Hey. Fée here with the last 'real' chapter of Gotham at Daybreak. I'm so happy this story's finally done, I won't waste anymore time with padding.

Read on.

Oh, and I don't own nuthin'.


Starfire was feeling very nervous, sitting on a cold vinyl couch that complained loudly every time she shifted and waiting for Beast Boy to emerge from his examination. Though assured by the medical staff that the tests wouldn't take long and that they'd have the results immediately, her vigilance was entering its fourth hour. This was taking too long, and that frightened her—what if the doctors had found something terribly wrong inside her friend?

She wanted to draw comfort from her surroundings, but STAR Labs waiting rooms obviously hadn't been designed with comfort in mind. The walls were a blinding white, impersonal and sterile, completely bare. The room's entire furnishings consisted of a metallic door on one of the walls, a tiny table on which sat two outdated magazines containing nothing but senseless medical jargon that had since been disproved and suggested newly two or three times already, and the highly uncomfortable loveseat she currently occupied. The air around her was chilly and stale, filling her mouth with the taste of plastic.

To pass the time, she fumbled with her comm.-link, which apparently could take photographs and analyze the composition of the atmosphere around her in addition to its basic communication functions. Star had also managed to change the template and style of the menu from plain black and red to a much lovelier pink and red. She wondered what else it could do and decided she'd have to read the manual sometime soon.

Movement caught her eye; she looked up to see the door noiselessly slide open and Beast Boy come through it. He looked a little out of it, not necessarily messy or unkempt, but as though he'd only recently woken up. Starfire rose to meet him, her voice filling the entire room,

"Friend Beast Boy! I am joyous that you have emerged! Please, tell me how the testing went with you."

"They put something inside me. Like a… I don't know. It's supposed to do something, release medicine every time I begin to loose control or something like that… I'm not sure…"

"But… did they not specify what the problem was in the first place?"

"That's the thing, Star… They say it's… psychological… They couldn't find anything---anything wrong with me, anything inside me or in my DNA… so they say it has to be here." He tapped his head with his middle finger. "Like I'm loosing my grip on who I am and stuff, so that when I change into an animal I kinda forget I was…am human to begin with." He reached the loveseat and let himself fall on it. "What am I gonna do, Star? I mean, the medicine is supposed to keep me thinking straight, but I can't stay like this… I can't be crazy."

Starfire held back her answer, preferring to study him first. Face in his hands, shoulders hunched---she'd never seen Beast Boy quite this distraught, though his voice matched that which she remember from the conversation between him and Robin, which she'd overheard only the day before. She intensely disliked it.

"My Friend," she began, crouching in front of him so that they were eye to eye---no way was she sitting down again, "I do not think you are possessing any of 'the craziness'. I believe you are merely… confused, not at all unlike the rest of us at the moment… Perhaps it is simply due to the nature of you powers that your reaction is more dramatic that of us." She reached out and surprised Beast Boy by running her hand gently through his green hair. "From what you have told me, I believe this to be a matter of control. If you wish to resolve this circumstance and be independent from pharmaceuticals, I believe it is necessary that you learn to practice a higher degree of control over your powers. You are lucky in this---for that purpose, Friend Raven is wonderful and I believe she will comply to assist you if you ask her to."

Startled, Beast Boy's head shot up.

"You're kidding! Dude, she'll kill me where I stand!"

"I do not agree… she was most solicitous when I attempted to learn meditation. If you approach her sincerely and oblige her suggestions, she will teach you what you need to know."

"You think so?"

"I do." She smiled, and suddenly the room wasn't that barren anymore. "Now smile. The problem is resolved for now and it is a marvelous winter day outside. I wish to escape this room and transverse to the park. Will you join me? I might indulge in a hot pastry or sugary confection."

Uncertain, Beast Boy sighed. It couldn't be as easy as that, could it? Drugs and a chat with Raven and suddenly he wasn't dying at all… He kind of wanted to go home and lie down to think everything through, try and come to terms with what confused him in the first place: was it the team? His role in it? Something about himself?

He caught another glimpse of Star's blinding smile and----go home and think? With the most beautiful girl in the world tugging on my hand and fun at the park to be had? Hell, I am crazy! Shaking his head clear of any remaining grayness, Beast Boy gave Star a grin of his own.

"Sure, Star. I'll buy, even."


When Robin awoke, he did so numb and disoriented. For a second, he looked for Raven's warm presence nearby. When he couldn't find it, he opened his eyes and gathered his wits. Slowly, he remembered what had happened—Torque, his thugs, Roland Desmond's corpse, the sleeping gas.

Even so, he took a second to smile to himself---Raven. Three days and already I reach for her in sleep.

The smile vanished when he remembered the last link in the chain—Slade.

Instantly alert, he forced his muscles to pull him into a standing position. Looking around, he spotted the pile of discarded thugs—Torque included—still deep in the throes of unconsciousness; most likely, the sleeping gas had finished off what a couple of well-aimed punches had started. He'd have to give the Bludhaven PD a call and let them know there was a nice pile of gift-wrapped goons ready for pick up. No doubt there were several arrest warrants with all these thugs' names on them gathering dust on some file cabinet.

At the very least, Robin knew that Soames was a wanted man.

Satisfied with that course of action, Robin continued his quick survey of the room. He frowned---where was Batgirl? She had been a mere two feet away when they'd both lost consciousness; but now, she was nowhere to be seen. Even if she had woken up before him, she would've never left him alone and vulnerable to attack.

Suddenly, Slade's parting words rang in his head. And just to make sure you do show… I think I'll take a little insurance.

"Bastard!" He had Batgirl. Slade had taken Batgirl. Right under his nose.

Hands shaking, Robin reached for his comm.-link. Snapping it open, he called,

"Titans. Titans, this is Robin. Come in." Cyborg's face came into view on the miniature screen.

"Yo, Rob. What's up?"

"Slade." He let the word fester for a moment, imagining all the ways through which he could impress upon Slade the stupidity of laying his dirty hands on his family. "He's somehow involved in all this… I'm not sure how, yet. But I have a theory… and he---he has Batgirl. Wayne Tower, in Gotham City. Main office, top floor. I want you there ten seconds ago." He paused for a moment, thinking through the backbone of his plan. "Don't wait for me—just go in. I'll be there before you will, and I'm not giving him any more time alone with Batgirl…"

"Rob…"

"Just be careful. The place will most likely be crawling with Sladebots and God knows what else. I… I don't want to loose any of you over this. Be smart. Stick together—you're strongest together. And… just hurry."

"Got it, Robin. And don't worry---we'll get her back. And we'll make him pay."

"Yes. We will." Snapping the comm.-link shut, Robin cut the call.


As the screen in front of him went black, Cyborg turned to look at his teammates: Raven, sitting in the couch, her book forgotten beside her; Beast Boy, frozen besides Starfire where they had been just entering the common room, their cheeks still flushed from their day in the park. Their faces stared back at him unflinchingly.

"Well, y'all heard the man. Titans---move it!"

They don't need to be told twice---they never do.


Robin's mind was a mess as he ran downhill through the vegetation, desperate as he was to reach the spot where he had parked the R-Cycle only hours ago. The path was treacherous, made even more so by the pressing darkness of a Bludhaven night, in which stars were completely obstructed by the dense curtain of greenhouse gases and other industrial by-products.

The Bludhaven-Gotham corridor was a mere 87 kilometers in length, but trailers, trucks, idiotic drivers and enraged commuters elongated the distance to an average of an hour and a half. Tonight, however, Robin was in no mood to humor the law------armed with the R-Cycle's superior performance and his own prodigious driving expertise, Robin fearlessly zigzagged, jumped, passed and dodged the majority of the late night traffic. The entire time, his brain was busy elsewhere-----half planning with careful detail exactly what he would do to that deranged psychopath the minute Slade was within his grasp, half making fervent promises that would go unheard by Batgirl or the other Titans but that just might make it to Bruce's ears, wherever the man might be…

Heaven, hopefully. If anyone deserved it, the Dark Knight did.

Robin's parents had taught him their faith, and though he retained a persistent belief in the God he'd been introduced to as a child, he had through the years come to view him as more of a spectator than an active participant in his daily life. The entire sum of the Creator's involvement in Robin's life----as far as Robin was concerned----was that last night in the circus, when He ensured the presence of Bruce Wayne in Dick Grayson's life. And after that, God didn't really need to watch out for Robin anymore, because with Bruce there---to teach him and challenge him and, yes, love him---there was nothing he couldn't handle.

And so, when he abruptly cut the engine and finally stood at the entrance to Wayne Tower, when he narrowed his eyes, fists tight, and muttered a prayer out to the sky------it wasn't God he was requesting aid from.

The street was deserted, though not strangely so. It was near midnight, and, except for the occasional exhausted desk clerk or perusing robber, Gotham's business district was always quiet at this time of night. During the day, this place was the heart of Gotham, a flurry of frenetic activity and urgent motion… but at night, the action moved elsewhere----to theaters and hotels and nightclubs, or, depending on whom you were, rooftops and alleys.

The building's immense shadow darkened the night around it beyond the streetlights' redemptory qualities. Robin looked around briefly for the T-Car, finding it nowhere. The Titans weren't there yet. He wouldn't wait; Barbara was in there, alone with Slade, and he'd already wasted enough time. Taking a deep breath, Robin placed his hand against the glass of the revolving door and pushed.

The door gave way smoothly and Robin entered the building, trying to rid himself of the sensation that he was being swallowed by the darkness.

As he walked through the familiar marble floor of the lobby, Robin looked for the security guards. Though he already knew what he was likely to find, he still retained to smallest hope that Stan and Mike would be safely gagged and bound in a closet somewhere. When he couldn't find their corpses that hope strengthened just a little. He continued his way through the lobby, feeling the uncomfortable pressure of dozens of cybernetic eyes on his back----Sladebots. He could tell the machines were activated because of the red glow in their electronic eyes. They remained unmoving, though; Robin guessed that he wasn't included in their 'target' rooster, probably because Slade had made it perfectly clear he wanted Robin alive. The robots probably wouldn't show the same consideration towards the Titans… Robin had to fight down the urge to cut down the Sladebots right then and there in an attempt to ensure his friends' safety; he had absolutely no time to loose and besides he knew perfectly well that his friends could take care of themselves. Trust them. They were strong, fast, smart. The Sladebots don't stand a chance.

Robin banished that worry to the back of his head and pressed the call button for the elevator. For a second, he debated whether to take the stairs, but finally decided that Slade obviously wasn't interested in hurting him just yet-----the only danger to him waited in the top office, and he was heading there anyway.

Inside the elevator, it was easy to forget himself and pretend that this was any other day----that Dick Grayson was paying a visit to his guardian, that when the door opened on the 87th floor he would step outside as nothing more than the nineteen year old heir of business magnate Bruce Wayne, that he would smile and wink at the redhead in the reception before walking down the long hallway to the executive elevator that would take him to the penthouse, that the blonde secretary there would let him through with nothing more than a giggle, that maybe Lucious Fox would step out of the elevator as the doors opened and beg him to talk some sense into Bruce before he ran the corporation into the ground.

Most of all he fervently wanted to believe that when the bell rang and the door of the executive elevator slid open, the light from the panoramic window would hit him in the face and he'd have to squint before being able to decipher the silhouette of Bruce sitting in his big, black chair, his feet crossed over his desk, his eyes closed in what anybody else might mistake for a nap----anybody but Dick, that is, who also knew that when Bruce sensed his presence, sat up, and greeted him affably… there was a smile in his voice that belonged only to Dick, a pride, a… love that can only exist between----between father and son.

The bell rang. The door slid open. The office was dark.

"Welcome, Robin. How good of you to come…"


"This is the place, right?" Cyborg asked offhandedly as he killed the engine. The Titans descended from the T-Car.

"I'd say so, yes…"answered Raven, spying Robin's motorcycle abandoned on the curb. Starfire followed her eyes and immediately exclaimed,

"Please, Friends, let us hurry----we must not allow Friend Robin to encounter Slade on his own! And I am most worried for Friend Batgirl…"

"Maybe we should've first tried a less obvious point of access…" Cyborg muttered as he pushed the revolving doors and entered the building, followed by Raven and Beast Boy.

"Don't worry, Star, we'll be with them in no time…" The green shape-shifter walked backwards as he comforted his alien friend. The girl smiled at him gratefully. He was about to grin back when he ran into Raven. "Dude, what the…"

Facing them was an army of Sladebots bigger than they'd imagine could fit into the lobby; dozens of electronic eyes threatened them trough the dark. For a moment, the Titans remained frozen in a mixture of dread and frustration.

"You were saying?" Raven deadpanned.

"Titans…" Cyborg began as he reconfigured his arm into a sonic canon.

"Yeah, we know:" interrupted Beast Boy, "go!"


"Slade. Let's get this over with: where's Batgirl?"

"Your pretty friend is quite alright, Robin; you needn't worry for her." Slade snapped his fingers and the lights came on, illuminating the female crimefighter who lay bound and gagged on one of the sofas. Robin couldn't tell for sure, but she seemed to be unconscious. On the ground beside the couch, he could glimpse the corpses that must have belonged to the night guards. "She'll be released unharmed as soon as you and I reach an understanding."

"And what understanding might that be?"

"The same one it's always been, Richard----I want you to take your rightful place as my apprentice."

"You know my answer to that: Never."

"Oh, but you see, Dick… That is what you're called, correct? Dick…"

"Robin's fine." The masked crimefighter corrected, steel underscoring his voice.

"Fine, Robin; have it your way for now. There'll be plenty of time to define such nuisances once you've joined me for good."

"I doubt that."

"Where was I? Oh, yes---circumstances have changed, Robin. The status quo has been altered and I'm certain you'll find my offer irresistible this time around… But first things first---I'm certain you were quite shocked to hear me address you by your civilian name. To be honest, so was I upon discovering said name. The puzzle of your identity had kept me… occupied… for years. Imagine my surprise when I finally realized just how simple it really was. You see, the last time you and I met---you remember, yes? That unpleasant episode involving your psychic friend and her… ah, family. It was during that incident that I witnessed a feat of extraordinary acrobatic merit, one that I hadn't ever seen before or since. It… made an impression on me. A quadruple somersault. Not easily forgotten. And yet… it might have remained inconsequential, another of your extraordinary gifts, to be catalogued and taken into account for future ventures. That, my dear Robin, was when Providence intervened. Through mere coincidence, I came to learn that this… feat was even rarer than I originally thought: only three people in the world have mastered it.

"Now, this alone meant nothing: as a costumed… hero, you were hardly likely to advertise your acrobatic prowess to the public and might therefore not be taken into account on that list. Nevertheless, my instincts dictated that I should pry further. My thoroughness was rewarded. One of the three was a boy of then 17, a former member of a circus troupe who had mastered the quadruple somersault before the age of ten—a true prodigy. Tragedy, however, struck him soon after. His parents, acrobats as well, were murdered, and the boy was orphaned. He was then adopted by Bruce Wayne, arguably the man less likely in all of Gotham to adopt a child. Within weeks, Robin was jumping from rooftop to rooftop with all the agility of a trained performer. Coincidence? It might've been. But then, some five years later, Richard Grayson was sent abroad to a nonexistent school, conveniently vanishing on the same week Robin was first sighted in Jump City.

"Still a coincidence? Not likely. Maybe the name of the school was changed to protect the ward of Bruce Wayne from the media. Maybe he enrolled under an alias in a well-known institute. And maybe you had been laboring in Jump for weeks before the press took notice. Unlikely, but I had to be sure. So I disguised myself and followed Richard Grayson during one of his brief visits to Gotham. Nothing he'd remember---a stranger who brushed past him on a crowded sidewalk and subtly cut off a lock of dark hair that the boy never missed. You see, Robin, I needed his DNA. I had to be sure. I already had yours---the results from a sample carefully preserved and taken off the 'R' shuriken Terra brought me as proof of you defeat. Back then, I had been toying the idea of using the DNA to clone you and thus have my own Robin to train as a rightful heir---even then, I knew that little blonde brat could never live up to the promise of your potential. Alas, death cut that scheme short. Even so, I don't believe I would've gone through with it---why settle for a copy, when the original is within my grasp?

"I digress. As I was saying, I was fortunate in that several of my… hideouts… survived my fall. Armed with the two samples, it was child's play to compare them and see confirmed what I had suspected from the very moment I learned of the existence of Richard Grayson; the circus boy and the hero were---are---one and the same: you.

"Still, this discovery was hardly relevant to my ultimate goal. Knowing who you were was only the first step in securing your apprenticeship. You see, Robin, for the longest time I couldn't figure out why you kept turning my offer down again and again?"

"You couldn't figure out why?" Robin interrupted with disbelief, but Slade dismissed his sarcasm.

"The perfect apprentice for the perfect master… how could you refuse? The more I thought it through, the less sense it made… until I remembered something you said many years ago as you renounced your place beside me for the first time: I already have a Father.

"Yes, you remember, of course you so. I already have a Father. Loyalty was the key. I can hardly reproach you, Robin---it is an admirable quality. Your loyalty to your own father kept you away from me… only, I realized, Dick Grayson had been fatherless for a decade: John Grayson had long been buried… I'd hit another dead end, or so it seemed. But then inspiration stroke anew: Bruce Wayne.

"It made sense, of course----as the billionaire fop, the man had taken you in when you had no one else left in the world, taken care of you and ensured your well-being. And as Batman, he'd taught you an entire new way of life. Of course you'd be loyal to him… Until Bruce Wayne… until Batman was removed, you would never be free to take your place at my side."

"You bastard, you------" He desperately wanted to launch himself against Slade, to pound his face against the floor until his mask cracked and blood flowed from his face and stained the marble floor. But a horrified curiosity held him spellbound and static, unable to break free from the madman's tale.

"So I removed him. It took a while to plan it perfectly----this was, after all, Batman I was taking down. I devised a plan. I went to Bludhaven, where my sources had revealed I would find a dying Blockbuster. The poor fool was near desperate, having used up heart after heart for years… he was even considering using a gorilla heart, if you can believe it. Under such circumstances, he was easily manipulated into entertaining one last human donor whose strength might just suit his needs: the Batman. I orchestrated the entire operation, deduced when and where the Batman would be at his weakest, which were his weaknesses, if any. I found three: you, the old man, and Selina Kyle, also known as Catwoman. You, of course, were out of the question. I didn't really care either way between Catwoman or the old man, but an opportunity arose involving Ms. Kyle first and so I went with it. It wasn't easy to put Blockbuster's many resources to use and blackmail Bruce Wayne into surrendering himself in exchange for Ms. Kyle's life, but I made it work.

"I gave him no opportunity to escape, kept him unconscious from the kidnapping until the very end as he lay on the slab and the doctors extracted his heart and replaced it with a short-lived mechanism of my own invention. Why keep him alive? I'll admit I looked forward to a… chat… between the two of us. Bruce Wayne intrigued me, as did the obvious distance between him and you… I wondered whether he realized what potential he had at arm's length… and I wanted him to know what illustrious future I had in store for you…

"Batman escaped, of course, the very second he was able to but I hardly cared by then: I knew the combination of chemicals and machinery that kept him breathing and moving would hardly last a day. My attention turned then to the very pinnacle of my genius-----the moment in which the doctors took the Batman's heart and placed it in my own chest instead of Blockbuster's, leaving the behemoth to die without ever realizing he'd been betrayed.

"Can you see, Robin, the dazzling height of my brilliance? Not only have I removed the one man who stood between you and me, but I've made him part of myself! Batman's heart beats inside my ribcage-----your father's heart! My heart!

"And now you're free to assume the role that was always meant for you----that of my apprentice and surrogate son." His tale concluded, Slade was silent. Standing only feet away from Robin, tonight he seemed darker than ever before: a nightmare, like always, a psychopath, but now with an added twist of utter insanity that made him all the more…terrible, yes, but also almost… human…

Robin had never felt an ounce of admiration for his nemesis, but over the years he'd developed a grudging respect for the man's obvious genius and skill. Slade had always been that other towering figure in his life----the counterpart to Batman, the other, more sinister Dark Knight--------and like Bruce Wayne, Slade Wilson had never seemed anything other than immortal, larger than life and certainly larger than Robin himself. If life were a chess game, it would be Batman on one end and Slade on the other, with Robin hoping around desperately from square to square trying his best to choose his own path despite the older men's wills, to impress the one and vanquish the other.

But the events of this week had destroyed Robin's view of the world. Batman was dead, and thus not immortal. And Slade… Finally Robin could see the sheer extension of Slade's madness, the way his obsession---for Robin himself, nonetheless----had grown too powerful to control, had become larger than Slade himself, had actually taken over his will.

He wasn't larger than life. He wasn't immortal, endless or indomitable. He wasn't larger than Robin, not anymore and perhaps had never been.

The chess board vanished.

Tonight, Slade was human. Tonight, Slade could die.

And, by God, he would.

"You're sick, Slade. I don't care whose heart that is in your chest------you were dead the moment you touched Bruce!" Robin had nothing more to say; too much information had been introduced into his mind in only a few minutes and there was no room to properly process it; there was room for one thought only: Make. Him. Pay.

Justice.

Robin's attack was quick enough that Slade didn't anticipate it; in seconds, the Boy Wonder's steel-tipped boot had connected with the villain's solar plexus and sent him flying into the desk behind him. It took Slade less than half that time to regain his footing and counter Robin's onslaught, blocking the solid right hook that had meant to hit his jaw.

"Stupid boy----what is the matter with you! Don't you understand?" yelled Slade, his rage plain, as he dropped low to avoid another punch.

"No." was Robin's stoic answer. Anticipating the low kick that was meant to trip him, the Titan Leader somersaulted backwards, adopting as he landed an aggressive stance that wouldn't allow for much defense but suited his current purpose just fine. Wasting no time in thinking, Robin launched himself into another attack. Slade blocked the punch expertly, but didn't anticipate the knee that found the space just under his ribs. Muscle memory reacted and prevented the villain from reflexively doubling over and instead the killer-for-hire reiterated with a series of punches. Robin blocked expertly but the last one found his jaw, sending him reeling sideways. The Boy Wonder fell to the ground, following his momentum into a roll that took him under a small table. Capitalizing on the opportunity, the acrobat threw the light piece of furniture at his opponent, sending him straight into the wall. Severely dizzy, though not unconscious, from the blow to his head, Slade slumped down into the floor.

It took four seconds for Robin to make up his mind: he could either use what might be his only chance to free Batgirl or go after the momentarily disabled Slade who might be faking his condition in order to lure him into a trap. Thinking no further, the Boy Wonder hurried to his friend's side.

"Bar---Batgirl!" Just because he knows my identity doesn't mean he knows hers as well. "C'mon, wake up…" The effort was useless; Batgirl was obviously drugged and would wake only once the effect of the pharmaceutical had passed. Robin growled in despair; the walls of his head were threatening to collapse from the pounding within then; he was unnaturally hot and nauseated--------too much information, too fast. Bruce is dead and Slade is not. He has to die but I---I can't kill him even if I…would I? I don't know, can't think, can't think, can't think what do I do!? Have to get Batgirl out of danger out of here she's not responding is she breathing? God, please let her be alright---I can't loose anyone else can't loose Babs or Alfred or Raven or Star or BB or Cy or no one dies! No one dies, not anymore----Slade can't get to them, I won't let him----I'll stop him! I'll kill him! I….

I…

I won't. No one else dies. No one. And with that realization, he felt the cool rush of clarity wash over him. No more fighting himself while he was fighting Slade, no more loosing time in hopes that fate might intervene or the solution might drop out of the sky.

No more death.

So simple.

If he were to witness this moment from outside himself, Robin might've been able to appreciate the irony: All the angst and the anger, the struggling against becoming his mentor, of molting his feathers and becoming the Batman… and here he was, another son making the same promise all over again when confronted with the greatest loss he could ever endure.

No one else dies.

And like that, the oath is his-----Batman's true heritage, his mantle beyond the cape and cowl, and Robin had taken it upon himself out of his own free will and spontaneous volition, had done so not because it was Batman's but because it was good and right. And this reason made all the difference, freed him in a way he didn't rationalize but immediately grasped.

No one dies. Okay. And now…how do I stop Slade? Robin almost smiled. He'd been made for this.

Quickly, he cut Batgirl's bonds and removed her gag so that she might be free if she woke up before he was done with Slade. He was trying to figure out what his next step should be when heard Slade behind him.

"Robin." Slade's voice carried a hint of amusement that Robin found utterly loathsome, but helpful. He had been right in ignoring Slade in favor of Batgirl; the villain had been faking unconsciousness before, Robin was sure. "We're not done yet, are we?"

"No." The Boy Wonder responded stoically, straightening to his full height before turning around to face the assassin.

"Good. You've gotten better while I was away, my boy, and it pleases me to find out by just how much. However, I can easily tell that there're many lessons you have yet to learn and which it will be my privilege to teach you. Isn't that exciting, Robin?"

"No. It's not."

"My, my… you've got quite an attitude problem, haven't you?" Slade's mellifluous voice grew even more sinister. "No matter; we'll whip it out of you in no time."

"What's it gonna take for you to get it straight that I'm not, and never will be, your apprentice!" Robin lashed out furiously, thoroughly sick of being reminded that Batman was dead for want of him. Throw them off balance; loss of control is fatal; keep your emotions out of it, always… Slowly, and idea began to hatch inside his head. "First of all, because I'd never follow you! Second, because you can't ever take Bruce's place, I don't care how much of his flesh you've stolen; you'll never be as good as him! And most importantly-----" It took everything he had not to smile as he continued. "I don't need a master! I'm no one's apprentice and especially not yours! You're too late, Slade! I've grown into my own and there's nothing you can do about it---------you can't turn back time, you can't make me younger, you can't------you missed any chance you might've ever had in making me into anything different than what I am today.

"Even if by some miracle you managed to convince me to become your apprentice, it would do you no good. You said you were curious as to why Batman and I drifted apart: this is why. Distance is inevitable when the student outgrows the teacher, when the son becomes too much to remain in the shadow of the father." Slade stood stock-still. He seemed genuinely shaken by Robin's impromptu speech. When he regained his footing, what seemed hours but had only been seconds later, his voice was curiously hushed and dryer that ever.

"Hush, Robin. It is I who will decide when, if ever, you're beyond my sphere of influence."

"Look at me, Slade. I'm nineteen, I've lost not one but two fathers-------I've weathered the end of the world and seen eye to eye with the sickest forms of human perversion. And yet, here I stand, all alone, against the man who murdered Batman, and I'm not even shaking. Do you really think I need you, or anyone else, anymore?"

Silence, only broken by Robin's own heartbeat as it resonated against his eardrums. Then,

"Why didn't I see it before? Only thirteen, maybe fourteen when we first met one another… And now… Such a waste. You and I, Robin----we would've been grand. I'd made something truly great out of you. I would've done justice to your potential… But I suppose there's no helping it; I missed my window." Slade's voice and physical expression were the strangest Robin had ever witnessed from the man; his words seemed calm and pragmatic and yet they were uttered in a dry, irrational tone that lend them a certain… absurdity. Slade was mad with anger, no doubt about it; Robin subtly shifted his stance as his hand stole to his retractable Bo staff. "And now, you have to die. If you aren't mine to mold, Robin, I can't risk having you around to interfere with future ventures. I'm sorry it had to come to this."

"I'm not." The Boy Wonder had time to utter before Slade had pounced on him, staff out and eye hard. Robin quickly drew his own weapon and countered the hit, simultaneously twisting sideways so as to lead the maniac away from the stirring Batgirl. His enemy followed him and they clashed staffs once more. From under their crossed weapons, Slade's knee dug itself beneath Robin's ribs and the Titan leader swooned with nausea. The killer-for-hire didn't waste any time in following up with a savage uppercut that sent both Robin and his staff spiraling into separate directions through the air. Only just in time, the masked crime-fighter managed to land with a roll. A tiny part of his consciousness wasted energy in stating that Slade wasn't kidding this time around and this fight was really for his life. Robin promptly shut that voice down and focused instead on drawing a trio of birdarangs between his fingers and throwing them at his adversary. Slade deftly deflected two of them with his Bo staff, but the third one found its mark, embedding itself in the villain's thigh. The madman didn't even stop to wrench the weapon out of his flesh, only charged against his former ambition with deathly determination.

Robin swerved right to avoid the first sweep of Slade's staff, then ducked and rolled into a crouch to evade the second one. A third hit threatened from above, but the Boy Wonder flipped backwards and it went wide. When the next one came, the Titan leader jumped high into the air and called upon every drop of his circus blood to gather the balance necessary to perch on the staff itself. Momentarily taken aback, Slade couldn't defend himself from a brutal kick to his chin as Robin somersaulted off the weapon. The force of the blow knocked the hit man to his back, his hold on his Bo staff loosened. Robin was at his side in a flash, steel-toed boot crushing the man's wrist as he took the combat weapon for his own and pressed its tip to Slade's throat.

Check.

A heartbeat went by in which the silence was absolute except for the two combatant's heavy breathing. Then the battle continued as Slade made use of his superior strength to take the Bo staff in his massive hands and literally force it off his throat. Robin fought back, and the resulting pressure broke the weapon neatly in two. Throwing his piece aside, Slade flipped to his feet just in time to block the younger man's axe kick. Taking the offending foot in his hands, the villain twisted it around with the intention to break it, but the Boy Wonder followed through the motion into a midair spin that prevented further damage and freed him from the other's grasp. The Titan leader descended from the spin into a handspring, maximizing his inertia into a powerful blow to Slade's chest, throwing the man on his back for the second time in as many minutes.

This time Robin went straight for the goal, straddling his enemy's chest and putting his hands around his neck, hoping he'd pass out from oxygen deprivation if he applied enough pressure. For a few seconds it seemed to work, with Slade clutching at the Titan leader's hands furiously and trying to throw him off. Then the sociopath's knee finally connected with the Boy Wonder's back, throwing him forward and off him. The younger man moved into a roll and was attempting to regain his footing when he felt something wickedly sharp dig into his side. He instinctively twisted away from the pain and found that his enemy had not only dug the birdarang out of his thigh but had found the way to stab him with it; the weapon was now dripping with both their blood.

Robin tried to ignored the pain and maximize his position into a low swipe at the villain's feet, but he was unprepared for his nerves' excruciating response and stumbled backwards. His hand landed on the abandoned pieces of Slade's staff, and he retrieved them to use as esgrima sticks. Only marginally better protected, the Boy Wonder managed to block two consecutive kicks and eventually land a hit of his own to Slade's wounded leg. His adversary flinched, clearly unsteady on his feet, but retaliated with an onslaught of kicks and punches that forced Robin to steadily back away until he suddenly hit the wall behind him.

He'd been cornered.

Slade remained uncharacteristically silent through the entire thing; even now, having backed Robin into a corner, there was no smile underneath his mask.

Frowning with determination, Robin shifted his stance. When your back is to the wall, there's only one thing to do-----he had to fight back. Hard. He was a long way from done for; Slade had no idea who he was fighting. The Boy Wonder tightened his grip on his improvised esgrima and----------

BANG!

The bullet went straight through Robin's left shoulder. He hit the wall hard, immediately sliding down against it. Alert, though in pain, he looked for the gun that had shot him.

BANG! BANG!

Two more bullets cut through the air and embedded themselves in the wall above Robin. Through the growing fog of blood loss, he saw Slade's hand as it shakily reached up and touched his chest in disbelief. The villains gloved fingers came away wet and Robin could've sworn his one visible eye narrowed as it absorbed this new development.

BANG!

One last bullet found its mark. Blood exploded from Slade's forehead and sprayed Robin as he lay against the wall, barely conscious.

The villain fell to his knees; his sightless eye made contact with Robin's masked ones and then Slade collapsed, dead. A pool of blood grew under him, swiftly reaching Robin.

Unbelieving, Robin looked past the corpse and at the shooter. His eyes widened in shock.

Towering above Slade's lifeless body like a goddess of the Dead stood Batgirl, smoking gun in hand.


Red Notes:

Hah. You thought that was it? Well, it kind of is and it kind of isn't. There's an Epilogue waiting in the wings. I guess I shouldn't call it an epilogue since it's really more of the final chapter, but I figure that since the main argument is resolved everything that comes after is extra and that's why it's an epilogue.

I'm too excited to comment further. But just you wait to see everything I have to say after I finally get to type out THE END...

Please, review. I'll love you forever if you do.

--Fée