Robin curled up underneath his blankets, closing his eyes as he tried to block out the memories of the past week. Although his friends celebrated, he knew the blatant truth: though they did kick Slade's butt, the man was not behind bars.
He turned over to stare at the wall, pulling the sheets tighter around himself. Slade was out there still, biding his time. Waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike again. His shoulder throbbed as he lay on his side, the slight pressure causing the pain to flare up.
Memories flashed before his eyes.
The fight with Slade. The blackmail. The humiliating time when he was forced to steal from Wayne Industries. Robin ground his teeth, a habit he had to stop. There hadn't been enough time for Robin to figure out whether Slade knew his identity or not, but Slade had hinted that he knew. Heavily.
Something huge landed on the roof.
At once he leapt out of his bed into a fighting position, his heart pumping madly as he listened intently for the sound again. He knew he was paranoid and unhealthily obsessive, but what else could he do? There was no way in hell Robin would allow anyone to hurt his friends again. Someone knocked on the door.
"Yo, Robin!" Cyborg's voice called out. "Open the door!"
Robin stalked to the bedroom door and slid it open. All of the Titans stood there, their eyes wide with surprise.
"Is there an intruder?" Robin snapped.
"No, man," replied Cyborg. "I mean—there is someone here. But he's here for you."
Robin let in a sharp intake of breath. There was only one person who could get past the Tower's security system, one person who would come at this time of night, and one person who would be here for him after the events of the past week. The Titans followed him—almost timidly—into the common room. At the sound of the door sliding open the man at the computer turned, his bat ears casting long shadows on the walls.
"We need some time alone," Robin said in a low tone. "This is personal."
Reluctantly, the Titans backed out of the room. He could hear Beast Boy's excited exclamation through the closed door. Nearly everyone on the team—save Starfire—knew of his illustrious career as the Batman's protégée, but they never talked about it. Oh, back when they first formed as a team everyone asked him why he left, but he shut them up pretty quick. Even so, Robin was not surprised to find Bruce here.
Batman said nothing as his gloved fingers flew across the keyboard, accessing the video of a security camera from a building of Wayne Industries in Jump City. Robin was reminded eerily of the time when he walked in on Slade analyzing this very video, quietly remarking on his progress as an apprentice. Batman paused the video and turned to face him.
"Do you think I wouldn't have noticed?" He asked in a quiet voice. "If one of my branches in Jump City was attacked?"
"Let me explain—"
"Explain what, Dick? Explain why you—of all people—bombed one of my branches dressed as a super villain?"
Robin opened his mouth, but found that he could say nothing. He was angry that Bruce came here in the first place, as though he were still a child. Their growing animosity is what caused him to leave Gotham in the first place. But above all, he could not force himself to say that he had been the apprentice of another. Not after all that Bruce had done for him.
"Who else knows? Anyone in the JLA?"
"No, only me."
"Come with me." Robin strode out of the common room, with the Bat following himself like some haunting shadow. "I…I'll show you."
He approached the evidence room. Much to Robin's annoyance, Batman strode past him as the door slid open. Newspapers plastered the walls, detailing the victory of the Titans' exploits and the dastardly crimes of their enemies. Several shelves of objects were dedicated to specific, recurring villains. However, as Robin predicted, Batman's attention was immediately drawn to the wall covered with Slade's exploits. His former mentor examined the cracked mask closely, rubbing his square chin thoughtfully.
"I believe I know who this man is," said Batman, now examining the metal S insignia hanging on the wall. "He gave the JLA some trouble back in Gotham."
"You know who he is?"
Robin fumed, but Batman was, after all, the world's greatest detective.
"I don't know much, but I know that he is called Deathstroke the Terminator."
"He doesn't go by that name here?"
"No. He goes by Slade."
Robin said the name with as much contempt as he could muster. From the way Batman cocked his head Robin could tell that Batman detected the tone of contempt.
"Look, Dick, I came here to find out what happened. Alfred said you haven't called him for days. The Titans haven't battled anyone significant within the past week. I get a call saying that my branch in Jump has been bombed, some technology was stolen, and that the Titans—save Robin—battled on top of the building. Something is wrong."
A part of Robin wanted to let it all out, to tell him everything that happened to him within the past week. Yet he couldn't stand the idea of Batman calling the Justice League over to help track down Slade, couldn't stand the idea of having the grown-ups help them. But sooner or later, Batman would find out.
He always found out.
"Slade…Slade drew me in," Robin began, forcing the words to come out, "he began as a petty criminal. Nothing to worry about. But as time passed he became more…villainous. Not like the Joker, who's simply crazy, but more intentional. Slade had a plan that involved…me." The Batman stood there silent, his expression unreadable. Robin continued. "He blackmailed into becoming his apprentice."
There. He said it.
Batman stared at him wordlessly, his great arms crossed across his massive chest. A flood of memories flashed by Robin's eyes, memories of his time as Slade's apprentice and memories of being trained by Bruce. Even in his darkest hour, when Robin thought that all hope was lost at escape, Robin adamantly defied Slade's statement that he would someday, become like a father to him. Robin already had a father, and he was standing over him here in the evidence room. Although Robin's animosity towards Batman was great, he called upon Batman in his darkest hour.
Then, with a twinkle of malice in his single eye, Slade directed him to Wayne Industries. Renounce your father, he seemed to say, I am yours now. It seemed then to Robin that Slade knew every facet of his personal life and gleefully turned them against him.
"Bruce," Robin croaked as took off his mask. "He hurt me. He hurt me more deeply in ways that the others will never understand."
He let the mask fall to the floor, tears brimming at the edges of his bright blue eyes. The remnant of a black eye—hidden by his mask—still marred his face. After the events of the past week Robin had a desire to quit, to go back to Gotham as Richard Grayson so that Slade would never haunt him again.
"He frightened me, Bruce. When he told me to steal from you I thought you were in danger. I have this horrible fear that he knows who you are. But…but…"
To Robin's surprise Batman also took off his famed cowl to reveal the playboy billionaire Bruce Wayne, Richard Grayson's adopted father. Bruce held Robin in his arms, the same, comforting embrace he gave a young Richard Grayson traumatized from his parents' deaths.
"I understand," said Bruce. "I know we've had some fallouts, but I won't tell the League. Alfred is in Jump if you want to talk to him. I came because I care about you."
For once Robin forgot his animosity towards Bruce as he returned the hug. Now he understood why, in the depths of Slade's lair, he called out Batman's name. This is what a real father did for his son. A father does not beat his child. A father does not threaten to kill his friends. A father does not verbally abuse his son.
"Whatever happens, Dick," said Bruce, "I'll always be here for you."