things in the place, but he can bet he understands them better than most people. Wires twist, some crackling with small currents, machines vivisected and their parts put on display. It smells of engine oil and Subway.

         Robin steps in, taking care not to step on any of the discarded things on the floor. He sees the T-car’s engine on the workbench, stepping past it to see the things behind. There. The spectrum processor. It looks like Cy hasn’t taken it apart yet, which is lucky, because Robin wouldn’t know how to begin to go about putting it back together for Slade. His hand passes a half-eaten sandwich as he reaches for the device. It’s lighter than he expected . . .

         Wait. A half-eaten sandwich? Vic would never leave a sandwich half-eaten. Not if he could help it. Which means . . .

         The sandwich is fresh. Robin can smell it.

         Fuck.

         “Turn around,” booms Cyborg, behind and out of sight. “Hands up.” The telltale sign of his canon powering up hums in Robin’s ears and thrums in the machine station.

Chapter Text

            Robin’s heart pounds in his ears, a startled banging against his eardrums. His fingers turn white against the device, feeling caught in the sights of Cy’s canon.

         “Not a word,” Slade purrs. “I’m your master now.”

         Robin grits his teeth. Before Cy can say anything else, Robin is dodging and flipping against the wall. He’s counting on the fact that Vic will not want anything to happen to the machines in his shop, and sure enough, the bolts don’t come. Robin flips and ducks between Vic’s legs before he can see his face, before Vic can see his. He aches, even fighting against his friend like this. Slade’s earpiece is heavy in his ear. Hands shake as they hold the device.

         Robin’s legs move as fast as he can, shooting down the hall towards the game room. He can hear Cy behind him, hear the cannon booting up, and this time there’s nothing stopping Cy from shooting at him. Robin throws himself to the side to avoid the blast—but he’s wrong about which one it is. He’s on the floor hissing in pain as thirty decibels of sound pounds directly into his head. The earpiece crackles painfully. Robin can’t hear Cyborg’s heavy footsteps approaching him but he knows that they’re there. He crawls pitifully forward along the floor, pressing both hands to his ears as hard as he can to lessen the ringing as he gets up, a hand against the wall for balance.

         I have to get up to the roof.

         “Halt or I do it again,” Cyborg threatens. His voice is dangerous, a tone that’s never been pointed in Robin’s direction before, only at enemies and people trying to hurt other members of the Titans. It hurts something in him.

         “Attack,” Slade hisses in Robin’s ear. “Attack or I press the button.” Robin grits his teeth, head aching as he spins to face Cyborg. Robin’s face is hidden in shadow as he throws razorangs from his fingers—to the weak spots he’s heard Cyborg complain about so many times before.

         Robin’s off down the hall, half-cocked steps picking up speed before he sees the results. Nothing hits him in the back, knocking him to the ground before he rounds the corner, and he knows that he’s safe—

         The alarm blares, so loud it makes Robin flinch. It’s the same thing that’s woken him from restless sleep to an invasion at the tower so many times before, rattling through his bones without respite. Red casts his face and the hall in sick light as Robin bounds back up the stairs with all his effort. If he can just—

         A crashing noise behind him, the sound of crumbling architecture. Cyborg is catching up. Robin’s fingers clench around the device in his hand. Feet pound across familiar paths, winding their way back to the beginning. Back to Slade. Running back to Slade. The thought hurts, but there is no other choice. Breath is puffing in his lungs, legs moving in rhythm, Robin pushing down the pain in his muscles and the cords tightening around his heart with equal fervor. Something aches in the back of his throat, and he chooses to pretend that it’s the exertion he should be perfectly used to.

         Robin skids to a stop before the longest hallway, panting. The tower is big, easier to traverse when thinking of the latest assignment or talking with friends. Slade’s training has taken his toll on his young body, feeling weak against the wall.

“Move, boy.” Robin’s up again, running at breakneck speed. He has the advantage that nobody knows where he’s going. The floor moves past his feet in a blur of off-color. Robin looks up, skidding instantly to a stop at the sight in front of him.

         “Robin?”

         Robin’s mouth doesn’t open on command. It’s all he can do to take in Starfire in front of him, hands powering down from an attack that doesn’t come, still dressed in purple pajamas with slightly too-long sleeves. “X’hal! It is really you!” She rushes him, arms outstretched, and Robin doesn’t have time to parry before he’s wrapped in an embrace of inhuman strength. She smells like sweat and sleep and the last brand of floral conditioner she picked up from the store. The warmth of another person so near to him is a shock to Robin’s system. Blood seems to flow to his extremities for the first time in months, fingers curling as his hand rests awkwardly on Star’s hip, warm skin under thin fabric.

         “Star . . .” Even her name is foreign on his tongue. It feels like a warm drink. Star’s face pulls back to get a good look at him, eyes shining.

         “We thought you . . . you had been taken away!” Robin’s mouth opens slightly. Her eyes take in his clothing. “What is it you are wearing?” She asks, and the thread of suspicion that runs through her voice twists the needle into Robin’s soul.

         “No touching,” Slade says sharply in Robin’s ear. Sheer horror tumbles through him, forcing nerves down to the ground.

         “I—Star—” He gently pushes her away, prying her fingers off him, regretting it the instant her touch leaves his skin wanting for warmth and contact. Fingers fist to try to convince themselves they’re still holding onto her.

         “Robin?” Her voice is more hesitant now, doubting, taking in the orange and black, the hated S insignia—

         The collar that burns around his neck.

         Robin all but pushes her away, eyes going to the white wall, the floor, anything else, face falling in shame. He pushes past her harshly, trying to get moving again, shoulder against hers. Fingers trail along his arm as he pushes forward.

         “Robin!”

         Fingers close around his wrist. Robin doesn’t get a chance to look behind him as someone new skids around the corner, tripping slightly as he stops short. Beast Boy’s mouth falls open in surprise. “Robin?”

         Robin tugs halfheartedly on his wrist in Starfire’s grip, feeling panic rise in him, almost swamping him. Beast Boy’s face is shocked and almost-relieved, right up until he takes in the uniform that Robin wears.

         “Wha . . .”

         Move,” Slade snarls in Robin’s ear. Robin flinches, yanking himself out of Star’s halfhearted grip, running towards Beast Boy. He finds himself facing the stomach of a huge ape, trying to weave around it with little luck.

         Resonant steps bring Cyborg back up the stairs and Robin curses himself for getting distracted.

         “Got you,” Cyborg says triumphantly.

         “Robin!” Star is behind Robin now, inches in the air from the sound of it, too close. “Robin, please speak to me. Why are you wearing Slade’s symbols?”

         Robin grits his teeth. He could stop now, apologize, take Star in his arms and stop their stares and gazes and the hesitation in their eyes. There is not a single part of him that wants anything more.

         Yet Slade’s finger hovers on the trigger. Robin aches, every last bit, as he feints and ducks around Beast Boy’s configuration. I’m the leader. I have to make decisions like this. Decisions for their own good. The good of the team.

         He’s running down the hall, a strangled call of “Robin!” echoing after him and through his soul, feet pounding once again as he makes another turn, easy memorization in his familiarity. His hand clutches the hated device. Robin almost runs smack into the dark barrier of energy that crosses the hallway.

         “Robin,” Raven says. The energy catches, just enough opening for Robin to try to slip through—

         He crashes to the ground with Beast Boy’s body on top of him. The weight falters as he grows smaller, Robin getting up as best he can to throw him off. Gar yells in his ear.

         “Robin! Hey, Robin! What’s your problem?”

         “Attack them.” Slade’s voice brooks no room for rebellion, as always. “Attack them, unless you want them to die.”

         Robin squeezes his eyes shut as he stands up and slams Gar against the wall, hands still clinging to his shoulders. Beast Boy lets go with a yell and Robin flips over Kori, sneaking up on him, finding himself with his back against the wall. He doesn’t give them or himself a chance to react as he flips, spinning in the air, landing on the other side of the passage. Robin tries to double back, running past Cyborg, who reaches out to stop him with one metallic hand. To Cy’s surprise, Robin digs the razorang into the processors in his arm with a hiss that sends electricity sputtering along his whole forearm.

         “What the hell—”

         Robin brushes past him, but fingers close on his arm. He’s pressing down and wrenching the hand away from him on instinct. Robin has Kori in an armlock, twisting in a way that has to hurt, pulling another razorang out of his belt. She yells in pain and Robin freezes, letting go instantly with an apology on his lips before Raven’s energy flies at him with a growl. Robin hits the wall, feeling his back where Slade whipped him ache with nearly healed wounds. He tries to weave around them again—

         “I said attack,” Slade growls. “Or my nanobots eat them alive. Do you want to be responsible for the death of your former friends, boy?”

         Robin’s fingers clamp around his prize, jaw clenching so hard that it’s almost cramping. All of this goes against every atom of his being, but he has no choice. There is no other option but to do as Slade says, because no matter how much it hurts, the alternative is worse.

         Robin knows every single weakness each one of his friends has. It’s part of his training. Batman made him list the weaknesses and strengths of every member, the parts that could be exploited and improved. It was an exercise meant to improve his strategizing, but at the same time, Robin suspects that it was meant for something like this: fighting his friends, if one of them were to go rogue or become mind controlled. It’s come in handy once or twice, but now Robin wishes he had never learned it, never observed so closely as to know every little spot he can poke and prod at. When he was Red X, it was what helped him get close to Slade in the first place—

         Now, it’s going to be used against him. Robin hates every little bit of it, every little bit of himself for facilitating it, but he jumps forward with his hands raised anyways.

         It’s Star who charges at him first. “Robin, you must listen to me!”

         She’s the hardest to beat in a straight up sparring match, and Robin has ended up on his back more times than he cares to remember. That just means he has more practice fighting against her. Star is weak on her left side, and Robin ducks there, dropping the razorang to pull another tool in his belt. The moves she pulls aren’t even meant to attack, which makes it all the easier to pin the small explosive to her chest and set it off seconds later. Star goes flying, landing against the opposite wall with a crack that tears into Robin’s heart, eyes going wide before she slumps. Beast Boy yells. “You stay away from her!”

         Robin tries not to hear him as he spins to take on the next opponents: Beast Boy and Raven.

         Raven is the hardest. She’s got power, more than she lets on, but she can’t cast any spells if she can’t make any noise. Robin runs at her, the heel of his hand colliding with her sternum, pushing every last bit of air out of her lungs. Raven looks at him with wide eyes and they seem to linger there together in the seconds before she doubles over, gasping helplessly for breath. Beast Boy tackles Robin and he goes down, again, hard, the wind knocked out of him.

         “What’s gotten into you!” Beast Boy yells in his face, too close to him, the look on his face when Robin shoves a razorang against his wrist turning to one of sharp pain. Robin’s heart turns. His soul seems to scream. Slade’s earpiece twangs in his ear, a reminder of the deal that he’s made. The lives on the line.

         Beast Boy collapses on top of Robin. Robin shoves him off, surprisingly light, rolling to face Cyborg. One of his arms is disabled, but he aims just as well with the other one. Robin grits his teeth, razorang aimed at the middle of his cannon—but no, that would explode in his face. Do permanent damage. Instead, a flick of his wrist sends it crashing into one of the circuits in Cy’s chest, sliding along it with a sick noise of slicing machines and shredding circuits.

         “What the—”

         Robin’s running, flying along at breakneck speed, a heaviness he feels as if he will never shake beginning to settle on his chest. Here he is, running away from his friends straight into the arms of his most hated enemy. It itches at him, making no sense to his mind at all as he forces himself to move along. All he can remember is how Slade has beat him at every turn, how Slade knows his name and the names of his friends. Anger curls in him, hatred at the fact that he hasn’t been able to stop this, and he feels his hands shaking even as he runs. Someone pounds after him—Robin doesn’t know who it is, most likely Beast Boy, as he twists around the next corner. There’s no chance of him getting to the roof without getting caught.

         Robin knows what Slade would do to his friends if they did catch him, if they were in the way of Robin delivering Slade’s device. He pauses, panting, exhaustion burning in his muscles too much for the exertion he undertakes. Starfire’s cry echoes in his mind. Raven’s betrayed eyes bore into him.

         Focus. Concentrate. Robin’s mind moves sluggishly, refusing to tell him everything he needs to know all at once, as if he’s in the twilight between sleeping and waking. All he can focus on is the guilt that hangs in his chest.

         “Move,” Slade snarls in his ear. “You can’t fool me, boy.”

         “No,” Robin hisses, fumbling with his belt, hearing the footsteps behind him. He remembers that this room is on the outer circuit of the building, meaning that if he just . . .

         The explosive he pulls out of the belt is heavier than the one he put on Star, and it attaches to the wall with a small blinking light that Robin knows is counting down. The obnoxious S symbol is branded onto it, just like everything else.

         Someone rounds the corner. Robin flattens himself against the wall, closing his eyes seconds before the room fills with smoke and the S symbol goes up in a crash of smoke and tumbling architecture. Robin throws himself through the smoke, relying on his instincts, jumping through the hole he made in the wall.

         For several seconds, falling feels a lot like flying.

         Then he hits the water.


         “Pathetic.”

         Slade’s voice rings in the room. Robin shivers from the cold water he was pulled out from, curling in on himself, trying to become smaller in the face of Slade’s rage. He’s not furious, the anger merely simmering beneath the surface of his skin. Robin can practically feel the displeasure radiating from him, and every sense of his screams danger at the sight.

         “You let yourself be caught in a place you know so well. How will you do in environments where you don’t know what’s going on, hm?” Slade’s posture is tense, arms not quite crossed, always at the ready. Robin can’t help but eye the weapons that Slade’s taken from him, blooded swords crossed andrazorangs on the table. They can’t do him any good against Slade now. As covertly as possible, his fingers flick to the razorang he hid on his last mission, which should be under the same box in the same warehouse, just feet away from where Robin stands. Sudden anxiety jolts through him that Slade has found him out—but no, if he had, Robin would be tasting his fist at this point. The razorang is palmed in leather gloves.

         “The only thing you did right,” Slade continues, lower, “Is take on the people you claim are your teammates. You fought them on much like I would. You used their weaknesses against them. Very good, my apprentice.”

         Robin’s anxiety releases slightly at Slade’s compliment, something else rearing up in his place as he stares blankly at Slade, pain turning his hands to fists at his sides and making him stare down at the floor, not meeting Slade’s eyes. “You forced me to.”

         “I encouraged you to unlock your potential,” Slade corrects. “You were the one who took them all down so handily. You thought about hurting your friends before me, didn’t you? You knew how to do it so well.”

         Robin bites his lip to stop himself from saying something that he might regret. Star’s yell of pain plays over and over, seeming to overlap Slade and take over his voice, replacing it with yells of pain from someone Robin cares about so much it hurts.

         “I think it’s time you gave up on any silly fantasies of being a hero, so tell me,” Slade hisses, “why is it that I have the need to keep reminding you of your place?”

         Robin’s breath catches as Slade’s hand goes to the pocket that contains the trigger. His eyes widen behind the mask he was allowed to keep for the mission, mind going back to the friend he had just seen, albeit in pain, pulling them close to his heart. “No . . .”

         “Oh, my boy.” Slade’s voice is cruel. The trigger is in his fist, Robin’s eyes caught on it and unable to let go, burning into his mind. “You aren’t allowed to say ‘no’ to me.”

         “I’m sorry,” Robin’s breath catches. He knows Slade is mocking him, but he doesn’t know what else to say to placate him. “Please . . . master, don’t hurt my . . . old teammates.”

         “That’s more like it,” Slade purrs. The trigger is dark in black gloves. “Know your place.”

         Robin’s eyes shut. He half expects his face to burn, but it doesn’t, simply accepting what Slade says. All he can see behind them is Star’s betrayed face, Beast Boy’s angry voice, everything he’s done to his friends in the past hours. He has hurt his friends for Slade. He was right there, in his home . . . and he walked straight out, right under Slade’s waiting heel. Right into his leash, like a dog.

         Not a hero.

         Then what is Robin? Who is Robin, any robin, without his friends and his family beside him? Lost and alone, and suddenly Robin realizes there’s a part of him that’s here, with Slade, that expects to never return.

         That expects it will be here forever.

         Lost.

         Alone.

         Slade will never give him back.

         This may have been the last time Robin ever saw his friends.

         The trigger gleams in Slade’s hand, light glinting off of it, as he turns slightly, looking towards the weapons.

         Robin’s fingers clench so tight that the razorang still in his fingers cuts through the fabric of his glove. Bright pain flares in him, welcome clarity.

         Do I really want to live without my friends?

         The thought makes him want to curl up and sob and scream and the sheer horror of it makes him shudder through, and yet they already hate him, already have seen what Slade has made him do, and it’s too late. They know what he’s done. They’ve seen him be a failure of a leader, a hero.

         He only prays he hasn’t lost them already. Every nerve is alight like the tip of a match, struck by a vicious hand. The bloody razorang slips between Robin’s fingers, headless of the pain, still hidden slightly behind his body. Slade turns, moving, just the right angle—

         Robin feels himself aiming in slow motion, a skill perfect by hours of throwing batarangs at Batman’s behest, the coordination skills built by years of gymnastics, as he raises his hand. Slade turns to look at him, eye widening, but Robin doesn’t aim there. The razorang is heavy in his fingers yet perfectly balanced, flicking his wrist towards the trigger that rests in Slade’s hand, not tight enough not to fall. 

Light illuminates the razorang as it flips head over blade, in the hated S shape now bent to Robin’s own ends. It hits right under the button of the trigger, and Robin can almost see its trajectory before it flies out of Slade’s hand, Slade trying to move to catch it but failing. 

Robin is flying through the air, flying past him, jumping headfirst towards the thing that will save him or damn him, the thing that’s lead to the hell that’s been these past few months and torn him from his family. The thing that plans to tear him from his family for good.

         Robin will not let that happen.

         Robin cannot let that happen.

         His fingers reach out, tips grasping in midair at the hated trigger. Slade’s boot makes it there first, black treads lashing out with blinding swiftness to kick at the trigger. It spins off the left. Robin’s fingers miss it by inches as he crashes down on the cold warehouse floor, watching it roll and hit the bottom of the box. He can hear his panting breath as slim fingers, cloaked in black, reach out, one arm folded under himself to propel his too-heavy body forward.

         The boot, steel-toed military style with a cruel tread, catches out of the corner of his eye and Robin watches it slow seconds before it crashes down on his fingers with all the force that Slade can give it. Robin screams, feeling bones snap and shatter through his, hearing the sick crunching noises of his knuckles being crushed. His fingers bend out of place under the pressure, nerves pinched against bone that presses through the skin, white on the cold floor with nowhere else to go. The pain reverberates up through his arm, the matches at the top of his nerves burning white hot, tears blurring his eyes. Slade’s black boot comes off his hand, the trigger just beyond it—

         Robin can still see it—

         His mangled hand reaches forward, every finger bent out of place. The hand twitches unnaturally, nerves twisted around, sluggish dark blood spilling from the cracks in the crushed formation. Every movement is agony, curling with pain that never recedes, only a knife prying him open from the inside and flaying at his nerves.

         My friends.

         Save . . . Kori . . .

         Robin grasps at it, fingers not quite able to close, real tears of pain flowing down his face as he tries to reach, not quite there—he’s going to reach, he knows he’s going to get it, and then—

         Slade’s gloves fingers reach around it, picking up the trigger and nestling it back into his palm as if it was meant to be there. His thumb hovers on the red button, black and dangerous as the void.

         Robin stares. His vision smears with hot tears that pool in the corners of his eyes. All he can see is the cold, empty floor.

         Hope, snatched away, in only a few solitary seconds in time.

         Something touches the back of his neck and Robin twitches, tensing, wincing with the merciless pain in his hand. Slade’s rough fingers scratch down the back of his neck, under the hated collar that Robin deserves, yanking him back.

         Robin doesn’t bother to bite back the cry of pain that comes from his irritated wounds as he’s yanked upwards. Something passes his lips, pathetic and pained, a soft whimper. Everything seems to be crashing down at once. He tries to move his other arm, claw feebly at Slade, but . . .

         Nothing seems to be working right.

Slade murmurs. “You’ve forgot that I control you , stupid boy.” He gives Robin a harsh shake. Robin yells, fingers slamming against the wall that Slade has him up against. Bones grind against each other, pinching nerves between them, meaty muscle flayed into pieces. His mouth is open and all he can do is suck in breath, try to control the pain, tears spilling down his face and loosening the mask he wears. There is too much pain to be humiliated, right now, even as Slade takes in his pained state with an eye that promises nothing but agony.

         “M . . . mmm . . .  ss . . s . . or . . .” Robin’s wheezing, finding it hard to move, pain catching his breath.

         Robin can’t even resist as that hated gloved hand closes around his throat. Fingers press against painful nerves, harsh on sensitive skin, closing like a vice around his jugular. He tries to heave in a breath but nothing comes. The thumb presses, aching, across his veins.

         “Are you sorry?” Slade says, low and dangerous. “I’m sure you are. Unfortunately, that can’t save you any more than your friends. It’s too late for apologies, pet. I’m afraid I’m just going to have to hurt you more.”

         Dark spots dance in front of the orange, in front of the cool grey, and Robin has just enough time to regret the last five minutes of his life with every last fiber of his being before the lack of blood flow to his brain passes him into blessed unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

            Cyborg never quite understood the fear criminals had of Batman until he looked the man’s fury in the face.

         Batman stalks around the room, cape chasing him like some kind of demented shadow. He towers over Cyborg and the rest of the team, heavy gauntleted hands on the table. Cyborg gets the feeling that he’s being scanned through those dead white eyes by something inhuman that lies beyond the mask. The feeling makes him shudder down to his circuits.

         “You didn’t see fit to tell me this before?” He snarls, head forcing forward. Cyborg takes an involuntary step back. Beast Boy stands behind him, hiding. Raven is the only one who stands her ground.

         “We thought he had left to look for Slade—” Starfire begins, hands in fists. Cyborg can see the red streaks still under her eyes from the crying that she has done. Her midsection is bandaged under her costume.

         “You still should have contacted me!” Batman growls. Star flinches back, Raven’s eyes narrowing. A fist comes down on the wooden table, leaving a sizeable dent.

         “I never should’ve left Robin with a bunch of children. You didn’t even realize he went missing.”

         Cyborg wants to open his mouth, but somehow, he doesn’t have the will.

         “You do not know what he was like before he was gone,” Starfire says. “He was obsessed.”

         “For the record,” Beast Boy squeaks, “I voted we tell you.”

         “I’m not interested in excuses. I need answers.”

         “We . . . told you everything we know,” Cyborg says. “Raven would know if it was mind control, and we all saw him . . . felt him, too.” His circuits are still off-kilter from the move Robin had pulled. “Nobody else would have known how to hurt us. Or how to get in.”

         Batman’s mouth is set in a grim, furious line. “A security override he knew was used to access Wayne Enterprises private vaults last month. While he was missing. This wasn’t the first target he hit.”

         Cyborg feels chills. He had seen Robin’s expression, pinched and angry and washed out, almost nothing like the proud leader he’d known only a few months ago. Now . . . nothing seems set in stone. He wants it to be Robin, yes, because that would mean that Robin is alive and hopefully safe—being used to do Slade’s nefarious will. It makes him shudder.

         “He attacked us,” Raven says, her usual blank tones now imbued with something like emotion. She’s been meditating all day. “He knew exactly how to hurt us and he took advantage of everything he knew.” Her voice is still rough from the brutal blow he’d dealt her.

         “Someone’s controlling him,” Batman says darkly, and Cyborg’s filled with relief. If Batman, who knew Robin before them, who runs the League, doesn’t believe that Robin’s truly betrayed them—how could he have? There’s comfort in having someone older, someone who can get things done brought in to a situation that scares Cyborg more than any other thing he’s ever tried to face before, with or without Robin. Not that he would ever admit that.

         “Do you think it’s Slade?”

         “Wilson, absolutely,” Batman replies absently.

         “Wilson?” Starfire murmurs.

         Slade Wilson,” Batman clarifies. He’s halfway to the exit as Cyborg’s eyes widen at the revelation. “Stay put. Don’t put yourself in any more danger. Let me know if you find out anything else.”

         The door slams, as if he expects them not to help their . . . friend.


         It doesn’t snow in Gotham City, not like in other cities. No white blanket of frost covers the city, only grey slush to match the iron girders thrown up under boots in the street, smoky icicles dragged off every surface that can hold them like frozen knives. Bruce blends in the shadows better in the dark evenings, cape brushing away any trace of his passage as he twists through the alleys like a phantom. Crime is mostly kept inside this evening, the air frigid enough to turn breath into smoke making even the most dedicated of Gotham’s criminal element stay inside curled up under the blankets.

         Gotham is the city that created Batman, and then the city that created Robin. It was his second home, right after the circus, and the boy cut his teeth on the petty thugs and robbers that populate the city. It turned him hard, hard at the core, the way Gotham makes you—Robin’s source just as much as it was Bruce’s.

         He didn’t want a child to grow up in a city cursed from her alleys to her mansions. Not totally, not utterly, not be formed and molded by villains with smiles as sharp as knives and eyes that mean to kill. Batman can only keep a child safe for so long, no matter how competent—

         Can only keep the joy that springs into his eyes and the smiles he sometimes throws up so strangely safe in a place as deadly as this place for so long. The smoke of Gotham rises and poisons and suffocates, and Bruce refused to let it smother Robin like another unwanted child and make him into another dead-eyed hero with no meaning but Justice and Order and Vengeance.

         So he had (sent) let him away, somewhere to learn more—learn to lead, learn to make friends his age, learn to fight on his own terms without Bruce’s help. It felt like tearing his heart from his chest (if his heart was prone to growing legs and walking away and asserting its independence like an angry teenager). He would let the soldier train, let villains slip through the cracks enough for the boy to take on in his tower in his city with the soldiers he commanded.

         He had broken his arm, once. To be expected.

         Bruce had still glowered at himself in the mirror and wished he could tear the boy back. But it had worked, in the end, always worked—

         Until Slade. Until someone who should never have been there was, and Robin was taking him on just as much as he was taking on any other villain. A villain that Robin could cut his teeth on, one who challenged him and forced him to become a better, more competent hero. He had outdistanced all of Bruce’s expectations when it had come to Slade, fought him and planned against him and been so close to finding out his real name, been spectacular.

         Bruce had been a fool.

         A proud, stupid fool of a father.

         He takes it out on the man who falls to a vicious backhand, slamming against the brick wall with a sick crack that makes the dark part of Bruce’s heart sing. He spins, slamming an elbow into another thug’s gut. He doubles over, and seconds later he’s slammed unconscious to the pavement. The third one tries to run.

         Bruce leaves him strung up upside down right outside the alley, blood rushing to his head enough to force him to pass out. The Bat scales the wall with easy precision, fingers digging into the plentiful cracks in the brick and creeping along the wall. Boots hit the first windowpane softer than they should be able to with their bulk, and Bruce only stops two stories up to crouch in the window and take in the small room.

         The apartment is dim, only the streetlights from outside sending pale lights striping the carpet. Slit blinds and pushed haphazardly to the side of the window. Old bottles and Chinese takeout containers litter the desks and two very large duffel bags lay on the floor. Most of the room is taken up by a pullout couch, a slim man in a yellowed wifebeater spilled against the pillow.

         Bruce braces himself outside the window for several seconds, testing his balance. The huge, black body crashes through the window, black tread boots first, knees bent up to his chest. The man in the bed doesn’t have a chance, jerking slightly before the shadow lands on his bed. He’s thrown back against the top cushions of the threadbare couch. Bruce grabs his collar in two huge hands, leaning in so close he can smell the old cigarette smoke on Lawton’s breath.

         “Batman,” Floyd Lawton rasps, half asleep, one hand grasping towards the table at the side of his bed. Bruce’s hand grabs his wrist, slamming it back onto the bed.

         “I’m only here to talk,” he growls, “but that doesn’t mean it can’t get messy.”

         “Be my guest,” sneers Floyd. His hand twists uselessly under Bruce’s fist. Something Bruce knows all too well as deathlust glints in his tired eyes, just a sliver of the insanity Gotham wreaks.

         “I want to know where Wilson is first.”

         Lawton’s brows flick up, a small puff of laughter escaping him. “You think he tells me? Fucker’s locked up tighter than a nun’s—”

         “Everything you know,” Bruce snarls. Small specks of saliva land on Lawton’s moustache. The assassin bares his teeth.

         “I ain’t doing nothing wrong and I ain’t telling you nothing.”

         “You’re that eager to protect Wilson.”

         “Even if I wanted to help you, Batman, I couldn’t. Don’t know shit. Don’t even talk to the bastard.”

         “So tell me what you do know.”

         “Go to hell.”

         Bruce’s fist cracks across his face. Lawton slams into the stuffing of the couch, blood dripping from the side of his lip. He barely seems bothered, bouncing back with his usual vigor.

         “If you’re gonna kill me, might as well gimme a light first, yeah?”

         “I’ll do worse than kill you if I don’t get what I want, Lawton.”

         Blood beads on Lawton’s washed out lips, barely visible in the dark. “Gonna feed me to your birdie?”

         Bruce backhands him. Lawton hisses, head slammed back to the side, tensing under Bruce’s pinning weight. He spits a tooth back in Bruce’s masked face. It bounces back to his chest, bone-white.

         “Sore spot? Heard he left ya. Grow up fast, don’t they?”

         Bruce struggles to keep his temper under control, hands constricting on Lawton’s wrist so much he cuts off blood flow and can see the face of pain the man makes. Focus. Keep on topic. “I want information on Wilson.”

         “Heard he goes by the name Deathstroke these days,” Lawton says sarcastically. “First name Slade, last name Wilson, all his kids hate him. Go figure.”

         Mental issues with children may prompt kidnapping to . . . fill the void? “Go on.”

         Lawton raises an eyebrow. “Didn’t know you were one for schoolyard gossip.”

         “Every little bit of information is important,” Bruce hisses.

         “And why the sudden interest in our man Wilson, yeah? He get in your city and do a messy job?”

         “None of your business.”

         “Nah, last I heard he was in Jump City,” mumbles Lawton. His lip is starting to swell. Bruce holds back on the fist he wants to smash into Deadshot’s smug face. The man is more interested in talking than Bruce had initially assumed he would be; their rivalry must be something if it means that Lawton is willing to break even a little bit of the usual code of supervillain silence. “Up to his usual games,” the man continues, only half-interested in the situation. Bruce tacks it down to his typical suicidal disregard for life. He’ll have to call Waller and tell her to come and take out her trash when he’s done here. Suddenly, something flickers across Lawton’s face, a glimmer of thoughtfulness or understanding that Bruce doesn’t like at all. “Hey, ain’t that . . . “ The brown eyes meet Bruce’s circular lenses, seeming to stare through them. “He got your birdie, didn’t he?”

         Lawton’s head slams against the pillows and hits the back of the couch with a crack as Bruce slams him on instinct. A thread of saliva drips into his moustache, Lawton licking it up with a bloodied tongue. “So I’m right.” The tone isn’t the typical mocking one of the past few minutes, just a bland statement.

         “I know you have a little girl too, Lawton. Tell me what I want to know and I’ll put in a good word for you with Amanda Waller.”

         “That’s shit luck, Bats, real shit luck,” Lawton says. “Condolences.”

         “I don’t want your sympathy. I want what you know.” Bruce shakes him slightly, growing more frustrated.

         “You want some more schoolyard gossip, huh?” Lawton seems more relaxed now, pinned under Bruce’s weight. “Wilson’s got a kid. Daughter. Hates his fuckin’ guts and blames him for her problems. Says he used to be married, but I dunno about that. Seems a long shot.”

         Relevant information.”

         Lawton stares up at the ceiling, licking chapped lips. “Here’s the thing, Bats. He’s got a bit of a . . . reputation, I guess you could say. In the biz. Part of the reason I guessed he went after your kid.”

         “He’s Deathstroke. Of course he has a reputation.”

         “S’not that kind.” A pause. Something crosses Lawton’s face that Bruce doesn’t think he’s ever seen before. “ . . . how old’s that kid? Thirteen? Fifteen?”

         Something curdles in Bruce’s gut. “Why does it matter.

         Lawton’s tone is blunt as the head of a crowbar. “’Cuz Wilson likes ‘em young.”

         Bruce stares.

         He what.

         Lawton’s eyes fill with genuine fear for the first time Bruce has seen him this night, even as it melts away into his usual cynical apathy. “Ya want me to spell it out for you? ‘Cuz I can do that. P-E-D-”

         “Shut up.” Specks of saliva drip onto Lawton’s face but he doesn’t seem to care. Something courses through Bruce’s veins, antifreeze poured in every nerve ending and burning chemicals in his fingertips. His stomach turns to ice.

         Robin.

         Oh god.

         “I ain’t got no love for him,” Lawton hisses, something real and genuine in his face, unfamiliar on his coarse features. Bruce remembers vaguely reading his file. The man has a daughter, but before that he’d been married. Had a son—a child who was raped and murdered. Bruce can see a small fraction of his own horror reflected in the dark eyes. “Wilson’s gonna burn in hell just like the rest of us, but I’d love to put him there myself.”

         For once, Bruce doesn’t feel the urge to tell him there are other ways, his own hands shaking with rage.

         “Tell me what you know,” Bruce repeats, low.

         Lawton starts talking.

Chapter Text

            Cold light cuts through the slurry of crimson.. His mouth is dry, lips against frigid nothing as he closes his mouth. The floor he lays on tastes of dirt and something that burns, spitting small rocks.. Saliva is slick against his cheek, Robin blinking his eyes open. They close seconds later, a sharp pain behind his eyes making him squeeze them tight to fight the sudden brightness. Vibrations resonate up through the hard ground, working machinery with little meaning rattling in his bones.

         Slade’s throne room.

         Robin would know those gears echoing in his head anywhere. The danger of it wakes him up, raising his head and trying to force his eyes to adjust to the light. He pushes himself up—

         “AaaAA!” The pain jolts through his nerves and then his arm collapses like a power line hit by lighting, sparks of pain slicing through his hand. Robin rolls over to take the pressure off of it, cradling the smashed hand as he pants, eyes shut tight, trying not to cry out.

         “Nice to see you’re back, apprentice.”

         Robin’s eyes shoot open at the sardonic, smooth tone that rattles in his ears. His eyes blur with pain-tears. He blinks them away, pulling himself up with sore abdominal muscles. Seconds later he leans over his knees. Got to—keep moving. Shaky feet find their place on the floor, Robin coughing slightly. He catches a glimpse of his hand—swollen to a bulbous size in putrid purple, dried blood crusting the outside of it. Vomit swells in his throat. He pushes it down, looking anywhere else.

         Slade lounges on his throne, elevated above Robin, in his usual black casual outfit and vicious boots that make Robin wince just to look at them. And his mask, of course, the cursed orange and black that Robin has been staring at for the past months, the only thing shining through a single frosty eye.

         He’s going to hurt me, Robin realizes. The thought makes him shudder slightly, feeling small and weak in the face of someone who has made him a victim so many times. Slade’s posture seems relaxed, but that means nothing. Robin can feel the intention rolling off him, something else in his posture he can’t quite get a fix on, nothing he likes. He won’t let me get away with trying to get the trigger.

         Robin will be screaming before the day is out, and there is nothing he can do about it. Don’t beg, he insists, but the thought seems pale and shallow.

         Slade’s form doesn’t rise. Instead, a finger crooks, slowly beckoning. Robin begins shaky steps forward, gaining confidence as his head straightens into consciousness. He moves slowly, not stopping, fear pooling in the pit of his stomach. His mind races, Robin doing his very best to keep it from speculating on the horrifying things that Slade could be planning.

         Whatever I think it is, Slade will do worse.

         Robin steps up the dais as firmly as he can, only three steps seeming almost insurmountable. He licks his lips slightly as he comes to stand before Slade, at eye level with him only when the man sits.

         “You’ve been very, very bad,” Slade purrs, voice full of patronizing disappointment.

         “I know,” Robin says blankly. “I’m sorry, Master.”

         Slade tilts his head. The gears whirr. “Perhaps,” he acknowledges.

         A pause.

         “But first things first. Give me your hand.”

         Robin lets Slade take it in his huge hands, trying not to look at how badly damaged—or move it at all, even as he winces when Slade touches it. Slade hums slightly. His fingers grab ahold of Robin’s middle finger and yank it back into place. Robin yells, trying to yank it away on instinct, but that only makes the tears well in his eyes again. He pants, pulling in deep breaths, trying to let the waves of agony pass.

         ”If you want it to hurt less, relax,” Slade says absently. Robin yells in pain again, this time in response to two quick jerks. He’s leaning over Slade now, staring down at the black pants, trying to hold back tears of pain. Don’t let Slade see.

         As if he hasn’t already.

         Robin tries to follow his advice. It only hurts a little less when Slade sets the last finger and lets the hand fall, Robin cradling it back to his chest, wincing.

         “That’ll do for now.” Robin is left with the aftershocks of pain, blinking behind his masked eyelids. The Renegade uniform is still on, itching on his skin.

         “So,” Slade begins, sounding self-satisfied. “You’ve raided your little base for your master. Fought your friends for me—hurt your friends for me. Really, you’ve betrayed everything you stand for.”

         “You blackmail—”

         “Quiet. I’m speaking.”

         Robin’s mouth snaps shut.

         “Perhaps it’s time to move our relationship to the next level.” Robin pales, staring with wide, confused eyes. What? “Remove your mask,” Slade orders, the small domino that sits over Robin’s eyes suddenly feeling heavy. He reaches slowly up with his uninjured hand, peeling it off. Wetness dribbles down his face, no longer held back by the fabric. Slade holds out his hand, the mask curling slightly as it falls pathetically into his palm.

         Just a piece of fabric.

         The black and orange mask is inscrutable. Slade’s fingers crush the mask in their fist, resting it against the huge armrests. His hand comes up slowly—Robin almost flinches, but it’s not coming for him. Instead, the fingers splay themselves spiderlike around the mask. The eye stares, unblinking, as the mask comes off in Slade’s fingers.

         Robin inhales.

         The mask falls away.

         The face that appears is nothing like Robin imagined and yet so perfectly Slade he can’t believe he ever thought of him as anything else. Slade could be nothing else, nothing but the man who sits before him as the mask is laid on the armrest. The singular blue eye stares out at him, the other covered by a black eyepatch, set deep in a face that’s almost middle aged. Square jaw, heavy cheekbones, and snowy white hair down to the eyebrows and goatee—falling softly to his shoulders. The face shakes once, hair settling, eye piercing into Robin.

         “Who are you?” Robin whispers, eyes glued to the sight in front of him.

         The wide mouth moves, forming words in Slade’s voice, giving away the secret that Robin has devoted months of his life to learning. Something that frustrated him for so long.

         “Slade Wilson,” Slade says. His fingers tap lightly on the mask. “Also known as . . . Deathstroke.”

         “Deathstroke,” Robin echoes. “Slade Wilson.”

         An answer he’d been trying to find for so long, just handed to him from his enemy’s fingers. A face almost familiar, and a name—

         His first name.

         Robin had had his first name.

         Slade grins, seemingly wider than he should be able to. “I was waiting to see if you would figure it out. A little joke, between me and myself.”

         Robin gapes stupidly.

         “You never did. The “World’s Greatest Detective” didn’t teach you well enough, hm?”

         It’s hard for him to process that he’s looking Slade in the face. The real face. Slade Wilson.

         A name. A name that Robin, stupidly, pathetically, couldn’t figure out. An obvious clue that Slade had dangled right in front of his face but he’d somehow missed. Even spending every hour the hunt hadn’t borne fruit and now he has to have it just handed to him.

         “Why are you telling me this?” Robin asks, hollow.

         He knows right after he asks the question. Knows in his bones.

         “Because you, my boy, are never going to tell.” Slade’s smile is ghoulish. “Because you are never going to leave.”

         Staying with Slade forever.

         The thought hangs over Robin’s mind, sinking into his soul.

         He doesn’t open his mouth to argue. The effort to move his lips would be pointless anyways.

         “Because I own you.”

         “Not my mind,” Robin says softly. “Not me. Not . . . who I really am.”

         “That will come, in time,” Slade promises. Fingers arch on his mask. “How long do you think you can endure? Months? Years?” Robin resists the urge to wrap his arms around himself. “It would be easier to simply give in—but of course, I don’t expect that. You’re quite stubborn.” His eye gleams. “It’s part of the reason I chose you to serve me.”

         Robin raises his face to meet Slade’s cool glare, mouth set in a grim, determined line. The horror of giving in flares through his nerves. “I’ll fight you to the very end,” he swears. “Master.”

         “And I would accept nothing less,” Slade purrs. He shifts, leaning forward. “However, the fact remains . . .” Slade rises off the throne, still a step in front of Robin on the dais, towering at twice his height. Muscles ripple under dark fabric. Robin tenses, ready to—run? Hide? Take it? He doesn’t know. Something glimmers in his eye. Anticipation. “I have you here. And I can take whatever I want.” The last words are nearly whispered, leaning over Robin, hands relaxed at his sides.

         “What haven’t you taken from me?” Robin’s voice is full of a quiet loathing, the agony of the past months building up in him and burning in his veins. “My name, my friends, my freedom.” He wants to cry again. Robin’s not surprised, somehow. “What’s left?”

         “Oh, I don’t know.” Slade’s voice is full of fake thoughtfulness. “I can think of a few things.” The arctic eye rakes its gaze down Robin’s body, taking him in, something lingering in it that makes the hairs on Robin’s neck stand on end. It turns the tips of his fingers cold.

         Robin steps back, almost stumbling and falling, retreating on humiliating instinct. His foot lands one stair below.

         Slade’s boot hits the step where he stood, still towering close and dangerous. He tilts his head—slowly, deliberately, still regarding Robin with that new stare, the new expression of something Robin can’t quite put his finger on. Robin inhales softly as the tip of Slade’s finger presses under his chin, warmer than it should be, tilting his head up with the promise of more force if he resists.

         “Tell me, Robin, are you a virgin?”

         Robin’s blood turns to lead in his veins, heart a still hunk of metal in his chest, every limb weighing him down and pushing him through the floor, somehow still impossibly standing upright. His lungs don’t work when he calls on them, air trapped in his chest, mouth opening without sound. The lead shatters, sending shards tearing through his skin, leaving him empty with nothing to hold him up but somehow he’s still there.

         The look in Slade’s eye is a purely lethal lust. The man arches an eyebrow, as if expecting an answer. “Well?”

         Robin’s mouth is slightly open, mind catching up, frozen in time. A shaking foot almost collapses under him as he takes another step back, something hot and tingling filling his veins again.

         “I’m going to say . . . yes,” Slade muses nonchalantly, taking another step forward, casting Robin in his looming shadow. “Unless you’ve been up to something particularly naughty with that alien girlfriend of yours, hm?”

         Robin’s lips move, forming garbled thoughts into faraway words. “Wh . . . what—I don’t—don’t think—don’t want—”

         “It doesn’t matter what you want, my boy.” The eye widens, brow flaring, staring at Robin. The pupil swells ever so slightly, a void sucking in the cold ocean. “The important thing is what I want. And right now . . .” He leans in, shadow eating Robin up, sucking him down into its inky depths. “I think you’re smart enough to know what I want.”

         The small form stumbles back, legs flying out from under him in his haste to get away, tripping over the step. Robin yells as his smashed hand hits the ground with the full force of his bodyweight, tears pooling in his eyes. It grinds under the force before Robin manages to cradle it to his chest, panting. He scrabbles back with his feet in a mad fury because Oh god Slade is—Slade wants . . . Robin doesn’t know exactly what he wants, exactly what that would even entail, but he knows the word for it—picked up from cases in Gotham, from Bruce’s glowering condemnations.

         Rape.

         Slade wants to rape him.

         Slade is going to rape him.

         The desperate fear that swells in Robin’s lungs flits through his muscles and forces him to move, using his one good hand to push himself up on shaking legs now powered with sheer adrenaline—only to look up and see Slade towering like some furious beast.

         The eye scares Robin most of all.

         There’s nowhere to run. There never has been. Not for months, for weeks, not from Slade’s fists and sneering words and slithering presence.

         “I always get what I want. Haven’t you learned?”

         Robin bares his teeth. He isn’t shaking with the horror that dances behind his eyes, he isn’t shaking with fear, with Slade’s inevitable declaration. Every inch of his body is pushed into one imperative: fight.

         He throws a punch with all his energy behind it, desperation fueling his fighting skills. The knuckles rush forward, cracking against Slade’s palm. The cool eye meets Robin’s a millisecond before Slade’s fingers clamp down. He steps easily behind Robin before Robin even knows what’s happening, bringing the arm around even as Robin steps forward to get out of his grip, twisting the shoulder—pressure on the wrist, sending shockwaves of pain up to the strained shoulder. Robin doesn’t bother to bite back his cry of pain as he kicks back with a desperate boot, trying to find purchase. The edge of Slade’s hand slams into his tendons, Robin yelling and falling forward only to be caught on a screaming shoulder.

         Slade’s hand holds him there, dangling by the wrist. Robin stares at the dark ground, suddenly a terrifying prospect even as he lay there mere minutes before. Pain makes tears form in his eyes. Fear makes them worse. Robin’s feet scrabble at the ground, trying to gain purchase.

        Just before Robin gets his feet under him, a hand pushes down inexorably on his shoulder. Robin’s knees hit the ground with a too-loud sound, sending bruising pain echoing in him, his twisted shoulder pressing down and down against the ground. Robin tries to get a hand under him so he can flip up and kick Slade but all he sees against the dark ground is his bruised hand—a moment of hesitation in the swirl of adrenaline is all it takes for Slade’s weight to bear down on his back, forcing his face closer to the ground—

         “I’ll break your other wrist,” Slade whispers in his ear and Robin yells, head twisted as Slade presses down with just enough not to make it snap, forcing him to keep on the ground as Slade leans in, more of his body pressing in warm against Robin, maskless face too close to his head. Panic constrict Robin’s chest even more. He doesn’t know what’s happening, doesn’t know what’s going to happen—doesn’t know what Slade means to do because how is that even possible but he knows Slade means to do it with every ounce of his crushing weight.

         The unthinkable, that Robin hadn’t thought about.

         Never imagined.

         Never even considered, for one second, that Slade might . . .

         Might want to . . .

         Fear so cold it burns trickles down into his stomach. Adrenaline floods his system, numbing the pain in both his hands.

         “No!” Robin struggles, trying to wriggle out of Slade’s grip—pain flares. He ignores it, his bruised and bleeding hand trying to brace against the floor, incapable of holding him up. Slade pulls in closer, pressing Robin down. He has to be crouching now to be so close to Robin’s comparatively small form, one hand splayed against his back and forcing Robin down, slightly over his knees, so close he can smell the dirt on the unwashed floor.

         It’s hard to breathe with the pressure on him, with the fear, Robin trying to kick again with aching legs, his wrists shrieking at him with pain, shaking with the desperation of it—the need to force Slade off of him, to stop having that horrible presence against his skin, his body, that voice that promises horrors Robin doesn’t understand. “Sl—Slade. Slade. Slade, stop. Don’t do this.” His windpipe is constricted as he tries to keep his head up from the force pressing him into the ground.

         “You can’t stop this,” Slade says, almost serene except for the dark note just under his words, the one that sends every inch of Robin’s skin crawling with terror. The first real, human emotion that Robin has heard that isn’t anger and it makes him choke. “You can’t stop me.” He leans in. His lips are almost against Robin’s ear, almost hanging in time, breath hot and wet. “You’ve never been able to stop me.”

         The thought of Slade doing whatever he wants paralyzes him. Robin hisses, trying to get his legs behind him to kick at Slade but instead finding he can’t because of the pressure pressing down on him. He’s almost completely immobilized, unable to get at Slade—fighting helplessly against the overwhelming force. No, no, no, nonononono

         Slade’s hand lets go of his wrist, letting it fall painfully to the ground. It’s unable to get at him, splayed against the ground, pinned as Robin is. Slade’s hand is on Robin’s hip, too close and too sickly intimate and pressing down almost gently as it pressing against Robin’s stomach, lower on his abdomen.

         “You can’t do this,” Robin pleads.

         “Your Batman isn’t here to stop this, boy. Might as well give in to your new master.”

         Fingers against the belt of his uniform.

         “Or you can resist. Makes it more fun.”

         Robin’s breath catches. All he can see is his hands on the ground all he can feel is the fingers burning into him, the exhaustion in his bones from fighting, thrown into sharp detail. His voice breaks. He barely notices. “N-no. Slade. SLADE!”

         The clasp comes undone in Slade’s fingers, Slade leaning in, not quite touching him with his body. The only response is a soft, dark laugh near Robin’s head—

         Robin jerks his head back in desperation, barely getting any force behind it. He hits air, trying to twitch enough under Slade’s hands that he can maybe only if he tries his best get out of it, panting as Slade’s hand goes to his belt.

         Fingers hook into his waistband.

         “Please,” Robin begs, soft and shameless, almost whimpering. Hands hold him down, harsh against the ground. “Please—Slade, please—please don’t.”

         The air hits his backside and his crotch as Slade tugs the uniform down without a care, wrenching it roughly over Robin’s hips as the boy freezes, staring ahead with eyes that he wishes could simply go blank. The ground is cold against his face and Robin doesn’t know when his head fell to meet it. The urge to get away is so overwhelming that he feels he’ll die if he doesn’t, fingers scrabbling against the floor and scratching fingernails down it.

         Slade doesn’t even notice. Robin feels rough fingers grasp at his ass, pinching at the cheeks. Slade’s, touching him there, so fundamentally wrong it shouldn’t even be and yet it is in this twisted reality where Slade holds his friends lives and Robin serves at his command.

         “Oh, definitely a virgin,” Slade mocks, so satisfied. Robin feels something meaningless choke out of his throat, trying to raise his head, feeling sickness curl in his gut. His palms work against the floor, meaningless against Slade’s power. Robin gasps as he feels fingers at his hole, and Slade—Slade can’t possibly mean to, that can’t possibly be—

         Robin shakes again, struggling to pull away from the fingers that make whimpers build in the back of his throat, the touch he can’t escape no matter how hard he tries, only making it move against him. Inescapable. The words that spill from his lips are desperate, pathetic, breaking, too close to crying. “Master, please—don’t do this, Slade—stop.” Robin struggles again, more desperately, nerves screaming with something he can’t understand as fire fills his veins. “Don’t do this. Please, please—aAAaaA!”

         He’s cut off as Slade’s finger pushes into him, digging through the contracting muscle to bury itself deep in Robin, pulling back and forth. So wrong, something somewhere it shouldn’t be at all, a twisting an invasive force. “NO! STOP!” Robin shrieks, forcing himself to move and pull with mangled hands, the horror of it nearly overtaking him, every bit of him screaming with the pain of it, only succeeding in making Slade’s fingers twist. 

         Robin clenches down on it, determined not to make it easy for him but it hurts, an exhale of pain as Robin’s fist clenches, neck bending down to the floor to press his forehead against it, trying to exist with Slade violating him, no chance of pulling himself out of it. A whimpering, keening noise presses out softly through his lips, every muscle tense and screaming and unable to move. Stuck, hopelessly, without any chance of movement or escape, the need to making him want to scream.

         A second finger jams in painfully with the second, stretching him too much, too wide. The tip presses in against his walls, twisting and turning, nails biting into something that should be too deep inside of him to be touched. The floor is cold against him, cool air brushing past his genitals, Slade purring in his ear. “Tight little thing, aren’t you?” His fingers scissor, wrenching Robin open—cool air where it shouldn’t be, forcing the muscles painfully wide and pushing him to his limit. 

         Robin pants at the discomfort, not quite from the pain (even though there is certainly pain), from the sheer violation of Slade’s fingers digging into him and crooking deep in his guts. Fingers pry him wider, Robin’s legs shuddering under him and growing sore with the pressure, Slade’s mocking tone still echoing. He’s being twisted out of shape, muscles clenching onto nothing, and Slade is enjoying this.

         This thing that Robin can’t stop at all. His eyes burn so shamefully but Robin can’t bring it in himself to care, fingers that would be turning into fists instead aching as his lips move against the floor.

         “Y-Y-You’re sick,” Robin pants. “You’re a—” his voice breaks slightly, hopelessly “—fucking—demented psycho, I . . . I hate you.”

         “I’m sure you do,” Slade says smoothly, relishing. His hand presses down harder against Robin’s ribs and he gaps as his lungs constrict. The face leans in, hot breath on Robin’s neck, too close to him. His fingers stretch wider, pulling on Robin’s body. Robin’s head and shoulders shudder. He whimpers. “Hate is useless without power,” Slade says thoughtfully. “Maybe if you’d trained a little harder, hm?”

         “If you relax it might hurt less, apprentice.” Teeth in a hot mouth bite down on the back of Robin’s neck and Robin hisses at the feeling. That’s Slade there, stubble scratching against the back of his neck as Robin grimaces with the pain of teeth biting through skin, tongue probing in the wound. The sensation makes him sick, shuddering with the wrongness of it, trying to struggle. It’s useless even as Slade pulls away seconds later, leaning back.

         His fingers retreat and Robin sighs with the relief of it, the invading aspects gone. The cold air he feels against his entrance is something he doesn’t even mind, free of Slade’s digits.

         Seconds pass.

         Fear pools in Robin hot and horrible. He struggles to turn, to see his enemy and find his weaknesses but he can’t, still held down so easily, held there like a child. He has to see, has to know, but he can’t, fear crawling down the back of his neck and shuddering over pale skin. All he can do is wait, strain his senses for a soft noise, slick and sharp, that takes Robin a second to place as a zipper.

         The zipper of Slade’s pants.

         The world seems to twist in front of him, Robin trying to jerk again—trying to speak but no words coming from between his lips, just soft air that can’t quite form into syllables. Something chokes him that feels like a hand but isn’t. Fear, overwhelming fear. Something tracks down his face. Tears, hot and salty, wasting precious water that Slade rarely gives him. A whimper.

         Be brave, he whispers to himself, trying to steel his body for what he knows is coming. Be brave like Bruce would, hold your tears in like Bruce would.

         But Bruce would never end up in this situation, splayed half naked on the floor at someone else’s behest because he is too weak and childish to defend himself, because he lets his friend get captured. Maybe it’s the least I deserve. This is Robin’s fate through and through.

         The tears come faster. Slade’s hand pries at his ass, spreading one of the cheeks and pulling him wide. Robin buries his face in his arms, wrists burning, pressing them down against the floor because pain is better than having to think. Something prods slightly against Robin’s entrance that isn’t a few fingers, something much thicker, much more dangerous. He whimpers.

         “I told you I was going to fuck you,” Slade whispers harshly, lustily. He applies the littlest bit of pressure and presses forward, Robin pushed against the ground as his ass is pushed forward into Slade’s wrist, the tip only easy to take for a few seconds before it goes in and in and stretches him out slowly more and more and more until he feels himself stretch and tear and fissure and then Slade presses in more, harder, dry skin on dry skin without a care in the world, seeking only to put in and destroy and cause horrible pain. 

         Robin hears himself sobbing, childishly, not bravely at all. Slade’s lodged in him in the most unnatural way, tearing him, and he’s pressing in more and more every second every last bloody inch wrenching Robin wider and pressing against his wounds. He thinks he might be bleeding already but he can’t tell, trying to jerk out of the way only to cry out with the pain of it, Slade laughing in his ear because Slade’s probably enjoying this, seeing him in pain and—and feeling inside him and . . .

         And Robin’s sobbing again, face pressed against the cold floor, not quite here and yet every aching screaming second pressed into every inch of his skin and every place behind the darkness of his eyelids, hot tears coming one after the other, inescapable, dripping onto his arms. Slade presses in again, Robin yelling, too tired to care that he shows his pain, Slade forcing himself in in ways he shouldn’t be able to in a place he shouldn’t be able to, in a place he isn’t without wrenching Robin aside and tearing him wider but Slade doesn’t care.

         Doesn’t care at all.

         Every inch is dry and bloody and makes Robin yell out, fingers scratching against the floor without a real meaning or purpose, simply making themselves duller against it in a pretend-escape. Blood is definitely leaking from him now, Slade moving in faster, blood slicking him and making it easier to violate Robin. Bruising hands hold at his hips, pulling him upward, pulling him further onto Slade. How big is he, how much is he, it feels like Robin’s being torn apart by something miles across but it’s only Slade, thickness pushing into him, enough of it now that he can feel the pain as it pushes at his insides, strange and alien and horrible in every way. He’s panting between stuttering sobs, praying he can simply escape or fall through the floor or just cease to be here, in his body, at this singular moment in time.

         The movement stops, after what seems like years of violation, Robin’s legs spread, panting softly. His hips ache, everything aches, and his ass burns. He can feel Slade’s balls pressing against him, feel his ass up against the hair at Slade’s crotch fully impaled on his . . .

         On his . . .

         On his cock, totally buried in Robin’s ass, taking all of it in him as it spreads him wide. Robin shudders with another sob, clenching around the thing in him as Slade makes a pleased noise on top of him he can’t begin to care about. He can feel it moving in him slightly as Slade adjusts, pressing in place Robin didn’t even know he had nerves in, a strange and awful shape that makes him want to scream but his throat doesn’t work enough for a scream, the only thing escaping him pathetic sobs. 

         He’s here, he’s living this, this unimaginable thing as Slade sneers above him. With pleasure. With his own—sick desire, the culmination of every raking eye and slim, hot touch against Robin’s shoulder, the signs he should’ve seen but didn’t, couldn’t, and now here he is.

         Enduring something he couldn’t have stopped anyways.

         Slade’s voice is low. “You look good like this, hm? I should put you on your knees more often.”

         Too-large fingers dig into Robin’s hips. Robin doesn’t know what to say, what to think, can’t even fathom this let alone another and then he’s throwing back his head as far as he can with Slade’s hand constricting his spine and screaming because Slade his pulling out of him but he’s not pulling he’s wrenching and tearing and leaving carnage behind, closing aching muscles and leaving the tip in—

         Slade’s thickness slams back into him with horrible force and Robin’s screaming again, into his hands, into the dirty floor as Slade tears open the tears in him and pushes deeper, further, halfway into him on nerves that makes Robin’s brain shriek at him because it’s so, so wrong, too much and too fast and too painful and he can feel Slade’s grunting as he’s again there, filling every inch of Robin in the most horrible way, merciless and horrible and evil.

         Robin sobs, sobs again as Slade slowly yanks himself out, blood pooling in Robin’s crack as he pulls it out and sticking in his hair, shrieking with the pain of it as Slade forces himself in, almost easier in the tatters he’s left Robin in, still wrenching past rings of muscle that aches and scream and this isn’t the worst pain Robin’s been in, not by a long shot, but there’s something about it that’s worse than everything that’s happened before, because that Robin could take. Knew how to take, had been trained for, and this—

         Slade pulling out and pausing half a second as Robin whimpers softly and hopelessly at the pain he knows is going to arrive as Slade’s hard skin pound into him again, Robin jostling as he’s pulling up and against him, Slade groaning above him. He yells again, pounded and pushed open again, trying to go limp just to stop the pain but it doesn’t work as he’s wrenched aside to make way for Slade’s invading body. Somewhere in between Slade’s hands both dig into his hips—but there’s no way Robin can turn around now, pulled by unrelenting force as Slade digs into him again, Robin screaming, skin slamming against skin with a sick noise as Slade grunts from above, a horrible cacophony that echoes in the chambers of Robin’s skull back and forth and back and forth as it happens again, Slade so deep in Robin it almost feels like he really is him in the core, replaced by the older man who holds him down and takes what he wants from his body, pushing through every resistance. 

         Awful slick noises echo through the air, sounding below Robin seemingly overwhelming noises of pain, and he realizes it’s the blood in him as Slade pulls out almost slowly before slamming into him again, skin slapping against skin, jostling Robin’s loose cock as he’s thrown forward, caught by hands on his hips. Robin bites down on his lip, fingers digging into his palms so hard they hurt—only saved from bleeding by the gloves he still wears. His legs are pressed too far apart, straining him to make it easier for Slade to get in, stretching him unnaturally. Robin should be good at that but Slade is wrenching him out of place with every movement, too big and wrong, so much horrible force behind him.

         Slade starts to move fast, the blood that runs down Robin’s body making it easier to violate. Robin’s pushed into the ground with every grating movement, knees barely protected from the ground as they bruise further, face pressed into it. The only respite from the cold is his tears, Robin sobbing for good now, breath catching with every thrust, body somehow accepting something into it that should be too big and too impossible, opening so easily for Slade’s desires. There’s not a chance of pulling away, not even a chance of moving, pulled along with his horrible momentum as Robin rocks back onto him with his hands on him, pushed there with his weight with Slade’s member shoved roughly in him. Pain radiates up his spine, every muscle aching, shrieking when Slade’s hips snap to meet Robin’s ass. There is no mercy in his movements, just Slade’s harsh grunting of concentration. Robin tries to curl into himself, pull his arms to his face to gain some kind of comfort in the melee. If the world were fair, if even an inch of it made any kind of sense down to the smallest atom he wouldn’t be here, wouldn’t have Slade lodged so far in him it hurts to think about, he’d have died from the horror of it, but he’s somehow existing despite it all, against all odds, some horrible god pressing him into consciousness and living in the sharp cold and sharp pain and the purring of Slade’s breath against his neck. He shudders under it, lips parting slightly. He could push himself up but he doesn’t think he can after all, doesn’t think his body holds the strength as Slade jerks him back and forth in time with a rhythm of his own making, sick and perverse.

         This is the kind of thing that happens to other people, to the battered women Bruce pulls out of alleyways and sets on their feet before disappearing, to the dead children that wander the streets of Gotham City with hell behind their eyes.

         Not to Robin.

         And yet he exists as Slade’s nails scratch his skin.

         “Not—hng—not enjoying yourself, pet?” He croons mockingly.

         Robin pants. For a second in that hanging time he’d forgotten that Slade was real, a person, a person who could do this with a mind and a brain and thoughts and no soul behind his eye. Something incoherent slips past slick lips, turning into a soft yell as Slade digs into him again, for the thousandth time, still agonizing. His mind seems to fuzz over, the only feeling his muscles expanding around Slade over and over, faster and faster, as Slade gets rougher with every blood-soaked stroke. Limbs seem to spasm without his say-so, twitching when Slade pushes into him, sound he doesn’t understand escaping his mouth. He tastes blood and bile and tries to curl around his shivering form, feeling sobs shake it almost as much as Slade’s merciless movement. Everything is coming undone. Robin can feel himself unravelling as he lays there beneath Slade, the aching pressure of the months pressing down without respite.

         The pace speeds up again, Slade leaning over him more, trying to dig even further in. He doesn’t even pull all the way out before pulling Robin to him again, slamming again, sending vibrations that echo in his bones. Robin doesn’t know how long it’s been since this has started, simply trying to endure the second he’s cruelly forced to exist in, barely able to do that. A series of quick pulls and a puffing grunt by Slade of effort, Robin jostled and pulled up to meet Slade’s crotch. The movement stops, something hot pooling in Robin’s core and trickling deeper into him as Slade holds him, slick like blood as Robin’s eyes loosen from their squeezed shut state. The thought that it might finally be over slips across his mind, too good to be true, still shaking—

         Slade’s fingers loosen against Robin’s hips. Robin has only a small sound of movement as warning before teeth dig into the back of his neck. Robin arches against his better knowledge, trying to shake off Slade, only succeeding in pushing him deeper in his ass. Noises of protest slip out of his mouth as saliva trails down his back, followed by Slade’s nipping teeth. Robin shudders, trying to pull away, feeling fingers slide up to his ribcage to prod in between them and hold him still, body pliable. Slade sucks at his back, still buried in him, hot and wet and . . . Robin’s eyes blink open shortly with the horror of it as it’s not blood that blooms inside of him, it’s Slade who’s finished in his body, seed trickling through him and tainting him and using him without a care in the world and it should be his body, Robin’s body, something he owns and something he is and instead Slade simply pushes him to the ground and laughs in his face and pretends Robin doesn’t have the right to it.

         Lips draw pain out of Robin’s back, biting a small trail as Slade shifts, Robin twitching, Slade’s cum twisting inside him as Robin feels every leaking inch. He gasps out tears, trailing uselessly down his face, a small puddle now under his face and dripping down his chin. Slade’s lips on him make him want to shudder away, pressing at Slade’s fingers on his ribs uselessly—he’s held down, no chance of dislodging Slade from within him. His body shakes, but only from the irrevocable truth of it, the shock and the fear. Slade sucks roughly at his neck and Robin hisses sharply, lips slick on his skin.

         The mouth draws back, Robin’s head still cold against the ground, body reverberating with the shock of it. Slade’s body grows colder—moves away slightly, pulling itself up, silent except for the rasping of breathing. Robin realizes absently that he’s breathing too, still sucking in air that seems cold against his skin. He feels his lungs inflate, ribs growing apart before relaxing.

         In and out.

         Slade’s fingers no longer taint his chest, only gracing his hips. With a slick sliding sound that makes the bile in Robin’s throat sharper, Slade pulls out of him. Robin can feel the slickness pulled out of him as he’s able to finally relax, the last of the invading shaft out of him. There’s a small exhale of relief that passes his lips, Slade slipping free. Everything moves away as Robin hears him get up, readjusting his clothing. His eyes blink slowly, tears beaded on the edge of the lashes, head daring to lift a few inches off of the ground. Everything is still cold from his waist down, still stuck in a position that leaves his muscles burning. Robin whimpers as he pushes himself up on his arms, aching slightly—something slips out of him and he bites his lip. Slade, in him. All he can do is fall over to the side, abused shoulder sending shockwaves up his arms into his hand. Robin yells slightly, eyes squeezing shut for several seconds to collect himself.

         “Get up.” Slade’s voice is neutral, pitiless and blank and cold. Robin looks up at him, eyes impossibly wide. Slade’s boots are inches from his face, still tracking dirt from the mission. Robin tries to push himself away as fast as he can, palms sending bolts of pain up his arms as he tries to shove himself away—only succeeding in moving a few inches, pants still tangled around his thighs. He must look pathetic laying here and the thought doesn’t make him as furious as it should.

         Eyes travel up the suit to see Slade completely back to normal, as if nothing had ever happened, as if he hadn’t—

         Hadn’t just—

         Robin stares up into the singular eye and horrible face, lined and vicious and careless. His face is twisted into something that is no longer defiance but simply fear and caution. The eyes don’t leave Slade, because Robin has to know if he makes another move, fear curdling already in his guts. He fumbles with his pants, short, pitiful panting echoing from his mouth as he tries to pull them up with his one hand that he can actually move, even if the pain of it makes him shudder and wince with every tug. The place where Slade . . . entered him, aches with every movement and Robin tries to shove it from his mind, shove it away where he won’t have to think about it ever again, even as every inch of the feeling is carved in his brain as surely as if Slade had opened his skull and done it with a razorblade. Something drips down the backs of his thighs, surely staining him—

         Something swells in his throat. Robin almost falls forward onto the floor as he gags, heaving, nothing coming up but acid and saliva that falls to the ground in a thin stream. He’s there shuddering for several seconds before something grasps onto the back of his shirt. Robin yells, thrashing, only to be set down seconds later on his feet, pants still not quite fully up. His face burns as he turns, breaths coming too quick as he yanks the bottom half of his uniform up the rest of the way, making some kind of—some decency here, some kind of dignity left to preserve.

         Robin stands there, staring up at Slade with wary, distrustful fear, arm hanging limply at his side and one hand cradled against his chest, still mangled. Tearstains track down his cheeks, the last of it still dripping off of his chin, every inch of his body shaking with—adrenaline, fear, exertion. He can still feel Slade slick down the backs of his thighs, trying to push his undergarments so that it ends up on them instead but to no avail.

         His mouth opens and Robin feels that he should say something, anything, doesn’t know what he can say that can carry the feelings he has in him, the disbelief and loathing and shock and pain that all blend together into one horrible slurry and choke him as he gapes. All he can hear is his own hyperventilating breath, feel every inch of him shuddering under his clothing. He feels still exposed, wrenched and burned and violated, salt and metal on his lips.

         “Wh-Why?” The word slips through his teeth, so low that Slade almost shouldn’t be able to hear it. The man seems supernatural sometimes, like he has a sixth sense for these things, something to hold Robin down and laugh in his face. Why this? Why me? Why this . . . horror . . . Why the thing that Robin can’t comprehend, that his brain still struggles to wrap around and hold down and process, even after it’s been completed, even as it drips down the back of Robin’s thighs twined with his blood.

         Slade’s eyebrow crooks. “I thought you’d look good squirming on my cock.”

         Robin stares at him with wide, disbelieving eyes, the harsh words echoing.

         Slade’s lips quirk up in an expression that Robin wishes he couldn’t see. “You do, by the way.”

         Nothing slips from his lips this time, simply wrapping his arms around himself—pressing against bruised ribs where Slade’s prints lie, already burning into his skin like ink. Slade turns slightly, moving away—casually, easily, as if this had never happened. He moves to the computers, Robin watching him with wet eyes, wiping his mouth with a shaking hand. Knees shudder slightly, and Robin pours all his effort into holding them there, holding himself on his own two feet as he faces Slade.

         The screens flicker on, casting Slade in sinister white light, making his hair almost glow like the halo on an angel.

         On Lucifer himself.

         “And now for your punishment.”

Chapter Text

           “M-M-My-“ Robin has to take a second, take a breath, make his lips move in words that seem suddenly foreign and unfamiliar and unwanted. “My punishment?”

         “Of course,” Slade purrs. He doesn’t even turn from the screen to look at Robin. “You tried to attack me, boy, you don’t think you’re going to avoid consequences, do you?”

         Robin can’t even imagine anything more coming from Slade, anything more rocking his body—the thought of whipping makes hot tears burn in his eyes, tears he didn’t know he had to shed, makes his fingers shake even more. He can feel the cold of the room cutting into him more and more, as if every defense of his has been stripped away in the wracked fifteen minutes of Slade throwing him to the ground.

         He can’t take any more.

         The shame overtakes him for giving up, pain shivering through him, exhaustion hanging over his head. Weak.

         “I-I’m sorry,” he whispers, low and shameful. “Please . . .”

         The screens whirr to life, starting to move, cast in red with bars of . . . life support, heartbeat, status of the—

         RAVEN. BEAST BOY. CYBORG. STARFIRE.

         No. No! NO!

         “You know what I think of that word,” Slade says, the tone of his voice a casual reprimand, as if a father. Robin realizes he’d been yelling out loud, lips open. He feels something trickle down his face. More tears. He gasps, wrapping his arms around himself as if he can protect himself from all of this, from Slade, from reality, from anything. The body shakes under his fingers.

         “P-please,” Robin whispers. “S-Master, n-please. Please don’t. I promise—I won’t do it again.” The horror of it sinks, terror as cold as ice in every cell of his body, frost on his fingertips and every time he swallows. His friends. Robin remembers seeing them, what feels like long ago but can’t have been more than a couple of hours, fighting them as they scream and look at him like a failure who can’t protect his friends and if Robin does anything, anything at all—

         He has to keep them safe.

         He’s the leader.

         They’re his responsibility, each and every one of them, it’s on him to keep them alive, and Robin would offer Slade every last shred of everything he is to keep them safe, hollow out his soul and sell it to Slade.

         Slade casts a single eye at him, turning slightly away from the screen. “I don’t tolerate my things fighting back, boy. I told you what would happen should you attack against me again. You were warned many times, and I even showed you mercy.” Slade’s eye narrows. “I see now that was a mistake. You obviously haven’t learned at all.” Slade’s hand goes into his belt, the part of it—the part of it that holds the trigger. “You have nobody to blame but yourself.”

         Robin’s head is shaking without his knowledge, watching the trigger appear in Slade’s hands in slow motion. It glints in the light like it did only hours ago when Robin tried to grab it. When he failed. His hand aches down to the broken bones.

         “Don’t kill them,” Robin begs, hollow. Desperate. “Please—they didn’t do anything wrong.” His voice hitches. “It’s me you want. I did it. I messed up, I’m sorry, please punish me. Not them.” His voice breaks. “They didn’t do anything.”

         “Did you think I was bluffing?” Slade wonders. “Do you think I don’t follow through on my promises, boy?”

         Robin’s head shakes. “N-no. No! I-I believe you, I know, I just . . .” He had never for a moment doubted Slade’s will to kill

         Even as the man is capable of so much more, now, in Robin’s mind.

         “I just wasn’t thinking,” Robin says, voice tiny.

         “You weren’t thinking,” Slade mocks. “Should I put that on your collar? BRAINLESS?”

         Tears bead in Robin’s eyes. “I—I—I—”

         The trigger hangs there, something in Robin sick. Slade’s finger hover over it, so horribly close—too close—his attention now focused on it, Robin’s breath completely still.

         The finger moves.

         Robin’s running at him before he realizes what’s happening, pain shooting up his thigh into where Slade forced himself in and burning in his fingers as he throws himself at Slade will an incoherent yell.

         The death of his friends is incomprehensible to him. An impossible outcome, one he can’t comprehend. The pain of it, he thinks, would kill him too.

         The boy crashes to the ground. Robin screams when he tries, for the second time in so many hours, to hold himself up with his injured hands. Instead he collapses against the floor, face burning with a vicious backhand. Slade’s knuckles will bruise on his face. Robin stares up at the form that seems to be twice, three, five times his size looming over him as it walks with steady strides, steps almost seeming loud. Something fills Robin’s lungs—panic, fingers shaking, ready to move.

         “And there’s more disobedience. No, punishing you yourself seems to provide no real incentive.”

         Robin’s choking on something he doesn’t understand, trying to sit up through shuddering muscles and blurring eyes. A black hole pulls him to the ground, sucking everything out of him, blood pulled to the bottom of his body with the inevitable force of horror. He feels blank, empty. “I’ll do anything. Anything. I’ll never talk back I’ll never fight you I’ll do whatever you want I’ll live here for the rest of my life just—please. Please, Sla—master. Master, please, please, don’t hurt them. Kill me instead. Torture me—I don’t care, you can—can even—I’ll even let you—” Robin sobs, feeling every inch of himself shake. Broken in front of Slade.

         Broken for his friends.

         Slade regards him with one cold eye.

         Robin stares up with something that could be hope.

         “There is nothing I want from you that I cannot take for myself.”

         Tears drip off Robin’s chin. “Do you—do you want me to—to get on my knees, to beg you—to lick your boots—Slade, I can do that, I’ll do it, please—”

         Dignity seems like such a silly, useless thing in the face of death, washing off like a meaningless façade, Robin raw and bleeding underneath.

         “Sometimes,” Slade says lethally, “our actions have consequences.”

         “No,” Robin whispers, shaking his head, “no, no, no—”

         Choose.”

         “I choose you hurt me.

         “Ah ah, that’s not an option.”

         “Then—"

         Slade’s eye burns with a cutting cruelty. “I thought you’re supposed to be the team leader, boy. Which one do you think is the most expendable?”

         Agony blooms in the pale blue. “Wh-Wh-What—no—you—”

         “You choose which one dies. Or I kill them all.”

         Robin’s mouth is open, lips parted in the pain of it—

         And then his fingers are grabbing for the trigger that’s so close in Slade’s hand and right there and if he can only get his hands on it maybe he stands a chance of being a hero, a savior, a—

         Crack.

         Robin stares blankly at the stark white that presses out of his pale skin, cold against the blooming crimson, grotesque shape out of a circus freak show. He’s crying again. He might always have been crying, the agony that spreads from his arm must always have been shooting through everything, gasping and rocking and praying for anything to just make it stop. Saliva slips past his lips, trailing in a thin line to his trousers, lost without a care. The center of the pain is cradled close to him, as if that makes it better, as if he can protect himself from Slade’s fists and body by holding it close. Stars go off like fireworks in front of his eyes. With Kori, on the Ferris Wheel. Looking up at the sky. Smiling and laughing. The memory is gone as soon as it comes. Robin gasps in agony, mouth open, hand hanging limp at the end of a useless arm. If he looks he’ll be sick.

         Slade’s voice is the boom of an elder god, rocking through Robin’s head and making it scream at him, echoing in screaming chambers. “If you try that again, I’ll kill two.”

         Two.

         Two of Robin’s friends dead, lost forever, all to Robin’s foolishness—something he still can’t understand but that stands right in front of him in orange and black and white and blue. That scares him more than his shattered hand or arm or anything he can—

         Anything he could have imagined Slade doing to him.

         Robin shakes his head on fearful instinct, pleading with his eyes—

         “That’s what I thought,” Slade purrs. “Now—” The controller gleams “—choose.”

         One of them is going to die and there is nothing Robin can do as he sits right here on the cold ground next to Slade. He can’t cause more stupid, foolish damage because he can’t stop himself from being selfish and stupid and not a leader at all, but—

         Robin sobs again, shoulders shaking. He shakes his head.

         Slade’s fingers are almost gentle under his chin, tilting his head up to look in Slade’s unfamiliar face. “I’ll kill them all, pet,” he whispers.

         “S-M-Master, please—don’t—"

         “All this begging is pathetic, even for you.” His fingers burn on Robin’s skin, he can feel the bruises in every horrible part of him from minutes ago but Robin doesn’t dare move, frozen and trapped by every power that has real meaning, still pinned in front of Slade.

         Like the very first time they met.

         “Now choose,” Slade hisses, suddenly harsh. Robin flinches so hard the man’s hand dislodges, pulling back, looking at him with the eye of a man with no qualms and a conscience pried out of him like his lost eye.

         They’re cast in the orange of the screens, turning everything to muted fire, playing on Robin’s skin and uniform and casting highlights on the black of everything. It makes him sick, looking at the things deep in the bodies of his teammates, like Slade—

         Like Slade was—

         Robin sobs again, shaking. He doesn’t have to look up to see the names writ large on the screens, the names of his teammates. More than teammates. Friends. Best friends. The people Robin loves most in the world, loves so much every screaming nerve in pain cries out his love, so much that it’s writ in every bruise on his body and drying on his thighs and bleeding on his lips. Vic who taught Robin how to drive using the real rules of the road, yelling in his ear if he got within five feet of scratching his car—sitting on the roof of the tower eating greasy hamburgers while Cyborg updates him on his maintenance routines and criminal movements.

         Rae who tried to teach him to meditate and sprayed him with water when he didn’t concentrate and cast a safety spell on his uniform when he broke his arm and doesn’t smile often but smiles the best.

         Gar—who tries and fails to make people laugh but he cares, and Robin thinks he’s funny even if he doesn’t laugh because Robin barely learned to, but Gar is the one who’s been teaching him to smile the most, even when he throws potato chips at him for winning video games.

         Kori who shines twice as bright as the sun and still holds Robin close (too tight) and Robin likes to pretend in his deepest, most embarrassing wishes that she came from the stars to meet just him, like fate but spanning worlds and people and ending with the two of them on the roof of Titans Tower.

         Every one more deserving of life than Robin. Beast Boy who is the youngest, who grew up and is only now blooming and finding his way, Cy with a career in the League that Batman tells Robin is almost positive, Raven who hides her evil so well and became a hero despite every single thing telling her she couldn’t be, and Star—

         Star who Robin loves, Star who Robin is in love with, and as he sobs again and again he’s just realizing it, that he loves her as much as a fourteen year old boy can, with every inch of his heart and all the soul he has inside him and Robin could hurt. And every single one of them his responsibility as a leader, as a friend, and how can he condemn them, go against every single thing his soul screams, every single thing carved on his heart—

         And he’s weak.

         So, so, weak.

         Tears drip to the floor.

         “I can’t,” Robin says softly, rasping in a voice that is barely his own but speaks the depths of what he feels despite it.

         “Very well.”

         Robin looks up.

         Slade’s finger is on the trigger.

         The button goes down.

         Robin screams as he sees it, fingers that should be reaching but can’t, because if he so much as moves a muscle he will attack Slade and then he will be responsible for more death and more suffering and more failure—because they’re all broken and shattered for trying. He lurches forwards anyways like some half-dead thing, coughing and gagging, something meaningless and inhuman crawling forth. They orange light flickers and flashes as he watches the nanobots burn and buzz and bite, attacking the insides and making something he doesn’t understand appear on the screen. The insides seem to warp and fold under the nanobots and Robin knows that they are inside his friends, down to their bones, eating them alive from the inside out.

         Killing them and making them writhe in pain that Robin caused, with his stupidity and every single thing about him that was supposed to be good and heroic and important, hurting the people he loves the most. The people he loves the most.

         The words that erupt from his lips are almost more inhuman than Slade’s. “S-stop. STOP! SLADE!” He’s shrieking incoherently, fingers burning, trying to force himself towards the man he hates so much. Something drips down his chin and he realizes it’s saliva, an arm reaching up to almost touch Slade—the hand on top of it broken and worthless, twitching with agony. “PLEASE! I’M SORRY, Slade, please—”

         The hand closes around his chin in an impossibly hard grip, something wet against his lips, Slade’s face so close, too close, close enough for those awful lips to pry into Robin’s mouth like they own it but instead he just stands there. Robin can feel the hot breath on his face, making him blink and shudder and cooling the tears on his cheeks.

         Choose,” Slade whispers.

         “I can’t,” Robin pleads, the words not even coming out of his mouth due to the fingers on his face but Slade knows anyways.

         “Then they all die.”

         And they will all die.

         Screaming and melting and shrieking and they will never be in this world again and it will all be Robin’s fault, the leader, in charge, the boy who was supposed to be able to save his friends. I know you’re the leader, Batman had told him. I trained you. The red flashes on top of the screen, Robin shuddering and sobbing slightly, and—

         He doesn’t have a choice, because he never did, not when it comes to Slade. He’s pounded Robin into the corner he wants and hurt him and force him to fight.

         Burn him when he doesn’t, forcing him to stay in the small pen that Slade outlines and his horrid desires and overbearing presence. They will all die each and every one of them. Robin knows that they would all die for each other, for the team—and one of them will have to and Robin is the crux of it, his truer punishment than the simple death.

         Gar who is the youngest burning brightest and Vic who’s only just finding himself and Raven who fights so hard and Kori who Robin loves so hard it makes him want to scream louder than he’s ever screamed before and never, ever stop.

         Every sob wracks him and shudders through his veins like acid, burning, unable to tell the agony from Slade’s punishment from the incomprehensible pain of his situation, the agony of his friends that crosses the miles and squirms in the marrow of his bones. He’s lost in a swirl of emotion, barely raising a shaking head to meet Slade’s eyes—

         Choose.

         An impossible, unattainable choice that swirls through Robin’s mind and makes him rethink everything he’s been knowing, everything he understands, nailed to a corner and forced to commit the most atrocious act he’s ever borne witness too, and—

         And he thinks of them all, sitting on the couch and playing games, and loving them, and talking, and Robin knows that he is selfish and he knows that he is a coward and he knows that he should have beaten Slade. There is one thought that pulls out of the hurricane, forms the middle of it, slammed into him with a needed force and it slips out of his mouth as he forces every syllable, mouthed wordlessly, not even vocalized under his breath but that would mean the same thing.

         Slade smiles.

         He flicks a control, and the burning layouts go down to one, only one, burning above him and killing and murdering at Robin’s words, his hand, and he should have chosen something real but there is only one choice he can bear, and—

         He knows Raven would forgive him.

         Raven, who understands the hell she came from and the hell she lives in, the one closest to Gotham of any of them—even though they’ve all had their hardships and pain, Raven has been there. Raven was born into it. Raven has been through the depths of Robin’s mind and she knows that he is the leader, knows what he must do—what he’s forced to do, by the charge he has over them. She knows him the best, maybe even better than Star at this point, and she would understand.

         Raven would look Robin in the eye and she would understand and she would forgive him.

         Robin collapses in on himself, a black hole sucking in agony as the chorus of death plays around him.

Chapter Text

            Robin wakes up to pain.

         It cuts through his consciousness like the light in the place he’s become so used to waking up to, slicing down through his body down the middle and opening all of him up to the cool air. Robin blinks up blankly at the lights, shaking off the last bit of sleep—

         His arms and hands burn and cry out, Robin looking down his body to see them in casts, fingers only visible on his left hand. It shakes slightly in his vision. Slade didn’t bother to use anesthetic when he dressed them. Robin realize he’s undressed seconds later, sitting up with a hiss and a curse and then a real cry of pain as he finds pain lower, digging into his core—up his ass.

         Where Slade was.

         Robin stares down as his fingers come into focus, casts still white, unblemished. He notices he’s breathing hard, heart beating quickly, blinking at the hands that he’s almost sure are his own. The fingers bend when Robin commands them.

         Raven.

         The wave of grief that washes over Robin almost drowns him, leaving him breathless and impossibly still, shivering and gasping on agony that curls in his chest and holds him down like a boulder. Raven, Raven, Raven

         The door opens and Robin flinches, realizing that the blanket has slipped off of the top of him and Slade can see his torso. Instantly it’s pressed against him, barely any protection against the looming man in the doorway.

         White apprentice’s clothes fall to the ground, thrown by Slade’s hand.

         Just like every other morning.

         Robin looks slowly up at him.

         “Get up,” Slade commands.

         Robin’s legs are moving before he has the chance to realize, shaking and almost losing his balance as he stumbles to the bathroom. The sheets are wrapped around him so tight it’s hard to move, grabbing the clothes as fast as he can without looking at Slade. They’re clean, white, nothing like the bloodied Renegade uniform he was wearing last—night?

         Robin doesn’t know.

         He doesn’t know much of anything.

         Wide blue eyes keep fixed on the door, terrified that anything could walk through it at any moment, tall with a patch on the right eye and a gleam in the other. Robin shudders as he picks up the clothes, trying to make himself as small as possible should Slade come through the door. He scratches absently, fingers coming away from the back of his thigh—red. Robin blinks, rubbing on his leg more vigorously. Rust lingers under his fingernails, crimson on the pads of his fingers. Some of it stains the cast, awkward and ugly.

         Last evening—

         Something trickles down Robin’s leg, blood, maybe blood, doesn’t have to be

         Red stains the corner of the dirty toilet as Robin’s hands lean on the rim. Every inch of his body shudders, bony and weak, expelling the little he had eaten in the past day and a half. Bile keeps coming even after the yellowish scraps of food finish, Robin feeling tears pool in his eyes. He doesn’t bother to wipe them away as he washes his hands off, purposefully avoiding the mirror. The little—blood—he can scrape off on his fingers goes down the drain too.

         “Do you need me to dress you, or are you going to do it yourself?”

         Every inch of Robin shudders and tenses at the horrid voice, mocking and low, hands going up in front of his face as he kneels down to conceal everything of himself he can. As if Slade hasn’t already seen and touched . . . everything. His breath comes quick, eyes narrowed up at Slade.

         The man doesn’t move.

         “Get a hold of yourself.”

         Pressure from the bottom of the ocean presses on every inch of Robin’s body as he forces himself, hands shaking and bandaged, to pick up the clothes and awkwardly press it against himself. It’s so meaningless to try and preserve his dignity, pressing the clothes against himself as he pulls them on, but Robin can’t bear to think of being exposed to Slade, thinks he would boil alive from the single eye on his skin.

         Slade turns, Robin pulling on the last bit of his clothing over his chest. He follows cautiously, eyes on Slade at every point, every muscle tense with the fear of it that seems to leak through him. Something weighs on him, a chain curled around his guts and squeezing when he notices it, making every muscle heavier. Before he reaches the door, Slade turns, Robin’s eyes wide. He takes something out of his belt and for half a second paralyzing fear fills Robin’s every cell—but no, it’s not the remote, it’s too small. He holds it out to Robin.

         Fingers barely not shaking take it from him. It’s a small vial, tinted green, easily held in his palm. Eyes look up at Slade questioningly.

         “Drink it.”

         The thing in his hands fills Robin with a horrible sense of déjà vu, a swirling fear. He licks his lips slightly, unable to stop himself from asking the question. “Is it . . . drugged?”

         Robin would like to know, hands shuddering, making him grit his teeth and force himself to stand steady.

         Slade raises an eyebrow. “When I fuck you, you’ll be awake.”

         Robin visibly flinches, forcing himself not to take a step back from Slade in fear. It wouldn’t make a difference to the situation, to the trigger, to Slade’s hulking form and Robin’s thinner body. Bruises burn on his hips, his neck, hands aching underneath their bandages. The fingers that made them gesture to the bottle in Robin’s hands. “This will heal you faster.”

         He could be lying.

         Either way, Robin has no choice. Feeling slightly sick, he pulls at the stopper on it. It takes him a few tries with his injured hand, bracing it against his chest and yanking, face burning and staring stubbornly at the ground. It burns as he swallows, all the way down. Slade holds out his hand for the remains of it and Robin doesn’t dare to seriously consider breaking it and taking some of the glass. He watches as it disappears back into Slade’s belt.

         The walk to the next room is silent, Robin shivering with every step. The events of the past hours plague him like shrieking spirits, Robin trying desperately to push them down and forget and stop the hot pain in his throat and behind his eyes. His arms hang at his sides, useless. Weak. Makes it so much easier for Slade to hurt him. Gears hum under his feet, giving way to the throne room.

         Robin’s eyes widen. No training room—but that’s to be expected, impossible to fight back with his hands the way they are. He feels sick, staring at the floor of it, vivid memories of Slade pressing him down onto the cold ground, tongue wandering up his back—

         Slade moves easily, going to sit on his throne as if he rules the place because he does. Robin follows, fear like that he’s never known blooming in his gut at the thought of Slade in this room, unfamiliar and cowardly and weak. He can’t stop it as Slade beckons him forward, Robin climbing up the steps that seem so large and impossible, feet somehow still pulling his body forward. He stands face to face with Slade, feeling smaller and more pathetic in his presence than he ever has before.

         Now, he is a failure of a hero, someone who has let his team get hurt for him.

         “Turn around.”

         Robin has to bit down hard, teeth grinding to stop a humiliating noise from slipping out of his mouth and embarrassing him further. He hates not having Slade there so he can keep an eye on him, hates it because this was what Slade was doing when he forced him to the floor.

         “Kneel.”

         “Please don’t—” Robin says quickly, desperately—

         His knees fall out from under him, propelled with a sharp kick he didn’t see coming. Robin’s knees hit the floor, a yelp exiting his mouth as the bruises are bruised more and the shock of it echoes through his bones. It’s pure luck he doesn’t catch himself on his hands, instead splayed on his knees.

         Something shameful slips out of him.

         “Good,” Slade says. “I thought I told you that’s where you belong.” Robin stares at the cold floor, vibrations and ice pressing their way up through his legs, slumped there.

         I should put you on your knees more often.

         A soft sob slips from Robin’s lips.

         A soft laugh slips from Slade’s.

         “Have some dignity, boy.”

         Robin’s teeth grit. He forces back tears as best he can. Dignity is the last thing on his mind.

         All he can think of is Raven, splayed on the ground.

         “You killed her,” he whispers. She’s dead. How can he expect me to . . .

         Not to grieve?

         Robin’s face still burns.

         “You killed her,” Slade corrects. “I just pressed the button. Take some responsibility.”

         “You made me choose!”

         Robin can almost hear his shrug. “You could’ve chosen someone else.”

         “It still—that wouldn’t—that’s not better!” Robin says incredulously. He finds one of his legs propping himself up, moving him out of the kneeling position. His eyes burn. “I care about all my teammates! I bet you’ve never cared about anyone in your whole life!”

         “You didn’t even know my name,” Slade murmurs. “Why pretend you know anything else about me?”

         “I can tell,” Robin hisses, hate in his voice. “You’re a horrible, twisted, awful person.” He can’t see Slade’s face. He thinks his voice might crack if he had to look into that awful eye. “I don’t think anybody’s ever loved you. You don’t deserve it. I hope you never have children—I hope you have to choose between them!” His voice is rising. “I hope they die! I wish you would die! I wish—”

         Robin’s face slams into the dais. He tastes blood, feels it everywhere, almost drowning in it as he presses uselessly against the ground. Fingers ache and try to bend. His bare feet kick against the bottom of Slade’s throne. Inexorable weight crushes his windpipe, Robin’s eyes rolling back and stars mocking him as he thrashes.

         Slowly, the pressure eases, Robin choking and gasping in its wake. Saliva trails out of his lips. Slade looms over him, and Robin can see his shadow.

         “That’s enough of your inanity,” Slade growls.

         Robin sucks in as much air as he can, not listening. The anger bleeds out of him with desperation for breath. Everything aches.

         His heart aches, down to every vein.

         The boot leaves its purchase, Robin pushing himself as best he can as he hears Slade retreat behind him. He wipes his mouth, rough on his lips.

         “Apologize,” Slade snaps. Robin’s eyes close. He thinks of Raven.

         “I’m sorry,” he says softly.

         “You are sorry for your disrespect,” Slade tells him. “Say it.”

         “I’m sorry for my disrespect,” Robin repeats dully. The whip marks on his back ache. His eyes bore holes in the floor.

         “I do not pretend to be well-liked,” Slade says coldly. “But for someone who just gave the word to kill a so-called friend and stole from the rest of his ‘team’—well, I’m sure they’ll be understanding.”

         Robin opens his mouth.

         He closes it again.

         His nose bleeds down his front. Fighting with Slade isn’t worth it, he tells himself, but something is choking in his throat. Pathetic.

         He can’t let his voice break in front of Slade. Not again.

Slade is shifting behind him and Robin can hear it, ears straining as best they can, trying to stop himself from shaking like a leaf in a hurricane. The forced vulnerability chafes at every part of him.

         Every muscle tenses as something presses against his shoulder, shifting slightly, and then settling. Weight bears down on Robin’s body, not too much but still there. It takes a few seconds for Robin to realize that it’s Slade’s boots on his shoulders, the rough treads that have kicked him so many times before resting perilously close to his head. He can’t move, pinned down by the force, head bowing slightly because of the strength of keeping it up. All he can see is the cold ground and his knees resting next to his broken hands.

         Slade’s boots dig into him as Robin kneels there, in front of his throne, knees beginning to ache after god knows how long—he can’t move, refuses to ask Slade to let him move. At least he’s not being beaten half to death on the floor of the training room for not fighting back correctly or missing a move.

         Some dignity left. Enough not to wince or let Slade see how it burns. Slade’s right, after all, he can do whatever he wants. Robin isn’t going to let anything happen any more. He doesn’t think he could take that, letting another one of his friends die.

         There is some part of him that thinks that might be better, because has he sits there, muscles slowly beginning to tense as he weight bears down on him, all he can do is think.

         Think of Slade holding him down, the aching where he penetrated him and what he thinks is still inside him, instead of drying on his bedsheets. Robin hopes he’s not shaking. He probably is. The worst of it is still pressed down so far in his gut, still setting him alight with agony he’s only felt once before:

         Kneeling like this, he can almost see the bodies of his parents spread out, broken and bloodied, bones pressing through the skin and glassy eyes staring at him when they had been staring into him seconds before, bright and alive and now . . .

         Robin was supposed to become strong enough never to let anyone else die. He’s failed, and Raven . . .

         Raven is nothing but a cold body now, glassy eyes staring under her mask as her friends must have screamed to see her fall, gathering around, tears gathering in Cyborg’s one human eye—

         Tears pricking behind Robin’s as he wishes he could clench his fists. Instead, nerves fire painfully as he presses against the casts. Slade’s weight shifts slightly on his back, aching.

         Focus on the pain. Focus on Slade’s heels digging into him, the bruises on his knees, not Raven or Slade hurting him or the things that make his soul ache. Robin tenses, digging slightly into Slade, making himself hurt more. Focusing on the nerves that reach his brain, the distraction.

         He can’t tell how long he sits there, Slade resting on him, obviously doing work of some kind—Robin can hear the scratching on paper. He didn’t know what exactly he assumed that Slade did when Robin wasn’t around but it wasn’t this, though now that he thinks of it he supposes being a mercenary must take some coordination. Or perhaps Slade is simply playing with him, relishing in simply having Robin beneath his feet as he does what he likes. Robin is too dead to care about the humiliation of it. He simply stares at the floor, sore neck drooping as the time wears on so slowly it feels like something is scraping excruciatingly along his skin, shredding off the top layer.

         The light blinks on slowly, Robin flinching so hard he’s sure Slade can feel it as the screen lights up. He can’t raise his head far enough to see it, so he doesn’t try, sure it’s just another layout of whatever awful thing Slade is planning.

         “Thank you for taking time out of your busy—” a rough voice begins and Robin’s eyes widen, head shooting up as far as he can—Slade’s shoes press down hard on him in warning. The voice is almost familiar, should be something that Robin can figure out.

         “Get to the point,” Slade demands from above him, bored, the tone of voice almost making Robin shudder.

         Can they see me? he wonders, suddenly anxious, trying to stare up and get a good look at the light. All he can see is white leering down at him, casting his knees in sharp contrast to the floor beneath them. The thought is awful, and he clings to it, because it’s not as awful as the real things that swim in his subconscious.

         If anyone could see him like this, Robin thinks he would lose himself to the pain of it, to the sheer humiliation of Slade, the one person he hates more than anything in the world, his worst enemy, holding him down like he is. It burns more than the pain against his knees, mouth a tight line as he grimaces at the ground.

         “About the contract . . . “ Robin’s ears perk up, body tensing slightly. This is Slade’s private line, he realizes, the man’s private life. Everything Robin would have given an arm and a leg to know so many—months?—ago—An arm and a leg but not this. Robin shoves the thought aside with all the force he has left of his will. I am here, now. The voice is familiar enough that he knows and this—

         This is something Robin understands. Detective work, learning, even if it comes at the horrible cost of kneeling under Slade’s boots. I can report back to the Titans and add it to my intel, Robin realizes, he knows that if he focuses on anything else he will fold under Slade’s heel like poorly done origami, because if Robin can get out—

         Robin will get out. He will tell his friends about this and then investigate Slade and bring him in and everything will be just as it was.

         And for that to happen Robin has to lay so still that Slade has no idea what he’s doing, and strain every inch of his brain for the conversation happening above him.

         “It’s done,” Slade says. “I will deliver the item when the agreed upon payment is sent.”

         “A timely delivery.” Robin struggles to recognize the voice, so sure that he has to have remembered something from the extensive files that he keeps on every villain he can find. Voice clips aren’t usually included in them unless the videos have the villains speaking, and Robin curses himself for his oversight.

         “You wanted the best,” Slade drawls. “I am the best.”

         “Naturally, naturally,” murmurs the other voice absently, something flickering on the screen that Robin can’t quite see, even when he rolls his eyes so far back into his head they hurt. “Your fee will be sent, and I trust the item will be at the pickup in . . .”

         “Twelve hours,” Slade says.

         “Good.” A pause. “The Brotherhood thanks you for your service.”

         “They can thank me in cash.” The lights flicker off, Robin staring at his injured hands.

         The Brotherhood. It’s vague enough—Robin is sure there are lots of Brotherhoods, but it’s something to go on.

         It’s a lead, and that’s something he can pour his brain into. Robin grabs onto it with as much of his mind as he can and digs his fingers into it.

         The Brotherhood of . . . what? Nefarious Villainy? Evil Deeds?

         It seems to dissolve in his hands, because Robin has nothing more to do than to hold it in his mind until he has some way to get it out, which he will, which he has to

         Yet he has to hope that something unforeseen will happen and he is rescued and his friends aren’t hurt at all but they are, Raven is dead by Robin’s mistakes and it seems so stupid to worry about a little shipment now when nothing can ever be the same again, when Slade has his claws in Robin so irrevocably, and Robin can’t figure out where it all went wrong at all.

         He knows it’s his fault.

         The tears that trickle down his face go unseen by Slade, because there’s no way he could be reaching around to look even if Robin feels terribly exposed by his weakness, pawing at his eyes with fingers that don’t work. He can’t have it here, even as he shakes slightly, the agony too much to bear at once. Robin shoves it down, pushing it away as best he can—in the way he knows that Bruce has that rare skill to, the grimacing of lines and glaring of the eyes that he’s witnessed so many times before from the tortured Bat. He remembers stared with glassy eyes when his parents died and he pulls that feeling here, pushing the agony of emotion into the pain of Slade’s shifting boots on his back and onto his knees, enduring it as best he can.

         It’s only god knows how much later, after he’s used the freezing water in the sink to try to pry every little bit of Slade left in him out, face buried in the small pillows so that every breath he takes fills him with the dusty smell of the complex, that he sobs. He sobs when he remembers Raven, cries because it’s his fault, tears staining his face and the blanket underneath it until they’re wet. His bruised body shakes as he curls up against himself, the only warmth he has—alone with his mistakes and failures and wave after wave of drowning regret washing over him and pulling him further out to sea. His chest aches, Robin sobbing so long and so hard it feels like it will never stop, something tearing him apart from the inside out and making his body jerk forward with silent, agonized cries of the pain he doesn’t know how to keep inside.

         His parents, so long ago, said that crying was supposed to make you feel better. Robin doesn’t think there’s enough crying in the world that could make this better. There is an ocean of agony in his soul and there is not enough tears he could cry that would expel it through his eyes and onto the ground.

         Robin doesn’t know when he falls into a salty sleep, hands folded close to his chest, blanket wrapped around himself as tightly as it can be.


         Everything aches when Robin wakes up, bending back so slowly so that the muscles around his spine don’t scream at him. He could swear there were two boot shaped bruises on his back. His soul burns in him, too much for his body, Robin staring with blank eyes at the ceiling as he lays there until Slade snaps at him to get out.

         Yesterday it hurt. Today, it’s hard to care, knelt on the cold floor and shivering  under Slade’s dominion, the tiles swimming beneath his eyes. Robin feels like a statue of a boy, something for Slade to rest his feet on and nothing more. There’s comfort in that, almost, eyes looking into nothing as pain digs into him.

         The rest of the team is still alive. Do you really want to let Slade win?

         The words ring true in his mind, and he knows, but he doesn’t feel. His emotions have been lobotomized, and Robin wonders if this is exactly how Slade wants him.

         That thought makes his teeth clench, and Robin knows then that he is not totally gone. No matter what Slade may think, or how he himself may feel in the singular moment.

         Slade’s feet move off of him, Robin’s aching neck turning up slightly. The back of Slade’s boot nudges him. Robin’s in half of a daze, reflexes not moving right away, and he cries out when Slade kicks him.

         “Get up, boy.” Robin scrambles to his feet, stumbling down the steps and turning to keep Slade in his line of vision. His knees hurt when they bend to make him stand. Slade is half obscured in the darkness, now that the screens he was using to work have been turned off, a half-man in bloody orange. Robin feels his incapable hands wanting to make fists, to defend himself from the man who stands in front of him. Instead, he follows behind in hurried footsteps to match Slade’s long strides. They go to the training room, and Robin almost opens his mouth to question Slade before he’s gestured to a corner of the place. “Sit.”

         It feels good not to kneel, to be able to stretch out in the small corner of the training room. Robin leans against the wall with a small sigh of relief, aching muscles lurching into some semblance of peace. He has to keep pressure off his ass, because it still screams at him, slumping slightly. Slade ignores him, pulling at a bo staff, staring around the room at the targets. He twirls it in his fingers, Robin unable to take his eyes off of him, and then Slade dips into motion.

         It must be a regular workout routine for him, Slade moving into motion. He’s a flurry of movement and strikes, hair flickering as he moves. The pace increases, Robin’s breath almost catching in .  . . awe, at how fast he moves. It’s even faster than he is sparring against Robin, faster than he’s seen him move in a fight before. Robin can barely make out traces of taekwondo and jujitsu in the quick movement, the impact hitting almost before Slade’s bo hits the soft targets.

         Every little bit of it is terrifying. It never scared Robin before, but now . . . now, looking at Slade’s form, he shivers at trying to match him or escape. At trying to keep his friends safe. He tries to follow the movement—to learn or predict it, maybe, but . . .

         He’s so tired.

         Hungry, too. Sore.

         Focus. Be a Detective.

         Robin tries to figure out if Slade has any weaknesses on his left side, but he’s looked at that before to. It never pans out.

         Robin knows now that there is no way Slade can possibly be human. Not even Batman can move that fast. Slade has to be some kind of meta, and Robin’s almost proud for a second, because he knows he’s theorized it on before back at the tower.

         The tears trickling down his cheek are all that alert him to the fact that he’s crying, shuddering as he remembers Raven, remembers crying on the floor at her death. Robin bites his lip, stares at Slade, remembers Slade using him—his body—so callously. He tries to push himself back into the state he was before, staring at the flurry of strikes that slur together into a mesmerizing pattern of violence, trying again to feel nothing.

         It almost works as Robin’s consciousness lets go of him let again, falling into a half there rest.


         “Don’t be lazy,” Slade is snarling in his ear. Robin jerks awake with a start that echoes through his whole body—quite literally. He’s pulled to his feet by a rough fist, feet kicking slightly before they’re set back down. Slade is displeased, and that fills Robin with fear. “Sorry,” he insists, trying halfheartedly to pull his neck out of Slade’s grip on his collar. Slade gives a cynical flick of the eyebrow before pulling Robin behind him, half dragging through the sterile corridors to his room. Robin feels some relief in it, the desire to sleep almost totally overpowering him as he’s pushed into the room. He’s almost half asleep as he stumbles to the bed that has been his only source of comfort for the past weeks and crumples down on top of it.

         It’s almost enough to dull the pain as he pulls the blanket over himself, mind whirring—enough to make the problems he’s sometimes had with insomnia beforehand, but this time, Robin truly prays for everything to shut down.

         It doesn’t. It seems incapable of it, not quite able to let him pass out as he stares at the ceiling and he hates. He hates Slade, of course, a new kind of hate festering in his gut. The feeling scares him.

         Not as much as Slade does, though.

         Robin feels another kind, too, a worse one. A hero? it mocks, its timbre of Slade’s. You couldn’t even save your friends. You got them killed. Robin brings up his face and slams it back into the pillow, burying it so all he can see is darkness and he can barely breathe, hoping that if he stays there everything will go away. It’s horribly childish but he can’t help the relief he feels at the fantasy, rubbing at his face so hard it’s raw as he leaves tearstains on the pillow.

         Heroes are supposed to save their friends. They’re supposed to win, to beat the bad guy. Robin knows that heroes are supposed to do this because that’s what Batman does, every time, and Robin . . .

         Robin isn’t good enough. Not good enough to be the leader after he let Raven die—after he gave Slade her name, slipping so easily through his lips, like a coward and a failure and a fool. Not good enough to be Batman’s Robin, not worthy of the title of his protégé after this.

         He would give it all up if it meant getting Raven back but Robin has let down himself, everything he claims to have stood for and all the skills he pretends to have had, and nothing prepared him for this. For Slade, for a villain he should have been able to take on—

         God, forget taking on. How stupid is he? So weak he couldn’t even keep his friends safe, and he thinks he could go up against someone like Slade . . .

         Robin shudders under the blankets, unable to stop the sobbing. He’s just glad Slade can’t see him like this. Just glad to keep the little dignity he has left, that Slade isn’t horribly intent on stripping from him. And if Slade . . . if Slade can pin him down and rape him and whisper in his ear about how much he’s enjoying himself, then Slade can do anything, so many things Robin can’t even imagine. It’s like the world has suddenly snapped into darkness, a lurking fear of a child with a nightlight, but this fear is real and it’s here and it’s not going away.

         Heroes shouldn’t feel that kind of childish fear but it creeps along Robin’s mind and poisons his thoughts and makes him shudder in the careless blackness. He can almost see Slade’s form, Slade’s fingers reaching out.

         Not a hero.

         “I . . . am Robin,” he mumbles at the ceiling.

         For the first time, he doesn’t believe his own words as they echo in the small room.

Chapter Text

            Slade doesn’t let Robin out of the sight of his cold grey eye and he seems intent on making him as uncomfortable as possible—and not letting him get enough sleep. Robin finds himself wondering if Slade just lives like this, getting up early and going to bed late, working every second of the day. He’s busy in the throne room, talking on the phone, training. Robin imagines he’s starting to imprint his knees on the floor on the dais, in front of Slade. The man forces Robin to run laps until he’s exhausted, leaning smugly against the wall and watching with a critical crook of an eyebrow.

         Robin learns to be afraid to disappoint him, to be so tired his body doesn’t cooperate, or to collapse. Slade always hits him when he’s disappointed, and sometimes when he’s not. Some days, Robin can tell by the look in his eye whether he has to work himself into collapsing or whether he can stop, panting, against the wall as he tries against Slade’s impossible standards. It’s as if he expects Robin to be as superhuman as he is.

         But Robin’s not. No matter how much it irritates him—no matter how much he’s been secretly proud of it, late at night, the only nonmeta member of the team, he’s only a human.

         There is nothing he loathes more than the eye watching him. Robin’s fingers begin to flex slightly as they begin to heal in only a few days—agonizing, yes, but impressive. He imagines stabbing it out, and the thought gives him some satisfaction. It’s impossible to relax around Slade, and yet . . .

         He realizes he’s grown complacent the night he collapses onto the bed, legs shuddering beneath him, longing, finally for sleep. The door closes with a sharp noise. Gold light will stay for the next few minutes, and Robin is sometimes completely out before it turns into darkness. Fingers dig into the thin mattress . . .

         Bootsteps move inexorably behind him, Robin’s face lifting, turning around. Slade stands in the room, halfway to him, still in the black t shirt and pants he wears to exercise. He stands out like a lack of substance in the room, promising some horrible fate. The fear that impales Robin to the bed is cold, jolting down every part of him. Every muscle freezes, caught in ice—caught in the cold of Slade’s stare.

         Robin’s mouth opens to ask as Slade approaches the bed. The blanket around him suddenly doesn’t seem like protection enough for the horrors of the outside world, his body shaking slightly under it.

         Slade’s finger hooks in his belt, the eye regarding Robin with a detached sort of carelessness. Fingers play at the buckle.

         Robin’s head is shaking before he knows what he’s doing, pulling the blanket further around himself. His bare feet scrabble against the bed, pushing him back against the wall and the headboard. Fear jolts through him, cold turning to hot desperation. “N-n-n-“

         “Something to say, boy?” Slade’s belt slips out of the loops, Robin able to count them as the end slides through them, winding around Slade’s hand. Slade’s right there, suddenly, the belt set at the end of Robin’s bed. The heels of his feet scrape again, trying to push him back, hands wrapping around his own shuddering body. All he can think of—all he can imagine—is Slade, Slade in him and pinning him down and the sheer horror of it, and Robin knows he won’t be able to endure it. Not again. Not after that. The noise that comes out of his mouse is pathetic and useless but he can’t find it in him to care, not with desperation overcoming him like a wave.

         “P-p-p-please,” Robin begs, pleading with his eyes.

         Slade’s knees hit the mattress with a low groan of the springs, the hulking body in what should be the darkness but is instead the bright light, the horror unstoppable by childish superstition. This is real evil, right in front of him.

         “Come here,” Slade says, the tone of a father talking to a disobedient child.

         Tears trickle down Robin’s face. “Please. Please, not—not again, I can’t . . . “ his voice gives way to shudders. The horror of it stands out in his memory like a gash, oozing blood, inconceivable in its crimson agony. Robin shudders again, huddling in the corner. “A-anything else, I – I don’t want—”

         He screams, loud and sharp, when Slade’s hand closes around his ankle. Robin grabs at the sheets as they’re dragged along with him, Robin slipping to the foot of the bed. He stares up at Slade’s cold eye, hovering above him with a cruel quirk to the brow. The sound that passes Robin’s lips is pathetic and humiliating. He hates how he’s acting—and he knows that he can’t take it. Not again, not ever again, not that.

         Robin’s hands claw at Slade’s chest, trying to push the encroaching body off him. As he tries to wiggle away, a heavy hand clamps on his wrist, squeezing so tight Robin can feel the bone ache. “None of that,” Slade purrs. “We wouldn’t want a repeat of the unfortunate incident with your friend, would we?”

         Robin stares up at him with wide, horrified eyes that fill with tears. “P-please . . . please don’t . . .”

         A hand pushes up Robin’s stomach, hiking up his shirt and exposing pale, bruised skin. Skin tainted by Slade’s hands only a little bit ago.

         “If you relax, you might learn to like it,” Slade reprimands. A vicious tone. “Or not. I don’t particularly care. But it’s going to happen either way.”

         Like it?

         The thought is laughable, impossible.

He tries to blink away the water in his eyes but it only trickles down the sides of his face. Raven, Raven .  . . the team. A short sob chokes out through his lips, shuddering as Slade’s rough hand takes in his skin. He has to—he has to stay here, there’s not a choice to fight back any more. Robin has never felt more claustrophobic, the walls of possibility closing in on his mind and forcing him to exist in the moment, in this singular path that Slade has chosen for him and beaten him into.

         This can’t be happening.

         But it is.

         Robin whimpers, low in his throat. Slade’s fingers hook into Robin’s waistband and he sobs again, head thrown to the side so he doesn’t have to look into Slade’s face. He can still feel Slade’s breath (some kind of mint—toothpaste, maybe?) on him, smell it, making him sick to his stomach. Air cuts across his ass again, his clothing pried down his thighs and pulled off of his feet, hanging limply and uncooperative. Sobs shake his body, hand falling boneless as Slade drops it to attend to his own garments. Robin opens his eyes slightly at the noise and sobs again. He can see Slade’s cock, slipping out of the briefs that Slade wears—veined and red in the midst of coarse white hair. It’s too big Robin can’t believe it was in him—in his body—

         Tears slip down his cheeks as Robin closes his eyes just to stare at the swirling colors behind him, a place he wishes he could escape to with his body and soul. He cries out slightly as Slade spreads his legs. They ache, recently healed scabs cracking slightly at Slade’s fingers pushing against his cheeks. It’s going to hurt soon so much more, Slade will tear him open again and Robin can’t do a thing about it. He shivers.

         Please—please don’t let him do this—Batman, Bruce, anyone—

         The tip of Slade’s cock prods at his entrance, should be too big to slip into him but Slade will force it, bending Robin to any shape he cares to want. Robin’s head shakes, legs shuddering slightly, unable to do anything at all at the angle they’re forced into by Slade’s hands. The helplessness makes him really start to shake and then he’s screaming as Slade enters him for a second time, tears him open for a second time. He’s invaded, helpless to stop it, shuddering against the man on top of him and kicking—he can’t help it, can’t help trying to push himself off of Slade’s cock and up into the rest of the bed, as useless as it is. It doesn’t feel like a body part in him, it feels like a spear, meant to cut into him and cause as much pain as possible. Slade snaps his hips and Robin cries out again, trying to bite back noise he’s let out so many times before.

         The only sensation is friction as Slade speeds up, raising Robin’s hips with cruel hands to dig deeper into him. Robin’s jostled with every painful movement, trying not to cry out as his old wounds (only recently healed from the earlier intrusion) tear open under Slade’s onslaught. He fails, blood only making Slade’s penetration easier. Robin’s head jerks with every yanking thrust. His face burns with exertion, hands digging into the sheets next to his body without his awareness. Robin feels like nothing under Slade’s brutality, less than nothing, something worthless and meaningless. That hurts more than the physical pain, pushed to the ground without a care in the world just because Slade wants.

         Robin finds himself still sobbing when Slade comes in him again, unable to stop his shaking breath and every shuddering muscle. It feels so wrong, hot and slick and deep in him, just above the stretching of his muscles Slade forces into him. He gags, trying to close his eyes tighter. He remembers being so young he could pretend that he was invisible if he closed his eyes very tightly.

         Slade’s fingers drift over his chest, Robin trying to shudder away but only moving Slade’s member still inside him, gasping with the pain of it. “It hurts less when I get what I want,” Slade hums. His fingers drift to Robin’s chin, eyes still shut tight, hating every single touch. Robin can feel him leaning in, the boy still pressing his face to the side to avoid looking and seeing that awful face in front of him. “Remember I own you, boy.” Fingers tap the collar, still heavy and sick around Robin’s neck. “I’ll use you for whatever I like.”

         His cock slips out of Robin with a slick noise, muscles loose behind it—still sticky with cum. Robin’s thighs shut behind him, curling up and retreating to the end of the bed as soon as Slade’s hand leaves him. He’s sticky and violated, pulling at his collar as if he can dislodge it. Eyes open slowly, pried apart by sheer force of will, and there’s Slade at the end of the bed. He’s slipping his belt back on, grinning at Robin before turning and leaving the room. There’s too much light for the grin on his face to send that much fear coursing through Robin’s veins. The lock on the door is for once a comfort, even though it will do nothing to stop Slade’s roving fingers.

         Robin’s hands go up to meet his cheeks, wet from tears of pain. He rubs them away roughly and they burn. His thighs are sticky with Slade and it burns on his body, still sick and drying. Robin tries to rub it off his thighs with his sheets even as it still drips out of him. He pushes fingers up in himself, shuddering at the sensation and the blood because it’s hot and awful and it’s Slade in Robin’s body, where it should never be. It wipes off slightly red on the sheets and Robin realizes belatedly he can’t sleep on them like this.

         The lights go out halfway through Robin’s fevered stripping of the bed, throwing the sheets on the floor and as far away from him as they can possibly be. They’re sick on his hands, every little bit of Slade Robin can find wiped off on it. He wraps the other part of it around him like a blanket, on the bare and uncomfortable mattress.

         Raven  . . .

         He can almost see her, lingering in the darkness, if he looks hard enough. Robin closes his eyes again, as much as he can, burying his face in the pillow. It’s wet with tears but it’s not sticky with cum, Robin holding onto it like it can save him. Like anything can, from Slade.

         From Slade, who’s done it again, who’s going to hurt him again who says he’ll kill again, from the guilt that tears Robin apart from inside his gut and doesn’t give him a moment of rest. Robin wishes he could escape it all, disappear into the ground. Go back to Wayne Manor and have a cucumber sandwich and Alfred assure him all his well.

         He sobs.

         Raven is gone.

         Slade’s—

         Nothing can ever be the same again. Not after this. The Titans are broke and Robin sobs, heaving, grief shaking him. Grief for Raven, grief for the life he lost that he didn’t know to appreciate. Studying and leading and friends.

         Not Slade and Slade’s fingers.

         Robin is glad Slade can’t hear the pathetic whimpering coming from him, shaking as he tries to cradle himself like nobody else can. It’s cold and uncomfortable and Raven is dead.

         And Slade’s going to hurt him again.

         And again.

         And again.

         For Starfire, Robin thinks. He sobs again, shaking every bit of his soul and his body. Star, Kori—

         Slade will kill her.

         Robin sobs again.

         He’ll kill all of them unless Robin lays under him and lets him have his way with every part of Robin that doesn’t belong to him. That should be Robin’s.

         That isn’t meant for Slade and bleeds between Robin’s thighs as he curls up in the pathetic bed and tries to make himself small enough to avoid Slade’s eye. Every part of him aches, every part of him is exhausted, and he wants nothing more than to slip into the relief of sleep for however long he can.

         It comes slow and aching and he dips into its depths as easily as Slade dips into his body.


         Robin stares with dull eyes as Slade comes into his room and demands he dress. He aches, low in his chest, more painful than Robin’s ever felt in his life. It hurts to move and get up, an aching low in his body that he has to rub his eyes to stop from making him tear up. The small liquid smears on his casts, rough on his eyelids.

         There’s blood on the mattress when Robin gets up, wrapped in the sheet, white and red and filthy. Robin bites his lip and looks away and tries to ignore it. He couldn’t get it all out of him last night, now filthy on his bed. Robin shudders, tries to ignore it, feet on the cold floor.

         Slade stares, Robin trying to protect his body as best he can. The sheet between them makes him feel better, even though . . .

         Even though Slade can have whatever he likes. He’s made that clear enough. Robin’s face burns slightly as he shudders into the bathroom, ashamed of—his weakness, of Slade’s easy advantage. Of his begging, every sobbing word of the breakdown. Robin should be stronger than that, even for—even for this.

         He should be a hero.

         And yet everything is so terribly hard, impossible. It takes so much of him to fight back against Slade even for the littlest time. He can’t—because his friends are here.

         Robin stares at the clothes, struggling to pull them on as fast as he can while staring daggers at the door. Making sure that Slade isn’t there to look in on him—to rape him again. Nothing is safe. Nowhere, here, is safe from Slade’s reach and his hands and his teeth. The clothes are rough on his skin but they aren’t Slade’s hands, and that’s good enough for Robin, glad they’re loose enough to barely expose him. He doesn’t know if he could take Slade looking at him like . . . like he always does, but really seeing this time. The way Slade always looks at him: like he owns him, like he’s looking through Robin’s soul and decided to only keep some of it, to twist the rest into whatever he wants.

         Is that what’s happening? Is that why Robin’s begging so easily? Is it because Slade is . . .

         winning?

         No—not that can’t be—because Robin can’t be bending to his will. It’s against everything that he should be. A hero, a son, a protégé. A leader.

         Slade . . . Slade is already winning, already won, and Robin—Robin can’t believe that. He refuses to believe that, even as he thinks of Raven, surely screaming and melting and dying all alone.

         Maybe Slade has won. Maybe he has Robin for himself, fingers on his body. Maybe he’s hurt the Titans too much to come back from and maybe Robin’s a poor excuse for a leader and maybe . . .

         Maybe Robin will be here for the rest of his life but he will never, never give in to what Slade wants of him. He can fight—he will fight. Just with his mind, because he will know.

         “I am Robin.” The words ring out strong in the small bathroom, Robin narrowing his eyes as at the face in the mirror. Intense blue looks back at him, and yet . . .

         The mirror shows a boy with scraggly unwashed hair, grown too far out over the course of months. His eyes have shadows under them, purple and almost indistinguishable from the bruise on his cheek, courtesy of Slade. White clothes hang limply over a physique that’s been slowly chipped away at, underfed and overworked. The muscle mass Robin remembers has been lost. The eyes that look back at him are haunted and angry, no longer enclosed in the domino mask he prized so highly. No longer clad in the Robin uniform he wore so proudly.

         Something peaks around the edge of his neck, Robin tilting it slightly to see what kind of blemish. Purple and red marks blur in a rude circle.

         Bile is in his throat and Robin chokes it down, something vicious on his throat, and all he can think of are Slade’s fingers probing into him and Slade’s teeth on his shoulder and Slade’s breath in his ear. His own visage blurs with angry squinting of his eyes.

         I am Robin.

         I’m ROBIN!

         Robin’s one fist that can bend slams into the mirror in front of him. The not-Robin in the glass shudders and cracks, slightly off kilter, just like its essence. Shocks of pain radiate up his arm, Robin barely biting back a cry of pain. His knuckles bleed crimson, trickling down his hand and staining the cast, cracked like the mirror.

         He hits it again, hand shaking with the pain as he propels it towards the glass with all his effort. This time it truly shatters, pieces crashing to the floor. One grazes Robin’s cheek, drawing the tiniest slit of blood. Blood stains the empty wall behind it, the middle of the mirror pulled away to reveal white brick behind it. Just as shallow as everything else. Robin pants slightly with the exertion of anger, shockwaves of pain radiating up his arm. Blood trickles to the floor.

         Something shivers down the back of his neck.

         Robin turns. He flinches when he sees Slade standing in the doorway, staring at the mirror in front of him and the shards around his feet.

         That might not have been a good idea.

         “Come here,” Slade says, deceptively neutral, and Robin knows he’s in trouble. Slade’s dispassionate eye stares at him, ready to dole out punishment. Bare feet find their way around the dangerous shards until Robin stands in front of Slade’s intimidating form.

         “Tell me what you did wrong, apprentice.”

         Robin’s eyes close briefly. He could argue. Argue and get hurt.

         I am Robin.

         I can pretend.

         “I hit the mirror.”

         “You destroyed my property,” Slade corrects. His hand holds Robin’s before Robin can stop him, wide eyes staring at the blood pooling there. “And damaged my property.” His eye bores into Robin. Robin looks away. “Apologize.”

         Glass glints in the cheap electronic lights. Robin’s fingers want to clench around Slade’s hand. They don’t.

         “I’m sorry,” he mutters.

         Pain shatters across his face seconds after he sees Slade’s other hand raised dangerously. Robin tastes blood, rocking back on his heels to avoid falling. His eyes look cautiously back at Slade’s still nonchalant face. “That’s for wasting my time.” He leans in. “I don’t have time or patience for your tantrums.”

         Robin’s dragged roughly by the collar, stumbling behind Slade as he shudders at the pressure on the back of his neck. “. . . Learn your place,” Slade mutters under his breath.

The throne room is as cold and strange as it ever was— beginning to become familiar, with the amount of time Robin has been spending in it.

         The thought makes him shiver.

         Today, Slade doesn’t slam him down at the foot of the throne. Robin shivers slightly in apprehension, but all Slade does is pull him over to the computers. He lets go as his fingers flash over the input screen.

         Robin’s eyes glance down, but the man’s body obscures any information he might get from his hands. He might have seen a finger hit the w but then again—

         “I assume your brain still functions?” Slade sounds like he’s a in a bad mood. Robin tenses, nodding. Slade mutters something under his breath about broken boys, and Robin feels his hands ache. The injuries have been getting better, far quicker than Robin thought possible, but Slade seems upset with the progress. Robin can’t pretend he’s enthusiastic to spend so much time as Slade’s glorified footrest, either.

         The humiliation burns like a rock in his stomach.

         Slade pushes him aside so Robin can’t see the screen. All he can see are his bare feet next to Slade’s vicious boots, probably still stained with his blood—back from when Robin fought back, when his foolishness lead to—

         A wave of pain so sharp he has to shut his eyes as tight as he can just to weather it rocks through him. Robin tries to wrestle it back into whatever crack of his mind it came from. He’s instantly distracted by Slade dragging him by the collar again, this time just a few feet. Robin’s almost pulled off his feet and falls half-against Slade, hands on his arm and one on his hip to steady himself before he realizes what he’s doing. Robin jolts himself away from the warmth with a hiss, every part of him shaking. He’s still taking deep breaths to try to get under control when Slade shoves something towards him, unaffected.

         “Read it.”

         Robin blinks at the book in front of him, slowly taking in the title. The Art of War. Sun Tzu.

         “I’ve read this,” he says.

         “Read it again,” Slade snaps at him. He turns and Robin follows, sitting again at the foot of the throne, obedient. Slade is angry today, which is bad—Robin probably has something to do with that. He shudders, trying not to think of—of anything at all, nothing that’s happened or is going to happen.

         The words are a comfort, old and familiar from when Robin read it when he was—eleven? It was one of the many books Bruce had—

         Don’t think about Bruce.

         Robin struggles to ground himself. Think about the book, think about the book, think about the book. It makes sense, it’s there, and if he looks at one singular word after another and lets their meaning fill his mind he won’t have to think about anything at all but what he’s supposed to be reading. His hands turn the pages stiffly, purposefully, trying desperately to force his tired and exhausted body to accept the distraction.

         A small sound almost escapes him when he feels Slade’s boot on his shoulder, close to his face. Robin imagines he can smell blood still on the treads of it, Robin’s or god knows who Slade murdered. He closes his eyes tight, pushing his face away so that he doesn’t have to smell it. They only open again to stare at the small black words on the yellowed page, to do his best to think only of it.

         Raven swims behind his eyes and Robin pushes her down. Fear trickles through him as the day wears on, Robin trying to push it away. He knows he’s going to be punished, because Slade won’t let him get away with something as subversive as his actions. He’s in a bad mood, too, and Robin is going to hurt, and—

         And it can’t be his friends, it can’t, Robin can’t take that. He would simply dissolve in the wind and cease to be in the face of that horror—but the worst part would be still standing there, every part of him cracking apart but still force into the same agonizing physical existence.

         His hands shake on the pages. Robin has to pull them away and balance it on his lap to avoid ripping them and making Slade even angrier at him. He can’t take that, he knows he can’t.

         Look at the words. Robin tries to refocus, use the words to get him through the time he’s supposed to spend sitting there against the cold throne. The words that aren’t Slade’s anger or Raven’s screams or the split mirror shattering his own face or I am Robin.

         A tear drips onto the page. Robin rubs his eye furiously with a vicious hand. He whimpers softly, biting his lip viciously to stop himself from any more embarrassment. Slade can’t see it—probably. He always knows more than he lets on. All there is to embarrass is Robin, clinging to his dignity like a lifeboat in the storm.

         His stubborn pride feels like all that’s left, sometimes, swirling in the hurricane that is Slade. The resolve not to give in, the resolve to save lives.

         How can he save them if he’s doomed another, or hurt another, or—

         Focus on the book.

         The ache isn’t soothed by the words on the pages, but it can be pushed aside, relegated to a cloistered part of Robin’s mind where its screams are muffled in his consciousness. Pages turn.

         Robin flinches when Slade’s boot lands on his shoulder. It seems to shudder through him, some of the dirt on its treads shaking off on the pages of The Art of War. Robin brushes it off, shoulder aching.

         I hate you, Robin thinks, glaring daggers down into his lap. I hate you. I’m going to get you, Slade. Just you fucking wait.

         He hopes the man can hear him.


         Anxiety pools in Robin’s stomach and starts to gnaw at him. It’s only different from hunger in that it brings the thoughts spinning in his mind.

         He’s not going to hurt your friends, Robin swears at himself, trying to stuff the thought into his headspace and let it properly take root there. Still, best case scenario, Slade will hurt him, and Robin—

         Robin just prays he won’t do what he did last night. He tries not to think about it, the way he can still feel Slade look at him as he holds out his hand and Slade wraps it up again. The pain hurts. It’s grounding.

         He can feel Slade’s eye on him and it makes him want to cry, or scream, or try to fight. To punch a mirror. The only thing holding him back is a shuddering sort of fear and his mind that tells him he will hurt his friends, that Slade is so capable of hurting his friends.

         Slade grabs his other hand and Robin closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to see his wrist in Slade’s oversized fingers. The one he broke. The one he . . . can break again. Could do anything to.

         “I’m sorry,” Robin mutters under his breath. Slade looks at him, one eyebrow raised. Robin flushes, looking down.

         “What was that?” Slade asks.

         “I-I’m sorry. For—damaging your property.”

         The words sound sick coming out of Robin’s mouth.

         “Good. You should be.”

         Slade goes back to giving Robin’s arm basic medical attention—things Robin is sure he can do for himself. Slade probably doesn’t want to give him anything he could use to fight back with. Robin doesn’t react as alcohol burns over the wounds on his hand. It’s nothing next to the pain when Slade resets his broken limbs, Robin having to turn his head to the side so that Slade can’t see his pain so clearly.

         Fear still makes him shiver.


It grows when they don’t take the path back to Robin’s room that Robin knows so well. His footsteps seem to shiver in Slade’s wake. Hands clench and unclench nervously. They don’t go back to the throne room, and he sighs internally with relief. His friends are safe.

         He’s still so scared he’s almost sick to his stomach.

         The door that Slade comes to clicks open, showing nothing but darkness. Robin’s grabbed roughly by his collar and shoved inside, left to stare at Slade’s silhouette in the doorway. It’s cold, and by the small light that comes in, he can tell it’s completely empty.

         “This is your new room, since you can’t take having anything else.”

         Robin looks around.

         The fear bleeds out of him, replaced only with a shuddering dread that he will have to—live here? Slade’s going to make him—

         Slade steps in the doorway, the door swinging shut behind him.

         They’re both cast in pitch black.

         The fear is back, this time a horror that pins him to the ground and sends metal spikes through his bones, freezing solid.

         “No,“ is the only pathetic word that leaves Robin’s mouth, low and desperate.

         “Don’t make me break more bones.”

         “Please,” Robin sobs, again, and he knows more than he’s known anything in the world that it’s useless.

         “Let me explain,” Slade says coolly. “I am going to fuck you as much as I like, boy. As long as you are here, you are here for my pleasure.” He pulls Robin over by his collar, towering. “I am going to keep doing it, and there is nothing you can do except spread your legs like a good little whore and pray I’m satisfied with you. ‘No,’ isn’t a word you have a right to. Not here. Not with me.

         “Not ever in my line of hearing. Do you understand?”

         Robin feels sick.

         He nods anyways.

Chapter Text

            Robin dresses in the cold, shuddering as he lets the blanket that had provided only the littlest warmth in the night slip off of his pale body. Slade stares at him with that singular eye, lazily taking in his form. Enjoying it. Robin bites his lip to stop himself from letting a pathetic noise through it. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it.

         He still thinks he might be shaking as he pulls on the apprentice’s clothes as fast is he can. It provides little warmth but makes up for it in dignity, a small sigh of relief let out through his nose. Slade can’t see him.

         Something drips slightly down the back of his thigh. Slade’s, still aching in him, and Robin feels his bravado melt as easily as it came. He stares up at the one-eyed man, and too late he realizes that his hands are wrapped around himself childishly, a desperate bid to protect himself.

         Slade crooks a finger, and Robin is through the door.


         Robin’s face is pressed into the cold floor by Slade’s rough hand on his back. Tears spill out of the edges of his eyes with every brutal thrust, rocking forward so that the ground digs into his cheekbone and the wetness pools on the ground. He’s silent, but the slap of skin on skin every time Slade slams himself into Robin’s body. The man’s grunting fills the small room, low and concentrating. Everything Slade does is utterly focused, completely calculated, every thrust tearing Robin open. He still bleeds.

         All Robin can do is close his eyes tight and try to block it all out. He counts in his head sometimes, but he just ends up counting Slade’s thrusts, hissing on every number of agony. Every one feels like a spear is impaling him up through his body, echoing up through his spine, invading every part of him.

         Now, he sobs low when he feels Slade speed up. He doesn’t manage to bite it back when he hears the low groan in his ear or when Slade comes inside him.

         “Good boy,” Slade purrs in his ear, and then he’s gone, slipping out of Robin and leaving him in blessed lonely darkness. Robin can cry now, tears slipping down his face, seemingly endless. He wraps the filthy blanket around himself to stave off the cold, trying to ignore the heat still inside him or the pain splintering so close to it.

         Or—something else? Something feels awkward, feels warm—not in the way Slade’s cum does. Robin blinks slightly, slipping a hand down. It lands on his own crotch, fingers wrapping around himself, the lack of understanding on Robin’s face not visible in the dark. He’s hard—but that doesn’t make sense. Robin’s only gotten hard thinking of—Star, or the days when he stole the magazines that Bruce never reads and brought them to his room. Robin doesn’t understand why he’s hard now, why he can feel himself under his fingers. That’s not supposed to be there. Robin only gets that way for Star, not for Slade, it doesn’t make sense. Robin doesn’t want this, he shuddered when Slade cracked open the door and flinched when Slade turned him over—and he waited and waited for Slade to get out of him and finish and this doesn’t make sense.

         Robin’s not into men—he hasn’t been it doesn’t make any sense. He doesn’t want this.

         He doesn’t!

         Slade had—Slade had said he might enjoy it but Robin hadn’t been enjoying it. He’d hated it, every last second, and now he’s somehow . . . hard under the covers, between his legs.

         Robin stares dead-eyed in the dark, blinking away more tears. It’s hard to tell what he’s crying for, this stupid thing that doesn’t make sense or the fact that he’s stuck here in this cold room, or Raven or Slade or anything else in his hellish life. Sometimes he feels like he couldn’t cry if he tried and sometimes it just drips out of him in streams, unstoppable and humiliating.

         The great leader Robin, letting his team die.

         Pinned to the ground while Slade hisses in his ear that he’s a whore.

         Robin buries his face in the crook of his arm, smearing it with salty tears. It’ll probably help to wash some of the sweat off that’s been collecting there ever since the last mission who knows how long ago. If he’d just been a little bit faster, a little bit more competent, a little bit luckier, he could have gotten the remote—he could have won—he could have saved his friends and saved Raven.

         An image of Slade’s face smeared in bright crimson, a piece of glass stuck in his good eye, lips slightly parted. It’s burned suddenly into the darkness, He’s dead, Robin knows, and he knows he’s killed him. Because Slade deserves it, because dead Slade can never hurt his friends.

         He likes the picture of Slade dead where he can’t hurt any more of Robin’s friends. Where he can’t hurt Robin.

         The shame follows seconds later, washing over him like a river. Batman

         Robin can’t think about Batman as his breath catches in his throat. He’s betraying him by even thinking of this, betraying his moral code, not fit to be a hero. Not fit to be anything.

         Anything but Slade’s.

         Robin pushes the thought out of his head as soon as he can and curses at it, shivering and head shaking slightly. It’s a stupid thing to think. Nobody deserves—deserves this, and Robin is good, he’s a hero, he should find a way to save his friends because he always does.

         I am Robin, he wants to tell the dark room, but as ever, the words simply don’t come.


         Slade likes to watch.

         Robin doesn’t notice it at first—too desperately preoccupied with the books he has around him and trying to force himself to focus on them. He doesn’t like to look at Slade, or think about Slade, or know Slade is there at all, if he can help it. Sometimes he pretends that the vibrations moving up through him are from the Batcave, and he’s a little kid again, hiding from his schoolwork by getting Bruce to explain things to him.

         Bruce never looked at him like this, though. He knows Slade is watching him, that single eye skewering him. Robin can feel it, cutting through the shuddering on his skin, adding to it.

         Robin knows it will all be worse if he turns around to face Slade, so he doesn’t.

         He squints down at the book in his hands. He’s sitting halfway in a pile of them and halfway out. The words blur in his tired mind, shivering in aching bones. Slade will ask him questions in a sharp tone of voice when he’s done, quizzing him on the contents of the book. Half the ones Slade has don’t seem to be in English—Robin catches sight of Russian, Mandarin, French, and several other ones he can’t recognize.

         “What languages do you speak?” Slade had asked, flipping through the books. At Robin’s response of “Just English,” he’d snorted derisively and half-thrown a book on Japanese at Robin’s face. Now, Robin squints down at basic kanji, rubbing his forehead. He flinches whenever Slade moves above him, fixated on whatever it is he’s working on.

         Robin doesn’t dare try to glance at it.

         If he doesn’t learn this to Slade’s satisfaction, he’ll have to endure half a beating for everything he gets wrong from it. The man seems to know everything in them. He must have a photographic memory, like Batman’s—

         Robin’s face screws in on itself, and he bites down to ignore it. Don’t think about them.

         His fingernails are dirty on the page, dirt caked under them. Robin tries to scrape it out, but it rarely works well, instead just getting the dust on the floor under them all over again. He must smell bad, can smell the sweat and blood on himself sometimes when he curls up under the blanket and stifles in the heat. How can Slade stand—

         Don’t think about it.

         Robin can’t stop himself, the feelings filling his brain once again.

         The filth still crawls over his skin, drips down his thighs, pollutes every part of him. Slade invades him, hands digging into him. Bruises that will never wash away, that Robin thinks he can still feel even after they fade away. He feels . . . tainted, somehow, like Slade touched him and suddenly there was something unsightly buzzing just over Robin’s skin, shuddering down his spine, an unworthy loathing. When his fingers rub his arms, Robin half expects them to come away sticky with cum, wiping them off as best he can on his uniform.

         You got hard, Robin remembers, and he doesn’t even know what that’s supposed to mean, only that it happened and he can’t help it at all. It just makes him feel sicker, his own body’s acknowledgement of Slade’s claim on him.

         Slade shifts. Robin flinches, head whipping around to look at him. Slade’s fingers tap on the rest of his chair in a soft noise. He doesn’t notice Robin, instead fixated on something on his screen that seems to be frustrating him.

         Robin rubs his shirt on a cut on his collarbone, rubbing the red off on the cotton and letting it stain. Sweat drips down his chest without notice, dampening the fabric—nowhere near as bad as it had been earlier in the day, when he was forced to run laps, cradling his hands close to his chest.

         It had almost felt good, in a way, if he hadn’t ached so badly. If Slade hadn’t been standing there and taking him in with his one judgmental eye.

         The sweat and filth from it crawls over his skin. Robin would do anything just to have a chance to scrub Slade off of his skin, letting the blood flow down his legs and wash into the drain. He shudders in it, the whole thing dripping down his skin and fouling him, oozing from some part under him, a tainted soul.

         He looks up. Slade is finished, hand no longer tapping in impatience. He’s actually idly flipping through one of the books that Robin’s reading today, a critical look on his face.

         Robin wonders if Slade ever smiles in a way that doesn’t send fear racing down his spine.

         Slade notices him staring. “What is it, boy?”

         Robin stares down at his hands. Shouldn’t have caught his attention. Dirt and blood are caked under his fingernails. “I . . . “ I have one chance at this. “Can I please have a shower? Master?”

         I hate you, Robin adds spitefully, but his face doesn’t change.

         “Maybe.” Slade seems to be taunting him, lines on his face moving minutely. “What did you do to deserve it?”

         Robin feels helpless like a child again, fists bunching as best they can by his side. He’s helpless against Slade’s power, without recourse. All he can do is hope Slade takes some kind of twisted pity on him.

         It burns his pride.

         As if he has any left. Filth aches on his skin. Not a robin, something deep in him mocks.

         “I apologized,” Robin says. He pulls on the dignity in his being to stand as strong as he can under Slade’s glare.

         “How sincere of you.” Slade’s voice drips with sarcasm.

         Dirt drips down Robin’s sweaty neck. “Please—I’ll obey you, alright? I won’t . . . fight you,” he says. His hands shake slightly. God, why is he so weak?

         “Perhaps,” Slade hums. His fingers tap. Robin stares down at dirty fingernails. A pause. “We’ll see how you do.”

         Slade goes back to his work.

         Bothering him will just make it not happen, Robin reminds himself.

         The grease on his skin almost makes him want to cry, but at least he has something to focus on, a reason to . . . keep going.


         Robin doesn’t struggle when Slade comes for him that night, when Slade comes in him. He just shivers in the corner until Slade presses him under his heavy form, lets his legs be spread and closes his eyes when Slade unzips his pants.

         Tears dry on his eyes as he rolls over and goes to sleep. Cum dries on his thighs. The darkness is suffocating, but it’s not the light that heralds Slade’s appearance or the blinding spotlight of the training room. It’s like the darkness of Gotham City, wrapping him in stealth and silence like Batman’s cape.


         Robin keeps his mouth shut the next few days. He doesn’t dare look at Slade lest the man take it as a slight or get irritated with him and hurt him again, count it against his running tally. He fights against his always present fatigue to repeat back the answers in the books to Slade, doesn’t fiddle with his collar like he hates it, the way he always does. Being here with Slade feels like limbo, or the Catholic purgatory, existing in agony while the world moves on around him.

         At least my friends

         But they’re not safe. Not while Slade has the nanobots. Not while Slade knows their names.

         Would be if Robin had been good enough.

         But he wasn’t.


         Robin looks down at the eggs on his plate. They’re scrambled, which is strange, because he doesn’t like scrambled eggs, and Alfred knows it. He eats them anyways, slimy going down.

         “Please pass the salt,” Robin says. His mother passes it across the long table, and Robin thanks her. He doesn’t know why he’s eating breakfast at the dinner table. Maybe they’re about to go on patrol, which makes sense, because he can hear the bats rustling overhead. Their flapping wings makes a whirring noise, enough air to make Robin shiver at the dinner table.

         “Do you want some more eggs?” Alfred asks. Robin looks up to see the kitchen in front of him, Alfred frying eggs in an apron that says THE BUTLER KNOWS BEST.

         “I don’t like scrambled eggs,” Robin says.

         “What about poached eggs?” Alfred asks. The eggs that he puts on Robin’s plate look purple like bruises, flat on the side. Robin picks up his fork, stabbing it into the flesh. Dark purple oozes out onto the plate under the tines of it. The eggs taste like grape, warm and sticky.

         “I don’t like these,” Robin says.

         “You have to eat them,” Alfred purrs, low and dangerous. Robin looks up, Alfred standing in profile. His face is one half black and one half orange, sliced cleanly down the middle. Slade!

         Robin pushes the eggs away, getting ready to throw the plate at Slade. Something seems to be unraveling in him. This is the manor. Slade isn’t supposed to be here, it doesn’t make sense. “Go away!”

         Slade turns, no longer just one half of him showing. A single blue eye is set in the middle of his forehead, staring dangerously at Robin. In one hand is a knife, and in the other hand is Raven. He’s pulling her out of the frying pan, spatula set against her cheek, part of her neck dripping purple grape blood.

         Robin screams.


         Robin wakes up shuddering in the dark, face buried in his hands as he remembers where he is. The blanket had fallen off of him in the night, goosebumps now chasing their way up his skin. He’s terrified, huddling in the void, for the first minute or two after he wakes up, still stuck in the haze of sleep and the dream still burned into his lids. It’s only after a few minutes have passed that he can digest the absurdity of it, push it away back into his subconscious and the freedom of forgetfulness.

         The tears still come, so slowly that Robin doesn’t realize that they’re there until they’re dribbling slowly down his cheeks. He rubs furiously at them, because he needs to keep all the water he can in him. It just makes his palms damp, rubbing them furiously on the blanket pressed over his knees—that’s just as filthy, but Robin can’t find himself to care.

         Raven.

         Raven when she saved his life, Raven meditating in the tower, Raven glaring at him when he opens the door to her room without knocking and yelling at everyone in the team to shut up so she can concentrate. Every little memory cuts through him like a knife, tears pulled from him like teeth, but Robin somehow can’t make them stop. He holds himself in the small room, letting the grief course through him. Nails dig into his arms, providing some small grounding. In the pitch black, it’s easy to believe he’s falling, and only the echoes of his low sobs ground him in the place that he is.

         Robin falls away into the blackness. He doesn’t remember collapsing in a puddle of blankets and limbs, salty tears still running over his lips and staining his face red.

         Robin gets a dozen fresh new bruises from Slade the next day for nodding off, and they bring a strange sense of déjà vu.

Chapter Text

            The light cuts across the darkness in a familiar path and Robin winces. Slade stands like a shadow come to life, and fear curls up in Robin’s gut.

         “Get up.”

         The clothes on the floor this time aren’t the loose training ones. Instead, the orange and black of Robin’s apprentice uniform hits the ground. Robin leans down to pick at it, slipping it over his form as fast as he can. Something is off. Slade isn’t dressed in his dark clothes, instead in full gear—sword and guns and all. His face isn’t visible behind the mask, but his demeanor is the same as ever.

         Robin pulls the last of the forearm guards on himself, eyes still on Slade. Slowly, the man pulls the two swords from his back, offering them hilt first to Robin.

         Robin knows he doesn’t have a choice. Slade brooks no argument. Hands close over the hilts, slipping them into the carriers on his back. The weight is strange as he steps forward out into the brightly lit hallway. Something is strange in the whole scenario, not as well planned out. Robin’s eyes ache with lack of sleep, and he blinks it away. If he doesn’t want Slade to be angry, he has to be as alert as possible. Slade seems preoccupied, probably with the strangeness. It’s not like him not to brief Robin on a mission—

         Robin stumbles, careening into Slade with a hiss as he loses his balance. Around him, the whole complex shakes and shudders. Robin tries to flail to catch his balance. A steady hand catches him, on the back of his neck and splayed between his shoulders. It presses Robin up, Robin’s face burning slightly as he catches his feet. The hallway seems fine, no structural damage, but the explosion still rings in his ears. Is someone attacking…?

         For the first time in months, something burns inside Robin’s chest: hope. He should snuff it out, pinch the wick before the candle burns down to nothing at all, but it warms every part of him in a way that makes the cold in his limbs recede just a little, makes his bruises ache a little less.

         “Follow me.” Slade’s voice is harsh, his hand that closes around Robin’s shoulder and spins him around almost as much so. Robin can’t help but glance behind him, the walls that form the totality of his prison seeming so fragile suddenly, instead of the unstoppable impassible wardens of hell. He hurries along after Slade, pressing through the halls in a familiar pattern: they end up in the throne room, and for a second Robin wonders if Slade is going to sit him down and make him go back to their old habits.

         It shakes again.

         Slade is impenetrable, over at the computer and tapping through passwords and screens before Robin can even look at the title. Not that he’s really trying. Robin is transfixed by the room shuddering slightly on its foundations. He half hopes that the pretentious throne will come tumbling down. Maybe crushing Slade in its way, conveniently.

         Slade make a small hm noise of thought, Robin taking a step back towards him as the wall shakes across from them. He feels as if he should be properly afraid, or care that the place looks to be collapsing, but . . .

         The feeling doesn’t come, beyond a nervousness he’s used to suppressing in the violent line of work. He feels numb, as if the feelings he’s supposed to access are just beyond the tips of his fingers. It’s a strange, broken feeling, emptiness in his soul.

         “Well, then,” Slade murmurs to himself, bemused. Robin turns to see him regarding the screen in front of him with a twitch in his brow. Red dots dance across a map that Robin instantly snaps into his memory as best he can. The instinct seems funny, because the place is collapsing all around them.

         A hand grabs his upper arm in a vice and Robin is dragged obediently along, staring past the chalky white walls. Some of them show hairline fractures.

         I could make a break for it—

         But no.

         Raven.

         The wound bleeds in his chest, stitches torn open again.

         Slade seems intent on something. Robin feels that hope that tickles his chest burn just a little bit brighter. The darkness that Slade comes for him in recedes just a little bit, shadows dancing in Robin’s mind.

         Could it be - ?

         It couldn’t be.

         That would be ridiculous.

         Another explosion rocks them. It’s closer this time, but Slade seems unbothered. His fingers dig into Robin with bruising strength, hands dancing towards his sword. Robin stares around. Slade has a plan, doesn’t he? He looks like he has a plan.

         Slade stops suddenly, tugging Robin’s arm to a wince as Robin tries to move forward without him. He turns to the wall, fingers dancing over something—

         A door opens, the section of the wall folding to the side to give way to a brightly lit tunnel. The wall made of stone.

         Robin should’ve known.

         Slade pulls him in and closes it behind them. This place, paradoxically, seems more stable. Slade moves at a steady, unbothered pace, and Robin wonders if it’s for his benefit or if Slade is simply so in control at every point that he’s not afraid at all. He seems to ooze surety in the situation. It makes Robin’s skin itch, like the weight of the swords on his back. He wants to throw them to the ground, but he’s not allowed. They’re his to carry now, the burden of a failure of a leader. A boy who killed through his own selfishness.

         It aches.

         Robin takes step after step in Slade’s path.

         They come out in a passage that Robin hasn’t seen, terminals lining the walls. The remains of a steel door lay on the ground, a jagged hole in the wall. It looks like it was blown apart by some kind of rampaging monster from a horror movie, angry and growling. Behind it, dust gathers in a cloud that Robin can’t see through.

         The next explosion shakes the walls, thrumming up through Robin’s body and making him slightly nauseous. His head rings as Slade pushes him forward, step after step.

         Robin can hear movement up ahead. The first real contact he’s going to have with people who aren’t Slade. The concept alone sends adrenaline thrumming through his system, tingling in the tips of his fingers.

         It can’t be, he tries to tell himself.

         The dust begins to be blown away slightly, Robin and Slade approaching the . . . intruders?

         It wouldn’t be good if it were, Robin swears with an ache that screams in his bones. He forces the though out of his mind even as the particles come together to form shadows—

         Two of them, standing in the small lights with the dirt dancing through the air. A larger one and smaller, almost as tall, much slimmer.

         Something jumps in Robin’s chest and lands in his throat.

         Slade’s hand squeezes, once, painfully. Then he’s letting go.

         “Renegade. Attack.”

         The voice is loud in the room, ringing like an explosion. Slade is tugging on Robin’s leash, yanking him by the collar to do his bidding, and like a trained dog, Robin responds to his master’s commands. He bites his lip, anxiety in his chest rising to a breakneck pace as he moves forward.

         The shapes in the dirt move, turning towards the noise. The bulkier one raises it’s arm, and—

         The glow of green lights up the room, turning the dust into a solar storm and the skin in front of Robin into something completely alien. It comes from four places, the glowing in hands and the warrior’s eyes and Robin knows before they step out of the mist, the feeling blooming with no reason but intensity inside him. 

         He takes in Cyborg and Starfire, staring at him with wide eyes, their weapons at the ready. Robin’s friends.

         Right there.

         Right in front of him.

         Real.

         Robin chokes.

         They’d seemed like phantoms only the night before, dancing behind his eyes in the darkness. Now they’re just as real as Slade is, standing before him—not quite as he remembers them.

         Not quite at all, because Vic’s eyes are narrowed at him, one arm half-raised and ready to attack. It’s nothing like the grinning face he remembers. As the green light recedes from Star’s eyes, her hands powering down but not quite.

         “Robin?”

         It rings in the room.

         That’s his name, that’s Robin’s name, twisting out of someone else’s lips—from Star’s tongue, voice unsure and beautiful and everything Robin has wanted, needed, dreamed of.

         Real.

         Here.

         Something burns in his eyes, not for the first time, but for something true and real and beautiful. For the person Robin knows he loves.

         “Star . . .” The exhalation is inaudible to anyone except Robin himself, a secret passed between his lips. She looks at him like she’s not sure whether he’s really there either, still defensive, not sure if Robin will attack her.

         Almost afraid of him, as if he’d hurt her, as if Robin would ever hurt her or think of hurting her, as if Robin wouldn’t tear out his soul and give it away to keep her from harm. It hurts down to his bones, cutting through him like a rusted knife with barely any edge dragged furiously through his flesh.

         But she should be afraid of him.

         They should all. They should all be there to hurt him and defend themselves from him and leave him out because he has to hurt them, he will hurt them, because Slade is behind him with a remote in his hand and he is telling Robin to attack, Attack, or your friends will die. Attack, and I might spare their lives. Obey me, and it will hurt less.

         All of them except Raven, and she’s not here, and it comes crashing down on Robin all in that instant and he really and truly is crying, curling down his cheeks without a mask. They will be hurt. They will be hurt, and Robin, however much of a pathetic failure, however weak he is, cannot allow that. Will not allow that. It’s every last bit of who he is, curled in the core of his soul, not sheared away by Slade.

         “Leave,” Robin orders.

He charges, boots slapping the floor in time as the white blurs. All he can see are Star and Cy, and he doesn’t want to hurt them because he loves them with all he is but that’s why he has to. That’s why he can’t let himself get sidetracked in the agony of worrying.

         Cy’s canon powers up. The projectile shoots towards Robin—right in front of him, too close to dodge without losing momentum. On instinct, Robin’s fingers close around the hilt of one of the swords on his back. Just as he’d expected, it cuts through the energy like it was nothing. Certainly not just steel, just like Slade had said. The parts of it separate around him easily as Robin shoots forward.

         Green light fills his vision. Robin is prepared to dodge but to his surprise he doesn’t have to. The starbolts are centimeters off, nowhere near being able to hurt Robin, meaning—

         Meaning Star doesn’t think he’s gone, isn’t trying to hurt him, and Robin aches.

         He still takes the next step forward, and then the next. Because he has to. Because this is his life now, sold for that of his friends. Hell and all.

         Something huge and dark flairs in the corner of Robin’s eye and he has only seconds to think Slade! before he’s falling through the air. He flips, landing on his feet. The impact jars him as he stares around for the source of it.

         A green T-Rex, its dangerous tail flickering back and forth.

         Beast Boy.

         He’s safe.

         And Raven isn’t.

         “Robin, you must—” Star tries to plead.

         Robin’s fists clench, one painfully on the hilt of his sword. “You need to leave. Now.”

         Please leave.

         Please don’t leave.

         “Robin—”

         “You heard him,” Slade echoes, amused. Robin hates him. He hates him more than he’s ever hated anyone, even the man who killed his parents, even more than he hated Slade before.

         Robin readies himself to charge again. His trained muscles tense under him, bruises forgotten. The situational assessment is good, Robin will have the ability to take them on—even if Beast Boy looks intimidating, Robin knows his weaknesses.

         “We know about the nanobots, Robin,” Cyborg says.

         Robin freezes.

         “We neutralized them.”

         Robin stares.

         The swirling of Cyborg’s blaster seems to hypnotize him. The words that ring in his ears are unfamiliar because Slade is not speaking them, impossible to believe.

         “Don’t listen to them. Do you really think they could?”

         Slade’s voice is harsh and cruel. Robin can sense a strain in it. That can’t be hesitation, a sense of being caught off guard. Those kinds of things don’t happen to Slade.

         Except.

         “We did not believe that—that Raven was killed of . . . natural causes,” Star explains, stilted.

         So she really is dead.

         Dead and gone.

         “So we took a look,” Cyborg explains. “We got them, Robin. They were in all of us. I . . . we . . . we’re sorry for doubting you.”

         Star nods.

         They doubted me.

         “Did you really?” Slade mocks. He’s in control, smooth and sure. Robin stares at him, the faceless mask and the orange and black that makes him shiver to the bone. That’s a voice he’s learned to trust will do what it says it well, even in Slade’s so many words. “Do you really think they could have beaten me, pet?”

         Robin chokes.

         He stares at Star and Cy with wide, terrified eyes. He tries to plead with them, tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth with something he doesn’t know or understand.

         It dangles right in front of him. The unthinkable. Release, freedom, his friends. All back for him, for him. The burning in his chest warms him, the numbness that has been his reality for so long starting to . . . recede. Warmth fills him, a feeling he hasn’t had for so long. Hadn’t noticed that he’d missed.

         “We’ve beaten you before, Slade,” Beast Boy hisses. His voice sounds strange, more angry than Robin has known to expect from him ever before. He’s back in his small, green form, brow pulled into a hated expression and a look in his eyes that Robin doesn’t remember.

         They’re all so different, subtly, as if Robin had stepped through a wardrobe into a place that was simply wrong, just by a few inches to the left.

         “Are you going to gamble your friends’ lives again, boy?” Slade queries. The detonator, hated, is in his hand. Under his fingers. Thumb ready to sign a death warrant, perhaps for all of them this time. “Do you want to watch them all scream for your foolishness?”

         Robin feels sick. He looks to Slade and back at his friends, cut down to three, standing there. The people he’d die for.

         Slade . . .

         When has Slade not known? Not been a step ahead? Ever slipped, or made a mistake, or let himself be exploited? Is this just another ploy—one to test Robin’s loyalty, one to force him so that Slade can force him to watch his friends die, again?

         He can’t let that happen. Not ever.

         Robin’s hand clenches around the sword in his hand, finding the tip shivering in the air. He tries to hold it steady, but it still shakes, as if it’s aching for the chance to draw blood.

         “Robin.” Robin whirls to see Star, her hands lowered. There is no dangerous green in her eyes, no anger, just sadness.

         “Do you trust us?” Cyborg’s voice is solid, something to cling onto. Nothing like Slade’s, which slips through Robin’s fingers and shudders through his veins. The sword shakes.

         “Don’t be a fool, boy,” Slade says. Robin shudders. “Do you want to watch them melt right here? The nanobots—”

         “Shut up!” Beast Boy snarls, feral in his throat. Robin thinks he sees the flash of fangs, flinching away from the noise. Robin’s eyes widen, fear paralyzing his veins.

         “Don’t—” he catches himself murmuring. Don’t make him angry. Beast Boy turns on him, anger in his eyes.

         “I thought you were on our side!”

         “Beast Boy—” Cyborg interjects.

         “I—I—” It’s pathetic to sit there and stutter and Robin feels it in every inch of his body. Sickness is in his gut. There is no way out, no clear and real course of action. One day, before, he would know what to do. He was able to understand it, to make his brain work right. Now everything shivers with too much light and sound, too much of everything. Robin just wants it to end, not to stand here torn apart at the seams.

         “I . . .”

         Does he have it in him to walk back to Slade?

         Renegade,” Slade hisses, and the sheer fear that’s sent tumbling through his muscles makes Robin shudder.

         Star looks at him encouragingly. Beast Boy narrows his eyes. Cyborg looks like he’s daring to hope.

         Robin . . . Robin might just be daring to hope, too.

         Every part of him shivers. They know about the bots. That’s Slade’s plan, his only plan. The chip he has on Robin.

         So why is he so scared?

         Cowardice.

         Robin needs to be free. He can’t do this anymore, can’t live like this, and he doesn’t have to. Not now, not again.

         Free from Slade.

         “I . . . I’m on your side,” he declares. The words aren’t loud. To Robin they feel whispered and low, yet they ring throughout the room.

         “You’ll pay for that.”

         Robin spins on Slade, seeing the detonator for the nanobots in his hand. His finger is on the trigger.

         “No—!”

         The hand presses down, and the button sinks in, red and dangerous and murderous.

         Robin turns to stare at his friends—

         They stare back.

         They keep staring.

         Nothing happens.

         Nothing at all.

         Slade’s eye narrows viciously. The thumb comes up, presses down again.

         Nothing.

         “You’ve been beat,” Cyborg snaps. “We’re here for our leader.”

         Leader.

         The word seems foreign, ridiculous to Robin’s ears.

         “You mean my apprentice?” Robin can hear the raised brow. Slade’s staff extends, spun in his hand. Dangerous electricity dances at the tips, and Robin can’t help but wince. He’s felt it hit his skin many times before in training, aching on his muscles as he was downed and twitching.

         “He is not yours,” Star hisses. She’s closer to him, suddenly, eyes blazing in a way that makes Robin relieved because it’s not focused on him, the brunt of her feral anger focused on Slade.

         He seems unfazed.

         Did he plan this?

         The staff spins, crackling.

         “You killed Raven,” Beast Boy says. Robin can hear the choke in his voice, hidden like someone with so much experience in the area. There’s a pang, the agony of it so raw that it makes Robin nearly stagger. “You’ll pay for that.”

         Make him pay, Robin’s mind jeers on.

         “Titans,” Cyborg says, “GO!”

         Robin feels his muscles jumping into action like a long-forgotten dance. His breathing is solid, and as he clenches his fist around the sword in it and crouches to stare at Slade, he feels freer than he has in months. Chains that weighed him to the ground are slashed, falling to the ground with a clanking like birdsong. Star rises into the air, Beast Boy growing into a hulking beast. Cyborg aims his cannon.

         By the time Robin looks back to Slade, he’s gone. He’s too big to disappear, and yet he does. Robin ducks to the side just in time to avoid the staff going over his head. Robin’s teeth are bared in Slade’s direction, deflecting the thing on the flat of his sword.

         “You still belong to me,” Slade purrs. The smile that Robin can feel on his face makes his blood run cold. Robin, on the ground, pressed into the cot with his ass up, Slade . . .

         The green bolt nearly blinds him but it’s welcome. Slade steps neatly out of its way. It crashes into the wall, melting the stone. Slade tries to jab at her, but Star pushes him back.

         “Are you the alright?” Star asks, coming up next to him. Robin can hear the ache in her tone, and he aches too, hearts entwined.

         Robin aches, burns, feels beaten down and broken and worthless. He remembers Slade’s boots on his shoulders, Slade pinning him to the ground, Slade telling him to be a good little whore.

         And yet Star is here, right next to him, floating there and safe and she knows and she cares.

         “Yeah,” Robin says. “Get him.”

         Star grins at him, real this time, the circles under her eyes suddenly less pronounced. Her hands come together, fist next to fist, the green light blooming in between them. Robin feels heat against his skin and ducks out of the way, scanning for Slade. He slashes at Beast Boy, who buzzes around him in the shape of a bee.

         Robin is over there in an instant, to back Gar up. Slade dances out of the way of Star’s double starbolt on too-light feet, the back of his head missing the burning light by inches that Robin knows are carefully calculated. The bolt burns a steaming valley in the wall behind

         Robin raises his sword, no time to pull out the other one. Slade moves easy, familiar, dangerous.

         Maybe I should have left him to Star and Beast Boy. Robin doesn’t know where Cy is and he can’t turn to check, every ounce of his focused pulsing towards Slade. They exchange fast, loud blows before Robin flips away, recalculating.

         Beast Boy starts to grow but before he can finish the end of Slade’s staff gets him in the half-there gut. Beast Boy falls to the ground spasming, reverting in twitches back to his original form.

         Robin feels sick.

         Is that what Raven looked like?

         Slade’s staff moves to come down again. Robin jolts forward, pulling all he is with him. The sword slashes at Slade’s side as Robin skids past, whirling to aim another blow. It’s caught on the back half of Slade’s staff before Slade turns to face him.

         “Desperate for another punishment?”

         “You don’t have power over me now, Slade,” Robin says, as evenly as he can. He grips the sword tighter, slashing at Slade with all he’s worth. He’s fighting back, really fighting back. Star whirls above him, dodging in and out of Slade’s range in sync. Beast Boy scuttles around his feet.

         For the first time in so, so long, Robin feels hope. It fills him like a drug, thrumming in his veins and mixing into a cocktail with the adrenaline there.

         Robin slashes, Star ducking down to force Slade to move back and deflect. Beast Boy charges, Slade moving out of the way and letting Robin attack against as Beast Boy presses in. He’s looking cornered, Robin on one side and refusing to give ground while Beast Boy advances. The staff is occupied, Star diving down from above—

         Beast Boy charges. Robin slashes. Slade’s staff comes against both of them, slamming in to block them with shaking force. Star takes advantage. There’s no way Slade can take all three of them charging at once, cornered as he is.

         One hand lets go of the staff as Star comes down, gloved. Robin pushes harder but makes no progress, Beat Boy only marginally luckier. He’s still open. Star’s hand starts to glow as the bolt sweeps towards Slade.

         It’s too late to dodge, and Slade doesn’t. Instead, his hand reaches up, seemingly impossibly far, and grabs Star’s ankle. She yells, the bolt burning up and through the ceiling above them in a trail of bright green. Slade yanks. Star crashes to the ground with a thud. Robin gasps, distracted. “Star!”

         Beat Boy pushes harder. Slade pushes against Robin, pushing him back. Robin grimaces, bracing against the sword. Star can’t be—no. No, she’s not. That would be impossible; Slade didn’t even hurt her that much. She’s just stunned.

         Robin flips back, Beast Boy retreating to bulge into a vicious rhino. The horn gleams in the light, vicious and ready to impale. Angry like Beast Boy. He charges.

         Slade pulls something from his suit as Robin rushes to meet him. Robin tries to stab at it but Slade pulls it out of the way. It looks like the trigger, and Robin somehow feels relief. The nanobots are out of his friends. There is no danger, not like there was.

         Did Robin even have to obey him that last few times?

         It shudders, cold in his gut.

         The rhino’s feet pound the ground, shaking dust down around them and coating Robin’s hair in a fine white powder. It spills on his hands, making even Star on the ground look dead and ghostly. Slade doesn’t seem fazed, standing in front of him like he’s ready to die or afraid of nothing at all. Robin doesn’t think Slade is afraid of anything.

         He moves at the last second.

         Slade’s staff slams into Beast Boy’s head before Robin has a chance to do anything about it or Beast Boy has a chance to move. Robin tries to move forward but can’t, feeling his muscle refuse to respond. The electricity crackles and Beast Boy twitches between human form and animal, hurtling towards Robin. Robin wants to bend his knees but he can’t, paralyzed with the whole of the situation. Instincts don’t help him now; Slade must have forced him so much out of practice . . .

         Beast Boy’s face comes closer, in seemingly slow motion.

         “Rob! Move!” Cyborg is yelling.

         Robin . . . can’t. He means to, he’s trying, but it’s not working -

         Something shines in the light, in front of him.

         Beast Boy spins closer, forming human—

         He jolts to a stop in front of Robin.

         Robin blinks. Something spatters his face, Beast Boy gaping at him. He’s not getting up, and Robin can’t see what’s stopped him.

         “ . . . Gar?”

         Beast Boy coughs. Crimson trickles out of the side of his mouth. Robin blinks at him. Fear blooms in his chest. Slade had hurt him—the electricity had messed with his form, probably, Robin has to get him help. Robin starts to move his hand only to figure out that he can’t. He looks down at it. His fist is in a deathgrip of one of his swords. It glints in the light. Robin’s brow furrows.

         His eyes follow the blade, trailing out into space—

         Through Gar’s chest.

         Blood leaks around it, shockingly red against the green, like some sort of parody of a Christmas celebration.

         “Beast Boy! Beast Boy!” Cyborg is yelling, running in heavy footsteps. “Robin! What did you do?”

         The horror in his voice leaks into Robin’s veins as he stares, cold down to the core, at the sight in front of him. Beast Boy is gasping slightly, trying to say something through bloodied lips and rasping breath and all Robin can do is stare with wide eyes. His brain refuses to process, the image hanging there in his sight unimagined. It’s burned into his retinas as Beast Boy twitches a little, air working through his body and barely hitting his vocal cords.

         Something is behind Robin. He can feel it but the horror in front of him paralyzes him, unable to comprehend.

         “Good boy,” Slade purrs in his ear.

         Something pricks Robin’s neck.

         His vision goes black.

 

Chapter Text

           The water is freezing but Robin doesn’t care. He grabs for the small bar of soap feverishly, scratching the hair off of it with a ragged nail. Dirt spills down his body and circles the small drain, his hair beginning to hang more loosely around his face. Robin starts with his feet, getting all the soap he can. The dirt comes out from between his toes with blood and sweat and washes away. He runs the soap over every part of him, meticulously sure that he gets behind his ears—under his arms, on his back. Robin shivers with every pass of it, the need buried in his gut burning on his skin to scrub off the filth and cleanse his skin totally of anything that would taint it.

         Robin shoves caustic fingers in his mouth with restrained desperation. The soap tastes disgusting, and it burns, and it aches as he swallows it down but it’s not the dirt on his tongue or the salty taste of semen dripping down his throat. He spits, gagging on it. His tongue burns with the rest of him, indistinguishable with the horror scrawled across it. The soap burns on Robin’s bruised knees, the small cuts on his hands, courses over the ridges of his back where the whip carved itself into his skin. When he rubs it on his face with abandon, it gets in his eyes, burning as Robin tries to rub it away with equally soapy hands. The lather is thick on his skin. Robin even rubs it into his hair, pulling it through the strands until he can feel the telltale lack of grease. He shivers as he feels the dirt in it pour down his back.

         He’s glad Slade can’t hear him in here, sobbing slightly. Robin digs fingers into his ass, prying closer. The soap stings in his hole and he knows it’s going to hurt and it’s probably bad for him but he can’t have it, can’t have himself filled with Slade and ruined with him and unwashed from his touch. Slick drips out with Robin’s fingers and he watches it carried away by the cold rain with a small shiver.

         The soap pools in dirty bubbles at his feet, the filth carried away down the drain. Robin shudders. His hands go to his shoulders, rubbing. He pries the soap off of himself, his fingers scratching desperate, red lines down his shoulders and thighs. They twine with the bruises of Slade’s handprints, stubborn no matter how much Robin presses the bar of soap against them. He practically pounds the soap against them, desperate to remove the marks of the man he hates so much—and yet there they are, still engraved in him. Robin hisses. His hair hangs wet around him, nothing in it but water that drips before his nose.

         Water is done running off of him, all the soap lost. It should have taken the dirt with it—it did take the dirt with it, all the signs of Robin’s tainted skin twisted away from him but the dirt still lingers, because Robin can feel it, caking his fingers and under his chin and slick in his mouth. Robins breath catches desperately, pressing back tears.

         No. You’re clean—that doesn’t—this doesn’t make sense. Focus, focus . . .

         The tears burn behind his eyes. Everything is wrong, broken, disturbed. He can’t live with the filth on him like he can’t live with a nail through his foot. Desperately, Robin rubs the soap on every part of himself he can reach. He presses it in as hard as he can, leaving muscles stinging behind him as the thing courses across his skin. Taking the dirt with it. Taking Slade with it, taking everything wrong with it and letting it be burned away with the rest of the intolerables.

         It burns through his mouth, deep inside him, in every part of him—washed off again by the icy water.

         The soap is gone.

         Not the thing that ruins him.

         Robin blinks down, every part of him wracked with tremors before he even notices his shaking hand. It scrapes down his arm, the white skin under the nails washing away again. The red under his skin makes a pleasing line and Robin is scratching down it again, making it redder, the burning soothed by the freezing water. He scratches feverishly at it, staring at the red that grows as the detritus falls away.

         It still burns.

         It’s still filthy.

         Robin stares at it blankly, the water still pouring over the aching skin, red but not right. Not healed. Still touched, ruined.

         He doesn’t realize he’s crying—again, for the second, the tenth, the thousandth time. Like he hasn’t since he was a child, biting his lip to force back the agony of it.

         Robin rubs again at his hands with the soap, washing away still filthy. The bitter taste of it burns his throat but he can still feel Slade forcing his way into it with all the subtlety of a knife biting into skin. The tears well in his eyes, pour down his skin with the rain. Robin doesn’t have a chance against the feelings in his chest, hard as diamond and overtaking him like an ocean current meant to drown. His arms wrap around his shoulders, cradling himself the way he remembers Star used to hug him. Robin leans over, the tense agony of every part of the past months, the humiliation and degradation and the worthlessness Slade pushes into him with ever evening he digs into his hips and fucks. His friends, gone. Raven, dead.

         Everything, lost.

         Is Robin even still here?

         Yes, he whispers, but it’s empty as Robin curls over and shakes with sob after sob. He cries under the cold water, naked and pale and disgusting in a way he can’t explain but goes down to his bones, grown into their very marrow. Something in him spasms, Robin gasping for air. He gags, something in his throat, just beyond it—Robin leans over the drain, shuddering. Something sticky and pale drips from his mouth. It’s bitter with acid but he knows what it is, in his mouth and slicking his tongue again. Cum smears his chin, washed away in seconds as it’s swept down the drain.

         Robin covers his face with his hands and cries like he hasn’t since he was a child and his parents lay as corpses before his eyes.

         It seems like forever into the shivering, salty mess that Robin is that he sees the shadow looming over him. It’s cast over the soap and almost seems to make the air colder.

         Slade.

         Robin doesn’t have the strength to look up, or to care. Who knows what Slade is going to do to him? Robin can’t stop it. Like he hasn’t been able to stop anything else. Instead he just stares down at the swirling water, swept away like Robin wishes he could be. The crying works him raw, aches in his muscles, and yet he can’t stop. Slade simply stands there, watching enigmatically as Robin chokes on his own agony there on the cold floor.

         Raven is gone. The tower is gone, as far as Robin is concerned. His room there, with his things, with his friends and with Bruce who Robin has let down so many times.

         Bruce who hasn’t come for him. Who’s left him with Slade, to be raped over and over and over until it blurs into too many nights of endless pain and violation.

         The tears don’t stop, seem to go on forever in Slade’s shadow. Robin stares down at his hands, still bearing the scars of his foolish attempt to get the trigger away from Slade. If he had been able to, he would be back with his friends, all alive and safe and still whole. Still with the nameless things that Slade had stolen from him, the emptiness in his soul that aches for something to fill it.

         If he hadn’t been so stupid as to try, Raven would still be here, not a life cut so short at Robin’s horrific behest. In the place that should have been Robin, writhing on the floor under Slade’s boot until his eyes go blank in death. A mercy he didn’t get, to die instead of his friends. Something Slade wouldn’t let him have

         A hand touches the back of his neck and Robin is pulled limply to his feet. His limbs are thinner than they used to be, almost skeletal in the light. The faucet turns off with a snap and the water stops bearing down on him.

         “Dry off,” Slade orders. A towel is shoved in Robin’s face, falling onto blank fingers. He pulls it around himself, slowly rubbing his body down of the cold water. Robin doesn’t realize he’s shivering until he sees his shaking fingers try to hold it steady. He’s barely damp when Slade shoves his clothes in his face. Robin doesn’t see the look on his face and doesn’t try. Let Slade hurt him, or hit him, or even rape him again. It’s all blurred into a hopeless miasma of agony, meaningless and horrible. Everything aches.

         Slade doesn’t hit him, or rape him again. Instead, he pulls Robin by the shoulder, pushing his clothes at him. Robin doesn’t bother to hide his nudity; what would be the point?

         He thinks he can feel Slade’s eye taking him in. It skins him alive, tearing him down to muscle and bone and fat.

         When Slade opens the door to the small room he keeps Robin in, hand resting lightly on the back of his neck, Robin doesn’t protest. He all but runs to the other side, to where his cot sits—somewhere far, far away from Slade. Robin pulls the blanket around himself, shivering in the cold. It’s filthy, like Slade, like the whole place, like the rest of Robin’s body.

         The light leaves, mercifully. Robin is alone in the darkness. It was a terrifying thought when he was a child, but now . . . now, it’s a comforting sort of darkness. The kind that he knows Slade doesn’t inhabit, and won’t until morning.

         Robin drops off on the filthy blanket into uneasy dreams and desperate unconsciousness.


         “Attack,” Slade orders. Robin follows it with only a few seconds’ hesitation, letting his legs propel him forward to jab and slash at Slade’s form. The man moves back, Robin missing him by screaming inches. The knives are awkward in his hands, unfamiliar and unusual. Robin has some training with weapons, but with his bo staff, not with sharp things in his hands meant to rend and tear.

         Adrenaline floods his system as he lashes back at Slade’s form, the hated face and form that makes his hands shake with rage. This feels good, better than ever, letting his anger lead his strikes to make Slade pay. The idea of watching him gush blood, even a little, makes Robin want nothing more than to see it. Robin’s teeth grit further at every clumsy missed strike, ducking swiftly out of the way before Slade can take advantage. Everything seems to pinpoint into those two flashing blades, the dark clad body swirling in front of him so dangerously. He feels his heartbeat steady, still thumping hard. It feels good to have something in his hands to fight with, to defend with.

         Robin ducks around Slade’s form, skidding as he aims his blades at Slade’s hamstrings. Slade jumps, his huge form flipping in the air as if he weighed nothing more than air. Robin has to roll aside before getting up to avoid a vicious kick that would’ve broken several ribs. He narrows his eyes at his opponent, the man still circling. Waiting for Robin’s attack, like a shark in the water.

         Robin runs at him, a yell tensing in his chest. It pours from his lips as he moves forward, anger and fury and pent up things he doesn’t understand laser-focused on the pale eye in his vision. He feints a jab at Slade’s thigh before jumping up to kick at his head. Slade ducks. Robin manages to catch his balance on the man’s shoulderblades, flipping away behind him. He spins; Slade is coming for him, boot aimed at his shoulder. Robin pulls himself out of the way, body going lengthwise. The knife stabs at Slade’s thigh but doesn’t get there in time before he reorients. Robin goes spinning from a vicious boot to the face, barely managing to keep his balance as he flails with the dual swords.

         Slade stalks forwards. Toying with him. Robin’s face twists, aches burning and ignored. The knife flashes at Slade’s wrist and shoulder. As expected, Slade steps easily to the side, into Robin’s other blade. It points to Slade’s shoulder. Slade’s hand clamps around the wrist that holds the blade. He yanks, Robin sent skidding across the floor and hissing under his breath. Slade’s fists go up, one meaning to slam into Robin’s cheek. Robin ducks. The momentum ruffles his hair. The second one comes to finish him; Robin narrows his eyes. Slade’s leaning down, giving Robin a hair’s width of space—

         He slashes. Stars explode behind his eyes as Robin goes spinning off to the side. He tastes blood, feels it dripping down his chin. Robin stares at Slade. Slade doesn’t seem interested in attack, one hand pressed against his neck. Slowly, Slade pulls it away: blood dribbles through his fingers, a drop blooming on the floor.

         Robin pants, energy thrumming through him. He notices his hand is shaking slightly as it holds the weapon. An almost imperceptible line of crimson taints its edge. Vicious pleasure courses in his veins as he wipes the blood off his mouth with one sloppy hand.

         “Why, my boy,” Slade purrs, “I believe that was a killing blow.” He’s a panther, moving towards Robin.

         Robin freezes.

         The knives shudder in his fingers.

         He takes a second look at Slade, at the paper-thin line that crosses the side of his neck: slim, barely bleeding.

         Across the jugular.

         If Robin had a little more force behind his arm, or a little more reach, or Slade had moved away just a millisecond earlier—

         Slade’s lifeblood would be pooling on the floor this instant.

         The thought fills Robin with a sudden jolt of pleasure, down to his gut. Slight nausea comes after. His knuckles whiten on the hands of his blades.

         “You’re learning well, apprentice.” Slade is nearer now, eye taking Robin in like he’s a particularly fine piece of cheese.

         Robin takes a breath. He forces his fingers to unlock. The knives fall to the floor with a distant clinking noise. The fists close behind them.

         “None of that. Pick them up.”

         Robin shudders.

         I almost killed him.

         But he couldn’t have; Slade would never have let him. Never would’ve given him the weapons if there was even the smallest chance—

         But Robin had meant to.

         He had wanted to, in that singular moment when he’d slashed at Slade’s jugular, he didn’t care if the knife went through and left Slade for dead.

         A killer.

         I’m not a killer.

         Robin isn’t; he hasn’t, he wouldn’t, he’d never.

         The anger still shakes his fingers and shudders in his chest. He’d become too complacent with the weapons in his hands, wanted so badly, needed to . . .

         “Can you hear me, boy?”

         Robin’s eyes snap back up to Slade. “Yes. Master.”

         He stares down at the knives on the ground, making him shudder in his skin. Hands shake as he reaches out to pick them up again. Instruments of death, red with blood that could have been fatal.

         Would it be so bad if he were dead?

         Robin can’t think of anyone more deserving.

         But that would let him win.

         Scrape away the last claim to heroism that Robin has left, nestled in his soul and held onto for dear life. It’s what Batman would want, what Robin wants. What he thinks he wants.

         It’s not about what Slade deserves, it’s about who Robin is, down to the core of him. Not a killer, no matter how badly Slade wants to make him into one. Killing would be losing.

         Robin hates to lose.

         He picks up the knives, balanced between his fingers. The weight now feels unwanted and dirty. Just more filth to add onto his skin. Robin tries to wipe the blood off on the floor, only half successfully. He waves the sword through the air slightly, hoping to have it fly off, but it’s already crystallizing on the blade with Robin’s guilt.

         This time, Slade is the one who attacks, raining merciless blows onto Robin when they get through his defenses, pushing his apprentice back towards the wall. Robin doesn’t try to attack—too focused on fending off the blows. His mind seems fuzzy, reflexes slow. Slade lands a blow on Robin’s ribs, then another on his face. Robin is thrown against the wall, gasping and choking from a blow to the diaphragm. He falls to his knees, gasping breaths filling with the scent of dirt on the training room floor.

         Slade’s hands fist in his hair, nails digging rudely into Robin’s scalp. “Are you sure you don’t want to kill me?”

         The line on his throat is pale, barely bleeding. It seems burned into Robin’s eyes. Robin grits his teeth, aiming the hilt of one of the knives at the side of Slade’s head. Slade is gone before he can follow up, Robin lurching to his feet, getting ready once again to defend himself.

         If Robin could kill Slade, maybe he could escape.

         Go back to his friends.

         But they’re better people than to want a murderer back on their team.


         Robin lays in the darkness, as familiar as it ever was, as cold as it’s always been. The hard ground digs into his back and shoulders, hard against his head. He’s always exhausted enough that it doesn’t truly matter. His brain shuts down and pulls him into the abyss soon enough, even if he wakes up with screaming pain in his muscles.

         It’s nothing worse than the ache in his ass where Slade fucks him, never given time to heal before there’s more blood trickling down his thighs. It stains the blanket beneath Robin, unseen except for when Slade’s entrance casts light on it—otherwise ignored, for Robin’s sanity.

         Sometimes he suspects that if he could feel it all, the sheer horror of it, he would be already broken. Other days, Robin thinks that he shouldn’t even be here, because if the world made sense, he would be dead. It should be impossible for any living person to feel the agony that festers in him, the grief and the pain and the emptiness, but he’s here anyways. Here despite sanity or reason.

         If Robin could get even the smallest edge on Slade, he might have a chance. If Slade didn’t have his friends, Robin could do whatever he liked. Fight back with every inch of his being. Instead, he’s trapped under Slade’s heel, slowly and inevitably crushed like an unwanted spider.

         Robin tries not to think about fighting back. It’s dangerous thoughts, things that could put his friends in danger. And yet his thoughts always drift. It keeps him sane, maybe, to imagine hitting Slade back in his face every time Slade demeans him. To fantasize about even asserting that Slade can’t touch him. Can’t use him. Can’t force him to do anything at all he doesn’t want.

         Slade, bleeding out on the floor—one of Robin’s swords in his guts, the man twitching around it like an enormous ragdoll. Pale eye rolled back, blood staining his goatee, going limp. No longer able to hurt or touch or move. Robin, running, finding his way out of this place. Going back to his friends.

         Maybe they wouldn’t take him back.

         It would still be better than this.

         Robin wants it more than he’s wanted anything before.

         Strangling Slade with the bit of bandage he hid under his pillow in the other room, clinging with every part of him to his back. Slade spasming on the floor, Robin bracing against his back, pulling on his jugular. The eye slowly closing, the body going limp. Robin tying the thing as tight as he can, finishing him off.

         He can’t stop the perverse pleasure the image brings him. Hacking the computer system, finding Slade’s password. Burning the place to the ground.

         Curling up under his blanket in the Titans Tower, falling asleep to the soft whirring of the systems, or going back to his old room in Wayne Manor, still decorated like that of a child.

         What would Bruce think of you wanting to kill Slade?

         Well, Bruce isn’t here, is he? Robin spitefully thinks. He didn’t come for me.

          He drifts off to sleep to the sound of flames.

Chapter Text

            The rigorous workouts begin again when the bandages on Robin’s hands begin to really come off, winding their way to the floor in broken strings. He’s reminded of the bandage pieces he has under his pillow in the room he used to have, useless as they were the night he tore them off. Robin doesn’t remember being particularly lucid then, but then again, he’s not particularly lucid now.

         All he knows is that he’s angry, and he’s afraid.

         The smell of sweat hangs on him and the clothes he wears, permeating the training room. He doesn’t know how Slade can stand it. Maybe the man’s sense of smell is just as broken as his left eye.

         Either way, Robin ignores it as he crouches, spinning himself into a jumpkick. This one is faster than he’s ever done before—if it was any slower, Slade would catch him and throw him to the floor. It slams into Slade’s chest, pushing him a few steps back. Vicious pleasure at the view shoots through Robin’s veins.

Robin pulls at that instinct, trying to cut through the gray and the fear that his life has become. It feels like something real. Something he can exploit. It’s something that helps him feel a little bit more alive, like falling through the air in the wake of his own momentum. Slade recovers faster than Robin does. Robin barely blocks the blow, hissing as shockwaves are sent up his newly healed arms.

         The kick sends him skidding across the floor, shoulders burning through the dirty fabric. Robin barely manages to roll away from another kick, and now he’s on the defensive, struggling just to stop himself from getting another cruel collection of bruises from today’s training.

         He’s cut off from his retreats when Slade halts, a hand up to signal a pause in the session—or a stop, if Robin’s lucky. Robin curls in on himself, panting, sweat dripping down his face and down his torso. He tries halfheartedly to wipe at it with his shirt, eyes still fixed on Slade.

         “We’re going to try something new,” Slade announces, without elaboration. Robin feels his heart begin to pound its pace harder in his chest, hands fisting in his clothing. Slade doesn’t move towards him, instead retreating towards the wall. Robin doesn’t realize he’s tense until a breath hisses out through his lungs, the anxiety an unwelcome push back into reality.

         Slade taps at the wall, Robin too far away to get a good look at the password in the few seconds his fingers blur. Then the compartment is opening, lights flashing off of the weapons inside: swords, knives, everything in between. Slade’s hands come away with two vicious looking bastards, hands curling easily around the expensive leather hilts. Robin narrows his eyes as the man approaches.

         He half expects Slade to stab him, but his body doesn’t telegraph the movements he usually does before punishment—or sadism, or anything of the sort. Instead, the swords flip in Slade’s hands, offered to Robin by the hilt: the same ones he’d been given on previous missions, but never used.

         Robin stares. “I don’t use knives.”

         “Yes,” Slade says pointedly, “you do.” His eye narrows. “Don’t tell me you’ve never wanted to try and kill me. Well, here’s your chance.” Slade’s mouth quirks, as if the very idea is funny.

         Robin’s fists bunch. The guilt boils in him, familiar and hot. The knives glint in the light, promising blood and pain. Meant for killing and maiming.

         I’m not a killer.

         Robin’s hands slowly reach out. It’s not as if he has a choice, fingers clasping around the leather, weighing them in his hands. The things seem balanced well enough, almost as long as his forearms. He’s almost surprised that Slade is giving him these, but Slade must believe that Robin really stands no chance of hurting him.

         How can he, when Slade’s finger hovers over the trigger at all times?

         Slade takes two steps back, the singular eye taking in all of Robin’s movements. Robin is left with only himself and the weapons meant for nothing but killing.


         The things are heavy in his hands as he trains.

         Robin doesn’t have a choice to pick them up and use them, but he does have a choice where he points them. He knows how to take down enemies nonlethally, and every strike he lands has no chance of really killing Slade.

         Not that it wouldn’t hurt, of course. Robin sometimes fantasizes about taking him down during training and running out of the compound. Finding his friends.

         Every strike he lands is a victory, but he can’t manage to properly catch him, to do any damage. Slade dodges out of what would have been a choking jab to the neck. It hits his shoulder instead, ineffectual, Robin’s fingers smarting as he moves back. Breath rattles in his lungs. Robin can’t help but wonder how long it’s been since the session started, sweat dripping down his neck.

         Air breezes in front of his face as he jumps back, the tread of Slade’s boot inches from his nose. He ducks the next blow, jabbing at Slade’s legs, moving swiftly to the man’s blind side. It never seems to do any good, but Robin is willing to take any advantage he can get, no matter how improbable.

         “Bad form.” A blow hits his ankles with barely any warning, Robin falling forward and trying to catch himself on his arms. “Surely I taught you better.”

         Robin’s first instinct is to jump to his feet but he can feel Slade looming above him, his eyes boring into him with icy surety. This is one of Slade’s games. Another humiliation for Robin to endures.

         “I’m sorry, master,” Robin says dutifully. Something slams into him, leaving him gasping for breath. He recoils to the floor, blinking away painful stars. It’s only seconds later he realizes it was Slade’s boot, which really had collided with his face this time. Blood spills from his lips, familiar. Robin has to flick his tongue across his teeth to make sure they’re all intact. One or two are probably loose.

         “I’m sorry,” Robin whispers.

         “Your performance the past few days has been less than disappointing. My fault for expecting something better of you, hm?”

         Robin’s hands fist on the floor as he stares at the white knuckles.

         “I’m not used to using—”

         Fingers bruise on his chin as Slade crouches. “None of that,” he snaps. “We both know you’re not trying.”

         Robin’s teeth grit. “I’m not going to—I’m not a killer.”

         “Really?” Slade’s cruel face is in Robin’s. The mint on his breath makes Robin dizzy and slightly sick. “Do you need incentive?”

         “I hate you,” Robin hisses. “You can’t imagine how much I hate you. I wish you were dead.” He chokes. “But I’m not a killer.”

         “Not yet,” Slade murmurs, half to himself. He tilts Robin’s head up. Something that makes Robin shake deep inside glints in his eye. “We’re done training today, I think.”

         Robin is still. It should make him happy. But Slade is still angry, which means that the fear shuddering through him has reason.

         “But first, I’d like an apology.”

         “I said I was sorry,” Robin says, almost petulant.

         “Something a little more substantial.” Slade straightens, dropping Robin’s chin carelessly. “For all my trouble.”

         Danger shudders in the back corners of Robin’s mind. “Master—”

         Fingers dig into Robin’s shoulder, ordering but not pulling. “Closer, boy.”

         Robin shuffles forward on his knees, hands on the dirty floor. He comes to a stop where his knees almost meets the vicious tips of Slade’s boots. Slade stands in stark perspective, intimidating. His hand guides Robin’s head up, pulling him to his risen knees. Robin is close to him, almost close enough to brush the thickly muscled thighs. His head comes up Slade’s—

         To his—

         Oh, god.

         Bitter acid rises in the back of Robin’s throat. He gags on it. Oh, please no, he can’t—it’s not—

         Slade’s hand almost brushes Robin’s nose when the fingers move to his fly.

Robin suddenly can’t breathe, jerking his head back on instinct. Fingers tighten suddenly, cruelly, in his hair, keeping him in place.

         The zipper slides slowly, inevitably down.

         “What’s the matter, never sucked a cock before?”

         Robin’s head is shaking, dragging Slade’s fingers painfully into his scalp. No, no, no, nonono

         He can barely hear himself stuttering helplessly. “No—Master—please—Slade—not this, I—I promise I’ll try I promise—”

         The black of Slade’s briefs is beneath his pants, the slit going down them. Slade palms himself, fingers teasing the bulge idly as he digs into Robin.

         Please,” Robin begs desperately. “N-not—not that, please just—do it the—the other way—”

         Something trickles down his face. Tears, fearful tears. Broken tears.

         Slade’s hand legs go of Robin’s hair, tracing down his wet cheek. Robin looks up at him, sickness blooming in him.

         It seems too awful, too impossible to endure to happen, to exist, but Slade has no limits. Slade is capable of anything at all and Robin is here in this place and this is his life.

         This is going to happen.

         He chokes on a helpless sob, shoulders shaking. He feels pathetic on his knees, everything drowned out by the shuddering fear that overtakes him. Slade’s finger brushes over his cheek, rough. The thumb dips into Robin’s mouth. It tastes of sweat and leather, prying his mouth apart and pushing down on his tongue. Robin’s next sob is muffled, his hands fisting on his knees.

         Please, he begs, and he doesn’t know who he’s begging. Nobody at all, because nobody can hear him.

         Nobody can save him.

         Slade’s other hand works himself to fullness. The bulge is visible through the fabric. Robin can smell it with every desperate breath he takes. The only thing that keeps him from throwing up then and there is Slade’s fingers prying his mouth open. Every part of Robin shakes.

         Think of Kori, think of your friends, think of—

         The reasons he’s so filthy, so demeaned, so worthless. They seem so far away, almost meaningless.

         Slade slips his cock free.

         It’s ugly, red and veined and too close too close tooclose, cradled in Slade’s fingers as he moves it forward. It smells of him, sweat and something muskier, overpowering. The thing that dances in front of his face is so big he can’t imagine how it’ll fit in his mouth.

         All at once Robin loses his nerve, hands pressing desperately against Slade’s thighs to get away, away from him, away from all of this. He’s panting, head shaking. Robin’s eyes close as tears drip out of them and light dances behind them, desperately pushing and shuddering along the floor. Slade’s hand clamps down on his tongue and his chin, pressing in. Something incoherent leaves Robin’s mouth, high pitched and desperate.

         No, no, no, oh god please—

         He can taste the very tip of Slade’s cock against the pad of his tongue. It feels like nothing but skin, something oversized and awkward passing his lips. A tang is swallowed down with saliva, strange and slick.

         Bile aches in the back of his throat. Robin’s hands pound against Slade’s thighs, useless. He shuts his eyes tighter, sobbing. He’s muffled by Slade’s cock.

         Fingers dig into Robin’s hair. He’s pulled forward, off balance and taking Slade further into his mouth. He feels his lips stretch along the length, moving into him. It’s against the top of his mouth and unnatural and every single thing is awful about it.

         This shouldn’t be happening. He’s—

         “I think I like you better this way,” Slade muses. Robin tries to shut him out, to shut everything out. Only the pain in his knees is really here, aching and burning.

         Slade snaps his hips and Robin’s eyes shoot open with horrible surprise, a muffled cry in his throat. Slade hits the back of his throat, every part of Robin closing around him and trying to expel him. The top and bottom of his mouth clench together as Robin chokes. His fists turn to desperate claws against Slade’s thighs. He can see himself pulled closer to Slade’s crotch, the whole of it looming huge in front of his eyes. Coarse white hair pushes through Slade’s briefs as he pulls more of himself out, the thing that just last night was tearing Robin open from the other end.

         The thing in Robin’s mouth thrusts once, twice more, making him shudder with the sheer horror of it, because it’s Slade in his mouth as careless for Robin’s comfort as ever. Filth runs down his spine as tears spill down his face. He has to suck in breaths when Slade pulls back to thrust again. His eyes roll back to look so far up at Slade, and there he is, looking right back down at him and the heat just under Robin’s skin scalds him.

         “That’s right,” Slade murmurs. “You look just like that—ah—”

         He thrusts again with a sick, slick sound. Saliva drips down Robin’s chin, dripping on the floor, taking Slade into him too easily. Robin shuts his eyes and then lets out a muffled scream as Slade’s thrust hits the back of his throat and keeps going, stretching his throat as it slides down into him. It’s a sensation of something where it shouldn’t be, where it doesn’t make any sense at all, but it’s still there in him as it slides with a horrid sensation that creeps along every inch of Robin’s skin. He feels his lips hit Slade’s body, the coarse hair tickling him as he tries helplessly to suck in enough air with Slade’s balls flush with his chin. Robin can’t breathe, breath trapped in him by Slade.

         He’s held there for endless, agonizing moments as his lungs flare. Air pushes to get out, swelling with nowhere to go. Robin lets out asphyxiated sobs, the light show behind his eyes nothing compared to the agony—

                                                                     the shame

                                                                                             that makes every part of him scream.

         Slade pulls back some inches and Robin sucks in half a desperate breath before Slade shoves himself back down Robin’s throat. It burns with the force and tears drip off Robin’s chin, face close to Slade’s heat, full to the brim of him. Slade’s hands dig into Robin’s hair with vicious force, pulling him further as Slade thrusts in. Saliva drips to the floor, debauched. The only sounds are Robin’s muffled, unstoppable keens and the aching sound of slapping, wet flesh.

         Slade pulls back only to pound in with crueler force, Robin dragged to meet him, balls against his chin. Fists dig into the fabric on Slade’s thighs, saliva smearing on the hair on Slade’s crotch as Robin closes his eyes tighter. He can’t even shake his head from side to side because Slade’s cock digs even deeper into him, even more wrong. Slade thrusts in a rough rhythm, seemingly trying to see how deep he can force himself down Robin’s esophagus. Robin’s dragged along for the ride, Slade fucking his face like it’s a toy.

         Robin can’t breathe.

         He tries to scream, but all he can hear is Slade’s groan of pleasure from above him. Everything he is slowly blurs into Slade forcing himself further down, clenching around him as he slips in and out. Something tangs on his tongue, salty and musky and Slade and he realizes what it was. His throat constricts in a gag as he tries to push out the thing inside of him. It’s useless.

         Through the blur of pain Robin realizes that Slade is going to—when he’s finished, as if Robin on his knees choking out on his cock isn’t cruel enough. A sob shakes him, helpless.

         “You like that—” Slade thrusts again, voice low and rough “—cocksucker?”

         The pace speeds up, Robin thrown against Slade as roughly as he’s thrown back, as roughly as his mouth is invaded. He finds himself leaning against Slade’s legs, legs spread on either side of his boots. His scalp screams at him where Slade’s fingers yank on his hair and for several seconds Robin has the absurd thought that Slade is going to mess up his hair gel.

         Robin wishes with all his soul he could get used to it, to losing the air and the stars that dance behind his eyes, to Slade deep inside him but every thrust makes him scream as much as the first one, every aspect of it from his aching knees to Slade’s hand in his hair hellish. He’s thrown with abandon back and forth, pierced and aching. Eyes roll back in his head as he gets glimpses of lights up above and Slade’s white hair and skin and the creeping sensations. All he can hear is the schlick noise of skin and saliva and spit dripping debauched to the floor, slicking Slade’s cock as he moves roughly in and out—faster, faster—

         “Pretty whore,” Slade murmurs, and then he’s shuddering as he pulls Robin up around him and thrusting in. Robin’s eyes go wide as heat catches in his throat, hitting his tongue as Slade pulls out. Something sticky is on his lips, tangy and salty and strange. He gags on it, swallowing sporadically as Slade lets go of his hair. Robin crashes to the floor, hands on either sides of Slade’s boots, sputtering as the thick, hot stuff goes all the way down his throat. It drips down his lips, heavy on his tongue, some of it spattering on Slade’s boots.

         Cum.

         Slade had—

                     He’d—

                                 In Robin’s mouth—

                                                                     Robin gags, eyes shut tight as his fingers fist on the floor. Saliva drips from his mouth in a long string, heavy breaths hissing out his nose and tears dribbling behind his eyes. He can still feel the residue sticky down his throat, taste it on his tongue, out of Slade’s cock and down Robin’s throat.

         “What would your ‘friends’ think if they saw you now, boy?”

         Robin looks up at him with wide eyes, barely blinking. He’s still too close, shoving himself away as soon as he realizes. Slade’s fly is zipped up, on hand in his pocket, eye judgmental. As if nothing had ever happened, Robin still splayed on the floor. His head aches, the back of his neck and throat and eyes burning. Nothing leaves his mouth. All he can taste is semen, blinking up at the man he hates most in the world.

         Star—Vic, Gar.

         Rae.

         Robin whimpers.

         Slade’s eyes flicker down to his own black boots, Robin at the foot of them. Nausea shivers in Robin’s veins, every part of him shaking.

         “You made a mess.”

         Robin stares down at the cum spilled on the floor, gasped from his own lips. It’s pale and almost transparent on Slade’s dark boots, one drop sneaking down the side.

         “Clean it up.”

         No choice.

         Robin wants to close his eyes. To fall through the ground, to escape the shame that leaks into every pore, his degraded place on Slade’s floor. And yet he’s here, nothing at all before Slade’s whims, a shivering hand reaching forward to palm away the mess.

         Slade all but kicks it away.

         “Ah-ah, boy. Use your tongue.”

         Robin thinks if he looks up at Slade, stares anywhere but his hands and the floor, he might simply dissolve, lose the things that keep his soul together and drift into the wind.

         Your friends.

         They seem distant, not even there, not even real at all. A fantasy, a pretty story Robin tells himself through the cold nights. Make-believe love, beyond the tips of his fingers. Robin doesn’t properly feel his palms resting on the cold floor, barely notices the ache in his neck as he bends over. Slade’s boots are leather, rough on his tongue, grainy dirt picked up with the lukewarm, sticky substance.

         Robin imagines washing his mouth out with soap.

         Every inch of him shudders in horror as he swallows, the dirt caught between his teeth and cum slick as it goes down. He can taste salt, and he doesn’t know if it’s from the semen or his tears.

         Slade’s boots sit in front of him, still spattered. Robin has to lean down again, pick it up with his tongue, feel it slide down his throat like something living meaning to infect him with itself. A tear drips onto the toe of the boot, shining in the sick lighting. Every attempt at “cleaning” Slade’s boots feels like an effort of herculean will. Robin feels sick, and he can’t tell if the sensation is coming from his head or his heart or his soul, but they’re all broken.

         The floor is almost worse. It’s covered in the dirt at the bottom of Robin’s feet, grating on the back of his throat as he swallows coldly. There is an eternity before the stuff is finally gone, the only remainder of its existence the streaks of saliva beneath Robin’s hands. He stares, blankly.

         “That’s a good boy,” Slade murmurs.

         Robin shuts his eyes tight and hopes he’s unreachable. Every part of him feels filthy, as if ants were crawling over ever pore and the bottoms of their feet polluting him and making everything intolerable. Unexistable. He shivers.

         “Please—ma—master—” Robin’s voice hitches on the word, so soft he doesn’t know if Slade can hear him from all the way up there. He’d be proud of himself for getting the words out if Slade hadn’t flayed the feeling off of him with cruel precision. It takes all his will, pulling on soul he didn’t know he had left to raise his voice and keep it steady. “Please may I have a shower?”

         Robin needs it.

         Needs to feel clean, to scald the filth off himself with something tangible. The evidence of Slade on his person, wiped away.

         He can feel Slade’s eye on him as he keeps his head low. Submissive. It burns on his neck and the back of his head, the curtain of dark hair around Robin’s head nowhere near enough to shield him.

         “Very well,” Slade says lightly, and Robin has never been more grateful for anything in his life.

Chapter Text

            The compound twists and turns like a labyrinth. Bruce’s ultrasound scanners can’t pierce the wall—it’s lead-lined, as well, and Bruce knows that Slade planned for every contingency. He’s left stumbling through the corridors like a man lost in a black-and-white comic. His radio connection cuts out as he goes further underground, all that’s left to guide him through the place his perfect memory.

         Stone kneels on the floor, chromium stained with blood. Fear jolts through Bruce—Not Robin. Not Robin.

         It’s not, not that Bruce can see, but the sight fills him with fury anyways. The small body, discolored as it is, makes his heart scream. A child. Another child.

         A sword lays half-in the blood, stained with it. Pulled out of Logan. Foolish, causes blood loss. Robin wouldn’t have made that mistake.

         “Pulse?”

         Stone looks up at him, desperation in his eyes. “Weak.”

         Bruce’s critical eye takes in the injuries. “Cauterize. Then leave, get him to a hospital,” he snaps.

         “But—”

         Bruce quells him with a look. “Robin,” he hisses. “Where.”

         Stone points with a shuddering hand towards an entrance with an animal-shaped hole pressed through it. “Slade too. Kori went after them—"

         Bruce is already gone.

         God knows what Slade is doing to him, what Slade has been doing to him, while Bruce has been tracking him down. Bruce’s been working nights, afternoons, every moment he physically can and it still took unacceptably long. Slade knows how to cover his tracks. Another professional, this one more dangerous than anyone Robin’s ever faced before.

         Robin probably knows that by now.

         Bruce has failed him. He failed him first by letting him leave, very first by letting his parents die, and now Bruce has let him fall into the hands of a psychopath who preys on children. Not found him soon enough. Didn’t notice he was missing fast enough. Failure, failure, failure.

         Bruce will make it right. If he can find Robin, bring him back to Gotham, take care of Slade for good, he can make it right. Bruce intends to do every possible thing he can to save Robin, no matter the cost.

         The control panels will take too long to hack. Instead, Bruce throughs one of his automatic system intruders over the panel and blows the door he comes across, dancing down halls like a moth in the light. Sometimes he has to pause at intersections. Bruce notices, however, that they’re tending ever so slightly upwards: Slade is trying to take Robin and get out.

         Coward.

         Loathing flares in Bruce’s gut thicker than gravy, dribbling down to the tips of his toes and making him run faster, more assured, determined not to let his transgressions pass unpunished. The spectre of the Bat. His cape flares behind him, Bruce mockingly out of place in the stark white walls. His feet pound.

         It’s barely a minute before his ears catch the sound between his beats; Bruce stops in silence. He can almost hear Slade up ahead; he would doubt himself if he weren’t so familiar with his instincts. Bruce is silent instantly, a hulking shape that shouldn’t be able to move without noise but moves as a spectre despite it. He moves along, clinging to the wall, waiting silently at each intersection.

         He’s close. The shadows move beyond the corridor up ahead,

         “Batman.”

         Bruce gives up all pretense of silence as he moves around the corner. His boots clank on the floor. Slade stands, Robin slumped on the floor behind him. Blood spatters his face and the orange uniform, but no wounds are visible. Robin’s hair hasn’t been spiked up in days, nor has it been cut: it hangs around his gaunt face in pathetic strings, some of it splayed on the floor. Bruce can’t help the palpable relief that jolts through him at seeing Robin unharmed. Safe, as safe as he can be with Slade in such close proximity.

         Something glints off of his neck, and for a second Bruce worries it’s a knife—

         No, it’s set in dark leather. The light is shining on the S symbol set on it.

         A collar.

         Blood rushes in Batman’s ears, his hands shaking. It takes a second to recognize the overwhelming, unstoppable emotion he feels as pure rage, but by that time his fist is already in the air.

         Slade recoils. The cracking sound resounds through the place. A hairline fracture twists the bicolored schema of Slade’s mask; Bruce takes vicious pleasure in it. He pushes the advantage.

         Slade dodges the next fist with inhuman speed, his fist coming up to Bruce’s chest. The wind’s almost knocked out of him, and the blow would’ve broken a rib if it wasn’t for Bruce’s armor plates. Sloppy.

         He channels the fury instead into sharpening his gaze, picking out every little weakness he can exploit in Deathstroke’s stance, in his very being. Bruce advances, pressing his advantage, meaning to pin him against the wall.

         “You should’ve let the cops get to you before I did, Wilson,” Bruce snarls. Slade’s knife slips out of its sheath with a slick sound, perhaps thinking Bruce wouldn’t hear.

         “That kind of posturing may work on street thugs,” Slade says smoothly. His eye narrows behind its mask. “I’m a professional.

         Bruce blocks the knife against his gauntlets with a clank, catching it between the spines—Slade jerks it away before Bruce can twist his arm enough to break it into slivers.

         Bruce snarls. He moves to knee Slade, Slade blocks. They trade lightning-fast blows that Bruce has to put almost all of his brain into comprehending, blocking the rest on his sheer, sharp honed instinct. “Do you think that makes you better? Criminals—” he punctuates every word with a jab at Slade—“are all the same. Selfish, cowardly, pathetic.”

         The knife slashes at Bruce’s face, and he has to jerk back to dodge. Slade moves in. Bruce slams his palm into Slade’s nose, bouncing his head off of the back of the wall. Blood stains his hair, like a ladybug in the snow. Slade’s knife catches Bruce in the gut, but the blade only scratches his armor.

         Slade spits blood, ducking Bruce’s next punch. It slams into the wall so hard it dents. “You’re just as naïve as your protégé if you think you’re not a criminal.” Slade’s knife slashes at Bruce’s wrist.

         Pain jolts up Bruce’s arm and blood spatters in a crescent as he jerks it away. Nothing vital hurt, he can feel it, but it’ll bleed. It stains the wall, splashes Slade’s mask and disfigures it further. “I’m not a killer,” he hisses.

         “You should be,” Slade says. “It would get your job done that much faster.”

         “You’re a fool and a monster.” Bruce’s eyes flick barely to Robin as he slashes with a ridgehand; it’s deflected easily but Bruce is able to take in where the boy is on his perimeter. Get Robin.

         Then Bruce will take care of Slade.

         Don’t think of what he did to

         “That’s what your pretty bird screamed too,” Slade breathes. Bruce’s blood drips off the knife in his hand. Bruce is close enough he can hear the man’s horrible, rasping breath.

         Bruce slams his head into Slade’s mask. His gauntlet closes around the man’s wrist. The knife hovers in front of Bruce’s face, gleaming. Bruce’s hand shakes as he holds it off, watching the hairline crack starting to break across the hated face. He can’t tell if his hand is shaking with exertion or fury or a toxic cocktail of both, can’t hear anything but the blood pounding in his ears.

         What did you do to him.

         Slade presses off against the wall, doing his best to lean as much of his weight as he can onto Bruce. More pressure, more pain in Bruce’s arm as the knife drifts closer. Blood oozes slowly to the floor.

         “Just taught him a few lessons. Ones you missed.”

         “He doesn’t need to learn from you,” Bruce hisses. His hand shoots out, pushing Slade’s arm to the side with a sharp chop. He ducks out of the way, leaving Slade spinning forward. Bruce is out, but Slade is one step closer to Robin.

         “Well you left a few things out,” Slade murmurs. The tone of his voice is mocking, barely serious. He means to make you angry, Bruce reminds himself. “Really, I was surprised you hadn’t had a go at him. You sure that pretty face didn’t tempt you even a little?”

         With a yell, Bruce is running at him. The two of them slam together against the wall, Slade taking the brunt of the force. Something punches into Bruce’s armor in his gut—another knife, not quite in the cracks of his armor but slipping towards it as Slade moves around. Bruce’s gauntleted hand comes up and then smashes down on Slade’s mask, cracking it further. It comes up again—

         Slade’s knife slips between the cracks in Bruce’s armor. It doesn’t hurt at first but Bruce can feel the blade sliding into him, freezing cold where it should never be. He pulls back on instinct, jerking back from Slade. Blood drips down his uniform; the knife barely went in, a shallow crimson smear still on it.

         “You’re a sick, sick, man,” Bruce breathes. “I’m going to put you away for a long, long time.”

         Put him away.

         Bruce wants to kill him.

         He wants him dead. Bruce hasn’t thought of anyone he’s hated more in a long, long time. Maybe forever, because he just—

         He just admitted to . . .

         God, Robin . . .

         Who knows what kind of hell he’s been subject to while Slade tries to break him. ‘Teach him.’

         Bruce’s vision is tinged red. It shakes and it takes him a few seconds to realize that it’s not just him; the whole place is shaking. It’s tempting to put it up to Beast Boy’s rampage to open the doors and get through the building, but unless he was invested in causing structural damage . . .

         The place is most likely self-destructing.

         “I’m afraid I have to be going,” Slade purrs.

         “If you hand over Robin,” Bruce growls, “I just might let you.”

         Slade laughs, low and cruel. Bruce wonders how many times Robin has heard that sound over the past months, been kept as party to it.

         “You let him run around getting into trouble,” Slade says. “He doesn’t belong to you anymore.”

         Bruce swings at him again. This time Slade blocks, ducking; Bruce kicks at him and catches his forearm. He dodges the next few blows; Slade must be trying to get Bruce out of the picture as soon as possible. Good. He’s on a timetable now.

         The place shakes again.

         Cyborg should be getting his injured teammate out soon enough. Good. Bruce should be able to get out on his own with his memory of the place.

         “He doesn’t belong to anyone,” Bruce responds, the two of them trading blows in so close it’s hard to tell what the other one is saying. It sounds hollow.

         Robin is mine. I raised him. Who the hell does Wilson think he is?

         “Really?” Slade sneers dangerously. “Did you watch him writhe on your cock? Watch him squirm to get off you and jizz so deep in hi—”

         Bruce runs at him, kicking at his face. Slade barely ducks, the blows coming from Bruce angry and with so much punch behind them even he doesn’t know where the next one is coming from. Robin. Robin, Robin . . .

         Defiled, made filthy by Slade, hurt so badly—

         “I’ll kill you,” Bruce hisses.

         Something flashes in Wilson’s eye, something Bruce doesn’t quite understand. Bruce is coming at him and Wilson doesn’t stand a chance. The tread of Bruce’s boot hits him in the face, head spinning half ways around. Part of the mask comes off, revealing snow white hair stained with rivulets of blood. The sight, Bruce thinks, is good. He thinks of Robin, laying on the floor with his collar gleaming in the name of the man who stands before him, so unrepentant. He tries to block, but it still hurts to be pounded into by Bruce’s furious fists, Slade moving back to have his back to the wall.

         Slade’s dodging slightly now, forcing Bruce to put just a little more thought into where his strikes land. Every inch of him wants to put the man into a pulp, into something that can never hurt anyone ever again. Never lay a hand on Robin, never put anything else in him.

         He wants to tear the collar off and hold Robin to his chest and make sure he’s alright. Next time Bruce will be more careful about where he plants his bugs, will make sure they can’t be traced or removed—even if Robin knows enough to look for them. He’ll make sure he’s looking at the Titans too, so they never slip anything past him.

         This is all Bruce’s fault.

         He has to make it right.

         He pulls back, forcing himself to look at Slade in analytical terms—let his rage lessen a little, push it back. Usually he can work through it. Now, it’s been harder. Slade still stands near Robin, bleeding a little and breathing hard. He’s guarded, guarding his turf—

         Something in his hand.

         A red flickering light.

         Bruce yells, jumping forward. A bomb—

         Slade’s fist slams down.

         The whole place shakes, down to Bruce’s bones. He’s jumping forward, and the dust hits his face before the everything shudders. The air chafes on his skin.

         Bruce slams into something hard. It’s rough and uneven, and he’s barely protected through his armor. The place must have collapsed where Slade set the charge meaning—

         The sonic sensors on his suit come on. Bruce fumbles along the wall, then looking with the technology, trying to find a way through. There’s a small crack, still filled with dust. Bruce tries to pry it open, but it won’t budge. He picks up one of the boulders at the edge, heaving—

         Something crackles above him. Bruce has only instinct to force him to dive away before the rubble comes down behind him. Some of it almost gets on his cape, dragging it down. He rolls, dust coloring his suit white and grey. He’s on his feet seconds later, ignoring the bruises and the blood that smears the floor. Robin.

         Where’s Robin?

         He was laying where the rocks have fallen before they came down, Bruce remembers that. Laying there, which means . . . Slade most likely took him. The thought of that man having his hands on Robin for one more second makes Bruce sick to his stomach but it’s better than the inconceivable: Robin’s death. If Slade wanted him dead, he would be, and Slade planned this. That just means Bruce has to get to Slade, get Robin from him, and end this once and for all.

         One way or another.

         He tries to remember the routes, quickly calculating them in his head before he’s turning and running as fast as he can to get to the next junction. If he can just loop around, he can guess where the escape tunnel will be and catch them before they get there, before the place comes down around his head. His feet pound on the tile. Robin, Robin, Robin—

         Something buzzes. It’s his transmitter; Bruce registers surprise because he didn’t think there was a signal at all down here. He’s about to hit the off button but Cyborg’s voice runs through the line. It’s shaky, unsure—trying to sound in control.

         “Batman! Batman—he’s not breathing. Barely breathing. I don’t think he’s going to . . . make it.”

         Beast Boy. “Where are you?”

         “Just down the tunnel where we entered. There’s a cave-in, but it’s not bad. I’m trying to get him out of here and to a hospital . . .”

         “Chest compressions if he stops breathing. Otherwise, keep moving. You need to get out of here. It’s going to self-destruct.”

         Cyborg mutters something under his breath that sounds like fucking psycho. “Well then you should—”

         I’ll worry about me,” Bruce growls. “You worry about Beast Boy. Get him somewhere you can help him.”

         He senses the tremors shaking under his feet. Bruce balances easily, pausing only seconds at the intersection to calculate the direction and the probability of where he’s supposed to be going. Likely, it’ll be near enough to the command center to reach easily but not close enough that it can be easily infiltrated—next to a bedroom, most likely. That’s what Bruce would do, and Slade is as much of a strategist as Bruce is. However much Bruce hates to admit any similarity between them—

         Bruce loves Robin. Slade doesn’t, seems to be incapable of such a feeling. Just another psychopathic freak, except this one has gotten its hands on Robin and managed to bend him to its nefarious ends.

         The next passageway makes Bruce think he’s getting closer. He could be hearing them, but it’s hard to tell under the shaking of the rock and the rumbling of the tunnels. The good thing is, Slade with an unconscious Robin won’t stand a chance speed wise when Bruce finds out where they are. The thought spurs him on even more.

         This time, he has to resort to primitive radar when it comes to finding them. Slade’s probably already halfway to whichever way he intends to flee . . . not, not flee. He’s not leaving because he’s afraid, he’s leaving because he needs to steal away Robin. Bruce hadn’t been able to make out much of the conversation, but he understood that there had been leverage against Robin that had been removed. He’d been blackmailed—of course he’d been blackmailed, he never would’ve worked for Slade otherwise. Even if his team doubted him, Bruce never would; he knows him better, longer, had trained him for years. Bruce knew him better than to think he would ever join a villain or betray Bruce, no matter how much he appeared to have. Robin is a good person, fundamentally, or Bruce would never have let him into the Batman business.

         The tunnels in Bruce’s mask coalesce into something that gives him a good idea of where Slade is. The sonic hums softly in his ears, just above his range of hearing. Slade can hear it, knows Bruce is coming—but that was a foregone conclusion. Bruce rushes along.

         Slade does hear him coming. By the time Bruce rounds the final corner with batarangs in his fingers, flinging them at the first moving shape, Slade has his sword out. It deflects them, awkward in the small passage, Bruce dodging as they clink off of the wall.

         “Running? I should have known,” he growls.

         “This place is coming down. If you want to stay, be my guest,” Slade replies. He brandishes his sword, the few lights that are still flickered on shining off of the blade. No blood on it, yet.

         He didn’t stab Beast Boy? He could’ve; it’s off that Slade has his favorite blade and would resort to using imperfect ones instead. It’s not important right now, but Bruce files it away for later.

         “I’m not going anywhere without taking care of you,” Bruce replies. He reaches into his belt, but before he gets a chance, Slade’s sword is coming at him. Bruce jumps back, ready to sling a smoke bomb—

         The sword doesn’t come at him. Instead, it swings in a wide arc and lands just inches shy of a pale, green vein pumping barely beneath the skin. Robin’s jugular, the boy propped unconscious half against the wall. Bruce can see the razor tip of the sword digging into the skin just enough to not bleed, dangerous and lethal. Just like Slade.

         Bruce can’t sense an ounce of bluff in Slade’s voice, but he doesn’t think Slade has that in him; he’s too straightforward. Instead, he simply holds the sword motionless in the air. The floor shakes, but the tip doesn’t move: still dangerous, micrometers away from a cut that could very well be fatal.

         Robin’s blood, gushing over the floor and creating a crimson pool, the blue eyes going dark as he stares up at Bruce; clawing weakly at his hand and staining it red—

         Bruce strangles the thought.

         Its corpse stays in his mind, lingering, haunting.

         He won’t let that happen.

         “I’ll be leaving,” Slade purrs. “And you’ll be staying right here.” His gloved hand fists in the collar that makes Bruce so sick to look at, his sword coming up as he hauls Robin forward. “Unless you want him to be missing some very important parts.”

         Bruce can’t move.

         If it wasn’t Robin and Slade he could do something, if it wasn’t someone with reflexes even faster than his and Robin, a boy who he can’t risk losing. Not to Slade, not now.

         His mouth is set in a hating line, fists clenched as he watches Slade.

         Bruce takes a step forward—

         Crimson blooms at Robin’s throat. “Not one more step,” Slade hisses. “I’m going to walk around that corner, Batman, and if I se the tiniest flash of black from behind me—well, this boy is much more valuable to you than he is to me.”

         “You’re a monster,” Bruce tells him.

         “I’ve heard,” Slade replies dryly.

         Robin lays there at his feet, pale. His body is bruised, and Bruce can almost see them under the jumpsuit he wears. He can guess what kind of horror Slade has wrung him through, the kinds of things he plans to do to him next. Robin looks small, so young, slumped motionless and stringy hair bunched in Slade’s fist. Something in pain, mercifully unconscious.

         I’m coming to save you, Robin, Bruce swears. Dick.

         I’m coming.

         Slade’s cruel eye narrows as he moves back around the corner, Robin’s legs dragging behind him. The corridor shakes, dust sprinkling Robin’s already pale face and making him look ghostly.

         Bruce almost wants to scream.

         The orange and black disappears, Bruce unable to follow. He shakes with the anger and fury of it, Slade’s blood still dripping from his fist. Something in him is screaming to get out, to go after them.

         But if he lets it out, Robin will suffer.

         That is unacceptable.

         Something buzzes in his ear, and Bruce’s finger goes up to press it, as if in a trance.

         “Batman—Batman, Beast Boy . . .” The voice is choked with pain, shivering over the line.

         No. No, no, no—

         “He’s dead,” Cyborg whispers.

Chapter Text

             He wades through something deep, sticky on his skin. It smells foul, Robin trying to push the smell out of his nose by burying his nose in his shirt. He takes one step forward, and then another. There is nothing more he wants than to turn around and go back, but Robin knows that there is no shore in sight. The stuff is getting deeper, forcing more of it to stain his skin and body with its filth.

         He moves forward seemingly without his own desire or want, wading through it as it drags against his skin. It’s getting easier, getting deeper. It’s on his neck, choking him as sure as any hands against his neck, or Slade’s cock buried in his throat. It can’t be stopping, moving forward with a nonexistent current. The stuff is in his mouth, it tastes like salt in blood. It’s up his nose, Robin gasping in it for breath.  It moves to his eyes, and he can see it—

         Blood, for miles and miles, thick and red and under the water, deeper than Robin knows how to imagine. It stains him, seeping through his skin and settling on his muscles, staining his bones pink and taking his own blood into it. He can’t breathe, can’t think, can’t breathecan’tbreathecan’tbreathecan’tbreathe—

         Slade’s vicious eye stares through him. Robin’s mouth gapes at him, nothing in his throat, nothing in his lungs. He shudders, kicking desperately. The feet hit nothing. Something catches at the edge of vision, blackness edging in over him. His hands close around Slade’s wrist on his throat, pale and small against Slade’s skin. He can’t budge it, doesn’t know why he tries.

         Panic shudders through his body, muscles spasming and screaming for oxygen. They all ache, starting to ache, a pounding in his head as the darkness closes in. Slade is killing him, Slade is trying to kill him, and god, would death be so bad?

         Robin is sucking in air with every last bit of his lungs. The burning stops as they expand almost past their limit. Stars dance in front of eyes. Robin exhales as fast as he can just to yank in as much oxygen as he can into his aching, screaming body. He gasps there, panting under Slade. He can feel Slade’s hand resting on his throat, heart beating against Slade’s warm palm. Slade’s thumb moves under Robin’s jawline idly.

         “What . . .”

         “A reminder.” One last squeeze, and Slade’s hands are gone. Robin sucks in more air, feeling his lungs expand. His eyes still dance with red behind them. Blood.

         Blood on his hands. Blood on the shining blade, dripping in crimson droplets.

         Coughed crimson onto his face, wide eyes of shock and . . . betrayal.

         Beast Boy.

         Gar.

         Robin stares at the ceiling. He can still see him.

         He closes his eyes.

         Gar stares back at him, eyes accusing.

         Robin opens them again, choking, sitting up on shaking arms. One goes to his throat; all he feels is his collar cold on his palm. Like normal.      

         The room is small. The stone here is pale grey. Light doesn’t reflect off of them as well, leaving Slade’s face half in shadow. Robin thinks it makes him less threatening because he can’t see the expression in the eye unless he tilts his head a certain way. Maybe it’s better to pretend that Slade simply has no eyes, no feelings.

         “Beast Boy . . .” Robin whispers.

         “You did very well,” Slade purrs. His hand is warm on Robin’s thigh. Robin stares at it numbly.

         But it doesn’t move anywhere. Slade just stands up from the chair he’d been sitting in. For how long? How long had it been? They’re somewhere else . . .

         “Is he . . .”

         Slade smiles. Robin notices that he’s bleeding, a slit of red on his lips. A tongue flicks at it, bringing it back into Slade’s mouth, slick with saliva.

         “I believe he asphyxiated on his own blood, thanks to the sword in his stomach. There was no hospital in a ten-minute radius.”

         Robin stares.

         He bleeds behind his face, behind his eyes, somewhere nobody knows. It drips down his face, hot and painful.

         Except that’s just his own pathetic tears, collecting at the corners of his eyes and trickling down his cheeks. Robin opens his mouth but nothing comes out.

         Gar, the youngest, making jokes to hide the pain and because he wanted other people to be happy, chasing after Raven and playing video games with Cyborg and Robin and cursing when he loses and the twitch he made when he smelled meat and and and—

         Everything he is.

         Gone.

         Lost on Robin’s sword, because he—didn’t know it was there? Couldn’t tell it was there? It simply existed in that space in time in Robin’s fist and he never realized it, didn’t even know what his hand was doing at the time, not until the shuddering aftereffects of someone slamming into it had awakened him to its existence. Not until hot blood spattered on his fingers and hand, not until he stared down at the dripping thing in his hand, sheathed in Gar.

         It had become like an extension of him. That’s how you use weapons, make them you, and Robin—

         He’d fell for it. For Slade’s trap. He’d gotten used to it, the sword through the air like it belongs there,

         Robin had wanted to kill Slade. He’d killed Gar instead.

         Something roils in his stomach. He can tell Slade is still standing next to him, reminding him, but he doesn’t look. Instead, Robin pushes himself over to the side of the bed and dry heaves. He spasms, goosebumps rushing up and down his arms and spine. A small stream of saliva drips from his lips. Only acid comes up.

         Gar, bleeding.

         The tears drip down.

         Gar is gone. Star is gone—Robin is here. With Slade, after all, without an escape.

         Except—

         The nanobots.

         They’re gone.

         Robin stares up at Slade, slowly rising up his muscular form, danger in every inch of it, pain that Robin knows so well. The singular eye stares, strangely unreadable.

         Robin could attack him this instant. Shake off his pounding head and jump him. Hurt him, claw his head until he bleeds. Yank at his hair until he screams.

         Slade still stands there as indomitable as ever. He hasn’t moved, hasn’t flinched, and Robin . . .

         He should be able to get up, to get something he can use against him, to hurt Slade. But did Slade really use the nanobots against him? All Robin remembers is Slade pinning him, hitting him, whipping him, raping him. He’s only used the controller when he had to. When he was murdering Raven, threatening Robin.

         Slade still overpowers Robin, still leers over him. Still holds the knife.

         Robin rubs his throat. He can still feel Slade’s fingers clenched around it, Slade’s cock thick in his mouth. He shivers. He can’t bring himself to attack, can’t think about attacking without a jolt of panic shivering through his limbs.

         Weren’t you able to just—back then?

         When Star looked at him with big, grateful eyes, and looked at him like she believed in him. When he had hope, when Cyborg told him he could trust them, when Gar looked at him like a friend, when everything made sense. When it was back like the old times, where Robin knew who he was and what he was supposed to be doing. When all his friends were there with him.

         The Teen Titans, cut down to three—all through Robin’s negligence.

         No. Cut down to two, because Robin—

         Robin killed Beast Boy.

         Something drips off his chin. Tears. Good. He should cry, because he deserves it. He failed them, all of them, again. Just Cyborg and Star left and . . .

         God, how did things end up like this?

         Robin stares blankly into Slade’s lined face. Taking up arms against him seems ridiculous.

         “I hate you,” Robin says. It’s not an accusation, not an angry insistence, just a sorrowful statement. He rubs his eyes angrily, face stinging raw with salt.

         Slade’s mouth splits like a gash, a half-smile of indulgent amusement. “Is it really me you blame for your friend’s death?”

         Robin’s hands fist in the sheets. He feels sticky with sweat, all of it still aching over him. Tainting him, just like everything else. He wonders if Beast Boy’s blood is still there.

         His skin aches with the awfulness of it.

         He should blame Slade. This is Slade’s fault. Maybe Robin does blame him, he doesn’t know, but he feels hate that aches in his chest so soon after the death. The worthless skin he lives in that can’t control its own actions. That falls so easily into what Slade wants for it.

         “That’s what I thought.” A pause. “A pity you didn’t learn what happens when you try to defy me the first time, hm?”

         Robin stares up at him. He shivers, chokes on his own pain. If he had known—

         He thought Slade couldn’t do anything else. Had he . . . somehow caused this? Is it even possible he could have? Maybe he’d wormed his way into Robin’s brain, implanted something in him, bent his bones to exist only for Slade’s whims. Forced him to kill Beast Boy. Maybe the sword was cursed with some dark magic, and it had burnt its hand to Robin’s soul.

         Isn’t this what happens? Won’t Slade hunt down his friends if Robin defies him, because he knows who they are—can show up at Vic’s house and kill his family, his own father. The father Robin knows Cy loves even though he fights with him, the man that Robin knows cares about him back. It barely even matters if Slade did it, it’s simply the order of the universe for Robin’s friends to die when Slade is unsatisfied with him. It’s one of the new rules in the strange, twisted world he is forced to exist in, without rhyme or reason.

         Why did he expect things would be alright?

         Why was he stupid enough to dare to hope?


         Slade forces Robin up out of bed almost instantly. The room is bare, just as uninteresting as the rest of the place—if smaller than what he’s used to. There’s a real mattress under him, better than what he’d had before.

         Slade holds up two fingers. “How many fingers?”

         “Two,” Robin replies dully, through the pounding ache in his head. It throbs with every awful beat of his heart, pounding through his skull and shivering down his spine, determined to possess every part of him. Slade hums approval.

         Robin curls up again on the bed without asking, but Slade doesn’t say anything. He just looks around the place with a quick flick of his eye. Robin cradles his head, pressing at his forehead to make the pain go down, as still as possible so as not to aggravate it. Focus on the pain. He yanks it to the front of his consciousness, forces it to take up all of his perception, his thoughts and memories and wants, the agony of it drowning out everything else so perfectly. It’s better than everything else.

         Still, he can’t help but pray that Slade is done with him for now. He can’t imagine enduring Slade inside him again, not now, when it’s all screaming along his skin in horrible cacophony. Something in the universe listens to him the littlest bit.

         “You’ll be staying here from now on,” Slade says. His footsteps seem to echo in Robin’s brain, thankfully growing softer as he moves away. It still aches in Robin’s mind. The door opens with a soft click. Robin flinches as it slams shut. He’s glad Slade is gone, even for this little bit of peace, eyes shut so tight he can see the color behind them. The small body he inhabits shivers, twitching as the light goes out. Everything feels numb, removed. Robin is grateful for that as he drifts thoughtlessly off to sleep, glad that he doesn’t have to feel any more than the pain that shudders through his system.

         This sleep is better, more helpful and more restful than the forced sleep using the drug that Slade gave him. Robin drifts off easily, pain carrying him into a place where he barely has to think at all.


         Robin wakes up an indeterminate amount of time later, staring at the pale ceiling. It’s lost on him why it’s so different for a few seconds and then he remembers that this isn’t the same place. Another place, god knows where, where his friends can’t find them again.

         Gar.

         Robin shivers, an almost-sob twitching from his lips. It’s a good thing his friends can’t find him; the few remaining friends can’t find him. He wishes for all the world he could roll over and escape back into his subconscious, but he doesn’t feel tired enough to. Instead, he closes his eyes and stares at the blankness behind them. Everything aches, down to his very soul. It seems like too much pain for one person to bear, and he thinks that if he touches it, it will most certainly hurt him

         Robin’s own bloodied hand, holding out a knife giving death.

         Don’t think about that.

         Beast Boy’s face as—

         Don’t think.

         “Good morning, Robin.” Robin flinches in surprise, every muscle tensing under the blankets as he shudders. He feels his breath come quicker, heart pounding in his ears.

         It’s just Slade.

         ‘Just’ Slade.

         Robin doesn’t know if he’s supposed to respond or not, simply staring up at Slade’s looming form. He moves to try to feel less small in the wake of it, pushing his hands up underneath him. They shiver slightly. Robin wonders how much time has passed, but he knows better than to expect Slade to give him a clear answer on that. He’s at Slade’s whim.

         As always.

         Still captive.

         “Get up.”

         Robin follows the orders numbly, pulling the sheets around himself as his bare feet hit the cold, tiled floor. He’s naked under it save for the collar, as he always is. The bruises from the fight ache, meaning it must not have been too much time. Slade offers a pair of clothes, Robin taking them. The sheets are shed, vulnerable and pale and crisscrossed with inky bruises. Slade’s eye takes him in. Robin knows what he’s planning to do this evening and shivers, pulling the clothes on as swiftly as he can. It doesn’t help. Slade will probably take extra pleasure in tearing it off him.

         The door opens. And just like that, everything is . . .

         Just the same.

         Nothing is changed, Robin still shivering and trailing after Slade like an obedient pet. A collar still hugging his neck, still kept. Like he could fight back against Slade.

         Fighting isn’t an option. It never was . . . but fleeing . . . .

         Leaving seems like an almost ridiculous, intoxicating idea. Flying outside the windows this place doesn’t have, running as far as he can with bare feet pounding underneath his body and never coming back.

         The thought makes Robin shake. Slade wouldn’t let him, Slade would hurt him for it, would hurt his friends—

         He still knows their names. Not that it would help him find Kori, thank god, but Vic . . .

         I can’t.

         I can’t, not again. I can’t let him die again.

         How would he even escape? There’s the control panels near to the doors, and even if Robin doesn’t know the codes, he can probably rewire them. Maybe. If he . . .

         No. No! He knows this! Batman trained him to be able to! But Robin . . .

         He can’t.

         Another one of his friends would die. Another one of his friends has always, always died, no matter what, whenever he fights back against Slade. His stupidity gets them killed so easily. Gar . . . .

         Slade did that. It was Robin’s fault. It was his punishment, Robin can feel it, the universe getting back at him for thinking he was allowed to hope.

         The room here that’s obviously used for sparring is much smaller. Pads on the floor have nooks and crannies in them. Robin peaks in, flinching as Slade opens the door, and padding in after him. Weapons—few with real blades—line the walls, and Slade spins one of the bo staves in his hand before slamming it against the floor with a practiced strength. Robin shivers, Slade glancing over to him.

         The swords still hang there on the wall, glinting behind Slade. Robin’s eyes drift to them, fixate on them helplessly as he feels something in his gut go sick, his hand clenching around nothing. No, no, please don’t—

         Slade’s other hand clasps around the grip of the sword. He flips it so his hand holds the blade.

         “Take it.”

         Robin mutters a yes, master of acknowledgement before holding out his hand to receive it. It’s not like he’s ever had a choice. His hand shakes like the bare branches of stripped trees in a vicious storm, the sword steadying him more than he steadies it.

         He doesn’t dare look up at Slade, but the words still slip through his lips.

         “Is this . . . the one—”

         “No point in a new one.” Slade watches him, and Robin feels his face collapse in on himself. The sword shakes more. He can almost see the crimson on it, spilling onto the floor, onto Gar’s face, onto his own hands.

         “I-I-I-I can’t,” Robin whispers, almost inaudible, staring down at it like it’s the only thing in his horrible world.

         Fingers close around his chin, Robin shivering as he’s yanked up to stare at Slade’s piercing blue eye and patch of void. “Of course you can,” Slade mocks, low. His voice turns hard. “And if you don’t, I’ll add another round of scars to that soft skin of yours.”

         Robin sobs slightly, fingers closing hard and rough around the thing that sits there. He can’t bear to look at it, instead staring at Slade’s face even when his chin is dropped. Slade drops into his stance and Robin is forced to follow him by sheer seconds or risk getting badly hurt. Slade starts pushing at him with the bo, and Robin’s lost in the fear of the pain that Slade will inflict if he lets himself get hit, in the snapped words of correction that Slade gives at every whim. He feels the blades spinning in his hands, shivering and sick. Gar stares behind his eyes.

         All Robin’s fault.

         No.

         Slade made him like this. Slade made him do this. Slade hurt him, confused him, made everything wrong and broken and never right at all. It’s part of Slade’s world, never who Robin was—is—could have been, might be. His hands clench around the swords so hard his knuckles ache.

         The next slash of it goes over Slade’s head, sheering off translucent strands of long white hair, and it means so little but so much. Something dances in Slade’s eye, a low pleasure, and Robin doesn’t care. He attacks in a furious flurry of blows, aiming the sharpness everywhere on Slade’s body he can reach—his torso, his neck, his head. Anywhere lethal.

         No killing, that’s the rule, but Robin won’t be able to kill him. He can’t kill Slade, that would be ridiculous. Robin knows, intellectually, that Slade is only a mortal man, but there’s some part of him that doesn’t believe that the swords will hit home.

         That, and Slade is just that good.

         He steps out of the way with grace that a man so hulking shouldn’t have, Robin’s blade pressing past him into the air. “Aim for the jugular. Good,” Slade notes, and Robin is on him again, steel clanging against Slade’s own sword.

         The words remind Robin forcefully of Bruce’s rare compliments, something moving in the back of Robin’s mind that he ignores. The next minutes of the fighting session are fast and brutal, every ounce of his energy forced into going after Slade and  trying to .. .

         Trying to hurt him, as little as Robin wants to admit it, even though the thought is pushed as far back into the end of his mind as he can with all his other worries. Everything devolves into the sheer physical, the pounding of his feet and the abrupt movements of Slade, the adrenaline that races through his system and the clash of lethal, murderous blades. It hurts less fighting like this, the pain overtaken by the burning in his heavy limbs and the bruises of Slade’s feet slamming into his gut or the side of his arm.

         He’s on his knees for the twelfth or thirteenth time before he knows it, panting in heavy and aching breaths down to the padded ground. The swords glint in his fists, arms shivering as he tries to pull himself up again. Robin shivers on his legs, staring up at Slade. To his relief, he’s not attacked again. It’s over, finally, and Robin hasn’t even collapsed yet.

         Terror spikes in his gut as Slade steps towards him, Robin shivering this time with fear, but he’s not forced to his knees again. Instead, Slade holds out his hands for the blades back. For once, Robin is happy to give up his weapons to Slade. The things leave a veneer of filth on his palms, Robin rubbing them off against his thighs.

         He’ll have to do it against next time. He’ll probably pretend-try to kill Slade that time, too.

         No killing, something in him whispers, but it doesn’t count. Not here and not now. He can’t kill Slade—

         And he’s already broken his rule. Gar.

         Robin rubs at his face, trying to pretend he’s not crying again.


         The bed is different, but everything about it is the same. The important thing is shivering under the blankets, waiting for Slade’s shadow in the doorway. Staring anywhere but at his face. Eyes fixed on the ceiling as the bed groans under Slade’s weight.

         “Spread your legs, boy,” Slade murmurs. Robin’s shivering thighs part under his hands, legs pushed back.

         Slade moves in him harsh and vicious. A hand presses on Robin’s chest. Robin’s head tosses to the side in the sheets. The wall is rough. Slade’s balls slap against him with a sick noise, Robin’s body opening again to take Slade.

         It hurts.

         “That’s it, take it all,” Slade’s murmuring. “Tight little thing, heh, hnn –”

         Robin cries out. He can’t help it. It doesn’t matter anymore. Cum leaks out of him as Slade zips himself up with a satisfied smirk. He leans over.

         Robin’s face tries to shirk away from the fingers teasing his cheek, but Slade’s hand grabs hard onto him. His eyes are shut tight, but he can still see Slade’s eye staring as cold and empty as the void. “I know you know I can use you for what I like,” Slade muses, “but I want you to remember all your friends, and your Batman—” Robin winces, trying to pull away, to no avail. He can hear the grin. “—They can’t save you from me.”


         Everything feels numb.

         Robin welcomes that, however temporary it is.


         If there was any light in Robin’s cell at all, it would glint off of the metal doorframe that secures the thing to its place in the wall. Robin slowly finds himself tracing the edges of it one night, assessing it for how easy it would be to get past. He can’t shake the shivering paranoia on the edge of his consciousness that tells him he’s being watched by Slade, even though the whole room is pitch black. Robin has to fumble his way back to the small mattress, reminded about how the whole cell has moved from what he’s used to.

         Because . . .

         Because of Gar.

         The small blanket isn’t enough to stop his shivering, Robin drifting off in the darkness. He can’t help but think—he knows the metal threads through the wall, connects to the control panel on the other side of it. It can’t be that complicated, and Robin knows his training is good. He might be able to get through it.

         If he dared.

         It’s only then that Robin realizes that Slade hasn’t been in to find him this evening. He’s still awake, despite the fatigue that weighs down on every inch of him. The fear of Slade shoots through his veins in sparks, and even laying in the pitch black with his eyes closed does nothing at all. He can’t sleep, not knowing when the door will creak open and Slade will be there.

         Robin doesn’t know how long he lays there under the blanket, shivering in expectancy. He swears he can see green eyes staring out at him out of the corners of his own, Star watching him as he wishes she always was.

         That’s what he likes to pretend, but really he knows it’s the darkness and his sleepiness playing tricks on his mind. Once or twice he swears he can see the door opening and light cutting into the room like a knife, but there’s nothing when he sits up with a jerk.

         Eventually, he must have passed out from sheer exhaustion in his small, abused body, the darkness even deeper than that in which he lives.


         Robin jerks awake. Light cuts into the cell, silhouetting Slade’s imposing form as Robin shivers. He realizes the blankets have fallen off of him in his sleep, hastily shuddering and pulling them back over his naked body. Every part of him aches, and the little motivation he might have had disappears when Slade doesn’t make a move to try to force him up. Instead, he just pulls the blanket tighter around himself. It’s not enough to stave off the cold, but it makes him feel safer nonetheless.

         Slade’s footsteps grow closer. The door clicks behind him.

         Robin feels himself pulling back to the stone wall, eyes flicking up and down Slade’s form. There’s something in there he doesn’t like at all, even if the creases are obscured by the darkness of the fabric, if half of Slade’s eyes aren’t even there.

         Coward, he admonishes, but no part of his body will properly move at his brain’s command.

         “Lay back down, boy,” Slade orders. He’s by the bed now, Robin shivering. The dark shape towers even in the light, and even though the shadow barely changes the level of light, it makes Robin shiver.

         He knows the look in Slade’s eye, the posture, the thumb hooked in the belt (ready to slip it free . . .).

         Robin can feel the space behind his eyes aching a little, but he’s not crying. It’s too familiar. Slowly, fingers curling so hard into the blanket that his knuckles turn white from the strain, he presses himself back down and stares up at the white ceiling. Just the last place. Just like every other time.

         “Good,” Slade purrs. Something shivers down Robin’s spine, fingers loosening. He takes a breath, trying to keep himself here, even as Slade’s form begins to take up so much of his vision. You’ve done this before.

         If Robin had gotten away from Slade, he wouldn’t have to. He would be home with his friends in the tower, sleeping soundly and in warm sheets and—

         The bed creaks as Slade kneels on it. Robin can feel his own body sinking lower into the part that Slade has created, the man is so heavy. Hands land on his hips, Robin shivering but unable to move. Slade’s thumbs move on the outsides of his stomach, sending something oily jerking up his spine.

         “Please just—do it,” Robin whispers. “ . . . Master.”

         Slade hums. His hands move up Robin’s chest, to his clavicle. Robin’s breath catches as he feels a thumb on his jugular, feeling his pulse. A lifting of Slade’s body and suddenly the weight is resting uncomfortably on Robin’s hips.

         That’s not what he does. Maybe he’s not going—

         Oh.

         Robin opens his mouth to say something, anything, but Slade’s thumb slips in between his teeth, index finger joining it to pry the orifice open just as surely as if it were Robin’s ass.

         Robin wonders what would happen if he threw up while laying on his back. He’d choke to death on his own vomit—

         Better than choking to death on Slade.

         Something pathetic and whimpery makes its way out around Slade’s fingers, but he doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. Robin knows he can’t watch, can only feel Slade’s weight creeping up his body with the horrible inevitability of always. He almost bursts into tears with the thought of Slade in his mouth again. All he does is shut his eyes as tight as he can so that the darkness is still there, encircling him with at least something that’s not Slade.

         “Shy, pet?” Slade chides. Some weight leaves Robin’s chest and he tries to press himself so far into the mattress he will disappear, but he’s still forced into existence under Slade. Fingers rub the side of Robin’s face, almost gently.

         They drift away, and Robin hears the zipper. He flinches bodily, shivering into the blankets, but Slade’s hand on his face holds him still. Thick fingers dig into him deeper, pressing down on his tongue. Something comes out of Robin’s mouth, some poor attempt at speech, but even he doesn’t know what he’s trying to say.

         The darkness takes him over, shivering through his bones as cold as ice. He can feel Slade shifting, feel something heavy on his tongue. His head’s pulled forward slightly, the head of Slade sliding almost his tongue. Robin gags, half unnoticed with Slade’s fingers prying him so open. Slade slides deeper.

         Robin tries to move his mouth to beg, but all his lips do are close around the skin of Slade’s cock in his mouth. He’s stuck still, Slade’s fingers closing around his jaw as he’s pried further and further open. Slade’s hips move, thighs pressing upwards. Robin’s eyes shut tighter as Slade slides further into him with a disgusting, slick noise that rings in his ears. His throat closes over the invasion but Slade doesn’t stop, forcing himself further against the aching edges of Robin’s throat. He hits the back of it in seconds, hands cradling the back of Robin’s neck and digging into his hair, pulling him along the shaft.

         Hands clench in the sheets, Robin tugging at them in distress he has no way to alleviate. It doesn’t move, unnoticed under the weight of Slade crushing him, or maybe that’s just his fear pushing onto his chest. He’s being invaded, again, the gagging of his throat closing roughly around Slade’s member making tears wet his darkened eyes. A soft groan from above him; it slips a few inches back. Robin’s throat convulses as Slade slides past the last of him, forcing him to be impaled on his shaft.

         “Good boy,” Slade purrs. Robin cries around him, lips spread at the base of Slade’s cock. At some point, the fingers had slipped out, leaving him choking. Again.

         Please let it be over soon, is all Robin can pray, desperate. All he can do is focus on Slade’s fingers behind his head, propping him up so he can take it more easily, so Slade can thrust into him. The saliva dribbles down Robin’s chin and onto his face, forming sticky strands before it’s dunked into his throat again. Robin jerks, Slade’s hand tightening on the back of him.

         “Stay still,” he chides. Robin shivers, hands tugging on the sheets. He can feel Slade’s balls resting on his chin, the hair in his nostrils when he tries to grab a breath. Everything narrows to the rhythm that builds, Slade moving like a piston in and out of Robin’s throat as his hips slam like a machine. Robin wonders if Slade is even human (he has to be) but he never seems to get tired, simply moving into Robin like nothing is the problem. All that Robin can hear from him is steady breathing.

         He should be used to this. Robin should know what it’s like to be used underneath Slade’s body, to take him and rock back into it and just let it happen. It shouldn’t hurt so much pounding down his throat, too deep in him for anything, nevermind Slade. It shouldn’t hurt somewhere deeper in his soul to have Slade using him like this, but it aches.

         It’s nothing, Robin forces himself to believe. It doesn’t matter. He shuts it down as best he can.

         Slade hits the back of his throat, pulls back, Robin drawing in the fastest breath he can through his nose before the shaft is sheathed in him back to the balls. His lungs burn, Slade seeming to take sadistic pleasure in forcing him to save up air like water on a desert island.

         The tang is in his mouth. That means . . . means Slade is about to come, make Robin swallow it, and Robin chokes a little on him. Slade groans, thrusts against the pressure, jerks Robin’s head so he gags again. His eyes roll back in the dark, agony circling his throat with helpless aching. Please just finish.

         He doesn’t want Slade to finish in him, never wants the heat and filth of it, but he will either way. Robin just wants him to go quicker

         Robin pushes his muscles in around Slade, pushing his tongue up and wanting to sob as it settles along the shaft, moving amateurishly. It’s skin, sweating and harsh, Robin’s tongue flicking along it with no idea what he aims for as long as it’s all over soon. He can feel hair under his tongue at the very tip, at his mouth, and it’s filthy and disgusting but that’s Robins’ life now, every last bit of it. It moves, jerking along Robin’s tongue, the tang growing stronger. Something trickles down Robin’s cheek, a tear, from the gagging or the fear of what’s going to happen he can’t properly tell.

         “Are you enjoying you sucking my cock?” Slade laughs, Robin sobbing onto him without his say-so, still clenching down on it with his tongue to make it somehow easier, even if it feels awful, if he feels filthy, if he knows he’s complicit in Slade’s abuse.

         As if anyone is going to know, or care, or learn. This is something Robin is doing because he has to make it stop, and the shame is his, because even if he is inviting it . . . it would be happening anyways.

         No matter what.

         It moves, slamming back, and then it’s harder and rougher and plowing over Robin’s tongue.

         “I think you—are,” Slade murmurs. He yanks Robin’s head up, pulling him closer, moving in and out, balls against Robin’s chin so hard he can hear it aloud and would cringe if Slade wasn’t so deep in him he couldn’t think, let alone move. His tongue curls.

         Suddenly he can taste it, spreading over his tongue and burning the back of his throat, hotter than the brutal use Slade’s already brought him. It tastes of salt and bitter and something only Slade, horrible and sticky and wrong.

         Still he’s grateful, and nonetheless he’s swallowing desperately as best he can around the head of Slade’s cock, feeling it slide hot down his throat and push over his buds, sending the taste straight to his brain. There’s more on top of that, and another bit emptied into him, and Robin’s choking on it as Slade slips out of him with a disgusting sound. Cum and saliva dribbles across Robin’s front, across his thin blankets, Slade rubbing the last of the filth off of his cock.

         Robin swallows desperately, remembering so vividly being knelt in front of Slade, the dirt on his lips and the burning in his face as he cleaned it up with his tongue, Slade’s grin above him as visible as if he wasn’t out of sight. Something warm trickles down his face.

         The rough pad of Slade’s finger brushes against it, prying Robin’s loose, panting mouth open to press it against him. It’s a tang, and Robin realizes it’s cum and not tears, licking it off Slade’s finger with exhausted obedience.

         “Good boy,” Slade murmurs. His hand is calloused against Robin’s cheek, the top bit of it in his hair. It trails out of the side of his lip, saliva slicking Robin’s face. Robin doesn’t dare move, the warmth of it strange against his flushed cheek. It’s not cruel, not like the bruises that litter his body, simply . . . observational, as if Slade takes pleasure in looking at him in that one icy eye. The finger rubs his cheek, Robin staring up at the white ceiling and wondering when he’d opened his eyes to see Slade’s sinister face looking down at him. The hand doesn’t feel bad, simply . . . foreign. A kind of non-harm coming from Slade that Robin doesn’t understand, doesn’t trust.

         It’s gone as suddenly as it comes. Slade’s weight lifts off of Robin, the man zipping himself up, doing his belt buckle, all as easily and casually as if he’d just been pissing.

         Robin hates the comparison, and shuts it out of his mind as soon as he possibly can. A hand runs through his hair that’s not his own, the shadow rising out of him and standing up.

         “Get up,” Slade orders. Robin flinches, shooting up in the bed, feeling sick. His mouth tastes of Slade’s filth, and he swears he can feel the warmth in his stomach still tainting him. Filthy.

         So filthy.

         He crouches on the edge of the bed, picking up his clothes and dressing as fast as he can. Something flakes on the edge of his lip and he picks it off and flicks it to the ground without noticing it, because he knows what it is.

         “Don’t make me do it for you,” Slade snaps. He stands in the doorway, one hand hooked idly into his belt, eye narrowed at Robin.

         They’re going to train after this, Robin’s throat still aching so much he doesn’t know how well he could speak if he thought Slade wouldn’t hit him for it. He’s not even allowed to slip into sleep to get out of this, and Slade . . . will probably have him again. Maybe. If Robin’s unlucky.

         He wants to cry, but the tears that stain his cheeks are still old.