A/N: So, yes, here we are again. I had hoped to post this chapter, um... months ago. But things kinda got in the way. Lots of things. Some good and wonderful, some that pissed me off and broke my heart. I want to thank agirl4spidey and Kayz0rbeam (who endured my rants when things got rocky) and anyone that reads and (hopefully) enjoys this story. Thank you!

Okay, shutting up now. Things are about to happen in...

Chapter 26

Slade held the pistol steady in his hand as he slid, silently, into the building. He'd activated a beacon, calling a small fleet of Slade-bots to his location. He considered waiting for their arrival before proceeding, but something in the air called to him, ushered him to follow the boy's tracks while they were still warm. He couldn't quite place the feeling, but when instinct told him to pursue a quarry, he took to the hunt without reservation.

The inside of the bank felt like a littered tomb: Dark, cold, and stale. It was a tall structure with hints of baroque still flowering the walls and high barrel ceiling. Evidence of the drug trade could be found here and there, but it was clear that no living thing had legitimately occupied the building in some time. There were marks on the floor. Deep gouges in the marble that were relatively new… and only one set of them. That meant something big came in that didn't come out. Slade could only assume there was a Xenothium stockpile, if not ParadoX himself, hulled up in one of the vaults.

He smelled the air, taking in a slow, silent breath. Chocolate and peanut butter, the smell of a candy bar, hung faintly below the stale air. Well, the kid couldn't be too far off. The villain walked carefully, firm grip over the handle of his gun, but barrel raised to the ceiling. Shooting kids was really not his M.O. and instincts (even his) were dulled in a building where the only lights were from dingy lampposts that shined between the sliver-sized cracks of boarded up windows.

The sound of glass breaking made his head snap to attention, eye peering into the darkness of the hallways ahead. Slade began to move faster through the rows of wooden cubicles, his breath stilled as he listened to the frightened sounds of the young boy struggling. It was foolish to proceed without backup, something that registered in Slade's mind, but the sound of the struggle indicated only three bots were present. He could take that many if he was careful about disarming them before they self-destructed.

He moved deeper into the building, watching the cubicle walls give way to taller, more permanent paneled walls that reached as high as the vaulted ceiling. Slade pressed on, stalking down a narrow hallway lined with tall oak doors and opaque glass of executive offices, glancing down on the lines etched into the ruined marble floor. The hair on the back of his head stood on end before he slid to a quick halt. There were sounds behind those office doors, gentle hums of electric motors and the subtle clicking of robotic joints. He was very familiar with that sound; after all, they came from his robots.

He tensed, drawing his second pistol in lightning speed and swearing under his breath as the hallway exploded with sound and movement, but shattering glass and splintering wood were the least of his problems. The small army of Slade-bots moved as quickly and viciously as he had designed them. He fired four rounds into the crowd of metal assassins, but despite his fast trigger finger and the knowledge of when and where to aim, there were simply too many to stop by himself. His guns were stripped away first, then his belts, his gauntlets, his mask. All were ripped away- and none too carefully. He shook away the blood that was dripping into his eye as the robots held a firm grip over his limbs, carrying him swiftly towards an open vault door. They'd left pieces of his armor intact: His arm and neck guards. That was a mistake. He managed to take a few robots down in the process of their journey, but it wasn't long before he ended in a room lined with tiny metal drawers. He'd been taken into a vault, he realized, though his brain quickly replaced the word with tomb. His tomb, specifically. There was a faint glowing from the four quart-sized glass tubes of Xenothium that were stacked against the back wall. Make that three tubes. One had been broken.

A snivel caught Slade's attention and he glanced at the teen huddled in the corner, blond hair dripping wet with the dangerous element. He'd broken the fourth tube, it seemed. Or perhaps one of the bots broke it to set a trap. The young man was guarded by two of the bots, but as Slade was pulled into the room, the bots abandoned the child for the more desirable target.

"It would be a good time to run!" Slade found himself yelling, realizing with a pang of guilt why he'd been so blind, so arrogant, to chase after the youth. It was the hair, mostly, the soft angelic blonde that framed his son's face as a boy. Joey. The slight resemblance clouded his mind. Was that part of the trap? Impossible. Nothing in his programming would allow that information to be leaked to ParadoX. Not even his most sophisticated Slade-Bots were programmed with the memories of his grossest mistakes… and besides, the look on the kid's face suggested nothing close to a trap. He was scared shitless, face pale white as he scrambled to his feet.

Slade watched, struggling and growling as the youth dashed between the metal limbs of the bots, making his way towards the door. Meanwhile, the bots pressed forward towards the Xenothium, dragging the villain in their grasp. Slade had no choice but to fight tooth and nail against his robotic captors. He dared a glance back at the boy, who rounded the door and could be heard as he sprinted down the hall, scattering the debris as he ran.

The villain was surprised when one of the robots lifted the tube in its arms, carrying it to the man with the obvious intent to douse him in the substance. It seemed a great waste to kill him with the vital element used to keep ParadoX alive, but then again, not many things could keep Slade dead. No time like the present, Slade decided. He twisted his torso violently, dislocating his shoulder and slipping away from the grasp of one of the robots. He thrashed his legs as well, smashing three of the bots against the walls and causing one to fly back, colliding with the tube and smashing the glass into pieces.

Slade held his breath, trying not to inhale the acrid fumes as he jammed his fingers into a small latch door of his bots. A genuine advantage to fighting his own creations was that he knew just where to hit and particularly which wires would trigger the self-destruct mechanism. A quick pull of a red and orange wire, a well placed kick, and the remaining tubes of Xenothium were all the man needed to set his trap. He dove back, pulling one of the bots in front of him as a shield just as a bright flash of red light flooded the vault.

The first wave of a Xenothium explosion, Slade knew very well, pushed everything out in a terrible rush of heat and force. He could feel his skin singe against the bot's metal as they flew through the air, crashing through the offices until suddenly the force stopped and Slade hit the floor with a very unceremonious crash. The calm that followed was brief and silent; Slade wasted no moment of it. The next wave would be like a sinking tide, pulling everything back and in until there everything simply disintegrated. He lunged at the door to another vault, lodging his good arm behind the spokes of the wheeled door handle and holding on tight as the dust and debris began to shake, bouncing and rattling until they were lifted in the air and flew towards the epicenter of the explosion.

Slade held tight as best he could, the force pulling his body into the air, threatening to rip him away from the vault door. He could hear the metal hinges groaning in protest as the door began to swing very slowly with the force of the implosion. The more ominous sounds of bones breaking made the villain swear, only to have the sound ripped away by the whirlwind. His arm, coiled around the wheel and lodged between the spokes, had broken in two places, gaining on three. He could feel the metal of his armor bending to the intensity of the force. The villain could do nothing but close his eye tightly against the suction and let out all his breath as the space around him became more and more like a vacuum. He opened his eye for just a moment and watched his breath, now a wisp of cloudy vapor, zoom away, moving at pace with a large oak desk that was picked up effortlessly and dragged through the air. He calculated about nine seconds, at best, before he lost consciousness. He would have to count on the strength of his armor at that point. He was never quite so thankful for the metal guards that kept his arm lodged firmly in the spokes.

Slade could feel his heart beating erratically in his chest as his chest heaved slightly, an uncontrollable spasm as though his body was trying to cough. That would be the cardio-respiratory failure, he thought rather grimly as his head began to ache. Another spasm hit, and his vision grew dark and blurry as he saw the objects around him begin to vanish. Then his armor began to make a terrible screeching noise as it flaked away into tiny little pieces. The last thing he remembered as his skin began to crawl and trickle away with the powerful tide, was that it felt even worse than it looked.

Slade awoke to immense pain coursing through his veins with each heartbeat. Death was a familiar visitor to his body, so he knew the process well enough. The smell of blood and rubble filled his nose as he began to breathe, though rather poorly. There was something heavy on his chest, and from the feel of it, it was crushing his right lung. By the time his eye regained the ability to see, he'd already realized that the building had collapsed around him. It was mildly surprising, considering that the Xenothium hadn't been primed for that level of explosion—but that was the problem with volatile elements: they were terribly unpredictable. He counted himself lucky that only part of this body had disintegrated, though lucky was not something he felt at the moment.

His blood-loss had been substantial, leaving him dangerously dehydrated. Not to mention the healing process had taken place in a very unclean environment, meaning that he'd be picking out bits of God-knows-what from his skin for days. He tried to sigh, but stopped when he felt a few ribs cracking. The only way out was to dig, and he wasn't in any sort of position to do that. He could only wait for the fleet and hope that they would recognize his vital signs within the rubble.

What a way to start the day.

Robin bolted upright, fighting against the sheets of the hotel bed until he realized he was no longer in a tall circus tent. Another nightmare, this time it was a memory twisted into something unrecognizable. He bent forward, pushing his head against his palms and shaking in a cold sweat.

It was not unusual to have a nightmare about his parents' death, but the nightmare was always the same: A perfect echo of the moment when his only family was ripped away from him. But this time… This time Slade was there. He'd killed Tony Zucco. It was a fatal shot through his heart before the man could sabotage the trapeze. In the dream, only Dick Grayson had seen Slade kill Zucco. The villain had simply smiled and held a finger to his lips, asking for the secret to stay between them. Dick Grayson had obliged with a small nod, young eyes wide, knowing just what perils the murder had prevented. Then he joined his parents, jumping off the pulpit and flying like a robin. His mother smiled warmly at him when she caught his wrists, and his father made a funny face after grabbing hold of his ankles. Just like they practiced. It was only when the boy grabbed hold of his own swinging bar that he realized something was wrong. He could feel the fibers of the rope twisting, unwinding, snapping. He looked back to his parents, who reached for him in terror. He knew that they would never reach each other and simply accepted the fall, keeping his eyes on his mother's face as he made his final descent. It was a fair price, he supposed. He was grateful to pay it. He smiled and turning his gaze to the floor, noticing just before he hit the thin layer of sawdust that Slade was watching from the stands.

Robin rubbed his face harshly before looking to the glowing clock. Two minutes before the alarm went off. Damn. There was no use in trying to sleep, though he desperately wanted to. He grabbed the communicator Slade had given him and opened it, holding it to his ear and frowning when he realized how utterly stupid he was being. Why in the hell, especially after that nightmare, was he calling Slade? He bit his lip and closed the device, hoping that the call did not ring through. The teen took in a deep breath and stood, deciding that a quick rinse off was needed before his meeting with The League. It probably wasn't a good idea to look so sweaty before he took the stand.

The too-bright lights of the bathroom made him flinch as stepped behind the curtain, letting the steam build as his eyes adjusted. He frowned as he ran his hand over his stomach, remembering his conversation with Slade just hours before. What side of the line was he on now? He wondered as he numbly stared down at his feet, imagining a thick dark line that swayed in time with his thoughts. Everything in him screamed that Slade was a liar and that he wasn't to be trusted… that much was supposed to be obvious. But the darker parts of his thoughts echoed the same of Bruce and The League. Could he trust any of them? The line quivered in his mind. Could he trust himself?

His head snapped up.

Could he? He swallowed hard. When it came down to it… a choice between doing what was right and doing, well, Slade… what would he choose? He bit his lip and splashed the water against his face, rubbing his eyes as if that could bring some sort of divine clarity. It didn't. On too many levels, he'd already disobeyed the trust he should have kept with everyone… but the trust he kept in himself. Where was that line? Surely he'd crossed it, but it was one streak on his record that Robin simply couldn't calculate. He shut off the water, wondering if he'd really gone too far, or if he was just wallowing in guilt from the thrill he felt at crossing the line. He'd more than crossed the line, he'd enjoyed it. His mind flashed back to the days of his apprenticeship, remembering how Slade had taunted him, calling him out on the rush he'd gotten when he crossed the line, albeit unwillingly at the time… Suddenly it those words hit a lot closer to home.

The towel was still damp from hours before, but Robin whisked it over his body anyhow and ran a comb through his hair. A quick glance at his communicator told him that he had twenty minutes to get to the Hall. He slid into his uniform, feeling oddly sickened by the colors that he'd worn for so long. He swallowed at the memory of Slade's promise that someday he would learn to enjoy the thrill of committing crimes, of living without the ability to cross lines because they simply didn't exist in that world. He placed his mask over his face and frowned at his reflection, staring at the black strip of rubber that covered his eyes. Perhaps the little black strip was the final line, clinging to his cheeks and begging to be crossed just one more time.

Robin entered The Hall with an unenthusiastic sigh. The League had, for the most part, already convened in the private meeting room in the heart of the building. The room was bullet-proof, bomb-proof, and sound-proof. A careful glance inside told him that Batman wasn't there yet. Wally had given him a quick nod of the head from inside, which the hero hesitantly returned before he took a seat next to the large doors. The doors looked to be made of solid oak, but were most certainly made of something stronger than that. Robin knew better than to walk past them without an invitation; but he was slightly vexed that the offer hand not yet been made. He was the reason the meeting was called, after all, and he'd hoped to get things over with quickly so he could get back to business.

He went over his speech in his head, choosing his words carefully, deciding which secrets he needed to spill and which ones to keep. The fact that he knew Slade's identity was well out of the bag, but not that ParadoX had come to him for help- and that was the kicker. How was he to convince a group of super-powered crime fighters that the right move was to hand over a dangerous suit that was powered with an unstable, highly explosive element? They didn't trust the Titans like they trusted one another. They would want to deliberate, plan, take over. To some extent, Robin would have to let them… But how could he let them know that Slade wanted ParadoX eliminated without breaking the contract?

He frowned at his unsettling priorities. ParadoX should have been his main concern, yet there he was, about to twist his tongue in knots to keep the contract in place and unnoticed. Just another line worth crossing, he supposed, adding a glare to his frown. He lifted his head and schooled his features into a neutral expression when he heard others approaching. Batman was walking with Superman and John, one of the Lanterns. Robin stood, holding onto the glare behind his mask as his mentor walked to him.

"Robin," the Dark Knight acknowledged, with a slight, almost immeasurable bow of the head. It was a curious gesture from the man, but the interpretation was lost somewhere between respect, regret, and indifference. "I'm sorry it came to this."

The teen's brow quirked. "Are you?"

"Yes," He responded in a low voice. "I truly am."

Batman turned and walked into the hall, followed closely by Superman and John. The Lantern wavered slightly, falling behind just enough prolong his eye contact with the teen. Robin only stared back into the piercing green eyes, chin firmly in place, until the man gave a tiny smirk that strangely resembled fondness before he followed the others.

The doors closed, pushing a gust of stale air throughout the corridor as the room was sealed up and The Boy Wonder was sealed out.

"Of course." Robin's frown returned. He should have known better than to hope they would let him speak before entering the evidence against him. But it would have been nice to at least hear what they were saying so he could prepare his argument accordingly. He growled and took a seat once again. "League business, as usual," he muttered.

Robin shifted uncomfortably in his chair, staring at a blank wall although his attention was fixated on the doors. It had been nearly two hours since The League had convened to decide the fate of the Red-X suit—and certainly of Red X himself...

In the time that he'd been waiting in the deserted corridor, Robin had made up his mind. ParadoX's story had to be told. There was no other way to impress upon The League how dire the situation had become and no other way to convince them that Red X needed and deserved their help. There was serious risk with this gamble, though. ParadoX knew his secret, and despite his promise, his debt to the hero, the villain might betray Robin if it meant a safer path towards his goal. He had the instinct of a hunter and the wits of a master thief- not a good combination when a valuable secret was in the balance.

The doors opened wide and Robin jumped to his feet, expecting one of The Leaguers to act as a page and call him forward. Instead he was greeted by the entire League, slowly making their way towards the exits between small talk with one-another. Glances were cast his way, some with less than subtle distrust riddled in their features.

"The meeting was adjourned," The Flash appeared next to him, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Short-notice because of a few emergencies, but they are turning over the suit to you."

"Adjourned? I got that," the teen motioned to the crowd that moved in streams around him, then pointed to the emptying room. "Why wasn't I called forward to make my case?"

"I took care of it." Batman walked forward, stepping out of the crowd and joining the small group. The Lantern, Aquaman, and Zatanna joined as well, keeping a keen eye on the Batman's sidekick.

"Took care of-"Robin began, but Batman interrupted.

"Yes. I made a mistake in stopping you, and I took care of it. The suit will be turned over to you, as it should have been in the first place. It is your invention, and I trust you will put it to good use. I and several of the members of The League have already offered our assistance in the retrieval and safe-keeping of ParadoX. Raven and Zatana will prepare the necessary rites to ensure that his body is returned properly to the suit. In the meantime, The League and Titans are systematically locating and confiscating the Xenothium caches that ParadoX has hidden around Gotham city and surrounding areas."

Robin looked dumbfounded for a moment before his lip curled. "Of course you've already gotten this whole thing under your thumb. Why am I surprised?"

"Hey, Bats stuck his neck out for you in there." The Flash crossed his arms, clearly running low on sleep and patience. "And he's willing to help. He convinced others to help. You really want to turn it down right now?"

"What I wanted was to speak before The League. To come forward and win their support because I earned it." He scoffed and grudgingly continued. "Doesn't matter. It's fine. I appreciate the help, and I know Red X would too…"

"I met with Catwoman," Batman continued in monotone. "She had been safeguarding him—at least until Slade made his intentions known."

"Slade?" Robin played dumb, but interested. It worked, judging by the small glare his mentor gave at his piqued attention. "What are his interests, exactly?"

"At the moment, ParadoX," Wally sighed. "His been keeping tabs on Gotham's underground, it seems. He knew when you were struck with Nanos and tried to use it as leverage to find ParadoX. That's why he went to Catwoman; somehow he knew she was working for him."

"Was Slade the one that infected me with them?" Robin asked, playing his suspicions off as anxious curiosity.

"We're not sure," Wally muttered, looking frustrated. I can't reactivate them well enough to get a good trace."

"ParadoX has the means to do it, but he claims it wasn't him," Aquaman said. "I'm not sure, though. He goes back and forth on some things and sometimes doesn't seem to know the truth himself. And it's not like Slade is talking, either."

"What does that mean?" Robin asked quickly, watching as four sets of eyes looked to Batman.

"If you don't tell him, I will." John, the Green Lantern that stared at him before the meeting, spoke. "It's bull that you've kept that much from him already."

"Tell me what?" Robin turned to the Lantern before jerking his head back to Batman, who remained silent in an indistinguishable hesitation.

The Lantern clicked his tongue in disappointment before answering. "Slade was taken into custody after he found one of the Xenothium caches. Set off a chain-reaction and nearly got himself killed. He was pretty bad when I found him, a normal man would be dead, but it sounds like he's already healed enough to be moved out of the ICU and into solitary."

"Where is he being held?" Robin asked quickly, turning away from the Flash and Batman because -finally- someone was giving him answers.

"Arkham," Batman answered and the Lantern nodded.

"You're not going to go there, are you, Dick?" Wally asked carefully, his eyes lined with concern and a hint of warning.

It was a stupid question with an even more stupid answer, but before Robin could give it, a loud popping noise echoed through The Hall. At once the inhabitants were dropped into darkness that lasted for only a small moment before the generators kicked on the emergency lights.

"Seems like it wasn't a few isolated incidents," the Lantern growled.

"We had reports of large-scale power outages in major cities," Wally let the young hero know. "I've got to go; Central City is on the list and I smell trouble brewing."

"Gotham, too. Sounds like the looting has begun," Batman said listlessly as he pressed a finger to his ear, listening to the police radio frequency. "Steel City can't be far behind. That might interfere with our plans for ParadoX, but having Slade behind bars takes the danger down a peg or two."

"Reconvene in Gotham once the power situation is under control?" Zatanna asked, pulling the hem of her white gloves to tighten them over her fingers.

"Right," Batman nodded and the group disbanded. He turned to his ward. "I'm the fastest ride to Gotham. Maybe I can talk some sense into you on the way over."

"Because our last conversation went so well?" Robin tried to keep his lip from curling, but didn't do a particularly thorough job of it.

"I told you, Robin. I made a mistake. And right now I'm doing what I can to fix it. You need help with ParadoX, and I have put my name on the line to give it to you. Not everyone in The League is pleased with the decision, and I can't afford to-"

"To let me fuck it up?" the young man growled.

"To betray their trust," the Dark Knight finished, his frown evident. "Take the ride, or leave it. But I am a part of this mission now, and you will give your respect The League members that are putting their safety on the line for your mission. Need I remind you that the Red X suit didn't create itself?"

The men simply glared at each other before Robin nodded contemptuously. "Fine. You get the suit, I'll get my things from the hotel."

The ride back to Gotham was silent, save for the reports of the ensuing chaos, and various communications between The League as more and more cities fell under red alerts. Robin had already spoken with his team. Cyborg, Beast Boy, and Starfire had returned to Jump to help quell the disaster resulting from the very sudden lack of power. Pockets of extreme violence had broken out in some cities, though generally contained to small groups in confined areas. It was odd, though. Not the normal looting and gang fights that normally occurred with emergencies like blackouts.

People were attacking each other and anything that moved with extreme prejudice. Animals, too, seemed to be out of control in some areas, attacking without discretion until they were tranquilized or simply put down in the interest of saving the tranquilizers for the humans- something Beast Boy had taken particular offence to. Rats chewing through underground electrical wires had been the cause of many of the power outages in the larger cities, as well as severe damage to gas and waterlines- not to mention they were attacking people and other animals in some areas. It had become clear with each passing minute that something was causing the strange behavior, but the cause had yet to be identified.

Meanwhile ParadoX, who had been relocated to Steel City, was under the guard of Raven, Mas, and Menos while the Titans East scattered throughout the city to address problems as they arose.

"Red alert!" Bumble Bee's voice called out from Robin's communicator. "U-T-L Speedy! Repeat, Speedy is gone!"

"Ten-five," Robin growled into the machine, receiving only static until he spoke again. "What's going on down there?"

"Speedy was clearing out the cistern after a fight broke out. We sedated everyone, but then - I don't know, he went to check under and aqueduct and came out swinging. I tried to talk some sense into him, but he attacked me! Before I could sedate, he got me with a spinning kick. By the time I came to, he'd bolted!"

"Raven, can you use your magic to find him?" Robin spoke quickly into his communicator, noting the small nod from the Dark Knight, as if he concurred with the decision.

"I don't know," the empath replied. "If his mind is disturbed like the others that have been affected, it will be hard to reach him. Besides, he's always been thick headed."

"Try it and report back. Bee, do you need me to call Star back to Steel?"

"Negative. I found his trail and I'm pursuing. He won't get away from me this time."

"Ten-Four," Robin's brows were tightly knit and his grip over the communicator was bordering on painful. "Keep me posted."

He sunk back in his chair and grit his teeth. With such random and hard hitting attacks, it seemed impossible to trace the source, and it seemed more and more unlikely that a single villain was behind it. A disaster of that magnitude took immense planning and calculation to take root and grow into such chaos.

"Root…" Robin murmured as a thought suddenly hit. He reached forward to the screen embedded in the back of the pilot seat. In a moment's time, he had pulled up the map detailing the Yggsdrasil root system that had caused the terrible earthquakes not long before. He tapped on each of the cities where the roots had been kept, reading over the details of each file and mentally comparing them to the current situation.

"Batman," he said, his voice serious, but lightened with the determined relief that hit any hero during a breakthrough. "I think I've found something… The pockets of violence are occurring in cities where the Yggsdrasil Syndicates were cultivating roots."

"The roots were in nearly every major city in the world," Batman told him bluntly. "That's not exactly a hard correlation to make."

"But the violence in most areas has been contained to the locations where the roots were located. And look at the affected population. Most of them are homeless, or gangs or maintenance workers that would have access to the underground spaces where the roots were growing. And rats have been the most heavily affected animals."

Batman took a moment to pull the information up on his own screen. "You may be on to something," he said after reviewing the information. "Looks like you'll get your wish, then. We're going straight to Arkham."

Poison Ivy pursed her lips at the sight of the young hero, tapping a painted nail against the metal table of the interrogation room. "Well, well. He's grown into something, hasn't he?"

Robin kept his mouth shut, trying not to breathe the thickened air that Ivy always carried with her. It was warm and sweet, and very enticing. There was always something about the woman that made him both at ease and on edge. She was much smarter than most men anticipated, and far deadlier, too. Robin knew that, and he knew better than to underestimate her.

"Tell me about the World Tree," Batman spoke with his usual deep voice, not a hint of humanity or excitement in his tone, despite the deep scent in the air that Robin knew he was not immune to.

Ivy hardly gave The Dark Knight any attention, keeping her eyes focused on the teen, as if to lure him in. "Press a little closer, little nightingale," she cooed and Robin rolled his eyes, recognizing the reference.

"Speaking of Wilde," he crossed his arms, smirking. "Why don't you tell me what's making everyone and their dog go crazy?"

"The tree, Dr. Isley," Batman pressed, his patience thinning.

"You might as well tell us before he starts weed-whacking the yard," the teen suggested with a smirk, actually earning a little smile back from the villainess. She recognized that the teen's jokes and flirting were frustrating the Batman, and seemed to appreciate the entertainment.

"I think he'll find the dandelions have a mean bite if he does that," she flirted back innocently, her chest out and flawless smile perfectly in place. "But I might as well tell you, hadn't I? After all, there is nothing anyone can do to stop it now."

Robin sighed, prepared for a monologue. Batman held very still, listening with a cold intention.

"Yggsdrasil was a test. I wanted to see if humanity would take the necessary steps to protect a precious and delicate species. The tree was a marvel, but it needed constant care." She looked almost forlorn for a moment before she straightened and continued, "I appointed the Norns in key locations to protect the roots and keep them safe until you pathetic humans could decide if you would embrace or eliminate the tree."

"You were destroying cities. Killing innocent people," Batman growled. "That tree was putting our entire world in jeopardy."

"Clearly, you and I have very different opinions of what defines a world in jeopardy. Humans chose to destroy the tree, just as they destroyed the world." she smiled darkly and her pretty eyes narrowed. "The roots shriveled quickly after the Norns could no longer provide their care, but on the shriveled mess of humanities' blunder grew a perfect absolution. Unique to the roots I created is a toxin that causes extreme cognitive disturbances in a variety of mammals. I cross-bred the species with fungus that proliferates on the shriveled roots of the World Tree. The fungus collects and concentrates the toxin into spores. Inhaling or otherwise ingesting these spores leads to uncontrollable aggression, insanity, and, if we're lucky, death… The Norse knew how to harvest the toxins carefully, gathering them from many sources and boiling it into a powerful draught that put them in a rage before battles, made them so bloodthirsty that they bit at their shields like mad dogs. They died like dogs, too."

"How do we stop it?" Robin asked, disgust on his expression, but fear hidden under his mask as he thought of Speedy.

"You don't," her eyes grew brighter, more vicious. "My form of the toxin is stronger, more resilient, and cannot be diluted. Humanity failed its final test and deserves expulsion. Slowly and surely, the toxins will spread wider until no mammal is left standing. Meanwhile, I will enjoy watching the humanity rip itself apart. I think it's a fitting end."

"We'll burn the roots," Batman sneered, finally showing emotion, though Robin recognized it as a tactic for drawing out clues. He was working by process of elimination, taking out the obvious false-solutions before arriving at something more workable.

"The spores will survive, carried in the smoke and lifted above ground. Good luck with that," she calmly smiled. "You could drown them, I suppose, and poison your water. Herbicides will have absolutely no effect, naturally, the roots are already dead. And the fungus has been genetically altered in my lab to withstand fungicides. There is no way to kill or control this outbreak, Batman. Even if you do find a way to eliminate some of the spores, you'll never be able to contain them all. The roots of the World Tree thrived under every major city held dear by humanity." Her smile darkened as her eyes grew brighter once again. "The reign of man is ending, gentlemen, and it is by man's own hands that it falls."

"I'm going to see him," Robin said as the door to the interrogation room closed. Ivy smirked complacently through the tiny window, looking rather amused with the situation.

Batman let out a small snort. "Now is not the time, Robin. We need to take care of those spores before more people are infected."

"Exactly," Robin glared, marching forward with resolution. He'd taken a quick peek at the security cameras when they'd arrived, scanning the many rooms and occupants until he noticed Slade. The villain's arms had been folded over his chest and eye closed. His torso lifting and falling in a steady breathing pattern, one that would give the impression of sleeping. Robin certainly hoped none of the guards would take that stance at face value.

He had passed several guards already; they had simply stepped aside for Batman and his side-kick. Robin seemed to remember something like that happening long ago, but the slight fear in the workers' eyes told him exactly how Batman had come to run Arkham Asylum since he'd left.

"The man has a wealth of knowledge on artificial intelligence drones- which cannot be infected by the spores, and nano-technology- which might be able to stop them," Robin said as he walked. "Don't you think Slade would be willing to barter for his freedom at a time like this? Or at least that he would be willing to help save the world if it benefitted him?"

"I think Slade is a villain mastermind that- if he even agrees to help- will exploit his involvement to his highest advantage."

They entered the cell block where Slade was being kept, and were immediately met with muted voices of the incarcerated, calling out to the heroes, beating fists against the unbreakable glass doors. The block was designed to reduce noise, and it did the job well, but it was obvious that their presence caused quite a commotion. Then they reached Slade's cell. His eye was open, but little else had changed, he sat there calmly, his breath steady and the slightest glare of a smile rested on his features. His bed was hardly more than a metal slab that was bolted to the side wall, on the opposite side was the camera that Robin had spied him with earlier.

"Unlock the door," Robin called to the guard on duty, who gave the man inside a cautious leer before grabbing his keys.

"Robin," Batman called, his voice careful enough that the younger man dared a glance at his former mentor; meanwhile, the guard paused to watch the exchange. "I won't stop you from speaking to him, or asking for his assistance, but you realize that compromising with Slade will be the end of his capture, don't you? This is the first time you have Slade exactly where you want him. He's vulnerable, Robin. If you go in there, you're giving that up."

Slade quirked a brow from behind the glass, obviously having read Batman's lips.

"I've seen Slade at his weakest," Robin said, turning to watch the villain, who was watching back. "We walked together through Hell. There is nothing so desperate as that place, and no moment where Slade was more vulnerable than on that day. If you believe Slade can be kept here, and that this cell makes him vulnerable, then you really don't know him at all." He turned to the guard. "Open the door."

"You can't change him, Robin," Batman tried one last time to stop the teen. "And you can't expect that he will help just because it would save his own skin. He'll help you at your highest price and nothing less."

Robin let out a small, incredulous laugh as the cell door opened. "He's not my Joker, Batman. I have no illusions that I can help him—I know better than that. I learned the hard way that masked men are the first you want to change, and the last that ever will."

Robin heard the sound of the door closing and automatically locking behind him. He didn't bother to turn and acknowledge the guard or Batman, as both waiting behind the glass for something to go wrong. He looked up at the camera, calculating silently as he crossed his arms over his chest.

"Slade Wilson," he said calmly, perfectly aware that the recorders in the room were picking up on his voice. He also knew that the angle of his body in relation to the camera prevented the video recording from following his finger tip as it bounced against the inside of his arm. With his back turned to the glass and cape draped over this shoulder, Batman and the guard could not see it either. "I've read your files."

Slade kept his eye on the young hero's face and his attention on the green-clad hand. There was a begrudging expression playing over his features, but inwardly Slade smirked at the boy's cleverness as he tapped Morse-code against his arm. He was actually quite proud of the boy's deviance. Each tap was a resolute middle-finger to Batman's legacy. He was fraternizing with the enemy right under the very nose of authority.

'C-A-M-E-R-A W-A-T-C-H-I-N-G. D-O-N-'T F-U-C-K U-P.' The fingers spelled, making the villain actually snort and unfold his arms, resting them against the metal bed frame. Both Batman and the Guard tensed when he moved, something that Slade liked.

"I'm sure you have," Slade responded. 'D-I-T-T-O.'

Robin gave a tiny smile at the soft tapping of Slade's finger against the bed. Like his own actions, they were hidden. He tapped and dragged his finger against the metal with movements so subtle that they could not be seen, and the sound quiet enough that the recorder would not register them.

"I'll cut to the chase," the hero spoke and continued to tap his finger. "The world is in grave peril right now. You have the means to save a lot of people, and maybe cut down your time in here as well." Slade raised an eyebrow when he realized the teen wasn't just blowing smoke to buy time. His words were just as important as the code he tapped against his arm. 'X T-O-L-D M-E E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. T-A-L-K. N-O-W.'

Slade stared back at the hero, eye sharp and calculating. Robin could only hold his breath and hope his bluff would work.

"I'm listening," the villain answered with an unreadable expression and stilled hands. "Start talking."

Robin glared at the absence of the code as he began to explain the situation with Ivy. Meanwhile he tapped his finger angrily. 'T-R-U-E, T-H-E-N?"


The gentle tapping almost broke his concentration, but the teen managed to listen and continue speaking, explaining his plan to use the Slade Bots to seal off the spores until they found a way to destroy them, possibly with nano-bots, if no better solution could be found.

'W-H-Y?' Robin asked, glad that his mask hid the nervousness and pain that made his vision blurry with tears. He wasn't surprised, really. He knew Slade couldn't be trusted. He just wanted to trust him. Badly.

'S-T-U-P-I-D Q-U-E-S-T-I-O-N.'

'T-E-L-L.' Robin wanted to scream, but reserved himself to the gentle tapping. The truth of Slade's betrayal stung worse than he thought it ever would. He had hoped- in no small measure- that ParadoX had been lying to gain leverage. He should have been thankful that Slade didn't try to bluff his own way out of the lie, but in all truth… he might have preferred a lie.

It was Slade's turn to speak, he gave the Batman a smug expression through the glass, speaking so the hero could easily read his lips. "Sending your boy in to negotiate?"

'T-E-L-L.' Robin kept his face as even as possible, but he knew Slade could see his shaking hands and trembling fingers.

"I'll need supplies if I am to help with your little weed problem," Slade was talking to Batman, still speaking through code. 'G-O-T-H-A-M H-A-R-B-O-R. S-L-O-T 1-4-3.' A smirk appeared on his features. "Bruce Wayne can help with that. We can use my bots to set the traps. We soak the roots in Xenothium and then ignite an implosion with Nihilithium. Boom, nothing left." 'L-E-F-T, L-E-F-T, S-T-R-A-I-G-H-T, L-E-F-T, ' "Do we have a deal?" Robin listened closely to both the words and the sounds, turning to look at Batman when Slade suggested his plan. 'C-O-D-E: Q-W-P-D-G-X.'

Batman shook his head and glared through his mask, mouthing "No deal."

'G-O-T I-T?' Slade asked, watching as Robin turned his visual attention back from Batman.

"Got anything else?" the young hero asked in a piercing tone, giving Slade a clear indication that they were done talking.

"My offer stands, take it or leave it."

"Stupid question," Robin frowned, making a gesture with his hidden hand that needed no deciphering. "We're done here."

Slade gave a light chuckle as he leaned back, closing his eye and tapping one last message, abbreviated to a procedural signal because the door would soon be open 'UNDERSTOOD.'

Batman said nothing as the door closed, giving his ward an evaluative look. The teen merely nodded to the guard and turned towards the exit, not waiting for Batman to follow him, though the man did so almost immediately.

"Well, at least he gave us some ideas," Robin said curtly.

"Ideas that just happen to play right into Slade's hands. He's been trying to secure Nihilithium for some time now."

"And Nihilithium is…?" The younger hero asked as the metal bars of the cell block were opened for them.

"I'll give you the file," the Dark Knight answered, and Robin had to bite back a scathing comment about actually sharing information. "But we're going to avoid using the substance, if we can help it."

By the time they reached Batman's jet, the sun was gaining a strong foothold in the sky, doing little to actually warm the icy city.

"I was impressed in there, by the way," Batman said carefully as he climbed into the pilot seat. "You held your own against Slade and didn't let him get the upper hand."

Robin kept his jaw set and looked to his former mentor. After a few moments of silence and the decision that there was nothing more to say, he simply gave a tiny nod and took his seat as well.

Robin looked to his communicator anxiously. It was three-minutes to 9:00pm. That meant his shift was ending very soon and he would need to turn in his oxygen tank at the base and wait out a mandatory six-hour rest period. Or, at least that's what he'd agreed to. He had other plans, however, and he meant to keep them.

The Wayne Medical Research Building had become the unofficial home base for the task-force put together by the Gotham Police Department. Groups of officers and soldiers patrolled the city in a controlled pattern to subdue anyone that had come in contact with the toxin, meanwhile, Batman and Robin took to more dangerous areas, clearing them out before the regular task-force could enter. The mayor had issued a home lock-down, something that many citizens, villain and victim alike, did not always seem to grasp, but things were at least under control for the time being.

Other cities were not so fortunate, but League members were stationed there to hold extreme crises at bay. Jump had been one of the least hit areas, something that Robin was grateful for, because they were down two members. Speedy had eventually been captured and put under a heavy tranquilizing drug. He was recovering, slowly, in the at the Titan's East Tower. He was no longer violent, but he was terribly weak and spent most of the time slipping in and out of mild comas and high fevers. The Titans found that his unconsciousness to be a blessing because, whenever he awoke, he was in a great deal of pain and still seemed to be in and out of his mind. Raven watched over him while he slept, gently prodding his sleeping mind back into place.

Before Robin knew where his feet were taking him, he found himself at the front desk of the newly established headquarters; he had already signed in his oxygen tank with a single 'R' and had it whisked away in a flurry to be filled and reused by the next round of officers.

"Break room is in back. First come first served for the bunks," Gordon said, cleaning his glasses on his shirt before placing them back over his eyes. "Good to have you home, son. The city feels brighter with you in it."

"Good to be back, Commissioner," Robin lied. "Unfortunately, I'm heading over to Steel City until morning. I've got to rendezvous with the Titans East, so I'll be heading out."

"Right now?" he asked, looking a bit fatherly and worried.

"Don't worry; I'll avoid the hot zones. We've got them pretty well mapped by now." He pulled out his communicator and demonstrated the truth behind his statement.

"Still, I hate to send you out unprotected. Take one of the tanks."

"I couldn't," Robin began to protest but the white haired man simply held up a dry, well-used hand.

"I've got a daughter about your age, you know?" He asked, his expression looking somewhat distant. Yeah, Robin knew. "She's living out of town now, going to college…" Robin didn't correct the man by telling him that Barbara was, in fact, in Downtown Gotham helping with restraining the infected by taking them down. "Sometimes I forget how old you kids are… and sometimes how young. I watched you both grow up."

"Gordon, call for you on line three," one of the volunteers manning the phone boards called from across the room and the hero felt a wave of relief. He'd had enough of monologues for one day.

"Just take a tank with you, son," he said patting Robin's shoulder and walking away. "A small one, at least."

"Yes, sir." Robin answered, nodding gratefully to a worker that plopped one down in front of him. No time like the present to get the hell out of dodge.

When Robin reached the docks, he didn't know just how grateful he would be for the oxygen tank. Slot 143, he found, contained a small yacht that would be suitable for overseas travel of small groups. The teen checked the log and The League's database, surprised to find that Slade owned a boat in the harbor- but not the one in slot 143. Very likely, this was a simple distraction on the man's part, something to keep The League from getting too suspicious if he spent longer amounts of time there.

He searched through all the rooms of the boat, peeking inside cupboards and through drawers until he found an insulated diving suit that would fit a man like Slade very nicely. It was his boat, alright, and that meant one thing: he was going for a swim.

He walked to the side of the boat, shining a flashlight over the rail and swallowing hard as the light bounced off the murky water. His suit offered some manner of insulation, but it would still be a dangerous trip. He would have very little time to find whatever it was that he was looking for.

"Fucking Slade," he muttered, grabbing a mug from the cupboard and filling it with water from the tap. He half expected the boat to be dry, but he supposed that Slade had to keep a good get-away boat nearby at all times. Made sense. He smelled the air and froze with a displeased look on his face. The boat was stocked and functioning, all right. But it hadn't been used in years by the look and smell of the water. Damn, he'd hoped he could drink something hot before jumping in. He shook his head wearily and grabbed hold of the oxygen tank. It was small and not particularly designed for diving, but it was better than nothing. He ripped off the mask portion of the device and grabbed a bit of duct tape from one of the drawers he'd ransacked and got to work creating a make-shift mouthpiece and a harness to keep the tank attached as he swam. He scrutinized his workmanship for a moment. Like a regular mouthpiece, his contraption would help to keep all his oxygen from escaping at once, but it was a far cry from a sturdy replacement. He rolled his eyes. In all likelihood, he would need to get out of the water long before he would run out of air, anyway.

"Fuck," he muttered again before turning on the oxygen flow and taking the plunge over the side of the boat.

A few feet under the water, and many degrees below pleasant, Robin longed to swear again, only louder and perhaps with even stronger language. There was a brief moment where his body protested at the stinging cold, almost forcing him to the surface before he regained control and willed himself to go deeper. He did his best to keep his breathing steady, trying not to bite too hard on the duct tape and to breathe out his nose.

The light he carried did little good in the thick, dirty water, but he continued to kick his legs furiously, using the slick concrete wall to occasionally steady himself as his body's natural buoyancy fought to drag him upward. He could feel his body shaking from the cold, something that happened almost instantly after diving in. It was actually something of a comfort; after all, it was when the body stopped shaking that things went downhill. He made a pained sound as the pressure began to hurt his head, pounding against his ears and making his chest seize slightly with each breath.

Robin promised himself that he would not go much deeper, that he would turn back when the danger became too great, but he knew he was only lying to himself. The idea that Slade was lying about this place, that nothing was really there, certainly crossed his mind, but the hero dismissed those thoughts in a haze of determination. He wasn't sure what he would find in that miserable abyss, but all signs pointed to something big, and he wouldn't give it up.

His gloved fingers caught the edge of a drainage outlet and he pulled himself down quickly, ignoring the sound of protest that escaped his throat when the pressure on his ears became almost unbearable. He swung his flashlight to look into the duct, peering into the confined space but finding that the water prevented him from seeing anything worth noting. At least at first glance…

He ran his finger over the algae, finding it well attached to the surface of the concrete tube. It stuck straight up in most patches, save for a few spots that had been scrapped away and regrown some time ago. Robin steeled himself and entered the outlet, knowing that the tube did not serve any legitimate purposes for Gotham; if it had, the algae would have lain flat, pushed down by the current of water that drained from the city. He paused when he reached a fork, remembering Slade's directions and staying left. He followed the tunnels, guided by his memory and a determination.

His body was shaking less, something he vaguely noticed behind his blind stubbornness. He forced himself to shiver when he remembered, but when he reached the end of the tunnels his mind was far from his own perseverance.

It was a dead end. Well, not quite. There was a large round grate that covered the passage, something that looked like a waffle-pattered man-hole cover that was common place to most cities. He looked around the confined tube, finding no apparent way to open it and no place to enter the code Slade had given him. Fuck. He let go of the light and pushed against the door with all hit might, kicking at it a few times, only to drift backwards under the force of his own exertions. Robin let out a frustrated yell, sending bubbles flurrying through the water before he grabbed a hold of his mouthpiece and jammed it back into place.

Damn Slade to Hell! He punched the grate, silently thankful that the water reduced the impact of his blow, before he a deep, steadying breath from the mouthpiece and mentally prepared to leave empty-handed. There might be a way past the grate, but it really was getting too dangerous to stay. His body hardly shook any longer, and when it did it was out of anger not cold.

Robin growled and picked up his light, noticing something peculiar about the frustrating metal disc as the beam ghosted over the surface. He leaned in closely, examining the surface and feeling his heart leap. Inside the small squares of the grate were small, lightly raised symbols. They were covered in algae, but that cleaned off easily enough. The point is they were there. His eyes brightened in relief, thankful that it was not a wasted trip… at least until he looked closer.

Damn Slade, indeed. Robin remembered the code for the English, but he wasn't entirely sure he could encipher it to Greek. Asshole. Even behind bars and in the face having all his nefarious plans brought to light, it felt like Slade was playing tricks, expecting the hero to join in on the fun of his puzzles and mind-games.

'Q-W-P-D-G-X,' Robin repeated in his mind, tapping the code out before each letter before quickly finding and pressing the buttons to the best of his knowledge. 'Psi. Omega. Pi- No! Rho… no, Pi!" Robin caught himself before pressing the incorrect key and growled. That was a close call. He wasn't sure if an incorrect entry would lock him out, and in any case, he needed to get out of the frigid water. He was slightly better prepared for the final symbol Ksi, and felt immense relief flow through him when a loud click echoed through the concrete tube. He pushed the door forward, and pressed on.

The end of the tunnel was found soon after a 90-degree corner that forced the hero to swim upwards to the dimly lighted area above. It was a small room, clearly designed as the airlock to drain the water. He pulled the hatch down, letting it close under its own weight and activating the drain system. He settled on the floor as it drained, feeling numb and clumsy as he struggled to turn off the oxygen flow of his tank. He felt fine, but knew it was a delusion brought on by hypothermia. He needed to get out of his wet clothes, find a way to warm up.

Allowing himself only a few moments rest time, he soon forced himself to his feet and stood before a small door with a turn-style knob that reminded Robin of a submarine he and Batman had once raided. The wheel turned after a screech of protest. Clearly it had not been oiled for some time, but Robin reminded himself that Slade could probably turn the knob with his pinky, well-oiled gears be damned.

Robin soon found himself in yet another small room with an identical metal door on the other side, a large metal cabinet fixed to the wall, and a steel showerhead hanging from the ceiling. "Cozy," he muttered, stepping inside and nearly jumping when water began to pour down from the faucet and a fan began to circulate warm air. The shower was not, at all, what Robin considered hot or hardly warm, but considering he had just been in a great deal colder water, it felt fucking delightful. He recognized that the small room was probably designed to help Slade recover from the cold, not to mention wash off the filth from the river. Robin didn't mind peeling off his own uniform and rummaging through the steel cabinet for a collection of meager, half-used toiletries.

The water was, painfully slowly but surely, heating up. Robin tried to help the process of heating his own body by shivering, something that was ironically easier to do now that he was out of the cold water. He preferred not to think about how cold he'd actually gotten and simply opened his mouth under the stream of slightly warm water, finally getting the warm drink he'd tried for on the boat.

He took a few moments to clean his uniform, really just letting the water run over it, and then braid his hair back so it would not make him colder as it dried. He was not sure exactly how long he'd been in the shower, but once the steam began to play against on the stainless steel cabinet, he reluctantly decided it was time to press on. He gathered his clothes from the floor and turned the wheel-knob of the next door, effectively turning off the shower. Robin frowned at the fact that he was impressed and slightly envious of Slade's efficiency and dedication to procedure. It was clear the man was careful in his design of this base, and that it was designed to be used.

The door opened to a narrow passageway, obstructed partially by another cabinet where Robin found soft, clean towels and a few extra sets of clothes that were clearly not his size. He dried himself with the towel, pleased to find that the air duct in the shower room was still billowing out hot air, which he used to his advantage by hanging up his uniform where the air would dry it. He debated with himself for some time about dressing in his still wet uniform, bargaining back and forth about the need and the danger of wearing the wet materials after having just dried off. In the end, he settled by simply slinging his utility belt over his chest and continuing down the narrow hall.

The hallway was not long and ended with another door. Robin could feel the hair rise on the back of his neck as his fingers curled around the wheel and pulled the door open. He held his breath as he entered the room, watching as the lights flickered on automatically and computers hummed to life.

It was a lab; that much was clear as Robin peered around the room. The space was not particularly large as it was rather crowded with devices and storage, but there would be enough room for Slade to move around freely. Metal cabinets, large than the ones before, lined many of the walls, and there were five large metal tables spaced evenly through the room. He spotted a ladder that went up to the ceiling and ended in a small door hatch. Robin studied it closely, almost on the verge of cursing Slade's name for making him take the long way in before he noticed the wires attached to the edge of the door. It was rigged to blow and flood the lab if an unauthorized entry was made, but from the looks of it, it could be temporarily disabled for a quick exit. Robin swallowed hard, looking around the room with renewed animosity. Slade went through a great deal to protect this place. But what was it for?

He began to walk forward, but froze when his eye settled on the closest table and the items that were littered across it. He was looking over what could easily be mistaken for Batman's arsenal. Bat-a-rangs, grappling guns, cords, smoke pellets… It was all there, laid out like a science experiment or precious collection. He looked to the next table, feeling his chest constricting when he recognized his own items laid out in a similar fashion. He walked closer, picking up a bird-a-rang and swearing. This didn't look like one of his. It was one of his. He remembered using it long ago during a fight against Cinderblock; he had lost it in the skirmish.

The hero took in a shaky breath and swallowed the lump in his throat. Sometimes, it was easy to pretend or ignore what a devious man Slade was… but Robin could practically feel the villain in that space and he was reminded painfully of just how diabolical that man could be. It brought back the same hatred from his apprenticeship. Hatred, and great fear of the lengths Slade would go to get what he wanted.


Robin jumped, hoping that he had only imagined Batman's voice echoing from somewhere in the lab.

"Get down on the floor."

"Oh, fuck- oh, fuck!" Robin whispered, looking around wildly for his mentor. Had Batman followed him? Impossible. Unless… was there a tracker on him? No, couldn't be! He'd checked! Shit! Shit! He needed to hide.


Robin pulled open the door to a metal cabinet, intent on sneaking inside and hiding, or pretending to be kidnapped, or drugged, or something when Batman found him. Instead of sliding inside, he bumped against a glass wall. It must have happened very quickly, but to Robin, the moment felt like several, excruciatingly long moments of pure confusion and panic. He let out a silent gasp as his heart jumped into his throat. He took panicked step backwards, catching a heel on a thick line of bundled wires and feel backwards with a loud crash that he didn't even feel. He was far too focused on the terrifying fact that Batman had been locked inside the cabinet, trapped behind a glass wall, the whole time.

Wait, that wasn't possible... Batman was still working on patrol; he was clearing out the subways last time Robin checked. Even if he had followed him, there was no way he could have gotten ahead of him… The teen swallowed hard once more, staring at the Dark Knight and wondering just what the hell it was.

"Batman?" He asked carefully.

"State your name," Batman spoke, eyes glaring down at the naked hero. Robin took in a deep breath, looking over the man's uniform, a perfect replica of his current outfit. How long had Batman been using that uniform? Three years, at least.

"Shut up!" Robin heard another voice and felt a cold rush run down his spine. He stepped over the next cabinet, pulling open the doors and gasping as his doppelganger stared back at him. It was a younger version of himself, dressed in Slade's colors with hair spiked and teeth bared.

"Oh God," he gasped, taking a step back and bumping against the table that held his tools. A rush of nausea went through his stomach as his head swam. "What the hell is this?"

"Who the hell are you?" The young Robin asked, folding his hands over his chest and apparently glaring under his mask. "And why are you naked?"

Robin glanced down, finding that, indeed, he was quite naked. He was suddenly regretting his choice not to put on the sopping wet uniform. "What are you?" he asked, staring at the two creatures with disbelief and disgust.

"I'm Slade's apprentice," the young Robin growled. "And when he gets back, he will kill you."

"That is not Robin," Batman claimed, sounding rather outraged at the thought. The younger doppelganger merely rolled his eyes.

"No, I'm Robin," The real Robin stated, turning his attention to Batman. "Now what the hell are you?"

"Robin…" the Batman seemed to hesitate. "Prove it. Tell me something only you would know."

"If only he knows, how would you know?" The apprentice chided.

Robin's eyes narrowed slightly. "Your name is Jason Bard."

The Batman seemed to consider the statement for a moment. "Alright then, where do I work?"

"Gotham City Police Force." It wasn't a total lie. Jason Bard was a member of the force. Had been for years.

The doppelganger nodded, "Alright then, one more question to prove it. What's your name?"

Robin's eyes narrowed, and suddenly the pieces began to fall into place. "You don't know, do you? You didn't even know your own name."

"Of course I do. My name is Jason Bard. I live on 4579 Whittman street, apartment 509. I've been on the force for five years, dated the Commissioner's daughter- What I don't know is why you won't confirm your identity."

"It's a program." Robin snapped, more to himself than anything. He recognized the pattern of artificial learning. The Batman robot had simply integrated the information he had in his database with the new information that was given to him. Slade, apparently, had made some guesses as to who the Batman might be and paid special attention to those that seemed plausible.

"Correct. And very well made, if I do say so myself." Slade's voice made Robin turn, hatred welling up in his throat. The man was still dripping from the shower, but he at least had the decency to throw on a pair of lab pants. The teen wondered briefly if the Slade before him was also a robot and if the man was really still in Arkham. Likely not. The city was still in utter chaos, it was probably easy for the man to break out. Slade motioned to the Batman casually, "I designed that one to infiltrate the Justice League, trick them into revealing their identities… of course that was contingent on discovering that Batman is Bruce Wayne."

"Bruce Wayne? The billionaire?" The Batman android glared at the villain, seeming to ponder this new information.

Meanwhile the apprentice unfolded his arms and bowed slightly as he greeted his teacher. "Good evening, Master."

"A shot in the dark, really," Slade continued, "exposing weaknesses within the group and discovering League member identities... As you can imagine, this knowledge would lead to a wealth of opportunity for blackmail and perhaps even disbandment of The League. Not to mention what I could do to heroic reputations if I created androids that mimicked other heroes." He turned and nodded to the younger-looking robot. "Apprentice."

"Are you going to kill him, Master?" the boy asked, with a slight hint of glee in his voice. He was still beaming from the acknowledgement.

"No, I think not," he responded and the young robot looked sullen. He turned back to Robin, motioning to the young looking robot as he began to speak again, "I built this as a prototype soon after your apprenticeship. His personality is a bit off, I'm afraid; I never bothered to correct it. The latest version is closer," he motioned to the rows of cabinets that had yet to be opened. "But I soon decided that nothing would beat the real thing," he eyed the hero dangerously.

"You unbelievable bastard…" Robin shook his head in disbelief, feeling like acid was churning in his stomach. "I… Oh, God, Slade, what have you done?"

"I admit, I got carried away with the designs. I was distracted by the details and lost in the challenge. In reality, the plan was a poor one. The likelihood of success was marginal. I eventually decided it was more dangerous to proceed and potentially lose this technology than to scrap the project entirely. I abandoned this lab some time ago. Soon after our little tryst on the top of Jump Bank, and not long before ParadoX stole my fleet."

"Abandoned?" Robin fumed. "This does not look like you've abandoned anything, Slade! The lengths you've gone to for thi-" He paused, looking horrified. "Oh God… That's why you… why you chose me, isn't it? And why you seduced me. It was just the next step in your plan, wasn't it?"

"Part of it- before we actually slept together- yes." Slade admitted, his face unreadable as he walked to stand in front of the false Dark Knight. "The programming would be stronger if I found things that only you two would know… Exploiting you was the best option. You were wound so tight, Robin, bound to snap one way or another. You needed a release more than anything, and I was well equipped to give it to you." Robin's lips curled, but he stayed silent. Slade paused for a moment, giving the teen a chance to retaliate; when no such thing occurred, he simply continued. "I planned to seduce you, fuck you, lure out every little secret you had to offer, and program it in to the memory bank. Once that was done, I'd set your robot on Batman, study him more closely than I could as a villain. Then, once I learned how to access The League, I would replace Batman as well."

"Replace? You mean kill." Robin's breathing was reduced to short gulp-like gasps as he tried to prevent the panic in his mind from spreading.

"I hadn't decided on Batman, yet. But I planned to keep you contained until I had a better use for you."

"I can't believe you…" Robin looked sickened. "After everything… the contract, the-"

"As I said," Slade interrupted, his eye stern and piercing in the harsh laboratory light, "the project was abandoned before the agreement was in place. I have remained loyal to the contract."

"Oh, right. Of course." The hero scoffed. "How stupid do you think I am, Slade?"

"I expect that you're smart enough to put the pieces together and find that I'm telling the truth." Slade's voice was calm and dark, evoking memories of Robin's apprenticeship in both men- something that did not quell the building rage and tension. The villain gave a small sigh. It was inevitable that Robin would find out, and Slade knew that he would, one way or another… Nothing to be done about it now, he supposed. Best to try and convince the hero that he wasn't lying with what little proof he had… "Apprentice," he called and the young doppelganger stood to attention. "Remove your mask." He turned back to Robin, "I'd tell the Bat to do the same, unfortunately, there's nothing underneath his at the moment. I can't build what I can't see, and I doubted that anyone in The League had seen him mask-less either. My mistake."

The apprentice robot followed his command without question, revealing a pair of dark brown eyes that glared forward.

"Brown eyes…" Robin breathed carefully, remembering Slade's words when they first stood unmasked.

Slade nodded and moved to the next cabinet, opening the doors and motioning for the hero to come closer for a look.

Robin balked at the site. Inside the cabinet was a robot that more closely resembled his current look. It was standing perfectly still with eyes closed, long black hair braided neatly back in place, and naked save for a thin, grey pair of briefs. There were no scars on it where the true Robin had them, and it lacked the two piercings that Slade himself had given him.

"Open your eyes," he commanded and the robot inside did just that, revealing a similar, but darker pair of brown eyes that glared back at Slade with unbridled malice before shifting to Robin. The thing looked confused for a moment, but then shifted its expression to hatred once more. "I had replacement lenses, of course, just in case I was wrong. Naturally, none of them would match the blue in your eyes. Had I continued my plan, that little detail would have been changed immediately. As would your scars and piercings." Slade put a hand on Robin's shoulder, letting it drift across his skin. The teen tried not to squirm when Slade's fingertips ghosted against several scars on his torso. "I'm well acquainted with your body, Robin. If I wanted to, I could make this robot your equal in every look and motion."

"You're a monster," Robin whispered very quietly, not sure if he was going to cry, become ill, or go into a rage. His skin felt hot as the blood rose to the surface, but a deep cold was running through his body.

"Never said I wasn't," Slade replied, resting his hand on his hips and gazing at the creations. Robin recognized that look in his eye, it was one the villain frequently had when he looked at something he found… useful. As if he was evaluating the potential of whatever it was he was looking at and plotting how best to utilize it. The appraising eye shifted back to the hero. "I encourage you to keep in mind that it was my suggestion to form a verbal contract. I never would have agreed to anything so binding had I not already given up on this plan."

"I don't believe you," the hero hissed between his teeth. "All the time you must have spent on these… things… All the money, researchresources… You wouldn't throw that away. Not for something as simple as… as getting laid!"

Slade laughed one of his deep, unpretentious laughs that always sent goose-bumps over the hero's skin. "Who are you to say what would and wouldn't be done in the pursuit of gratification? Is it so hard to believe that I found fucking you to be a better use of my time?" He leered as if smelling blood in the water. "And haven't you ever stopped to wonder what you would have done had I not suggested the agreement? What if I'd played hard to get? How far would you have followed me into the darkness? How much sooner would I have known your identity? Batman's identity?"

"I never would have-" Robin started in a bitter defense, tears finally breaching his eyes. He bit his tongue harshly and dug his fingernails into his skin. He would have betrayed himself and his loved ones. He already had.

The villain gave a small shrug and a victorious smile. "Seems we're both willing to push beyond our respective boundaries a bit. And all for- what was it you said? To get laid?"

"Fuck you," Robin sneered, backing away from the man in an effort to gain some distance. "You think I would have slept with you if I'd known about this?"

"Don't blame me for your choices," Slade growled at him, seeing a clear advantage and taking it. "You know exactly what kind of man I am. I'm not the one that compromised your beliefs. I didn't force or threaten you this time. I simply offered and you followed. You chose to be fucked by me."

"Is that true, Robin?" The Batman asked, its voice stoic but with hints of pain in the tone.

The teen glared back to his case, knowing full well that the thing inside it was not Bruce. The real man would not show that kind of emotion so readily… and yet, Robin's heart dropped into his stomach as he watched the man… thing… appear to struggle with the thought. It was a far cry from the dream he had where Batman rejected and cast him out in front of The League; but this, watching Batman react to his betrayal with pain instead of anger, somehow felt more real and more terrifying.

"Why don't you tell him?" Slade smirked. "See what it feels like to admit to him and to yourself that after everything I've done, and all that I could do, you still chose me. Better yet, why don't I just fuck you against his case? We'll make him watch… just like you wanted."

"Stop," the hero half hissed, half begged. "Just stop."

"Why should I?" Slade smirked. "You didn't."

Robin only stared at the Batman, his eyes wide and teary. Slade was right. He'd let this happen, let Slade take him over and over again… and he let himself be taken in. He'd crossed the line, gone too far… and now… There was no more concern of finding his way back. No tepid delusions of pulling away at just the right time. No hope left to reclaim himself from the terrible darkness that settled around him.

The hero didn't flinch when he felt Slade's hands wrapped over his arms. It was a gesture that felt too familiar, and Robin knew he had only himself to blame for that.

"Do you want pain?" Slade asked openly, his fingers massaging the base of boy's shoulders and his arms, digging into the warm skin. "I can give it to you, Grayson. You know only I can..."

Robin clutched the belt that was slung over his shoulder, trying to decide his next move amidst the haze that clouded his mind. He exhaled a shallow, shaking breath and felt as if his entire body was becoming empty. Desperate.

Slade blinked at the very sudden and ferocious attack. He managed to avoid taking the bird-a-rang in his only eye, but in doing so, he sacrificed a secure footing and earned a deep gash across his temporal and a large knick out of his ear. Apparently, Robin noticed the foothold because his next attack was aimed at Slade's ankle, kicking it further off balance and forcing him to grab hold of the edge of a metal table behind him. Slade let out a growl as the teen lunged forward, but saw an opportunity to a strike by grabbing back of the teen's head and slamming him into the table, earning a very satisfying sound.

The room became darker and significantly more fuzzy when Robin's nose and forehead collided with the metal surface. Slade held him there for a moment, pressing him down and leaning in to, no doubt, make a very poignant statement about the hero's sloppiness. Not very keen on listening to a lecture, Robin managed to lift his leg up for a decent scorpion-kick that made the villain lose his grip. Robin stood and immediately sputtered as blood began to drip from his nose. He wasted no time on it, though, and took on a fighting stance, ready to strike.

Slade had been careful with his blows, making certain not to break anything, but he felt a rush of pride and arousal as his enemy, lover, and former apprentice stood boldly in defiance, blood dripping down his chin and looking very pissed.

"Stop this, Slade," The Batman growled, his fists crashing against the glass. "Let him go; it's me you want!"

Slade laughed, mocking Robin by not taking on a defensive pose or even bothering to attack. "Personality seems a bit off on this one, too. Seems that I might have made him care too much... What do you think?"

"SHUT UP!" Robin snarled, pulling a grappling gun from his belt and taking aim squarely at Slade's chest. The bastard dodged, naturally, letting the grappling jam itself into the glass of The Batman's case, sending cracks all through it. He smirked as Robin dashed forward again to attack. In his hands was a long, jagged picklock with a corkscrew tip.

"Interesting choice," Slade mused, "What do you hope to achieve with that weapon?"

"Fuck you, Slade!" Robin snarled as he lunged forward, watching Slade's eye darken with cruel intent. "Just DIE."

It was clear the man knew his next move, so the teen thought nothing of clutching the handle as tightly as he could and thrusting it forward towards Slade's heart. The villain's eye narrowed, lips curling lightly into a triumphant smile that seemed to last forever in that mere fraction of a second when the twisted end of the device plunged easily into Slade's chest, sliding between the man's ribs. Robin could feel the flesh yielding to the make-shift dagger, tearing muscles and cutting ever deeper until his hand was flush against man's chest.

The hero stood transfixed to the spot, not breathing, as Slade's expression melted into a pained sort of victory. He lifted his large hand to the wound, pushing Robin away as he did so.

"No," the hero breathed, knowing what Slade meant to do and what it would mean.

In one swift tug, Slade pulled the lock-pick from his chest. Blood poured down from the wound, soaking the man's chest and trousers in red. He gave a small choking sound and a forced smirk as he felt his heart bleeding out very quickly. He'd managed to help along the process by shifting slightly during the attack, ensuring that his ventricle was torn open. He wasn't particularly happy about experiencing death more than once in a single day, but the look on the hero's face was priceless. Slade gave himself a haughty little congratulation as the room spun and he fell to the floor.

The room was silent for innumerable moments.

"You killed him…" Batman's voice was cold and disbelieving as he peered between the cracks of the glass. "Robin… what have you done?"

"Bastard," Robin whispered, his face turning a dark shade of red as his body shook with anger. His eyes were fixated on the blood that began to puddle around the man. "You BASTARD!" He kicked the limp body, watching as it swayed with the force of the blow. Another kick, and another, forcing the man over on his side until his body tipped and Slade rolled onto his back. His eye was dull and slightly open as Robin stomped on his chest, nearly slipping in the blood. "YOU-FUCKING-BASTARD!" He slammed himself over Slade's body, straddling his waist and punching him on the cheek until his hand throbbed in pain.

"Robin, STOP!" Batman yelled, hitting his fists against glass, testing different spots for weaknesses.

The Apprentice was screaming, too, becoming more and more desperate as his Master bled over the floor. Meanwhile, the older doppelganger looked genuinely horrified, but remained silent with dark eyes wide in fear and fascination. It was clear by his expression that he was repulsed, angry, and scared, but he dared not turn away.

"You could have stopped me!" Robin sneered, wrapping his hands around the Slade's neck and pushing as hard as he could. A thick line of red dripped from the corner of the older man's mouth as his eye rolled back. Robin only growled and shook him as hard as he could. "This is what you wanted, isn't it? You fucking bastard! You wanted me to kill? To fall? To be just like you?"

Robin snarled when black-gloved hands grabbed his wrists and jerked him away from Slade's body. He hadn't even heard the glass breaking, nor sensed the Batman android coming to him. Lost in his own rage, the teen snapped to attention, spinning to free himself before he set his attack on the robot.

Robin calculated his moves in his head, deciding very quickly that the robot probably had the same weak points as the normal Slade Bots. He pulled items from his belt and the nearby tables, taking careful aim and striking quickly and with deadly accuracy. The Batman hardly defended itself against Robin, making the teen wonder just what in its programming caused it to hold back. He couldn't imagine the real Batman doing so.

Robin stopped only when the thing was on the floor, oil spurting and winding gears exposed. He stood over it, vision blurring and darkening periodically as he fought the dizzying sensation that usually preceded fainting. The robot lifted its head wearily and reached out a hand as if begging for help. The hero stared blankly at the proverbial gesture that had always evoked his deepest heroic instincts. It brought back painful flashes of memory. His mother reaching for him with fear in her eyes, nameless victims begging for help, Starfire reaching towards him as the nanos corrupted and killed her… Slade recovering from a similar fate…

"S-s-s-s-orry," it glitched, mouth not moving as the sound came through a broken and crackled transmission. "Couldn-n-n-n't help you."

"I don't need your help." Robin growled as he pulled another grappling from his belt, aimed it between the pair of shrouded robotic eyes, and fired. He stood over the two cadavers, chest quivering as he dropped the gun and fell to his knees. He gasped for air, body quaking as the room spun around him. He wondered in a panic if something was wrong with the oxygen flow of the small, sub-ground chamber, feeling as though his sharp, fast breathing did nothing for him. His head lulled to the side, vision darkening as he edged into unconsciousness.

"You're the monster," he heard his own voice calling to him. It was not a taunt, but a genuine statement of horror. He shifted his bleary eyes to his robotic twin, swaying as he forced himself to stand. The hero staggered forward, each step sending needle-prick pain from his feet up his legs until he stumbled, hands catching on the glass of his doppelganger's cell and smearing bloody handprints over the surface.

"Aren't we all?" he whispered with a quiet, shaking chuckle as he gazed into the dark brown eyes. His own blue eyes rolled slowly to the side as he stumbled over his own heels and began to fall. He was not conscious when he hit the floor.

The smell of coffee made Robin's eyelids flutter. He let out a soft groan began to roll over, only to have a warm hand hold him down against the metal table where his body rested. His eyes slowly opened to Slade, freshly showered and in clean lab pants, sipping coffee from a white mug while he stared back down at him placidly.

"Looks like you're not unconscious anymore," The villain eyed him listlessly between long sips of coffee. "And you're a hell of a lot calmer to boot."

Robin shifted his eyes to stare back up at the ceiling, watching as the pipes and wires blurred in and out of focus. He felt slightly nauseas, dizzy, and only vaguely aware of where he was and why. He shifted lightly, eyes widening at the sound and feel of the thick, padded straps that held his wrists and ankles against the table. Slade noted the short gasp that escaped the teen and raised a brow, watching him more closely as the blue eyes darted around the lab and then over his own body at the wires and EMG pads that were stuck on his skin. The teen's breathing quickened at the sight and he began thrashing, trying desperately to remove the devices.

"Untie me- I can't- I can't breathe…" the hero spoke quickly in low whispers, fighting against the bindings and peering haphazardly around the room.

"You're going into shock," Slade said rather plainly and without emotion, his eye turning analytical again as he watched over the hero. Perhaps he'd over-estimated the teen on this one. He assumed Robin had given him a few extra blows after he'd fallen dead on the floor, then turned on the Batman android to blow off some steam, only to receive a nasty jolt from the exposed electrical wires of the robot. It was nothing unusual, in Slade's opinion; to let out some pent-up aggression with a little recreational bloodshed, and Robin, who clearly despised killing, had some convenient targets that were either not actually living or practically immortal… or at least that what Slade had thought…

"Slade, untie me," Robin begged, tears running down his face, "Please, I have to… I have to get out of here."

"You wouldn't last in those pipes," Slade told him, perfectly aware that the words were hardly reaching the boy. "Not until you calm down, anyway."

"Please!" The hero cried out, thrashing against his bonds, making wild, terrified noises as his eyes darted wildly around the room.

Slade dared a glance at the computers, studying the teen's vitals in the fraction of the second taken by the look. No grave danger, but his blood pressure was definitely showing signs of distress. He set the mug of coffee aside and cupped the teen's face in his hands, leaning in closely and speaking very clearly to the hero. "Take a deep breath, Robin."

"I- I can't," Robin breathed between gasps that gave him only fractions of the oxygen he needed.

"Breathe," Slade commanded harshly, sliding his hand behind the teen's head and pulling roughly on his hair. Robin took in a full, deep gasp of air, eyes shifting to Slade with expectation hanging like the tears clinging to his lashes.

Slade gave a cruel little chuckle, he'd seen that look before. The pleading need to be touched. Tortured. Of course Robin wanted pain now and not before he'd bashed a very expensive robot to smithereens. Still… There was something else to the look, a different kind of desperation…

Robin stared at the villain as he leered over him. The teen's heart slowed to a more normalized pace as he watched Slade's expression shifting; he wore the same look as in the library, cold and knowing, as if he could see inside the teen's brain and knew exactly the thoughts and wants that passed through it. And just like in the library, Robin's pain gave way to clarity, memories falling into place and feelings growing mute under the firm and persistent touches.

Slade didn't wait this time, and he didn't make Robin beg. One hand still held a firm grip over the black hair, but the other drifted to the teen's chest, looping a fingertip through the gold ring and pulling it slightly, making the nipple perk. The hero gasped softly, his eyes wide as he arched his chest in pursuit. Slade gave a cruel little smile and twisted the ring, enjoying the way the hero cried out and hardened, forcing a thin pearl of precum to gather at the tip of his erection.

Wasting little time, Slade's hand moved down and took a firm grip over the teen's length, giving it a few good pumps and grinding his thumb against the tip as the hero moaned and writhed against the table. The straps around Robin's ankles prevented him from spreading his legs very far, and the little groan made it very clear that he wished to do just that. Rather than unbind him, Slade released his various grips over the teen for a moment to unfetter the lock on the straps and slowly push Robin's ankles towards the top of the table, making the straps glide along the sides, following a built-in track. The teen let his legs follow the slow and deliberate force, swallowing hard when the pushing began to border on uncomfortable and Slade locked the straps in place.

The villain glanced at the screens again, checking Robin's vitals before admiring his handy work. The hero lay flat against the table, his arms bound above his head so that his torso stretched in a pretty display of lithe muscles under young, tight skin. His legs were spread apart and bent hard at the knee, exposing the more sensitive areas of the hero's anatomy and leaving him open to any attack, be it benign or malicious. The villain smirked when he noted a tiny twitch in the teen's length. A thin vein had appeared on the side, provoking an irresistible desire in the villain to return to an old game. He pulled open a drawer and pulled from it a thin metal rod. There was a small hole on either side of it; were Robin in a better state of mind, he would have wondered what purpose they would serve in the robots. Slade, who was in a better state of mind, felt that Robin would get much more use out of the device than any of his robots.

His hand cupped the teen's jaw with an iron grasp, forcing his mouth open and sliding the rod against the wriggling tongue and to the back of his throat. Robin's eyes widened slightly, his pupils constricting and growing in what might have been surprise, yet it was impossible to decipher and actual expression. Too many emotions- fear, apathy, arousal, loathing, yearning- clouded the meaning behind the look, if there was one there at all. Robin obediently closed his mouth around the thin metal, understanding its purpose without the slightest command or explanation. Slade took his time pulling the piece from the teen's mouth, slowly drawing it out from between the slightly puckered lips until the whole thing sprang free and he released his grip over the teen's jaw.

Robin's body twisted against the table as his eyes tried to follow the metal rod when it drifted over his chest, lower and lower until he could feel the tip teasing over the head of his cock and playing in the precum. He held his breath, feeling the pressure building as he watched the thin metal slowly disappearing inside his cock. He could feel the metal tugging at the sensitive insides of his shaft, burning slightly as the metal moved deeper and the saliva dried and was absorbed by his body. Slade leered over him, innately aware of how much pressure the teen could stand, knowing just where to touch, and when, and with how much force.

The room hummed gently with the active machinery and dull lighting, monotony broken only by the almost indistinguishable sound of both men breathing carefully, each lost in a personal trance. Robin's lips were lightly swollen and still colored in a deep blush from his earlier tantrum; they quivered eagerly with each little breath. His eyes were wide and glassy, focused on Slade's mouth as it curled into the familiar, devilish smirk.

Like a strike of lightning to a darkened sky, a painful truth and clarity struck Robin's brain. Invasive, unavoidable thoughts of how wrong it was to do this, how wrong it was to want it, flooded inside. His brain screamed at him to stop, but his body overruled and kept him silent. He knew that pain was coming. That he could drown in it to forget the terrible things he'd done. And yet… under that desire to hide was also the need to expose himself to the treachery he'd committed. As if accepting punishment was enough to gain absolution and clarity. The dichotomy clashed in his mind, but brought to light one very simply truth: Pain was the answer. He was sure of it.

Robin swallowed hard at the lump in his throat as he watched Slade climb onto the table and lower his head, smirk vanishing between his legs. The teen's eyes grew wider, when he felt a slick tongue mockingly glide between his cheeks and play around the shivering opening before drifting up and teasing his frenum. Robin's cock bounced against his stomach smearing precum over the blood and oil coated skin. Slade noticed the reaction and smirked once again. He pulled back momentarily, grabbing a line of micro-thin wire from a nearby shelf and looping it through the gold nipple rings and the hollow slot in the makeshift sound. He tied the wire in a sturdy knot, forming a careful loop that ran from the teen's chest to erection. Slade's expression darkened as he took a firm grip on the tip of the sound, plucking the wires and making the teen gasp when the gold rings jutted forward with the force, pulling on his rosy nipples until Robin let out a tiny, helpless sound.

The older man gave a small chuckle as he released the wires and the drifted back to the pert ass, pressing against the sensitive bud with the tip of his tongue until the muscles relented and the slippery appendage curled inside. Slade wriggled his tongue a few times, pushing himself deeper but then pulling back and teasingly flicking his tongue against the entrance once more. Robin gave a frustrated mewl, playing exactly into Slade's hands when he tried to scoot down and accidentally created too much tension in the wire, pulling at both the sound and the nipple rings. The villain rewarded the pain with a rough chuckle and a firm grip on the teen's cheeks, spreading him wider and sliding his tongue back inside for a few quick twists and thrusts.

Slade couldn't help but admire the teen's body as he worked, bemused at the way his cock twitched and bounced, pulling the wire taught and making the hero cry out with a furious blush on his cheeks. Every now and again, Slade would rise and pluck at it, just to watch the way the pretty chest rose and fell with the pain. Best of all was the way the perfect blue eyes shined under the tears and frustration, wavering constantly between the desire to avert his eyes and an inability to look away.

Robin groaned when fingers joined the tongue, sliding further inside and curling to press against the teen's prostate. Meanwhile, Slade's free hand crept up, taking a firm grasp on the teen's shaft and running his thumb over the balls as they tightened. Slade's fist pumped slowly, tugging at the skin on Robin's length and occasionally pulling up to listen the hero gasp at the tension caused by the line. His thumb kept a close gauge on the teen's balls, feeling them twitch and tighten as the teen neared climax.

Robin's breath felt thick and warm in the sterile lab, creating a dizzying effect that he was happy to lose himself in. He tried vainly to fully immerse himself in the pain and the pleasure, willfully ignoring how desperately part of his mind begged him to stop. Slade was a killer. A liar. A villain. Robin knew better. He knew better than to trust Slade and to want him, but the other part of him, the darker part that now refused to deny the most basic human desires, screamed out so madly for his touch that all reason fell mute. It hadn't always been like this, Robin knew. He used to be able to control that want- that need to be known, to feel, to be human. Slade changed that in him, ripped away his perfection and replaced it with humanity.

Slade's hand pulled fiercely on the teen's balls, enjoying the way the teen screamed and writhed, accidentally pulling out the sound by a good quarter inch.

"You were about to cum," Slade purred viciously, breaking the silence with a dark tone and dominating leer. "I don't believe I gave you permission." His eye raked down the teen's body, appraising the flesh before slowly pushing the sound back into place.

Robin only gazed at him silently, waiting for the next move, for the next pain. To his displeasure, Slade instead released his grip on the teen's balls and ran a finger over his cheek, an intimate gesture that the hero did not appreciate- especially when he realized that Slade was wiping away the tears that left warm, salty trails in their wake. Robin hadn't realized he was crying.

"Be careful, boy; I'm starting to like this view." The man smirked and lifted the tear-stained finger to his lips, licking them with a devilish smirk. He had realized it moments before, the keen look in the blue eyes had returned sometime between the sounding and the rimming. Robin had worked his way out of the dizzying bog brought on by his earlier panic. It was time to test the water. "What? No witty retort? No 'shut up and fuck me?'"

"I preferred the silence," Robin said weakly.

"Do you?" Slade asked, reading the subtle agony in his voice and the fear in his eyes. "I can see that pain hiding in your features, Grayson. I know how loud that silence rings in your ears."

"You know me so well, don't you?" Robin laughed painfully, almost sounding relived as he actually felt the tears falling from his eyes. "You do. You've always known what I wanted… what I needed."

"Not always, no." The villain gave him a thoughtful look, hard and calculating, but still with the appraising edge of curiosity.

"Do you know what I need right now?" the teen whispered a soft question, struggling to meet the man's eye.

"I know what you want," Slade purred, his eye narrowing slightly in a way that bordered on erotic and trespassed on hostile.

"Punish me?" Robin feigned a smile, but it was hardly convincing. "I want to be punished… to feel the same pain you felt when… when I killed you…"

"Pain is just a means to the end," Slade gave a small genuine smile, not at all the forced expression of his partner. He looked the teen over, carefully, and the smile faded with his voice. Suddenly the vague and unidentifiable expressions Robin had given since waking up had an agenda behind them. He understood what they meant. "And ending it is what you're really after, isn't it? You want out of our game…"

Robin stared back at him, surprised at first that Slade could so easily reach inside him and pluck out the thoughts he meant to hide, but the surprise faded quickly, leaving him with a numb gratitude that Slade had seen it so easily. He swallowed carefully and gave a single, slow nod, not daring to take his eyes off the villain.

Likewise, Slade kept his gaze firmly on the teen. His face was calm, but he could feel his blood pressure rising. Ending the contract was, although half-expected, a risk that Slade had not fully explored. It was inevitable, in one way or another, that their contract would end, but… Slade's eye fixed into a glare, one that the teen seemed to recognize, but did not react to.

He knew this was not the end, just a temporary reprieve… Robin wouldn't stay away from him forever. He couldn't. There was too much to go back to, too much to want. Too much to need… Still, it hurt Slade's pride- no, pissed him off that the teen was so ready to cast him aside. He couldn't help but feel some bitter resentment and perhaps- if he could stoop to admit it- which he could not- pain at the realization that he could not stop Robin if he truly wanted to end the contract, and that no amount of skill or effort could give him what he wanted. His hubris had cost him many things in life: his youngest son's voice, the trust of his wife, his eye, his oldest son's life… But Robin… he wasn't one to fall into that list… Slade would never allow that…

"I can see what you're thinking, Robin, one last fuck before you walk away and leave all this behind. But you know that's not enough. Pleasure soaked in pain isn't enough right now, and it won't keep you away."

"I know… I just wa-"

"What you want is to be tortured. Go beyond the point of pleasure, take you to the darkest place imaginable and leave you there to be reborn into your former self. Cold. Emotionless. Void of pain, and pleasure, and happiness because all you know is fighting and hate."

Robin gave a small breath through his nose, eyes filling with tears that silently fell down his cheeks as the forced smile fell to pieces. Like so many times before, Slade read him like a detailed map, leading him to exactly where he needed to be, or worse… where he wanted to keep away from. The hero's nose wrinkled slightly, and his upper lip curled as if he felt a sharp pain move through his body. Mental pain as it moved into physical sensation was almost unbearable. Slade knew that kind of pain well.

Slade's voice softened, looking down at the quivering body. "You want a reason to keep going... But I can't give that to you. That's not something anyone can give. No amount of pain will fix you, Grayson."

"Try," the hero pleaded. "Please try, Slade. Please. I know… I know that this wasn't… that I wasn't something... But please, if you care at all… I need this. I need to hate you again. You're the only one who can see inside my brain. You're the only one that can break me out of it. I can't do this anymore, Slade. I can't keep letting you win. I'll end it one way or another, but just… just once more… please make me hate you again."

Slade remained quiet, placing his hands on the side of the table and breathing slowly as he studied the body before him. "This is the last time, then?" he asked in a low and dangerous voice. Robin nodded, but Slade made it a point not to look him in the eye until he asked his next question. "And the contract? Do you intend to break it?"

"If it means stopping you-"Robin started but stopped coldly. His shifting expressions vividly demonstrated his inner conflict. "I don't know…"

"You better decide quickly," Slade's voice was the darkest Robin had ever heard it. Not a chord of empathy could be found in the tone, and almost immediately, Robin felt his blood chill. "Because I warn you: If you chose to cross me, to betray the trust I've put in you… I won't rest until I've returned the favor six-fold."

Robin swallowed hard, blue eyes lightened by the bloodshot glaze as he gave a gentle nod. He understood. Six-fold. One for him, for Batman, and for each member of his team.

Slade stepped off the table, silent once again as he unlocked the shackles that bound the teen's wrists and ankles. Robin stretched his legs against the metal, spreading them slightly as his eyes timidly glanced over Slade's body, waiting for the inevitable strike. He kept his hands above his head, not daring to resist whatever pain came for him. Slade merely loomed over the hero, eye dark, angry, and calculating.

Robin watched, feeling his body beginning to shake as the man stared, gaze fixated on his chest for an unbearably long period. His unease grew in the silence, listening only to the buzzing lights and the sound of his pulse drumming in his ears. Perhaps he'd asked too much of the man; after the connection they shared… physical, mental, and… emotional. Robin was so fixated on himself that he hardly considered how far past the line Slade himself must have crossed, how much he might have compromised himself and his safety to maintain the contract. Was it wrong to ask that of the man? Perhaps, yes… After all, Slade wasn't truly a monster…

"Slade," Robin began softly, a hand moving towards the villain.

The hero gasped as Slade caught him by the wrists and violently pushed his arms back into place, grinding the base of his hands into the table. "Don't touch me," He growled dangerously, leaning in so that his face was hardly an inch from the teen's. "The only intimacy we'll share tonight will be the manner in which I break you." He pulled back slightly, pausing long enough to stare into the blue eyes, reading them for any misunderstanding, any doubt or hesitation. Robin only nodded solemnly and Slade continued, "You will remain silent. Save for any involuntary sounds, I expect that you will hold your tongue and not speak. Failure to maintain control will result in punishment, the severity of which shall be left to my discretion. Do you understand?"

"Yes," Robin spoke very softly, before the back of Slade's hand collided across his cheek. He looked back at the villain in shock as the pain spread and throbbed over his face.

"What part of that order did you not understand?" He asked with a seething sort of calmness as his free hand clasped the boy's cheeks. He paused once more, voice still cold, but not nearly as vicious. "There is one exception to this rule…" his hand released the boy's face and drifted down, fingertips playing against his neck with varying pressure. "If you wish to stop, just say so… and I will immediately stop. We will go our separate ways, and I'll see you again only when our masks are firmly back in place. Do you understand?"

Robin nodded eagerly, holding his tongue between his teeth.

"Good boy."

Slade climbed back on the table, pushing Robin's legs apart. The teen's eyes widened slightly at the sight of the man's length, he wondered briefly when Slade had removed the flimsy lab trousers, but that thought was quickly forced away when he felt the head of Slade's cock pushing against his opening. Robin gave a sound of protest when Slade began to push inside; his length was dry and the little saliva that remained from the rimming was not enough to prevent the hard, burning pull against his skin. The teen gazed pleadingly at Slade, not daring to utter a word, but Slade merely stared back with a cruel expression and continued to slowly force himself inside.

Releasing his grip over the teen's wrists, the villain grit his teeth and grabbed hold of the slender hips, forcing himself completely inside and enjoying the way the hero's screams echoed inside the small laboratory. The pleading blue eyes, once fixed on him as if begging for reprieve, turned to the side and clenched tightly shut, leaking a few tears down the reddened, salt-stained cheeks. Slade allowed himself a private frown, but he was never one to do things halfway. Reservations or no, he continued his work.

Robin clenched his teeth as the villain pulled back and slammed into him once again, feeling the pressure building back in his stomach as his own length began to harden. He wearily forced one eye open, daring a glance at Slade and feeling a shiver run down his spine when he found the man was staring back at him, glare fixated as his hips grinded against the teen. Recognizing the small change in the hero, Slade gave a cruel smirk as his gaze drifted down to the hardening length. His hand closed around it briefly and Robin moaned meekly when he teased the surface with his fingertips, starting at the base and slowly working his way to the top where he flicked at the sound. The teen responded with a helpless whimper and a slow throbbing of the vein on the side of his cock as blood pumped into his growing erection.

Slade answered his response by grasping the tip of the sound in his fingers and pulling it clean out. Robin cried out in surprise and pain, his erection dwindling for a moment before returning with full force, leaking a precum stained with a pearly-pink hue.

"Your body seems to operate under the misconception that you will find pleasure in what I'm going to do to you." Slade licked his lips, ripping off the electrode pads and throwing them to the side. He then twirled the sound between his fingers, winding the string around it and pulling until Robin followed the force, sitting up and groaning as the villain pulled himself out and coerced the teen to change positions.

Robin watched in silence as the man reclined against the table and placed one arm behind his head, looking rather smug as he held the sound in his hands like a pair of reins, effortlessly guiding the teen into place over his legs.

"Fuck yourself on my cock." He glared, giving the makeshift reins a hard flip and glaring with vengeful pride as the teen moved over him.

Robin glanced at Slade carefully before spitting in his hand and rubbing it on the man's length, he did his best not to grimace at the thin layer of blood as he moved his hand over the surface, Slade noticed anyway and pulled harder on the line, lip curling spitefully as he did so. The teen tried to move carefully, slowly easing himself on the length and enduring the burning pain. Slade kept pulling on the reigns forcing him lower until, apparently losing patience, his hand crashed down on the teen's thigh, knocking him off balance and forcing him down against the man's hips.

"You heard me." Slade growled once again, his voice empty of the usually playful tone that Robin hardly noticed until it was long gone.

Robin sucked in his bottom lip, releasing it instantly when he realized it was still splattered with stale blood and half-crusted machine oil. He gave a slow nod before closing his eyes and moving his hips. Slade took a moment to enjoy the long, heavy drag of the hero's ass sliding over his cock. He didn't let the slow pace last long, and soon he was thrusting hard against the table pushing Robin's hips against him as hard as he could and savoring the way the teen whimpered through the pain. Soon his eye drifted down, resting on the teen's erection as it twitched and dripped down the tip. A cruel smirk and but a moment later, Slade's hand closed around the teen's shaft, squeezing and twisting until his partner let out a tortured scream.

"Ask me to stop, Robin. Just say the word, and it's over," Slade spoke in a low, predatory growl, sounding as if he was mere inches from the kill.

Robin bit his tongue, tears streaming down his cheeks as he shook his head and grimacing when Slade's hand twisted on his length once again.

"More then?" Slade asked, the question hanging in the air like a threat. "Alright."

Robin let out a panicked cry when Slade pushed him off the table. His arms and legs scrambled to help him control the fall, but he still landed hard on the floor, his arm crashing hard against the corner of the nearest table with an ominous crack.

"Sounds painful," Slade glared, stepping down and leering over the teen. "Get up."

Robin's lips quivered slightly and the man's eyebrow quirked, waiting for the inevitable plea to end their game. He was only mildly surprised when the teen nodded and stood, body quivering as he kept his eyes at Slade's feet.

"Such a waste," Slade said smoothly, lifting the hero's chin and glaring into his eyes. "All this strength, this power. And yet you hold it in for the sake of… what? Your ethics? Your upbringing?" His eye looked the teen over, studying him, and then a dark, toothy smile crawled over his lips. "But you and I know better, don't we? You've seen what it's like on the other side; you know how thrilling that darkness can be. You enjoyed stealing for me as an apprentice, lying to your friends just to be fucked by me… And when you discovered my plan… I'm willing to bet you liked the feeling of taking my life." Robin shook his head back and forth, and Slade gave a cruel smirk. He hid his bluff under his flawless confidence and watched the hero struggle to find the truth within himself. Although he had been quick to disagree, Slade could see the fear and the confusion hidden in his eyes. "How did it feel, boy. Did you like it? Did it turn you on?"

"Slade-" Robin pleaded, his lips and eyes forming a disgusted expression as his voice begged for the man to stop. He gasped when Slade once again grabbed hold of the wire that hung from his nipple rings, feeling like he'd swallowed a knot as the man glared at him dangerously.

"Unless your next word is 'stop,' I urge you to shut your mouth," he hissed and Robin nodded. "Onto your punishment, then…" Slade grabbed the teen's throat and gave it a little squeeze, forcing him to walk to the tiny little chamber that had previously held the Batman robot.

Robin frantically shook his head and gave the man a pleading look that was all but ignored.

"What? Don't like it? We could just fuck on the floor next to the remains of my android. You're already coated in blood and grime, what's a little more?" He didn't wait for Robin to respond, only hooked his hand under the teen's thigh and pressed his hips closer, sinking inside the teen with an insatiable glare. "You asked me what I would have done to The Bat if I'd gone through with the plan…" Slade's voice was calm, broken periodically as he delivered hard, deep thrusts. "I wonder what would be the more humane option. Keeping him locked in a chamber like this, watching the slow and agonizing break as he realized that things like escape and salvation were not coming? Watching him wither away until there was nothing left to save… Or perhaps freezing him in ice, like you did the Brotherhood?" Slade gave a small, joyless laugh. "I never understood that with you heroes… You won't kill, but you'll sanction endless torture and suspension of existence. I guess it doesn't matter if the punishment is like death as long as you don't have to sully your hands. Never mind the inevitable thaw and resulting chaos, death, and hatred that they unleash. No, no. That's not your fault. You did your part to stop them. Everything you could… Except the best and most permanent solution."

Slade pulled back, wrapping a hand at the base of his cock and squeezing to prevent his own climax. He lifted the boy's chin again, smirking benevolently.

"What? You don't agree?" He asked and Robin pursed his lips in response, letting his eyes drift to the side. Slade used a cold, somehow soothing voice as he spoke, "Speak, Robin. I won't punish you for speaking on this one."

Robin hesitated for a moment, mentally untightening his throat and barely managing to whisper, "That's pretty bold talk for a man that won't stay dead."

Slade gave a small, genuine chuckle, but the humor did not reach his eyes. "Touché, Boy Wonder." He reached for the sound dangling from the wires and pulled the line forward as he lifted his knee up until the teen's stomach was flush against his thigh. He then ran a hand over the teen's bare ass. "Perhaps I should have been clearer in my authorization of your words… True, I would condone your speaking… that attitude of yours, however," Slade lifted his hand and brought it down hard against the teen's ass, "is going to cost you."

Robin flinched as Slade's hand crashed against his behind. The strikes were hard and fast, leaving a stringing pain over his skin that soon gave way a burning throb. He managed to hold back the sounds of his discomfort until the more brutal hits or when Slade surprised him by jamming his fingers inside and pulling him up with a growl, as if insinuating that the teen was trying to escape his punishment by bending his knees and slouching.

Robin wasn't sure how long it lasted, but when Slade finally lowered his leg, the teen fell to the floor, body shaking with a furious blush on his cheeks. The villain gave a leering smirk and nudged the teen with his foot, trying to get him to turn over, but Robin only scooted to the side, trying to avoid the touch altogether. Not appreciating the gesture, Slade looped his foot under the teen's stomach, more or less kicking him against the wall.

He didn't bother to give a smirk at the painful little blush that lit up the hero's cheeks as he righted himself, nor his erection as it proudly stood to attention against his stomach. Slade merely glared down at the teen, watching as he cradled his broken arm and deciding his next move.

"Get up," he said coolly. "Time to wash that filth off of you."

Robin nodded, rising to his feet in a dizzy and painful sort of lull. Still blushing, he tried subtly to cover his groin as he walked, but Slade grabbed him by both arms, jerking them out of place and behind the teen's back as they marched towards the shower. The villain coldly ignored the growl of pain from the teen as his broken arm was squeezed and twisted until they entered the small chamber and Slade gave him a rough shove against the wall. He closed the door, activating the shower system and making Robin balk at the cold water rushing over his body.

The teen mindfully held his arm to the cold to reduce the swelling. He noticed a dark, straight line forming on the skin above the break and let his mind focus on it, reveling in the pain that was so simple and understandable.

Slade, meanwhile, watched the teen's back from the doorway, noting how the hero studied his wounds and wondering if he looked at other battle scars with such relief and reverence. The villain folded his arms over his chest, watching the teen start to shiver, but doing nothing about the temperature, which he naturally could have adjusted, had he actually wanted to.

Slade was angry, he realized, and that anger frustrated him. Of course he'd known all their secrets would come out eventually. All of them. But the mere recognition of that fact was hardly enough to fully understand the true impact of loss and losing.

Slade nondescriptly opened one of the cabinets and threw a container of industrial soap at the teen, letting him read between the lines. Robin bent forward slowly, picking up the soap and working over the blood and oil caked on his skin.

"Do you really think it will be so easy?" Slade called over the sound of rushing water some time later when the water had warmed and the grime had more or less filtered down the drain. Slade's narrowed eye focused keenly on the back of the teen's neck as he marched forward and wrapped his hand around it. Robin did not react. "What makes you think that you can walk away from this unscathed? You can pretend to walk in the light again, but we both know better. You've been hiding in shadows for too long. You know too much pleasure, too many secrets that the darkness hides... and you've made a few of your own. You're a part of this darkness just as much as it has become a part of you…" Slade's grip on the neck tightened, as a heavy hand pulled the lithe hips back against his erection. Robin didn't make a sound as Slade entered him. The man sneered at the back of the hero's head, making sure that he pushed inside painfully slow, letting his cock pulse and feeling the slight twitches of pain from the hero.

Robin closed his eyes, letting Slade's fingers coil around his throat and squeeze while his other hand wrapped around the teen's length and twisted it in his grasp. He did his best to ignore the man's words, but he felt each one cutting into him, bleeding him dry. He told himself it was part of the process, some purging of the sickness and lust that drew him to Slade; he needed to hear those words, the promise that he'd fail, that Slade would win in the end. He needed that. He needed something to hate, to fight against. Slade's hips slammed repeatedly against his backside, and he bit his lip, choking back the sounds of pain and want that filled his chest painfully.

"Don't forget that I built the hero you have become. I gave you purpose. Skill. Power. Slade noted the helpless cry from the teen's throat and sneered, feeling the teen's length as it neared orgasm. He tilted his hips cruelly, fucking the hero in a way he knew to be painful and glaring when the helpless cry gave way to a strangled hiss through Robin's teeth. With a snarl, he pulled out, flipped the teen around and shoved him against the wall before sinking into him again. "Look at me," Slade growled cruelly. "And don't you dare look away."

Robin held his breath as he followed Slade's commands, waiting for the feeling of hatred to crawl inside him, burn at him like it had before. Slade's hands held his arms uselessly against his own body, paying no mind to the painful break as he fucked the teen. Robin's eyes filled with tears as he stared imploringly at the villain, searching for catalysts hidden inside the pain and the fear.

"Mark me, Grayson." The villain kept moving, pushing the teen harder against the wall and glaring. "You'll suffer in the light. Burn under it. And when the time comes, you'll fall into back the shadows. Back to me."

Robin wanted desperately for the acid sensation to wash over him again, to take away the pain and leave him immovable, inhuman. He craved to be empty, to feel nothing when he looked Slade in the eye, when he saw himself in the mirror… But that hatred refused to come. Not when Slade thrust so deeply inside him that it hurt, crashing his lips against the hero's as he came. Not when Robin, in spite of himself, orgasmed against Slade's stomach.

Slade pulled back, letting the teen fall to the shower floor and turning towards the laboratory door. His back rose and fell with his breath, wet skin glistening with each movement. "You'll be alone in the light, you know that, don't you?" He asked, almost evenly. "Your team… they need too much support on their own to possibly be of any real use to you. And your mentor?" Slade laughed, placing his hand on the door's turn wheel. "You may have chosen me, but it was Batman's lies that drove you to me, Batman's legacy that kept you silent when you could have set a trap to capture me. You chose to follow me into the darkness, used the fact that you might discover my identity as an excuse for your betrayal. You came into the shadows of your own will… but you're only fighting yourself as you draw back from them. You know that there is no one in the light that you can trust- that trusts you enough to let you be the hero you strive so vainly to be. There is nothing waiting there for you but pain and loneliness."

As the water poured over his body and Robin struggled to sit up, he wondered silently how much of that was true… and perhaps how much of it was spoken from experience…

"Slade," Robin called, sitting up and cradling his arm, tears streaming down his cheeks. The man paused, but did not look back. The teen held his breath, unsure of what he should, or even could say to gain some sort of closure, some sort of peace, or anger, or anything that led him away from the heavy feeling in his chest. He struggled silently for a moment, finally managing to mutter an empty, "I'm sorry."

"Enjoy your time in the light; we're done here," Slade replied smoothly, not giving even the slightest glance behind him before he turned the small wheel on the door and disappeared behind it with a slam.

Robin sat for a moment, collecting his thoughts and pain and frustration into something that at least resembled a coherent thought before he pushed himself to his feet. He swallowed hard at the lump in his throat and walked towards the door, turning the knob with his one good arm until it relented and he followed Slade's trail down the corridor.

"Slade," he called timidly, finding the man typing into one of the machines, his back turned as before.

"Your clothes are hanging where you left them," the villain replied dismissively. "I suggest you dress yourself before you leave."

"I'm not leaving," Robin said, sounding only marginally defiant. "You agreed to break me. And I'm not broken yet."

Slade gave a low, joyless chuckle, turning so that his profiled face was shadowed by the glowing screen. "Don't worry, my boy. I'm not done yet."

"Now, Master?" Robin heard his own voice from behind him just before he felt plastic pressed against his arm and heard the sound of the compressed air injection.

"What-" he began, kicking his leg behind him and making contact with his younger doppelganger. Before he could do much more, Slade was leering over him, grabbing hold of his arms and throwing him against one of the tables.

"Should have left when I told you to," Slade gave a merciless smile and a shrug.

Robin jumped to his feet, swaying dangerously as the room began to spin. He held his fists in front of his face, ready for a fight as Slade came nearer.

"You've been given a powerful sedative," Slade purred, picking up the bloodstained picklock and casually studying it. "You should consider that the least of your worries at this time, because I'm going to show you exactly what it means to be broken."

"Slae…" Robin mumbled, finding that his tongue suddenly did not want to cooperate, either that or it had swollen to fill his whole, mouth, he couldn't really tell. He had planned to say 'stop,' but that didn't really seem like much of a possibility at that point, both because his tongue wasn't cooperating and the room was getting very dark. He could feel himself tipping to the side, his body growing heavier until he crashed against the floor for the second time, only he wasn't quite as unconscious as before.

"Put him on the table," He heard Slade say dreamily, followed by a "Yes Master," from the android. He could almost feel small arms circling around his torso and beginning to lift his body, but that is precisely when he lost himself to a restless and painful sleep.

Robin awoke to the site of his boots dangling a foot from the rocky ground. His body was drenched in pain, and his blood pounded in his ears as he tried to make sense of his surroundings. He could see his breath slowly turning to fog in front of his face, but noticed that something in the way that distorted the mist. A slight moan of pain made him realize that, along with the gag that held his tongue in place, he was wearing a full mask over his head. He shifted lightly, finding that he had very little range of movement. Groggily, he tried to make his vision focus, noticing now that his ankles were wrapped in heavy chains that extended up his body, effectively cocooning him against whatever he was hanging from. Very slowly, the overall feeling of pain began to subside, leading to a more concentrated areas and ailments. His wrists, bound tightly to the surface pounded in tune with the pain in his ears, but with each breath, he could feel the sting of lacerations all down his back and chest.

"Good God…" he heard a woman's voice and soon the crackle of a walkie-talkie. "Get the Commissioner to the roof."

Robin struggled to lift his head, seeing the woman in question and instantly recognizing her as one of Gotham's detectives- One that Bruce had deemed trustworthy, though that had been a long time ago.

"I see the cavalry is arriving," Slade's voice made Robin tense and the officer raise her pistol.

"Ten Seventy-eight," She said calmly into her radio, not lowering the gun she had aimed square on Slade's eye.

Robin watched the barrel as it followed the villain. Slade walked to the hero's side, patting the steel drum that circled the teen, sending a cold chill down the hero's spine as he realized what exactly he was tied to.

"Ten-Sixty, Montoya. Deploy?"

"Yes sir, he has a hostage chained to the signal light. I… I think it's Robin…"

"It is," Slade let her know, calmly if not a bit arrogantly. "And please inform the arriving squad that I'm far from alone."

The detective jumped at the sound of the many Slade bots springing onto the rooftop, some arriving from distant buildings, others that had been clinging to the side of the Police Department building, or merely hiding in the many shadows that covered Gotham.

Robin felt his heart pounding as the door to the building burst open and officers poured forward, among them was the commissioner, pistol drawn and glasses shining in the ambient light of the city.

"Fighting will not be necessary, Commissioner." Slade rested his hand on his hips. "I'm here for your assets, not for your men."

James Gordon looked stern as he slowly walked forward, raising his hands in the air in a show of compliance.

"There's a lot of blood, Mr. Wilson." He spoke very clearly, stopping ten feet from the man. "How do I know your hostage is still actually still alive?"

"Oh, I'm not about to get rid of the Boy Wonder, if I can help it. I still have many plans for him." Slade hummed darkly. "But, if you want to check for yourself…?" He gestured to the teen and the commissioner took another step forward, "Naturally, I'd ask that you leave your gun behind?" he almost growled, hinting that he did not appreciate his patience being tried.

Gordon obliged, kneeling down and leaving his gun on the snowy gravel before he continued forward once more. Robin swallowed hard as the strong, but wrinkled hand lifted to his throat, finding warmth and a strong pulse. The man gave a low sigh of relief at that finding, something that his eyes reflected equally. Robin tried to speak, but only a strangled murmur could escape his gagged tongue.

"Stay calm, son," Gordon whispered, "We'll get you out of this."

"Now," Slade growled, pushing the commissioner back and drawing a unanimous sound of hands tightening over pistols from the men and women in uniform. The Slade bots hummed ominously at the threat, but remained stationary. "Let's begin, shall we?"

"What are your demands?" Gordon asked, his eyes fixed on Robin, trying to reassure him.

Slade's eye glared from under his mask as he spoke with a dark mirth in his voice, "Get me Bruce Wayne."

A/N: And Slade and Robin never had sex again forever. The End.

... No? Okay, fine. I'll keep writing and they'll keep fucking. Jeeze.