Wow, guys, I'm so glad people like this story. I never thought I'd get so many story and author alerts. Definitely feeling the aster. :) Thank you guys so much for the feedback, you don't know how much it means to me. If I could give you all a hug and homemade cookies, I would. You guys are the best! :)
In other news, I've been reading the New 52 Batman & Robin comics, and I love them. I know it's highly unlikely, but I'd love to get a Batman animated show with Damian in it. :D By the way, who's excited for the Dark Knight Rises? I ordered my tickets for the midnight premiere.
Anyway, enjoy the chapter! For some reason, this chapter was extremely difficult to write. And apparently this story takes place after Failsafe. XD
Note: I do not hold copyright claims to Young Justice, DC, or it's characters, this was made for entertainment purposes only.
It felt like swimming in a sea of soft, murky darkness.
Robin could sense that he was drifting weightlessly, ungrounded to any earthly plane of thinking, free of the pain and torturous wounds that awaited him in the waking world. In this strange realm of his subconscious, there was nothing; no suffering, no battles, no villains, no crazed clowns. Everything was so surreal. Robin felt almost... at peace. Relaxed for the first time in what felt like years, the boy allowed his mind to succumb to the senseless pleasure of idleness, until a thought crossed his mind.
Am I dead?
The lethargic murkiness that surrounded him seemed to shiver for a moment, and then everything began crashing down. The blackness swirled around him, faster and faster until it felt like Robin was being suffocated by it. The boy began to panic. Visions began to thunder inside of the darkness, showing images of five very familiar acrobats falling, falling, falling to the cold, unforgiving earth, unable to stop their descent until their broken, mutilated bodies were red paint splatters on the soil. He witnessed his friends, his teammates, and his mentor exterminated right before his very eyes, destroyed by alien energy beams. Then he saw his uncle, the last remnant of his family and the only reminder of the life he once knew, slowly weaken and die on a cold hospital bed, the various beeping machines he was hooked up to unable to save him. Finally, he watched himself and Kid Flash disintegrate into a fiery blaze, screaming, their spirits leaving their bodies as the flames consumed them. It seemed that every bad thing that had ever happened in the young bird's life, every failure that he burdened himself with, was being thrust into his face on repeat, duplicating the nightmares that plagued him every night. Robin let out a soundless scream and began thrashing out at the formless murk. He didn't want to die; he didn't want to join the ranks of the deceased. Not like this.
Then, Robin was suddenly aware of a familiar voice echoing throughout the turbulence of his emotions.
"Rob, dude, snap out of it!"
But the boy's mind would not quiet. The darkness became more chaotic and tumultuous until Robin could no longer keep track of his thoughts. He was terrified. Terrified of dying, terrified of losing another loved one.
Terrified of being alone again.
In a last attempt effort to regain his thoughts, Robin forced opened his eyes.
Batman had been waiting at the wreckage in his Batmobile for a few minutes when Superman came flying over the horizon. The Caped Crusader did not tolerate tardiness, no matter how minimal. "Glad to see you could make it," the Dark Knight grumbled.
"Sorry," the Man of Steel panted. "I got held up over a small crisis in Metropolis." He paused as he examined the scene of smoking rubble and flashlight beams bouncing over the debris as a task force of police officers scoured the area for clues. "Have you done any readings or research of the area?" Superman questioned.
Batman nodded. "It appears the building was built over a World War II bomb shelter, and the architects never bothered to remove it. However, the bunker seems to be a lot bigger than the regular dimensions of fallout shelters from that era; most of the building has caved into it. I bet that if there are any clues to what happened to the Team, it would be down there." He turned to the Last Son of Krypton. "I hoped I could use some of your brawn to get down there."
Superman allowed himself a small smirk. The Dark Knight of Gotham, admitting to needing help? Preposterous. Nevertheless, he said, "I'll see what I can do." He then began hauling huge metal support beams and rubble out of the wreckage. Some of the police officers caught on to what he was doing, and called in some cranes to help speed the process along. Still, even with the cranes, the officers, Batman, and Superman helping, many hours passed before enough debris was cleared for the two superheroes to explore the not-very-underground bunker. The Bat lowered himself into the gaping hole in the ground with one of his grappling hooks and grabbed a flashlight he kept in his utility belt, while the Man of Steel simply drifted downwards and used his excellent sight to explore the cavernous space. At first, neither of the heroes had much luck finding clues. But then, a low moan escaped from underneath one of the ginormous mounds of concrete.
Batman looked in the direction of Superman, who caught his eye and nodded. Together, they slowly approached the giant rock, and the Metropolis Marvel lifted it up to reveal a broken colossal beast underneath. Superman tossed the rock aside and Batman bent down to examine the strange being further. The creature looked almost human-like, apart from the bulging muscles, the bulky jawline, and the primitive-looking facial features. Yet it looked somewhat... familiar. Some of the surrounding wreckage had spray painted words on them, warning him with messages of FRAGILE: POTENTIAL BIOHAZARD. Then it clicked. A Kobra Venom victim, Batman realized. Sportsmaster, no doubt. But why would he destroy a building if he was using it to house Kobra Venom and his test subjects? It was unusual, even for Sportsmaster. He would have never sacrificed his cargo for the sake of any theatrics. Something else must have been the cause. But what? Whether he liked it or not, the Dark Knight soon got his answer.
"Hey, Batman, come over here!" Superman called. "I found something you might want to see." To prevent it from getting any ideas of escape, Batman injected a healthy dose of sedatives into the Kobra victim. Warily, the Caped Crusader stood and walked over to where the Big Blue Boy Scout was positioned. What he saw utterly repulsed him and sent a sick trickle of dread down his spine. In a pile of what must have been the center of the vast bunker lay a collection of Joker cards.
Of course. It had to be the clown.
Batman backed slowly away from the pile, unwilling to let his Kryptonian friend see the look of horror on his face. If the Joker had been here, and the young superheroes were in his custody... The Dark Knight forced himself to stop his train of thought. He did not even want to think of what may be happening to his little bird and the others if that was the case. Instead, he called to one of the nearby officers near the surface of the hole. It seemed the police were on his side this time around. "Any luck with finding evidence up there?" The officer seemed to be talking urgently to another one of his fellow cop comrades and abruptly turned to answer the Batman. "One squad has found samples of blood spatters on the east side of the rubble of the compound that has been written out a message; more is partially covered by a concrete slab."
Batman shot his grapple gun to the surface and did an impressive backflip in order to get on to the top of the hole. Then, he strode over to where a cluster of officers were hovering around a spot in the eastern part of the devastation. The Dark Knight shouldered his way through the small crowd and did a double take. Written in blood, and lots of it, was the message from none other than the Joker.
Gotcha this time, Batsy.
Batman narrowed his eyes and gave a small growl of frustration. His fingers clenched tightly into balls, and the Caped Crusader struggled to resist the urge to hurl his fists into someone's face. This whole thing had been a set-up to get to him. How could he not have seen it before? He should have triple-checked his sources before sending the Team out here.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, he berated silently to himself.
"Something the matter Ba-" Superman had silently hovered over to the throng of people when he saw what everyone was looking at. "-Oh my gosh." For once, the man had no words of comfort. Instead, he placed a steady hand on his comrade's shoulder, as if to prevent him from doing anything too rash. Batman just glowered at the carnage, like a stern gaze could make the gory scene go away. However, underneath the concrete slab the officer had mentioned before was another pool of blood trickling out into the early morning light, seeping into the crimson-red words of the Joker's taunt. The Caped Crusader, in his anger, grabbed the two-ton mound with his hands, grunted, and overturned it without the help of the Man of Steel. Hell hath no anger like that of a ticked off Bat, after all. However, the Dark Knight soon came to regret his decision. Underneath the slab laid a perfect outline of a very familiar silhouette, laced with a river of sanguine-colored liquid.
Robin! The Batman could barely restrain himself from shouting in utter revulsion.
And right where his young ward's stomach would be was a bloodied knife sticking out of the ground, a small note attached to the helm. Shakily, Batman took the note from the weapon and opened it, afraid of what he might read. His worries were not in vain.
It's his blood, ya know, the Joker wrote. He ain't got much left of it, so I couldn't draw you a map to where the party's at. Sorry! Maybe we'll send ya a video invite later. For now, I've got other things planned for the little bird. Always wanted to carve this one, after all. His friends will serve as fresh entertainment as well.
Batman could almost hear the deranged villain's maniacal laughter ringing in his ears. It made him want to hurl. The Caped Crusader wanted to crumple up the piece of paper, shove it down that sick lunatic's throat, and then make him suffer tenfold for whatever he was doing to Robin and the team. But he must restrain himself. Rein in his emotions. He must be cold, calculating, and think with his head. For Robin. For the Team. Slowly, the Dark Knight rose from the bloody site, taking the note and a sample of the blood with him, and began parting his way through the crowd of now silent officers; all were apparently too shocked at the gory scene to object to his departure and obstruction of police evidence. Superman followed him in suit.
"Bat are you-?"
"I'm fine," the dark-dressed man said curtly. "Right now, we've got to figure out where the Joker is keeping the Team. Rob- they all may not have much time left."
"To the Watchtower, then?"
"To the Watchtower."
A bright white light nearly blinded Robin as he awakened from his nightmarish reverie. He let out a small shriek as a force rammed him from the side of his face and he felt himself falling. The Boy Wonder struggled to catch himself, but found that his hands and feet were bound to some kind of metal chair. Crash! He landed face first on the cold, heartless, concrete floor. Spots clouded his vision and Robin almost shrank back into the encroaching darkness when he heard a ragged sigh from above and muffled gasps from a corner of the room. "Sheesh Bird Boy, would you keep it down? Some people can't get their beauty sleep with all this screaming in the background."
The voice made his blood turn cold, and the spots cleared from his vision. The boy looked up and saw the Joker meet his eyes, a disgruntled look apparent on the clown's scarred face. Robin smirked. "Well, you sure do need yours. Not like it's going to help much." The white-faced man just chortled.
"I don't think you're in a position to talk like that, Boy Blunder."
Robin knew what that meant, and he steeled himself for another blow. He wasn't sure how much more his body could take, though; the adrenaline he felt from his nightmare had worn away and now he was feeling the full effects of his broken bones and blood loss. Just then, he heard more voices. Familiar voices.
"Stop! Don't hurt him anymore, please! He can't take it!"
"He's no good to you dead, Joker! Leave him alone!"
"Miss Martian?" Robin choked. "Kid Flash?" His eyes wandered to the side of the grungy concrete room and saw his teammates bound with a titanium alloy rope much like he was, only they seemed to be inhibited by collars similar to the ones at the Belle Reve penitentiary. Superboy had one in addition to a small sliver of kryponite strapped to his chest. Aqualad was stripped of his waterbearers, and Artemis was deprived of her bow and arrows. They all looked as tired and beat-up as the dark-haired acrobat felt.
"Robin!" M'gann cried out. She looked as if she was on the verge of tears. Robin felt a pang of guilt. Miss Martian was so free and child-like; meeting the Joker may have ended up killing her sweet but naive innocence. Nevertheless, he shot her a tired smile.
"Hey, Miss Martian. You feelin' the aster yet?"
"I don't think any of us are 'feeling the aster' right now, bro," Kid Flash glumly murmured. Robin frowned. If Kid Mouth was acting despondent, then they were in some deep trouble.
"Well if we're all done with the sappy pleasantries, I say we let the fun begin," the Joker giggled, and grabbed a beat-up camera from inside his jacket pocket. "But first, let's send a little message to our friends at the Justice League."