Robin awoke and stretched dramatically, arching his back even. He collapsed back onto the mattress and inhaled deeply. The scent of Wayne Manor was so refreshing, so welcoming. He heard a yip followed by a small growl and turned his head to see Brisby, his new dog. He had been home only a few weeks, but he had begged and pleaded with Batman to pick up the stray. He felt the little mutt had been a sign, perhaps even a second chance after his last encounter with a dog.
"C'mere, Psycho." He leaned over the bed and scooped up the scruffy creature, setting it on the bed beside him. He smiled as the puppy began to attack him with slobbery kisses. He used his hand to wrestle the creature a bit and then got out of bed, setting Brisby on the floor. He traveled into the bathroom connected to his bedroom and turned the sink faucet. As he splashed cold water on his face, he paused and glanced down at his wrist. The wrist where a unwanted 'S' sneered back at him. He shook his head slightly and continued to wash his face. As he turned the water off, he heard Brisby tear out of the bedroom at full speed, barking wildly. He rolled his eyes slightly and proceeded to brush his teeth. After he was finished, he still heard the little mutt yammering on. What on Earth was so exciting? He went back into his bedroom and began digging through the various articles of clothing on the floor. He threw on a semi-long sleeved shirt and jeans and left the room, finishing up the touches on his freshly gelled hair.
He had not fully adjusted to his old life, but he was working hard on it. He had not told Bruce anything that had happened, nor had his adoptive father tried to pry. In fact, he had been so understanding that he had gone to Jump City to inform the Titans of Robin's return. He had been firm, but not insensitive when they begged to see him. He had simply told them he would keep them updated, and in time, Robin would be up to talking to them. Of course Robin wanted to see them, but he was afraid. Afraid of what to tell them. Afraid of the questions they might ask. The questions about his treatment, his scars, his tattoos. He was also not quite ready to go back to Jump City.
He made his way to the top of the stairs, still fingering his hair, and suddenly stopped, hearing laughter. His heart stopped as well. His hands slowly made their way from his head to the solid oak banister ornaments.
"So you see," he heard Bruce say. "It'll be a while before we get serious about any kind of business deals." He cleared his throat, somewhat awkwardly. "Family issues."
"Not a problem," another voice spoke and Robin's legs suddenly became lead. "I'm a patient man, Mr. Wayne."
Robin knew he only had to go halfway down the stairs to get a glimpse of who was talking downstairs, but his legs refused to comply, as did the rest of him. 'It's not possible,' the logical side of his mind tried to reason. 'It's okay. It's not what you think'.
Robin's ears knew better. The voice was all too familiar. He inched his way down a few steps, and then a few more. Bruce noticed and smiled, somewhat nervously. "Dick," he greeted. "Good morning." He turned to the man. "This is my son."
"Ah," the man raised his eyebrows, nodding. His face was a normal face, not young, but aging gracefully. It was solid, as if he might had been from a long line of military soldiers. He was deeply tanned with white-blonde hair, some gray, trimmed into a nice, businessman cut. His eye, the one not hidden behind an eye patch, was a smoky color. Robin's face drained of all color and his breath caught in his throat. He had never seen the man without a mask before, but he knew this was Slade. Brisby growled from under a china cabinet nearby, and Slade laughed good naturedly.
"Well, I'm glad you're still interested in doing business, Mr. Wilson." Bruce stood up and the men shook hands. "When we get things a little more settled around here, I'll give you a call."
"You do that," the other man replied, his gaze floating over to the boy on the stairs. As Alfred led him to the door, he grinned at Robin. "Nice to meet you, Dick."
"Dick!" The second the man was out the door, Robin collapsed to his knees and Alfred and Bruce were at his side.
"What's the matter, son?" Bruce asked worriedly, rubbing his back.
"Who was that?" Robin asked quietly, hoping it was all in his imagination.
Bruce seemed confused by the very question. "That was an associate I haven't had much time to interact with," he explained. "I think he dropped by unexpectedly because I haven't spoken to him in over a month."
" 'Over a month'?" Robin repeated quietly. His mind quickly processed this, and he felt like throwing up. Slade had been in contact with Batman while he had Robin imprisoned. Bruce stopped rubbing his back. "Why, Dick?" He asked, his brows furrowing. He and Alfred exchanged confused glances. He asked more quietly, "Is there something you need to tell me?"
Robin suddenly felt tears burn in his eyes, and he blinked them back, desperate not to let them fall. It would be too embarrassing. Too weak. Bruce prodded him gently. "Why don't we go downstairs?"
They sat on the couch together and Bruce sent Alfred away to go make them some tea. Robin sunk into soft cushions, drawing his knees up. Bruce sighed slightly. "Son," he said quietly. "I don't want to push you, I really don't." He picked some lint off of the boy's shirt. "But I think it'll be a big help to both of us if you tell me just a little."
"That was him." Robin let out a long, shuddery sigh. He quickly wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and breathed heavily, more tears beginning to brim in his eyes. "That was Slade."
Bruce only nodded, and leaned his elbows on his knees, massaging his forehead with his fingertips. He let out several breaths through his nose and looked up as Alfred set the tea tray down before him. "Thank you, Alfred," he said, half-smiling. He turned back to Robin and pulled the boy against him with one arm. Robin stiffened, trying to be brave. Trying to be the boy wonder he'd always been, but quickly began sobbing into the man's side, suddenly feeling nine-years old again. Bruce wrapped his other arm around him and kissed the boy's forehead. "It's okay, son," he said in his gruff, but soft voice. "It's going to be okay." He kissed the top of his head, hair gel and all. "I promise."
Bruce sat in his large, slightly worn chair down in the Batcave. Alfred entered and handed him a tray of food. "Master Richard has finally fallen asleep," he informed the dark knight. "Although with that ipod of his blaring, I'm not sure how."
"He's exhausted," Bruce sighed, shaking his head. "Poor kid."
"So, what do you intend to do about this Slade character?" Alfred sat down in another nearby chair.
"What do I intend to do to him, you mean?" Bruce snorted slightly, though nothing was particularly funny, and shook his head. "I'm going to make that fucking bastard wish he had never laid eyes on my son." He stood up. "That's what I'm going to do."
"Beautiful choice of words, Sir," Alfred nodded.
"Your last test," Slade hissed. "To see if these three months have done anything for you." He pulled him further down the length of the bed by his leg and roughly flipped him over. The obedient half of his brain had finally began to process what was going on and the boy struggled harder to get free, flipping himself back over in the process. Slade struck him in the face and growled, "It is as it is, Apprentice."
Robin shot up, nearly crying out. He glanced around and calmed down a bit, realizing he was in his own bed in Wayne Manor. He wiped cold sweat from his forehead and collapsed back onto his pillow. Brisby snored slightly, curled up in a little ball at the boy's feet. Robin got out of bed and traveled downstairs and was surprised to see the living room completely dark. He sat on the couch and stared into the blackness.
"I'm not listening to you anymore!" Robin suddenly yelled. "You're not taking me back there!" Defiance swelled in him. "You can't!" He ripped the device out and threw it on the floor. That's when he jumped. As the device hit the floor, a large, glove-clad hand reached down and picked it up. Standing in the now open doorway of the closet, was Slade himself.
"I can't, can I?" He dusted the device off and moved closer to Robin. "Who's the boss here, Robin?"
"Hey." His thoughts were suddenly interrupted and jumped slightly, feeling a hand tousle his hair. It was only Bruce. "You alright, Sport?"
Robin shrugged, nodded, and shook his head all at the same time. He sighed and looked up at his father. "When will I be able to return to normal?" He leaned his head back. "When will I stop being such a baby?"
"You're not a baby," Bruce informed him. "Don't ever say that."
"I didn't even do anything!" Robin exploded, but not loudly. "I just let the bastard step all over me! I'm-I'm…pathetic."
"You're not either." Bruce's voice was more firm this time. "You did what had to do to survive, and believe me, when I first found you, it's hard to imagine you managed to survive at all." He was quiet for a moment and finally asked the question that had been burning in his brain since he found Robin asleep in the underground passageway. "What did he do to you, Dick?"
Robin made a face like Bruce had caught him in the arm with a needle. He looked away and mumbled, "Does it matter?" He squirmed uncomfortably. "My life is over anyway." He clenched his fists and felt anger surge through him. "Why me, Dad?" He felt his voice crack. "Why would he specifically pick me?"
"I don't know," Bruce answered truthfully, shaking his head. "I really don't, son."
The boy stared up at the dark ceiling. "He used a whip," he said quietly. He felt the scars on his back tingle, as if appalled that he dare say it out loud. "He used a fucking whip! Like I was a fucking animal!" Robin burst into tears once more, but tears of pure anger this time. The kind of tears one's body produces when it has no idea how to properly vent such anger and unfairness. Bruce watched him, nodding. He wasn't indifferent, but he knew that Robin needed this kind of tantrum. It was only healthy.
"He made me kill a dog! He branded me!" The boy thrust out his wrist and pinched the skin around the tattoo on his wrist.
The memories burned in his mind like a disturbing scene on a movie. The kind that was hard to forget, even if you had seen it years before. He saw Slade drilling into his skin. He saw Slade cracking the whip on him, screaming that he was worthless. He saw Slade…
He choked on another sob and looked up at Bruce, breathing heavily. "He-" he couldn't seem to get the words past his lips. He thought of the red room. Ten times worse than the pitch black room. "He…raped me…" His face immediately flushed with humiliation and shame and he suddenly wished he could take the words back. Boys did not get raped. They were stronger than that. They were tough. They were fighters. Weren't they? Bruce only nodded again and Robin stopped breathing so heavily. "You don't think I'm-" he began, but the older man cut him off. "I'm just happy to see you alive, son." He pulled Robin against him. "And you did what you did to survive." They embraced each other for a while, and when they pulled away, Bruce asked carefully, "Can I see?"
"Huh?" Robin was confused, and his father stood up, pulling his son with him. He began to lift the bottom of Robin's shirt, and the boy immediately pulled at the bottom of the fabric.
"It's okay, Dick." Bruce lifted the material halfway and Robin almost winced as he gingerly traced his fingers over the scars, trailing his way to the tattoo. He pulled the shirt back down and Robin turned to face him. "He's not coming back over here, is he?" The very thought made him want to wet his pants.
"Of course not," Bruce replied. He glanced at the clock on the wall. "You tired?"
"Not really," Robin admitted sheepishly.
"Get your shoes then, Champ." He patted the boy's shoulder. "We're going to IHOP."
To Be Continued…