Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Truth Be Told

Part Five: What You Can Take

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Truth Be Told

Dick grabbed his shoes and thrust the door open, jumping to the sidewalk as quickly as humanly possible. It was almost unreal to him, that a moment ago, he was thinking of relaxing for the night and then suddenly all of that was gone and was replaced by the fury of an adrenaline rush. He quickly put on the mask and pulled his belt around his waist, clipping it into place. He felt the cool air whipping against his bare arms and the numbing sensation taking place at the ends of his fingertips and toes as he ran down the wet streets. He ran past the corner and turned, taking the shortest route to midtown Gotham.

He could see his breath slide past him in puffs of white air while his lungs turned into refrigerators as the hair on his arms and neck began to stand on end. The mask deflected the cold air from his eyes, but the rest of his face wasn't immune to the cold. He grabbed his communicator from his belt and turned it on as he kept running.

"Titans! Titans!" He yelled, but when he didn't get a reply, he looked down to realize that the T-Communicator was dead. How...?

He felt the urge to panic.

Robin continued to run down the long streets, refusing to stop for anything. His nose was beginning to turn red as were his ears. But the adrenaline kept him going and the fear of Slade chasing him fueled that as well. Robin looked behind him to see no one, but he wasn't going to take that chance. He didn't know that Slade still hadn't left yet, that he was planning on taking his time. Robin pulled out the Bat-Communicator this time, hoping that someone, anyone would hear him.

"Alfred! Superman! Someone!" He yelled, but again there was no response.

Robin growled in annoyance as he kept running. He was getting close to a main road into midtown that crossed a bridge when he felt a staggering pain as he stepped on a sharp piece of broken glass in the road. Robin tripped and looked down at his foot. Biting his lip, he wrenched what glass he could out of his foot, but in doing so realized his foot wasn't only bleeding from the glass, but from other cuts he had received while running.

He couldn't keep running, but he had to... that's when Robin spotted a yellow car parked at the corner. Robin got up and started to run over to the taxi cab. He knocked on the window, startling the driver, who looked at him in surprise.

"Can you take me to midtown?" Robin asked, pleading, "The police department?"

The cab driver looked him over before quickly nodding yes. Robin threw himself into the backseat as the driver took off for the central hub of Gotham. Robin groaned as the heat began to affect his skin and dissipate the numbing cold. He pulled his foot up to look at it closely. It was bleeding in several places. He had been in such a rush to get out of the house that he hadn't bothered to even put on his shoes. As they crossed the bridge, Robin cleaned what he could of his feet even as the ends of his pants chilled his ankles.

He wondered where Slade was. He knew that the man had to be coming after him. He wouldn't just let him get away. That's when it really started to sink in. Slade had been here. Slade had been part of this. Slade had...


Robin looked outside and saw a few cars behind them, three cars getting thrown into the air as a fire ball erupted from behind them. Robin felt his stomach drop again. Pulling on the shoes that he had grabbed, Robin left a hundred in the cab as he got out. They weren't going to be moving anywhere. He started running, ignoring the pain in his feet and instead focusing on his goal, his target. The police department. Gordon, Yin, Sawyer, anyone, someone would be there that could help him. Or rather Dick Grayson. Maybe not Robin, but certainly Dick.

As he ran, Robin heard another explosion catch hold of several more cars behind him. And then another. And another. And another. On the last one, Dick managed to catch sight at what was causing them. Tiny bombs. The explosions continued to rip through the center of midtown while Robin wondered why it couldn't be raining now instead of earlier. Party goers and citizens alike screamed as others abandoned their cars. Meanwhile what was abandoned was torn to shreds. He couldn't stay here. The sooner he was out of here, the better... Robin passed by Wayne Tower, construction still underway as lightning ripped across the sky and thunder hit the city like tsunami of sound. Then a thought occurred to him: the monorail!

Robin looked up and saw one coming. He kept moving while grabbing a birdarang line from his belt. His eyes dodged around as he looked for Slade, the source of this chaos, but he couldn't find him. He kept running, continuing his pace, readying himself for the tug of the monorail... when he heard a little girl scream. Robin's head shot around as he spotted a four year old girl screaming and crying, lost from her parents in the sea of panicking adults. And she was right in the bombs' pathway.

The Teen Wonder looked up at the oncoming monorail and then at the little girl. He didn't have much of a choice. Racing over to the girl, Robin shot the line out to a nearby flagpole and connected it to his belt. Another bomb went off. He was seconds away. Almost... Robin caught hold of the girl and lounged forward as the cable line went taught and pulled them away as another bomb exploded mere feet away from where they had been moments previously.

Robin looked down at the girl, who was slightly dumbfounded as to what just happened. The monorail passed him and Robin watched as his one quick ticket out of here disappeared. He lowered himself and the girl down gently and let go of the line. He didn't have time to help her find her parents unfortunately, but he left her with an older couple. It was the best he could do. Robin ran out of the center of midtown and continued towards the police department. It took him a good twenty minutes before he took another small break.

For the most part, it was quiet, but that didn't mean that Slade wasn't there. He knew he was. Somewhere... Robin leaned against a wall, breathing so hard it hurt. He rested his head, closing his eyes when a light hit them. Robin opened an eye to look up to see Bat-Signal, coming from only a block away from the alley way he was in now. Robin breathed a sigh of relief. He could make out the street and the lights on inside of the GCPD. He saw Gordon on the roof, waiting for Batman to come like always as though nothing had ever changed. He was right there... right there!

He began to run again. But he maybe got five feet before Robin felt an intense, striking pain streak through his back as though it had been broken by a car. He tripped and fell forward as he gasped in pain, tumbling to the ground and rolling a few times until he was back on his chest, unconscious. The teen lay there, in the alley way, seemingly forgotten for a moment, as though he was just supposed to be there when a flash of lightning ripped through the sky again and one could make out a loan eye watching him. He held a baseball bat loosely in his hand.

Pulling it up to eye level, Slade casually looked at it, "Well, that was handy."

Tossing the bat aside, Slade came forward and looked down at Robin, who didn't move as the metal shoes came closer to him. Slade stood in front of him and waited as a limo came up behind him. Somehow, it always managed to catch his attention above all else, Robin's look when he was unconscious or sleeping... his face always held remnants of innocence. The irony in that, he noted, was very real. Wintergreen unlocked the doors of the limo and Slade took his cue.

Pulling Robin's hands behind him, Slade cuffed them tightly with sturdy pieces of rope. Feeling gloved hands on his wrists was enough to get Robin to wake up slightly, despite the agonizing pain in his back. He groaned as Slade gently lifted his head in order to place a gag around his mouth. Robin looked up and though he couldn't see Slade, he could see Gordon, waiting on the roof. No... His head was placed on the ground and he felt his legs and feet getting tied together as well. No...

A mumbled groan barely escaped him as his eyes were covered. Robin felt Slade picking him up and that's when the panic kicked in. He attempted to struggle, to move, to get free, anything. Anything... But he couldn't fight through the pounding headache. Slade placed Robin inside the limo, taking the belt from the teen in the process. Robin saw the light dim from in front of the blindfold as he heard the car door getting shut behind him. He called out again. He was so close... How could... The pain in his back shot through him again and he moaned.

Outside, Slade walked around to the front to talk to Wintergreen, "Take him to the estate. I'll meet you there."

Wintergreen nodded and rolled up the window as the last remnants of the clouds carried out their threat and began to fall once more. Slade stood in the alleyway when he felt his phone vibrate. Looking at the caller ID, he picked it up casually.

"Wilson," He said, "Hello, Commissioner. Oh yes, every thing's going quite well. Dick's doing just fine... Yes, actually, we're going to be going out of town for about a month for my business. That is alright, isn't? Thank you. Take care, Commissioner, take care."

He ended the call and looked up at the Commissioner on the roof. It was enough to make him smile as Gordon went over and turned the Bat-Signal off. He had noticed, and so had others, that the signal was on less and less often now. Perfect, just perfect. Slade turned away and strode down the alleyway, making his way to the estate.

Inside the limo however, Robin was having a less than perfect night. He slowly was able to start moving again, though hardly without feeling the pain in his back. But that certainly didn't mean that he wouldn't try. He attempted to kick the doors, or what he thought were the doors and he screamed through the gag. Soon though, he started to cough as his cold lungs refused to continue giving him the necessary air to do so. He kept rolling in the back kicking, which was about the only thing he could do. The panic had receded and was replaced by worry and dread.

At one point, Robin just stopped all together. He couldn't do it. He was hurt, tied up, and above all, tired. What could he do anyway? What power had he had in the past three months? He hadn't had any. He had been constantly shipped around without a say and worse yet, now that he knew that Slade was involved, somehow, he knew that he had never had much of any control from the beginning. Robin lay back in the limo on the floor, waiting. Waiting for what would happen.

He felt his gut sink even further. The Titans, what would... why didn't they answer? Would Alfred notice he called? Where was Slade taking him, anyway? The unanswered questions lingered in his mind. How had he not seen this? How? He was trained by the world's greatest detective and he hadn't been able to figure this one out? Suddenly, Robin felt the ground shift upward and he realized that they had to be going over a bridge. He hoped that they weren't going outside of Gotham. He hoped for his life that they weren't. But soon, he heard less and less of the commotion of traffic.

Even then though, his attention was soon turned away by the sharp hit he had taken to his back, where he could swear a large bruise was forming. He gasped as he felt it take shape. Then, the road changed in texture and Robin felt the limo bump against what he thought had to be loose gravel. They must have been getting close... at least, half of him, the part that was hurting hoped so. The other half felt dread wash over him. He wished that he could tell how long they'd been traveling, they being him and whoever was driving.

Suddenly, the car stopped and Robin could feel the car being shifted into park. He heard the car door open behind him and the cold rushing inside. He shivered, but the dangerous reality came back to the forefront of his mind when he felt metal hands gripping his arms and legs, lifting him out of the car. He recognized his captors as Sladebots, for lack of a better name. The carried him over what he thought had to be the road to an entrance. Around him, he heard the wind race through the branches of trees and the fair few leaves that sting clung to their homes for dear life. Where was he?

Almost instantly, the entrance way opened and the Sladebots carried him inside where instant warmth hit him. The Sladebots carried him through the hallways or what Robin could only guess were hallways until they entered a new room, where Robin could hear their footprints echo and the sound of crackling flames. They dropped him to the floor and he grunted. Blinking, Robin realized that there was light coming in this room, more so than the others. It wasn't much more, but it was enough to make a difference. He wasn't going to stay down though, not just waiting.

Grunting, Robin attempted to push himself up to his knees. It was certainly not the easiest thing he had ever done, but with one last final shove, Robin somehow managed balance himself and keep himself on his knees, when he heard clapping in the background. Instantly, Robin went rigid and still. It didn't take a genius to figure out who was applauding him. It soon stopped and he heard them walk forward.

"You know... I was wondering when you would figure it out," Slade said, "It was almost getting boring."

Robin remained silent, it wasn't like he could say anything through the gag anyway. Slade walked to the front of the room where a large fire was burning in the gray stone fireplace. He looked up at the stuffed heads of his various prizes and sighed before turning back to the teen on the floor in front of him. He looked at Robin, who he could tell was waiting instinctively for something. What the boy wanted? He didn't know and he didn't quite care.

"But maybe that's why I was becoming a little sloppy," Slade said and walked over to Robin, removing the blindfold from his masked eyes.

Robin shook his head and got a good look at where he was. It appeared to be a house. A log cabin styled house. Large, stately. A retreat from the cold in many ways. There were three long leather couches in the area and several glass and wooden tables by their corners while a small table stood behind him. To his left was a plasma TV screen and nearby that was a computer. To his right, he could see a long dining table with a closed window frame, which he supposed led to a kitchen.

Behind him, Robin could hear the wind hitting the side of the house and he could see closed windows keeping it out. Above, the roof crisscrossed and from it's center, a chandelier made out of deer antlers hung from a iron chain. The floor was mostly bare and wooden, but the area in front of the fireplace where Robin was, was carpeted. The items within the room were certainly costly, but never something that could be overpriced. But despite the elaborate setting, Robin could see the locks, the keypads in the corners of the room. Slade had made this place a fortress.

Slade chuckled as he saw Robin look around, "Get used to it, we'll be here for a while."

Through the gag, Robin deliberately sent a muffled question. Slade smiled and walked back to release the boy from the gag. Robin took a sharp intake of breath, eager for fresh air, but instead, the potent smells of burning wood and heat did little to make the air seem fresh.

"Do you think you'll get away with this?" Robin demanded to know.

The very question... Slade turned to face his ward face to face, "You're seriously asking me that, Robin?"

Robin looked at Slade, confused and Slade chuckled, "I've been planning this for three and a half months. Do you think I'd leave a detail such as getting away with this to chance?"

Three and a half months? Robin felt his eyes widen. It had been Slade? This whole time...

Slade had manipulated the wills. Slade had hired the robber. Slade had killed all of those people. Slade had...

"You killed Bruce?" It was the first thing out of Robin's mouth for a minute and with it, his eyes stood shocked and baffled.

Through the mask, Slade sighed, "Well, yes and no. I did hire Ravager out for that job. But we really have Lex Luthor to thank for that one."

"Luthor?" Robin questioned and Slade realized he would have to explain.

"Luthor hired me to kill Bruce Wayne, but it wasn't till I did the research that I found a few pictures of Dick Grayson," Slade told him, "And once I knew who you were, Robin. It was simple to figure out that I was dealing with the Batman."

Robin watched as Slade walked over to the stone fireplace.

"And that's when I decided to get more than just a paycheck out of this job," Slade said, walking back in front of Robin.

He put a knee to the ground and grabbed Robin by the chin forcing the teen to look directly into his one eye, "I decided to get you."

Beneath the mask, Slade smiled as Robin's eyes widened and he attempted to launch himself away from his captor's grip. 'No... this wasn't happening...' Robin thought. Slade let Robin go and got up, facing the fireplace with his hands behind his back, a natural stance for him.

Robin shook his head as it clicked in his head, "You killed Bruce!"

Slade sighed, wondering if they would have to go over this again, "I think we've already established that."

"You killed him! You killed..." Slade spun around and glared at Robin, forcefully ending Robin's sentence mid-scream.

"It would have happened either way, Robin. It wasn't my idea," Slade said.

Robin looked up at Slade in surprise as his fury and rage had suddenly been bottled up with not one to turn it on. He wanted to let Slade hear it. To hear how much he hated him. How low and how despicable he was, but something inside of Robin stopped him from ever getting that far. Was it the hurt or the fear that had come back into his mind?

"What do you want with me?" Robin asked.

Slade closed his eye and answered simply, "What has it always been?"

Robin shook his head, "No... No! No! No!"

He suddenly lost balance and fell head first onto the floor, but continued to yell, "I'm not going to be your apprentice! I'm not! Not now, not ever again!"

Slade spun around and grabbed the boy by the hair and pulled him back to his knees, "You don't really have a choice in the matter, Robin."

He let go and Robin continued, "I won't do it! You killed Bruce! You can't keep me here!"

"I can't?" Slade asked, "I do believe, I'm your legal guardian, am I not?"

Robin looked at him oddly, when Slade continued, "Oh, wait... I'm sorry, I'm your alter ego's legal guardian."

Slade ripped the mask from Robin's face to reveal Dick Grayson's desperate and frantic eyes underneath. He took off his own mask as well to reveal the face of Grant Wilson. It was all so much to comprehend.

"How...?" Robin asked, unsure of what else to say, to ask... his head hurt from all that was happening, coming into place...

"It's easy to change your legal name, Robin," Slade explained, "Slade, Grant, it's not that big of a change. I already knew Adeline and, despite the additional persons that came with her inclusion, replacing portions of Wayne's will with his parents' to include her... well, I'm sure you remember the hacker from two months ago. All it takes is a little chaos for no one to realize that someone has gone in and updated a few bits of information."

Robin watched as the mastermind kept his back to him, wondering what Slade would say next, "I don't care about that! You're insane and I'll never be your apprentice! You can't make me!"

"You should care," Slade said calmly, "Escape and your identity... let's just say it would be worthless."

Dick attempted to keep a stiff face, as though he wasn't worried, but Slade continued, "And even without that, escape would be futile, to be cliche'. You're in the middle of a forest and... I know it well enough to be able to bring you back."

Dick watched as Slade turned to face him, to see what sort of expression was plaguing the Teen Wonder. Dick just stared at him. All of this time. It had been Slade, his rival, his arch enemy. And he had never stopped to really consider... Had he never wanted it to be Slade? Was he looking for some sort of scapegoat? No. He hadn't been. Had he avoided bringing Slade as a possibility up? He didn't know.

But here he was, explaining the entire thing. The whole plan. The robberies. The killings. The hacker's part. Everything. He was the mastermind. The head behind it all. The man that had plagued the Titans since practically day one. It had been Slade. And now, he was finally seeing Slade without the mask. For years he had wondered if he would ever recognize the man and now that he did, he wished he couldn't. That he didn't know that it was Grant Wilson, formally Slade Wilson. Not that big of a difference. Not much at all. He was still missing an eye. The right one. Like always...

Finally, he asked a question, "You've always been 'Slade'?"

Slade turned and saw the bitter reality setting into Robin's face. He replaced the mask onto Robin's face and as he put his own back on, he answered simply, "Yes, my name has always been 'Slade'."

Robin dropped his head slowly, looking at the ground as the ties on his wrists and legs kept him from running off. Then again, he didn't think he could run even if he tried; who was he kidding? Slade walked around behind him and watched as the teen began to face reality.

"You take this the wrong way, Robin," Slade told him, "You ought to be thrilled. We start training tomorrow morning."

Suddenly, Robin felt the same fear that had always hit him and the panic that came with it, "What?"

Slade turned around and answered, "Did you think that I would wait?"

"I'm not doing it! You can't force me to do anything!" Robin yelled.

But he didn't get the chance to add to it as Slade lunged out and landed a solid kick to Robin's ribs, causing the Boy Wonder to fall over to the side, his chest starting to bruise. He gasped and his faced scrunched up as his lungs reacted felt the sudden impact. Slade stood over Robin with little sympathy.

"I'd suggest that you change that attitude of yours, Robin," Slade said, his voice dangerously close to being called angry, "Like it or not, you will be my apprentice and, as I've said in the past, you'll learn to like it."

Robin bit his lip, but managed to look Slade in the eye before Slade turned and snapped at the doors. They opened and a few Sladebots came in and grabbed Robin by the arms. They started to drag him across the floor, when Slade held out a hand, motioning for them to stop. Slade grabbed Robin's ankle and yanked the now bloody shoe from Robin's foot and examined it as Robin gasped in pain. Slade saw the remaining glass within the skin and the cuts that marred it.

"We'll have to take care of that," Slade said, "Take him to his room."

Robin began to struggle against the Sladebots, but it was no use, "You killed Bruce, Slade! I won't do it! You can't make me!"

The doors shut behind the screaming teen and Slade was left alone in the room. He went over to the dining table where he took a swig of a drink Wintergreen had left, hoping for an upswing in energy. He walked over to the windows that he had coated to not allow outsiders to get a good view, and watched the rain fall. It sounded worse than it was, out in the woods. He liked it like that though, that sort of sense of danger.

He looked down through his mask and found himself realizing that he hadn't gotten the chance to wear it in a while. It was good to have that opportunity back. He pulled off the mask and looked at it. It really was all about fear, wasn't it? A game like that, that only relied on scaring others, he could play, easy. But he liked a challenge, he always had.

And so it had finally come. It had been easy to set up the pieces, just time consuming. He had been ready. It was Robin who he had been waiting for. Slade had known that the revelation of the truth behind the past months would have been a shock and instant repulsion for Robin, but he could overcome that. He had every advantage. It was now a matter of not getting overconfident... Though he had to admit, things had worked out well so far.

Slade smiled.

He finished his drink and went over to a small trash bin to dispose of it. He had had the advantage of being off the radar. But that had all changed. He could now move in on a full frontal assault, taking every strategic move he could to get what he wanted.

He would have Robin as his apprentice and no one was going to tell him otherwise.

Slade walked over to the computer and put into hibernate mode, before leaving the room as the fire continued to crackle. On the opposite end of the estate, Robin struggled against the Sladebots, hoping to free himself somehow... somehow. Robin started to roll his eyes when a door opened and he was tossed headlong into the room. He grunted, but felt the Sladebots lifting his wrists and suddenly, he was free from his bounds. If only he could actually move...

Slowly, Robin pulled his arms to his front, surprised at how sore they were and how stiff they had become in maybe an hour's worth of time... The door shut behind the Sladebots and a small light came on inside of the room. Robin held out an arm to cover his eyes. He gasped and managed to somehow get to his knees again. This room was smaller than the last room, but it was big enough. At least there was a bed...

Robin dragged himself over to the bed and rested his head against it. He wasn't sure what was hurting more. His head or his body in general. With so much going on... He pulled himself up on the bed, wanting rest, but his mind wouldn't let him come anywhere near it. The images kept coming back. From before.

The probes inside of his friends. The feeling of the uniform he had to wear. The constant beatings and how he couldn't relax. He was always tense. Always worried. And then every time after that, Slade had grown to seek him out from the rest to extract some form of revenge. He had never said this to anyone, but that's what it felt like. All of his suspicions had seemingly been confirmed when the dust incident had occurred.

It was like Slade had infiltrated his mind and had been able to say exactly what would freak him out, scare him, petrify him the most. At some point, Robin had even wondered if he was dreaming it all or not... Kind of like right now. Robin felt like he was floating, but falling. His friends flew out of his grasp while Bruce's gravestone crumbled. And above him, Slade's symbol created a cage that kept him from escaping. And then her voice...

"If you are truly evil, than go ahead, do what you must."

Not again... Robin turned to see Starfire opposite him, screaming in pain. Not again... Robin fell to his knees as Starfire disappeared. He felt just as helpless as before. No one knew what Slade did to him, the type of things Slade made him relive. Every failure, every imperfection, every dissatisfaction... Robin opened his eyes and gasped. It was still dark outside and the rain kept beating on the roof. He saw from the corner of his eye the ever threatening weather clash against the growth of nature. And he knew he couldn't break open the window. He knew it perfectly well.

The Teen Wonder yelled and got up, running at the door with all his strength. He slammed into it and banged against it with his fists over and over again before finally falling back to the ground. His breaths came in quick now. It was all happening again...

A massive headache came on and Robin brought himself back over to the bed, where he went back to rest. He could only wait, couldn't he? Wait for whatever it was that Slade was planning. It wasn't like he could do anything now, anyway. Robin shut his eyes again. He had to sleep, rest, whatever... He couldn't let Slade win. Not after everything. Not after what he had put him through before and certainly not after what he did to Bruce. Bruce...

He couldn't fail him.

He knew it would kill him if he did.

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