Whoa how long has it been?

This chapters been slowly added bit by bit and ended up nearing 20 pages. Thinking that was much too long, I've cut it to 13, 14 or so pages and the rest will be added to Chapter 8. Because of the interval of times between each writing session, I'm...really not sure if everything is flowing smootly. Job searching has distracted me very much from writing, and constantly being tired isn't helping either. I'm afraid that updates will still be sporatic until I have my life under a semblance of control.

Even so, I hope you all enjoy this. It'll probably confusing still, but hopefully, if I'm even half a good a writer as I would like to be, all will be explained by the end of this story...or even in midway.

I'm still amazed at the unexpected amount of positive reviews I'm getting. You all are a generous lot :bows:

And to answer your question Piper of Cats, I think it can still take up to 24 hours for a newly uploaded story to show up in the list.

Not beta-read...yet again.

7: Down Where the Woodbines Creep

"This guy's out cold too." Cyborg mumbled after checking the slumbering man's pulse. He and Raven were surprised to find that, not only had they met zero problems as the searched the premise, not one individual was available to oppose them. Every man they came across were asleep, a rather deep one akin to a coma. The mechanical Titan even tried to wake one man sprawled on the front lawn of the mansion with no results.

Raven attempted to probe through the lawn man's mind, but all she had sense was the calling of Morpheus echoing in their consciousness. If she tried to dig deeper, a barrier would block her path. She would have thought it normal since all minds have some form of a defence mechanism; however, all the victims had the same blocking "signature." The suspicions of one individual performing such a barrier in multiple minds only spoke volumes of how strong this individual was. Above all, the barriers felt they were accompanied by the feeling of suction. Nothing could enter, nothing could leave the mind, but at the same time blank.

Assuming it was safe to not worry about detection, they made their way to the front entrance. Oddly, the front doors opened without resistance as Cyborg turned the knob and pushed. Inside, sunlight illuminated the atrium with the winding staircase and royal red carpeting. He stepped inside and a visible shiver crawled down his spine, "Feels like a haunted house or something…" His optic sensors relayed that there were no internal laser security and similar entrapments involved. It was a risk to do it, but he had to make sure whether the Boy Wonder was inside or not, "Robin? Are you in here?"

No answer returned. Not from friend or foe.

Receiving the nod that all was clear, Raven tentatively entered the innards of the building that seemed to be alive to her senses. Remnants of whatever attacked the guards still saturated the air. Again it was the same aura she felt inside all the guards' heads, and during their investigation of the sewers and landfill. She cautiously picked her steps, bracing herself for any surprises in this puzzling atmosphere.

The atrium spoke of luxury while demanding respect from visitors. Eyes wandering, the sorceress happened to notice the strange markings on the floor beneath her. Tiny shards of something yellow and black littered on a contrasting marble floor tattooed with erratically uniformed black streaks. She bent down to inspect the markings closer, brushing a finger across the lines. "These look like an explosion took place."

Cyborg, following Raven's lead, bent down and picked up the largest shard on the floor. It too was yellow, a shade that was familiar as well as his sensors told him of its metal composition, "Explosive disc. Robin might have tried to blow the doors down." Which was a point that seemed inconsistent with how easy the two managed to enter, but also the fact there was a lack of a blaring hole in the doors at all. Pushing off the ground, the half-robot turned to inspect the inner part of the doors. Not a mar or scratch infected the relief design on its hard surface considering what the explosion did to the ground. Unable to come to a conclusion from these clues, he ushered for them to go deeper into the mystery.

The two walked towards the center of the atrium and stopped at the base of the staircase. Snores caught their attention of a couple of men asleep on the floor, and there seemed to be more coming from a long corridor. With two ways open to them, Cyborg pointed down the hallway with his thumb and Raven nodded in agreement. Cloak wrapped securely around her, she floated herself up to the second floor and settled herself over the railings and to the carpeted floor. Down below, Cyborg turned to march his way down the corridor.

Looking down at the floor again, she noticed the red carpet smothering only one of the two passages the stairs had lead to. Flipping a mental coin, she chose the undecorated lane and floated to the wide open doors that laid there.

The furnishings of the interior of the room left no doubt this was a bedroom. The wrinkled pile of beddings told signs that the occupant was in a hurry. With the help of sun's rays penetrating the windows, a glint of silver caught Raven's eye. Walking closer, she picked up the item foreign to the room's Renaissance theme. Between her index finger and thumb, the Mistress found the item to be familiar. It was a silver sphere, less than an inch in diameter but an opening on one side revealed intricacies of a higher design. It was something, Raven remembered, Robin often used when distracting an opponent. She turned her attention to the rest of the room, fishing for anymore clues. In the corner chair sat a litter of stuffed animals, and maybe a dress or two hanging on the headrest. Odd considering the rest of the room gave the impression that an adult sleeps in these quarters.

When nothing more extra ordinary confronted her, she left to check the other end of the second floor hallway.

Passing the atrium again, Raven took another glance downstairs and continued on.

While the Mistress came towards doors similarly carved as the previous, her team mate walked in the same direction on the floor below.

For every door he came across, Cyborg opened to reveal either nothing, or find those who worked in the house dead asleep. As much as that puzzled him, it did not detract his attention to the draft coming from the end of the hallway.

He stopped before the fallen lamp with its bulb and vase-like structure in pieces. The table that probably held it was sprawled below the broken window, on top of broken glass. On one edge of the table, the wood was scratched and splintered showing a sign it was the tool used for the violent break in. Or rather, break out. As if the table wasn't an enough clue, there were too few cuts of glass on the inside to have the window broken from the outside.

Slowly the giant Titan stepped further towards the window, scanning the window for…anything at this moment. When he was close enough, small stains of red on the tips of some sharp ends of the glass still attached to the frame made his heart skip a beat. He reached out with a finger to pick at one of them. Dried blood flaked off easily. Not liking where this was leading, he looked through the broken window to see the rest of the shards of glass littered on the grass. Some patches of large glass were crushed further indicating someone had stepped on them. And he could very well guess who that person was.

All signs pointed to a chase that had occurred here. A dash for survival that he hoped his friend was able to win. But if that were true, he wouldn't be holding on to a loose belt searching for Robin in the first place.

"Cyborg."

Raven's voice over his intercom broke him from his grimace, "What is it?"

"I found a live one."

oooooo

He hadn't seen her so sad before.

Beast Boy placed comforting hands on Starfire's shoulders, having to stretch his arms to reach her just right. The questioning continued between the two teens and the only rookie on site, Torrance, just outside the victims' residence.

Commissioner Fay wanted to see the crime as it was found with her own eyes before more evidence was picked out. The two Titans had insisted that they come along, and after much begging from them, she caved in the end. Though she allowed them to accompany the crew in exchange for immediate questioning, she strictly forbade them to approach the victims' house while a corpse slept inside.

That was all right with Beast Boy as staring at dead eyes was not part of his to do list. However, Starfire had initially insisted to enter, saying that watching over the site of death was her people's way of coming to terms with the reality that a friend or loved one will not return to the living. But just the sight of a stroller finally carrying the dead body of Mary's mother caused tears to well up.

Beast Boy tried to placate the princess' distress but he was feeling incredibly awkward, anxiousness mixing with sorrow himself. This was all such foreign territory to the Changeling, and he was unsure of what to do, how to act, what to think. He had experienced losing a friend that could have been something more, but at least it didn't end with blood, though that didn't make what happened with Terra easier. And even in the most awkward of moments, as he saw the body covered in white cloth, strapped to the mobile bed, he couldn't help but imagine Starfire asking why they tie down the dead when they won't be going anywhere. It was a lame, tasteless joke, and he berated himself for thinking such thing at a time like this—but he couldn't help it either.

While both Titans listened and answered questions to the best of their ability, Beast Boy had half his attention to the present. He noticed that Starfire was distracted too, most likely from the current circumstances, but for Cyborg and Raven's search as well. There should have been word of something by now.

He hoped at least they had good news to provide when he and the Princess had to break the bad news.

"I think that's… all for now," Torrance attempted to smile to invoke some spirit, but it came out more morbid in the backdrop of the current circumstances. "We'll keep in contact if anything arises…" Hearing his own voice, the Rookie winced at how empty it sounded. This was his first major case, and although he understood the emotional toll police life would bring, part of him assumed it would start off slow. But instead he had been hit by a runaway tractor truck. "The Commish said you can leave if you'd like after the question period…" Looking down to his boots then to the house swarming with police, Torrance added, "Honestly, I wish I can join you." The memory of seeing the stuffed horse in a pool of blood coloured his thoughts.

"I don't think I can blame anyone for thinking that," Beast Boy responded as Starfire looked too preoccupied with the events that unfolded before them. "If we find anything new, we'll let you know." Exchanging sympathetic nods, the youngest Titan turned quickly on his feet and almost darted out of the house's perimeters. The sooner he got away, the faster the feeling of…something crawling all over his skin will dissipate.

It took a while before the youngest Titan realized his partner was not following and turned around. Starfire was still standing firmly in place, head down and arms against her chest. One hand rested in another, palms up. Adjusting his line of view, Beast Boy noticed that her eyes were closed and looked much like she was praying. Or something similar. Torrance meekly called to her once or twice, but thought best to leave her to her thoughts.

"Um… Starfire?" Beast Boy chirped.

Taking another moment, the Princess finally acknowledged Beast Boy's call. She bowed to the Rookie, mumbling some departing words and walked to join her current partner.

"What were you doing?" Beast Boy asked with curiosity, though he could guess what it was he witnessed.

Mournfully smiling for the sake of politeness, Starfire responded, "Saying good-bye."

"Oh…"

A silence both neither summoned nor repelled settled between them. Somehow, they both knew they needed a little time to take in the shock of death.

The Princess inhaled deeply, letting fresh air cleanse her mind. Her thoughts still lingered on what happened to Robin, now intensified by the current events. She couldn't understand why, but the murder multiplied the fear she held for her dear friend. But this was an entirely separate event, was it not? Logic and instinct clashed, with instinct beating in the end, "Beast Boy…"

Her slumped, green friend looked up.

"You have summarized to me of Robin's… anxiousness from his experience at the factory. You have also mentioned he seemed…'jumpy' when you went to him at the Pizza parlour." Receiving a nod from the young boy, Starfire continued, "Perhaps we should go back to the restaurant and question the employees there. Perhaps… one of them has something to offer concerning that parcel and whomever delivered it… Perhaps…" It was a conclusion that that the team shared: the box had disturbed Robin enough to put him on edge.

Raising an eyebrow at her nervous repetition, Beast Boy tried to confirm what she was suggesting, "You don't want to join up with the others?"

"I do…" she answered solemnly. As much as she wanted to, Starfire knew that Cybrog and Raven were capable enough to hold out the search with efficiency—but that didn't dissipate the want. But the heart can wait. Right now, intelligence was more resourceful in the light of new dangers. Her back straightened and started to hover in the air, "However, maybe an investigation of our own is in order."

oooooo

"You have a lot of nerve to show your face again." Robin sneered at that mask, long ago accepting it as the man's true face. Whatever history was behind it, it was long out shadowed by cruel metal.

Slade just smiled, "And good morning to you. I see that you had a guest last night—and you didn't introduce me?" He pushed himself from the wall he leaned on and walked his way in front of the boy still holding the Bat in his arms. The stark white of his eye observed the slumped body curled in on itself, looking very much like his childish age. Fading bruises that should have healed long ago relayed that the little bird still dwelled on that frightful night, and he was pleased by that detail. It meant his lessons did not fall on deaf ears.

But the state the Boy Wonder was currently in… regretful. The boy had heard the lessons but failed to implement them as he should. That was something that the masked Manipulator would have to reprimand. "Get up Robin," Slade's voice tightened yet still retained some semblance of powerful seduction, "You're disappointing me each and every time I return."

Despite the hatred against those words, Robin slowly began to rise from the floor. It wasn't because Slade told him to—of course not. He was getting up because he should, what with his mortal enemy standing before him. That's the only reason...

The Bat squeaked in his arms, wiggling free to claw its way on his shoulder and to his back. Claws on its wings dug into the fabric while perching to look over Robin's shoulder, beady eyes burning its stare into the metallic mask.

Robin half leaned against the wall to support himself as he was still groggy from the forced sleep. The surroundings didn't appear as clear as he hoped, and he needed to buy some time to get his bearings before confronting Slade head on. The last thing he needed was delighting the sadist observing him like a canary in a cage. Ruffling feathers to emit an illusion of control, he spat out his chirps, "Like I'm aspiring to please you..."

There was that defiance again; challenging as always. That was something Slade hated to love, loved to hate of his ex-Apprentice, "Oh but you are—why else would I be here?" It was particularly amusing. Of all the analytical knowledge and excessive years of training, the boy just didn't get it. Such discipline over his mind and body yet the owner had little understanding of their individuality and unity.

"You tell me," Robin whispered, but the rage of seeing the man back was building too high, too fast, "As I recall, you're the one who drugged your way into me!" He pointed an accusing finger at his tormentor, his other hand in a fist, shaking under his anger. But his weakened body still needed support.

Slade shook his head. Did the boy really want to go through this old topic again? "My dear Robin," the deadly kindness in that voice sent a shiver down the boy's spine, "I was here long before that dance." No matter how small he made his voice, its slithering tracks echoed through the hallway. "Locked away but always watching…" he continued on his knack to make every word sound so wrong. It was a talent he overtly displayed if at all possible; his opponents seem to "enjoy" it after all. He watched while the hero's masked eyes lowered to stare down at their owner's metal-toed boots.

While the villain clearly was enjoying the little repartee, the Titan leader was getting sick of it. No matter how many times the game was played, Robin still found himself disadvantaged every time, "Shut up…"

"You pulled me in." Slade took a step closer towards the cornered child, the anger forming in those small fists undeniable.

"Shut up!" The frustration rose like bile eager to be freed.

"You've locked me in." Another step and Slade watched the young boy hug closer to the wall as his space was invaded…

"That's…not true…" Now the voice started to shake, ever so slightly.

"You want me in." Before Robin could counter another word he noticed too late that the man had cornered him. The gap between them dwindled to just a breath away from each other's faces. The dweller of the Dark towered over the songbird mimicking the might of a raptor. His hands clasped the wall behind the smaller figure, capturing his head within the empty space between his out-stretched arms. Robin pressed himself further back if possible, while the Bat crawled itself over the shoulder, clinging to the Boy Wonder's left arm to avoid being crushed. It cried out a warning, and although Slade was not pressured from it, he amused it by extinguishing his descent towards his prey but fixated the distance he had covered.

The previous invasion by one of the Brothers, and his forcing sleep against his will left Robin drained to think straight. The barriers he worked his life to erect couldn't establish quickly enough to protect him of what was going on now. He could handle the psychopath before in numerous encounters. But recently the villain had adapted—adapted very well.

To compound it, Robin didn't give himself enough time to make new barriers to counteract. Honestly, he thought he didn't need to. It was unlike him to not make reparations for reparations, but the door that contained Slade until now contained things he didn't want to deal with. The meanings behind those illusions he made himself see were too much in too little time. There were things he learned, about the Dark and about himself from the hallucinations. Inner torment he could withhold from his friends, but always lingered in his mind...

It was too close then, too frightening, too true. Just too tired to deal with them... So he ignored and banished them. And he had been doing just fine until—

Slade and the Bat turned to the sound of a creaking, signalling motion. A door some few feet away opened on its own. It didn't open all the way, stopping just enough for someone of Robin's size to squeeze inside.

The Bat stayed silent and motionless while Slade lifted the corner of his lips in curiosity. He recognized the look of Fear on the mask nailed to the door. Turning his attention back to the boy below him, he caught the delicate shivers hidden beneath the cape now hanging over his shoulders. A thought occurred to him: something very wrong must have taken place to have Robin teetering between hate and fear all too soon. Defiance lasted much longer than this—that was how the game was played.

Perhaps…he was too effective in his methods of training in their previous encounter. And although it was satisfying to know that, he may have cracked the bird's shell a little too hard leaving him more vulnerable than intended.

However, it was still an opportunity for training. No doubt the Bat found weakness in its prison's lock and freed itself to sway Robin to its side once more.

Still keeping his position, Slade decided to tread a more forceful road to invoke the reaction he wanted. Treading from bruise to bruise on the young Titan's paled skin, he, with his most enticing tone, continued, "The fact I'm standing here before you once again says many things Robin." A large hand moved down to brush away a strand of hair stuck to the teen's forehead, "After all that has happened, all the time that has passed… I'm flattered you think so highly of me."

That… that snapped Robin's head up to stare into the eye of damnation. Slapping the intruding hand away, fists formed again with knuckles turned white under his gloves. The aggression ready to rip out the other optical flesh for that assumption grew. His own lips parted to words that came out calm, almost matching Slade's knack for soothing tones if only the saturating poison was absent, "I hate you…"

Exactly what he expected—wanted to hear. "That may be. But I understand you and you know it." A truth that Robin had made a hobby to deny. It was extremely gratifying to Slade, knowing that their relationship had not extinguished despite their times together and apart. He had only been let out the Outside once, and he very much enjoyed it. And he wanted Robin to know that by letting him run free, drug or no drug, he had desired it as well. "And here I am, let in by you willingly, letting me into the part of you of that dark corridor. You've unlocked my door for a reason…" Words rolled off his tongue while the little bird he lectured rumbled with rage against his voice, "You've ensnared me, now you have me to teach you, to inspire y—"

Volcanic rage coursed through his veins, power concentrating in the flying fist. Robin straight punched the metallic mask right in its centre with a resounding clang, sending Slade staggering back. The flying mammal flapped off in surprise from the sudden attack, though if you looked for it, it was showing off a very bat-ish smirk.

Robin froze in his finished motion, chest heaving from adrenaline and spite. He didn't want to hear anymore; the time for action became severely overdue. The chance for payback had emerged itself...and he'd be damned if he was to be taken advantaged again in two consecutive days.

Slade adjusted his mask. From the corner of his eye, he watched as Pride swiftly open. Now this was what he wanted to see in his protégé, "That's it…" Flexing his fingers, he straightened to his full height, sizing up his fiery opponent. The Titan remained silent but his gritted teeth spoke volumes. He was becoming alive again… "Fight, Robin!"

Not taking the chance for granted, without warning he lunged at the teenager who reacted too late to the inhuman speed. Slade back handed him in the face throwing Robin to impact ribs to floor hard. Groaning from the sting on his cheek and most likely another bruise forming against his ribs, the Boy Wonder pushed himself up, pushing himself to continue the fight. But he needed to catch is breath and gather strength. The adrenaline was working its magic to counter the dizziness from before.

"Fight to win," the voice boomed, echoing around the three beings in the empty hallway. Slade wouldn't give the Titan time to recover. He reached down and pulled Robin to face him eye to eye while long, legs dangled in the air. Stronger, larger, deadlier yet retaining its softness, the voice sounded like it was swarming the two locked in combat. Robin blamed the lack of oxygen being passed to his brain as the voice seemed to take an omniscience presence.

A terrifying concept considering it was Slade's alien voice.

"Fight to conquer, to survive…" On and on the Voice boomed, filling the air with its command. Ignoring the feeble attempts of green gloves clawing on his arm, Slade slammed the body he held into the wall. A loud crack resounded leading to Robin seeing stars behind his mask. But Slade still continued his chant, "Show me you haven't lost your edge, Robin."

"Shut up!" A door featuring the face of Wrath opened enough for scorching heat to escape into the hallway. Robin lifted his leg and slammed his metal sole directly where the large man's ribs converged. He dropped to the ground, rubbing his neck from the sealing grip, never letting his eyes off the man who just stepped back couple of steps, and merely patted his chest.

The dark dweller did not even attempt to hide his gloating, "Is that all?"

Robin stumbled to his feet, cape flowing over his shoulders again. That kick should have at least cracked a few ribs but it didn't. That punch from before should have snapped the head back, but it didn't. Things were not going his way again. Again…

Always again

But like hell he would let himself submit to those who seek to control him. To Slade, to the Bat, to the Brothers, to anyone…

The fire from his ex-Apprentice was a lovely sight as always. His invitation had been accepted. He had been set free from his prison for a reason, and he would dare not waste his chance to stretch out his legs again. Coolly, Slade cracked his knuckles—to remind the boy why he was here in Robin's mind and thus all too real, "Fight, Robin. Or do you need another beating to jog your instincts?"

Giving in to his Wrath, sparked by Fear and propelled by Pride, Robin charged towards Slade. His scream crashed the velvet voice that impregnated the air.

The bird was flying right into his arms, and Slade intended to catch him, "That's it… Fight!—"

His shrill intake of air echoed off the walls as he woke up with an unbridled startle. His upper body launched upright but the abrupt movement made his head feel like it hit through the windshield of a car, and forced him to lie on his back. Gasping for breath, his chest heaved actively for much needed air.

A headache, or a migraine… or maybe a railway spike hammered into his cranium racked his head. He hoped it was only from a nightmare or some other psychological explanation, not anything physically wrong with him, though that option wasn't quite satisfactory either. There was an eerily emptiness about his sleep…or coma—whatever it was he just spat out of. Honestly, it could have been a coma and he would have never noticed. But, something urged him to wake up.

Moaning quietly from the unbridled ache in his hand, head and neck in sync with his heart beat, Robin took a calmer approach. Gently raising himself to his elbows, he managed to sit upright. The lesser pain, the dull singe he felt on the back base of his neck, was tolerable. Gingerly he traced an undamaged finger to the tender spot. A touch raised the pain for a moment, but quickly subsided to a dull ache. The pain in his head however, though subsiding, left him dizzy and disoriented but his vision and thoughts were becoming more manageable.

And the more manageable his brain became, the more confused he got.

His fingers frantic to purge the headache were met with moist hair. They danced around the dark locks until the Boy Wonder realized that his spikes were cast down.

Beneath him and over his legs felt the silky softness of cloth caressing his body. The cloth felt warm, due to his body heat, but strangely his upper half shivered from the currents of cold air. Blinking away the last remnants of sleep from his eyes, the young teenager looked down while his hands finally relinquished their hold on his head and roamed his torso.

And he did not like what he was feeling, nor the sight befallen his eyes.

The Titan gasped again, confused and of all things, embarrassed at the sight. His chest was bare, and upon inspecting his arms, they too were exposed save for the fresh gauze wrapping his hand. The sheet used as a cover mounded on his lap in a heap, rolled together from sitting up, was actually a blanket. The feeling of his legs in contact with said material was answered by a tinge of red on his cheeks. Lifting the white blanket just enough, he realised to his horror that he was nude underneath as well.

And the last thing he remembered was…

…was that indecent embraced he was forced into, and the hand turning his sight to darkness.

Sight… Eyes… Oh no—

Hands darted to his face, frantic to find a piece of plastic-fabric glued to his face. As if being kicked in the head, nothing but skin shocked his fingertips. The drenched, black hair hanging over his forehead brushed side to side while Robin continued to deny the mask was missing. His futile search became so fevering; the Titan didn't even try to bottle in his panic as he always trained himself to do.

He just needed to find it. Out of his entire costume, the mask was a vital part of him—his identity. So caught up in his panic, the young hero lost his awareness of his surroundings.

"Looking for this?"

Robin froze his frenzy. Knocking back some of his senses into place, the startled teen twisted on the bed to the direction the voice came from. Simultaneously, he seized the covers and wrapped himself with it as tight as he could to cover up much skin as possible. He allocated most of the sheet to his front, while half of his back was bare. Absently the Titan struggled between clasping the fabric or covering his face, but eyeing his mask dangling between Thomas' pinched fingers; it was too late for hiding faces now.

The pair of red irises roamed the outline of the bundle sitting on the white bed decorated with an extensive canopy. Solid oak with carvings of flowers, vines and gargoyles with angel wings guarded the luxurious mattress. Tom had to admit, his latest catch was truly exquisite being framed in such romantic surroundings. He loosened his tie while keeping his lecherous stare fixated on his current prize. Then he had to stifle a snicker when his guest's cheeks turned up to another notch of pink. He liked it—a lot. Modesty made things much more interesting. "It's a wonder why you would want to hide those lovely peepers under this ugly little thing," Tom remarked. His tone drooped to disgust while waving the black and white mask as if it stank up the room.

Things were moving much too fast, much too deep in the wrong direction. A horrifying scenario would not stop itself from playing in the Robin's head. Without the mask caging it in, the part of him that was too young for his line of work told him that he less he knew of what happened during the black out, the happier he would be later on… Such a childish wishful thinking he thought he outgrew—at least the part of him who stood in the spotlight most of the time as he fought crime. That Robin told him, logically, the more information he gathered the more he can counter efficiently to solve the current problem. That wasn't too pleasing to conclude.

Robin squeezed the blanket even more, the whites of his knuckles looking as if they'll rip apart. Something akin to a grimace tainted his mouth, and he could not hold back the question any longer. He had to know what he didn't want to hear, "Where are my clothes…? What…" He felt his heart skip at the thought, "…did you do…?"

It was a snarl if there ever was one. Tom merely shrugged keeping that accursed smile.

"What did you do!" Robin repeated with ferocity.

Tom sneaked a look behind the boy's back that went unnoticed. On the other side of the room hidden in the corner were the lights didn't reach stood, his brother casually leaning against the wall. Obviously his elder sibling was enjoying this as well. "Clothes, such as they are, have been burned. Can't be too careful you know what with modern technologies' wonders with tracking devices." The parade of fear that the young Titan did a poor job of holding back made them both salivate. "I think it'll be more entertaining if you tell me what you think I did."

If Robin clenched his fists any harder, his nails would have pierced the skin of his palms. He didn't want to think of what happened. Nor did he think that being told what happened was worse—the man cockily standing across from him must be able to think up too many disgusting images. So he opted to remain silent, and let the info come to him. He wanted some semblance of control.

The younger brother merely stared at those eyes he had grown to love the instant he laid his own pupils on them. Maybe he should leave the boy in the dark if it meant enjoying such delicacy everyday. But that would also cause the stress to spoil the meat. And he couldn't have that. Receiving a nod of agreement from Jack, Thomas continued, "If you're that worried little Red Breast, all I did was clean you up. Honestly, you look much cuter with your hair down." Thomas felt the fear and the dread subside just a tad, while the anger and hatred seemed to flood in their place.

Robin narrowed his eyes, rightly being suspicious of the explanation. It seemed so…perplexingly decent answer. That explained the wet hair, but he tried hard not to shake from that last remark. The last thing he wanted to do was give them the satisfaction that whatever this monster said affected him. With that toothy smile staring back at him, the lone Titan knew it wasn't working out the way he planned.

And then it hit him. The teen berated himself for not thinking about her in the first place, "Where is the girl!"

"Ever the gentleman." Slipping the mask into the inner pocket of his suit and loosening his tie, Tom started his decent towards the bed, "She's fine, little one. Off dozing off in her afternoon nap I suppose. "Receiving a growl in response, he added, "And untouched. You have balls for demanding things for someone in your predicament." His tie was now fully loose, unbuttoning the top-most button to loosen his neck. Casually he added, "I like it." The seductive tone was not lost on his victim.

Unsatisfied with the answer but little options to go with, Robin awkwardly pushed himself back as the man stepped closer. But all too quick he was balancing on the edge of the bed, feeling the extra covers behind him falling towards the large rug lying on the concrete ground where the bed laid. "Stay where you are!" he shouted, but as he expected his stalker didn't stop.

Red-gloves would have loved to continue this little cat and mouse game, with the little mouse chained to the bed post. However, he and his brother were on tight schedules what with the potential problem concerning the Duke's whereabouts. They just had to wait until they got the word from the higher up before they were on the move. But his toy didn't know how far he was willing to take at the moment, and it was more fun that way. When his little bird hopped off the bed, holding up the large fabric like some make-shift toga, he playfully made his way around the bed still eyeing his prey.

"Whatever your plans are, whatever sick game you're playing… they're not going to happen! I won't let it!" Robin retorted in a tone that could pierce rock, his stature becoming taller with the little confidence he collected. Clothes or no clothes, it would not be made into something detrimental. He can do without the mask... It wasn't the one that made him the fearless leader of the Titans—at least he hoped it wasn't. "If you think I'll bow down like some lost lamb then you're sorely mistaken!"

"Are you sure you ain't already?"

Something warm and delicate bumped into the teen's back. With amazing speed Robin was half turned, but a quicker arm wrapped around his shoulders to prevent the escape in full. A strong hand clasped one side of his shoulder, a grip so powerful he couldn't get himself to move away.

Suddenly, the sound of a phone ringing cut through the morbid mood. Jack clamped the boy's mouth with his hand. Stopping in his tracks, Thomas lifted a cell phone from his inside pocket and answered with a simple, "Thomas." A couple of nods and a shake of a head, Tom listened in silence while grunting once in a while. "No we wiped the flunky's mind..." He paused only to start with a sheepish grin that almost looked right on his smooth face, "I think…"

Relaxing his struggles enough, Robin could hear the static sound of yelling from the other end of the line. Tom's reaction to pull away with a grimace from the phone and Jack's grunt of amusement sounded like they had years of experience with that reaction.

"No no! I mean, well, I know damn sure that the guy won't remember me'n Jack—"

Nodding profusely and pacifying the caller, Tom sighed in relief at the calm voice into his ear. "Of course, we'll be promptly on our way. Love ya." He then ended the call.

The inflection of that tone caught Robin's attention. For someone he deduced as being prideful with an aristocratic flare, the tone did not sound like someone of Tom's character to talk to equals or subordinates with. On the contrary, it sounded like he prostrated to a superior. And a bit of affection to add to the confusion

That was not a good sign.

Closing the phone, Tom replaced it back to his pocket and continued his stalk to his prey. Almost instinctively Robin backed away despite the wall of flesh holding him. He couldn't exhale anything beyond a muffle under the leather gloved hand. The fear that always lay in the back of his head but almost never acknowledged, bid him to flee.

"Sorry, darling but work is calling," Tom sang sweetly. "Don't worry; I won't do anything drastic while you're asleep. Besides, I'd want you awake when I pop you open," he purred while watching the child-like eyes that captivated him widened just enough, and the body recoiling away from his extending hand. "But, a little snack first…"

Whatever it was that was happening, Robin felt his strength waning. The contact was more tense and frightening than before—something pulling him into that hand. His struggles to stay conscious were nothing but feeble cries waning at the force pulling on him, draining him.

A melody of soothing fear echoed to him:

"Sleep, baby, sleep
Down where the woodbines creep;
Be always like the lamb so mild,
A kind and sweet and gentle child,
Sleep,baby,sleep."

In the end, the dark consumed him.

"Welcome back."

Grabbing onto the wall for support, Robin ignored Slade's greeting and watched the man in black, eyes blazing red stalk towards him. The extra bruises from their fight still freshly throbbed on paled skin.

Slade again leaned against the wall behind the weakened Titan. He stared down the hallway as well, half smirking and half growling.

"I see you also invited a guest." Unfortunately, the veil his ex-Apprentice covered around him signalled that Robin did not want his involvement.

Slade merely observed until he was in need of entertainment.

oooooo

"I'd comply with her if I were you," Cyborg said as he rested his hip on the oak desk. There was an edge to his voice that was short of threatening as he was taking the good cop approach for his part. His partner on the other hand, prompted herself as bad cop, spontaneous as it was.

Raven truly was not in a good mood.

"I swear I don't know what happened to him! I swear it!" Their suspect, snivelling and shaking as, provided too little information to be of any use in their search for their missing team mate.

"My patience is wearing thin," Raven almost hissed. Black auras lifted the still-terrified Leonard by the hands, suspending him a foot off the ground. Her eyes glowed to emphasize her deadly tone, but that was only for show. He didn't need to know that she or the giant half-machine would never tear him in two. They've watched Robin numerous times using intimidation to get results when it came to street thugs and lackeys and the occasional super villain. And though Cyborg was not the best at it even with visual aid, Raven seemed almost a natural at it as Robin was.

Leonard frantically shook his head, "I swear it! On my grandmother's grave I swear!" He stopped wiggling to feebly break the psychic bonds to catch his breath. "The kid came in, I told him what little I knew and he left for the girl! I swear that's all I know!"

For fifteen minutes that was the story the pathetic man sputtered. If Raven's wrath, real or acted, did not elicit more answers by now, then that must be all he knew. Making eye contact with Cyborg for silent agreement, Raven lifted a black glowing hand and added a slight pressure to the black aura wrapped around the man's hands. "You said you were assaulted by two men." She received a nod of confirmation from the man.

"Well," Leonard gulped,"I only remember …two guys… I think…"

"Right. Very descriptive profile."

"But that's all I remember…" Leonard became quieter as he tried to recollect again, but to his horrified surprise he found that he couldn't. It was like a gaping black hole had sucked a part of his memory, of his mind. "If I could tell you more I would! But…"

Cyborg lifted himself off the desk and round his way to face the hanging man. Despite the ill activities the man was previously involved in, there was dose of decency and genuine confusion expressed on his tired face. "But what?" the half-robot prompted.

Shaking his head, Leonard continued, "I just can't seem to remember what happened exactly… I know the gist of what they look like, what they searched for, but everything else… Like, like there's a gap in my memory… Like someone reached in and ripped it out…"

Under her hood, Raven raised an eyebrow, "But you remember some things about them, like residue from trauma?" The feeling that was nagging her throughout the wretched mansion seemed to grow with that description.

"They…they seemed to be in a hurry," the lackey continued, "and then the red dots…"

Without Cyborg or Leonard noticing, Raven slipped quietly into her mind, eyes open to lightly graze her surroundings in a higher plane of awareness. The coldness she felt before radiated here, and indeed as the suspect described, a fading black hole that wounded the plane lingered. It was similar to the feeling she had at the sewers, only too much time had elapsed then.

The black hole seemed to have sentience of its own though she couldn't quite pinpoint what it meant. It felt… hungry?

Returning to the earthly plane, Raven relinquished her magic chains and the man dropped in a heap on the floor. Though still sceptical, there was truth to Leonard's confusion. "I think you're right," she said. The psychic aura she felt through the entire house, on the meadow where Robin's belt was found… There was mind manipulation involved, she was sure of it. From how well the tracks were covered and the amount of sophistication involved in manipulating, these people must be experts in their knowledge of the mind. Yet there were a couple of seams not woven particularly well, and she inferred that on the men being hasty. "There's something more about this than meets the eye."

Cyborg puzzled by the Sorceress' hypothesis, "What do you mean?"

Could it be possible that the perpetrators were trying to selectively wipe the man's current memories? Or they couldn't wipe the mind completely? Either way, it required strong metal capacity. Though Raven understood her powers were born under less than appealing circumstances, the process behind to harnessing and using it was relatable to human psychic activities. "I'm not exactly sure. Just… a feeling."

"Intuition, huh?" Cyborg hid the smile forming in spite of their current situation, "Who am I to argue with you on that?" He lifted Leonard to his feet, a feat easy to perform since the man was light as a feather barely reaching the half-robot's height. The rough rustle knocked a line of silver dangling from his neck, hanging from it cross glowing dully in the afternoon light. Re-cuffing the thin wrists with the cuffs Robin left behind, he was ready for the door when a thought came to him, "To Bludhaven police?"

The question was made towards his team mate, but the prisoner struggled in his response, "No no no! The Blud cops will turn me over to the boss for sure! He has them wrapped around his pinkie!"

Raven remained looking unimpressed, though decided to stew him in the mess he made for his life. Sympathy for the man was low on her priority list, "And your point being?"

"If, if he don't find out what happened here, he'll know for sure I ratted him out if you guys send me to the cops!"

The desperation on Leonard's face was almost amusing to watch. A crooked smirk played on Cyborg's lips. Catching on to the Mistress' game, he added his own spice to find any more useful information, "Why should we care? It's not in our jurisdiction to hinder the investigation—"

"What investigation? They're haven't and not gonna do anything!" Leonard let the desperation consume him to get out of this situation clean and fast. If he had to die for his sins, he'd rather take the judicial execution than imagine what the Duke had in store for him. "The Blud cops don't give a damn about these kidnappings! They get paid to keep things quiet; anyone in blue stupid enough to uphold the law doesn't repeat that mistake twice…"

Cyborg hid his grimace. He knew the Bludhaven police were corrupt, but didn't know it was this corroded. "Again, why should we care? You told us all the information you know, as vague as it was."

About to lose his wits, the ex-mob flunky made a last ditch effort, "I…uh… how about taking me with you?"

Raven shifted her weight to one leg, "Why would we do something like that?" Her eyes locked onto Cyborg's for a moment, seeing the tight nod for silent agreement while their prisoner was distracted with thinking up a reason. It was obvious that the Duke was a very dangerous man with a warped sense of pleasure. If they could get solid evidence or testimony…

"Y, you can't leave me here knowing what they'd do to me…"

Cyborg made his expression as cold as he possibly could, "You did when you let your boss have his way with the kid."

"…I didn't mean…to…"

Raven had a better time keeping her expression empty to the man. She eyed the cross hanging from his neck and chose her words wisely, "After something like that you expect sympathy? Redemption to come to you? The sins you have committed cannot so easily be atoned for."

Leonard stopped his whimpers, knowing full well the crimes he committed, have let happened. Salvation was too far from him now.

"However."

The man looked up, almost looking hopeful in face of that single word.

"It's unmistakable that you have guilt for what you have done. That is the first step to go back into our Father's grace. You can take another step towards the path to be forgiven, if not by humanity then by God's merciful hand." With cape covering her body, the mystique around Raven radiated.

Meekly, the captive man inquired, "What do you mean?"

"Testify against your boss," Cyborg turned a glance at Raven, making sure this was the result they both wanted.

She nodded, "If you agree, we can have you under twenty-four hour surveillance as long as it's needed. You'll be safe, though not from your own thoughts. That is between you and the Almighty. But you will be secure enough to think about what you've done and have a proper confession, or wallow in your own pitiful sorrows and insure that Lucifer claims your tainted soul through your boss." She leaned in, softening her voice, "You have fallen, but not far enough that the light won't reach you. You still have time."

Minutes of contemplation, shaking, agonizing, resigning passed. He weighed the consequences of both options, and the idea of working for salvation in the eyes of the Lord was better than facing the wrath of his boss. Either way, he had to face seeing the girl's crying face haunt him every day. Leonard made a weak nod.

"Good." Raven responded, "We'll take you to Jump City police." Before Leonard could protest she added, "And they will have you in protected custody. The Lord smiles on their justly work."

Cyborg looked down at her, both curious and amused at what he witnessed. It wasn't everyday he heard her talk of religion in an almost passionate manner. He leaned towards her ear, quieting his voice, "I didn't know you're into religion like that."

Raven impassively shrugged, "Who says I am. I just read a lot of books."


Robin angst, YUM. I admit, writing the Robin and Slade interation was fun :D

I'm trying to pick things up, but also pacing myself... maybe too much. I was going to add a hint for what's coming for next chapter since it may be another wait...but I think anticipation can be fun. It was for me while waiting for the JLU season finale to air ;)

Or I'm an evil tease :D

-Art of Silence