A/N: Thanks for the patience, everybody. Read my note at the end of the chapter if you have the time, it will explain the hiatus for you.
Chapter 8: Every-Day Trials
Four months had gone by from the time Robin joined the Academy. He had a new routine, and could always keep up with the news through the cafeteria televisions. They were always left on now, so at least Robin could keep up with current events. Nothing out of the ordinary was really happening. Joker had escaped Arkham Asylum a while back, and Robin knew Batman's time would have to be spent more for catching the insane villain than looking for Robin.
Indeed, Robin knew now that it would be a while before any of the heroes found him, if they ever did. It was a daunting thought, and every few days a bout of homesickness would overwhelm Robin. At least he now had friends here, and they got him through the worst of the homesickness.
Every time Robin felt as though he could go no further, Slade seemed to appear next to him. If Slade was absent, Robin could always seek out his new friends. They had even greater respect for Robin knowing that the Boy Wonder had a dark side to him, which wasn't exactly something Robin was proud of.
But even though he had the respect of his class, the older students constantly hounded him. One student, who went by the name of Warfiend (and Robin still couldn't get over how lame that was) could not get over the fact that Slade had chosen Robin over him. He was bigger, he was stronger, and he had the power to create ice crystals that, when thrown, exploded on impact.
Of course, being a villain, Warfiend couldn't let his jealousy go.
Robin was late for his first class one morning after training with Slade, and he knew Warfiend and his gang left the training room shortly after he did. Slade had left before any of them, telling Robin to put away the equipment before leaving, not realizing that Robin was not yet friends with everyone at HIVE Academy.
Robin could hear Warfiend's heavy footsteps behind him and he knew trouble had met up with him once again. While he had been jogging to get to his class as quickly as possible, he began to slow down in preparation for the attack he knew was going to happen.
"Hey, bird-brain! I want to talk to you."
Robin turned around, slightly nervous. There were five boys in Warfiend's gang, and even though it had been a while he was still healing from the gauntlet. If they all attacked, he was going to go down.
"What do you want?" Robin asked.
"You think you're so clever," Warfield said, and with a nod two of the gang members moved to stand on either side of Robin. "You think you're so strong," Warfiend took a step closer to Robin, and Robin clenched his gloveless hands. Warfiend continued, "but really you're just a pitiful little boy who's in too far over his head."
Now that, Robin could agree with. He was in far over his head with Slade. The mastermind criminal had succeeded in proving that over the last few months. The man's intelligence, strength, and experience could be somewhat overwhelming.
"You need to be taken down a notch," Warfiend said, and with that he attacked.
Had it just been Warfiend, Robin would have had a chance of succeeding in defending himself. But with four other teenagers, each with powers of their own and years of training, Robin really didn't stand a chance.
Robin took out two of the students before a third struck him in the jaw and knocked him down. The impact on his healing wounds stunned him long enough for Warfiend's remaining gang members to grab him by each arm and hoist him up.
Robin grimaced as Warfiend struck him across the face. "Now...what should we do with you?" Warfiend pondered, looking at him thoughtfully. "How do we show the world who you really are?"
Looking into Warfiend's eyes, Robin knew it was going to be something humiliating.
He was right.
"Strip him." Warfiend said, pulling a marker out from his shoulder bag. "Let's tie him up, color him a bit, and leave him in the cafeteria. We'll see what Slade thinks of him when he has no dignity left."
That was all the confirmation Robin needed. They were doing this because they were jealous of Robin. Jealous that Slade had chosen him over one of them. They were going to humiliate Robin, no doubt about it. On the bright side, maybe Slade really wouldn't want Robin after seeing him humiliated.
Although this really wasn't the method Robin would have chosen to persuade Slade to choose someone else as his apprentice.
The moment one of the boys loosened his hold to pull Robin's shirt off him, Robin pulled hard and freed his arm. He kicked hard, and the boy on his other side went down.
A strike to the back of Robin's head knocked him to his hands and knees only seconds later. Warfiend and another gang member flatted Robin on his stomach. With his arms pinned next to him, Robin tried to buck them off but found he couldn't.
Only then did Robin realize he should have triggered the alarm on his tracker to alert Slade. This wasn't just a joke, Warfiend was seriously going to hurt Robin.
Warfiend pulled off Robin's shirt, and Robin tried to jerk away as he felt the cold tip of the marker writing on his back. He didn't know what Warfiend was writing, but he knew it wasn't going to be friendly.
Another set of hands pressed Robin's shoulders down, and Robin realized one of the gang members had regained consciousness. Just great.
"That's funny." One of the boys said, and Robin tried to twist out of his grip. Whatever Warfiend was writing, it wouldn't be funny to him.
Robin cursed, and Warfiend laughed. "I guess we can write that too."
Just when Robin thought the worst was over, Warfiend grabbed his jeans and began to tug them down.
Robin fought viciously when he realized they were really going to strip him and tie him up in the HIVE cafeteria. He didn't get far, as the boys laughed, pinned him down again, and Robin found his head being smashed into the floor.
Just when Robin felt them tugging down his jeans, tracing the marker down to write whatever embarrassing statement they had, Robin heard somebody shout, "Stay away from him!"
It sounded so much like Starfire for a moment, Robin couldn't stop the feeling of exhilaration sweep through him. The boys holding him down were thrown off Robin, and Robin quickly jumped to his feet and turned around to face Jinx, Mammoth, and Gizmo.
Robin quickly backed out of the center of the group and next to his HIVE friends. The next two minutes were some of the most enjoyable minutes of Robin's life. It felt good to fight with a team again, even if it couldn't be his own.
When the four gang members were passed out on the floor, and Warfiend was running away, Robin turned to his friends. "Thanks."
Gizmo nodded, a small smile playing on his lips. "They're stinkin' jerks. Every one of them. Our class needs to stick tight, but right now they're focusing on you."
"Apparently. Thanks again," Robin said. He pulled his shirt on and turned around, walking back to the gym.
"Where are you going?" Jinx asked.
"Going back to the gym," Robin replied. "I need to get this gunk off of me."
"We'll go with you," Mammoth said, as he came to walk beside Robin.
As humiliated as Robin was at the moment, now that the adrenaline had died and he was facing his new friends after the most recent defeat, he couldn't help the warmth rushing over him. Then the "Boy Wonder" looked at this group of villains, and realized the mistake he was making.
These villains were becoming Robin's friends. Robin didn't move, shifting his eyes carefully at the trio standing before him. Was this not exactly the type of situation Slade would want? Wouldn't this only help the villain, for Robin to be friends with the enemy? Robin did not entirely understand Stockholm Syndrome, but he did understand that he was at risk of becoming emotionally attached, which would only begin the other symptoms of the disorder. No, it was too late to avoid emotional attachment, but he needed to distance himself from them.
"No," Robin finally said, backing up from Mammoth and the others. "No, just-just leave me alone."
Jinx looked about ready to protest, when Gizmo rested a hand on her arm. Gizmo was too smart for his own good, which frustrated Robin to no end, and the boy could see the young villain knew exactly why Robin was beginning to rebel.
"We're not trying to make you 'join' our side, numnuts." Gizmo said, not moving any closer but noting Robin's stillness. "We want to be friends, and not just because we owe you one for not sending us to a Gotham prison."
"Then why?" Robin finally asked. It was starting to become clear to him. The HIVE was not only intended to be a prison for him while Slade trained him, it was also meant to be an influence on Robin. The feeling of rejection washed over Robin, and he wished he didn't have to realize how dependent he had become on his class members.
Robin didn't wait for his friends to respond. The truth was that even if they didn't believe they were pawns in Slade's game to win Robin over, they were exactly that: pawns.
It was a week after that before Robin nearly lost his will to fight entirely.
Slade and Robin were sparring, and Robin could feel his sweat trickling into his eyes slowly. He was ever grateful for his mask, since it protected his eyes from the burning sweat that would have impeded his sight.
"Aim for my throat, Robin," Slade demanded, jumping back from Robin's low kick. Robin quickly spun out of the kick before Slade could grab his leg, and moved into his next offensive posture.
Robin had fought Slade many times before, many many times before this day, but it wasn't until this morning that one of Robin's offensive punches went wild, and very nearly smashed in Slade's throat. Neither of them expected the punch, since Robin had been going for technique over a true offense at the time, but the manner of the punch became a perfectly executed side swipe that would easily kill a man on impact.
Robin couldn't pull his punch in the quarter of a second it took for his mind to register that he was about to kill Slade, that he was about to become a killer, when Slade did something that shocked him.
With lightning speed, Slade caught Robin's fist just as it hit his neck and flipped his apprentice onto his back.
In shock, Robin looked up into Slade's eye, not even attempting to stand up. Slade grabbed Robin under both elbows and lifted him to his feet. "Control, Robin. You must never let your control get away from you or you might do something you regret."
"I'm-I'm sorry," Robin finally gasped. He had nearly broken every moral code he stood for by even coming close to killing Slade on accident.
"You should be, but not for the reasons for which you are apologizing." Slade said. "It was an accident, and you do not need to be sorry for that. You should be sorry for losing your focus during our training. The consequences could be severe."
Robin nodded, taking a step back from Slade. He knew the villain was likely to start up again. He raised his arms to block the upcoming blow he expected.
Then it clicked. Slade had blocked that hit. That wild, unanticipated, and perfectly executed blow that should have killed Slade in a slow and choking death. The sudden realization made Robin stop in his steps.
"You..you're going easy on me? Robin asked, taking a step back. The realization that Slade was better than he let on, was so much better than Robin at fighting, was nearly terrifying. "You go easy on me, don't you?"
"I am here to teach you, Robin," Slade said, his arms still raised in an attack position but without advancing forward. "I am as hard on you as I need to be."
"But..." Robin faltered, when Slade fought he was clearly better than Robin, but just how much better? Robin swallowed, and raised his hands. "Give me everything."
"Excuse me?" Slade asked. Neither of them were advancing, for which Robin was glad of at the moment. He needed to know just how good Slade really was. Robin needed to know just how outclassed he was.
"Show me how good you are," Robin said. "I want to know."
"And I don't care to injure you, Robin." Slade said, and he finally took a half-hearted punch. Robin took that as a sign that Slade was considering his request, and tried again.
"You won't. Let me see," Robin pleaded. This was more than curiosity for Robin, it was an issue of pride. The thought of Slade being skilled enough to go easy on Robin offended Robin's dignity.
Slade seemed to consider him for a moment, before finally nodding. "We'll spend five minutes on this, and then we're going to train again. Agreed?"
Robin nodded, and prepared himself.
Slade's attack came so swiftly, so aggressively, Robin didn't have time to block the sideswipe before he found himself on his back, pinned by Slade's boot.
"Holy crap," Robin gasped. Slade moved his foot aside and Robin quickly jumped up.
This time, Robin took the aggressive stance and tried to hit Slade. Slade dodged the attack, clearly not holding back this time around, and shoved Robin down by his shoulders.
Robin found himself on his back again.
This time, when Robin got up, he couldn't help but recognize that Slade was in a whole different class of fighter. It was not only clear that Slade was far better than Robin, but it was clear that Slade was in a whole different class from Batman himself.
For the first time, Robin realized he couldn't beat Slade. Not just now, and not just in every physical battle he would ever have with Slade...Robin just couldn't beat him. Unless Slade let him go, Robin wouldn't get away. Not even Batman could stop him.
The realization hurt, even moreso because of his experience with Gizmo, Jinx, and Mammoth. Robin had barely spoken to them since he realized they were pawns utilized by Slade to encourage his apprentice to join him. The three villains encouraged Robin to come to them, but Robin was trying to distance himself from them. Only in an effort to preserve his own sanity.
Slade must have seen something in Robin's posture, because he didn't attack again. Instead, he took a step back and raised his hands to show he wasn't threatening Robin. The sight shook Robin out of his reverie and he looked into Slade's eye.
"I'll never be as good as you," Robin finally said, his stomach sick. "You could have beat me so many times before. Why didn't you? I never had a chance, why did you let me think I did?"
"I never had a good opportunity to take you before. There were too many risks. You're teammates were always in the way."
"You could have taken down any one of the Teen Titans," Robin replied, there was no reason to claim otherwise. They both knew it, although it was a new realization for Robin. "Any one of them or all of us together."
"There were too many risks to you," Slade clarified. "I couldn't anticipate each contingency, and your friends would have done more harm to you than good. They wouldn't beat me, but their fighting could have killed you."
"You're better than the League of Shadows," Robin commented. Batman had been trained by the League of Shadows, but Slade was beyond that level of skill.
"Yes. I have had many years to learn," Slade responded. "True fighting is not about who is stronger, or even who is faster, but who has the greater skills and expertise."
Robin couldn't help but nod along with Slade. Considering he was smaller than nearly every villain he had fought against in Gotham, and his speed only took him so far, he couldn't help but agree with Slade. There were faster, stronger men out there, but without the training they were only potential threats and nothing more.
"Many years?" Robin said, remembering some of the whispers he had heard about Slade. Some believed him to be immortal, although Robin had never believed Slade to be anything other than human. Now he began to wonder, and he felt as though cold water was sliding down his back.
"You'll understand in time." Slade said, eyeing him closely. "Don't worry about it for now."
"Robin, come out here," Slade called from the other room. Robin was currently in his room, or "walk-in closet" (depending on the mood he was in), completing his homework when Slade called him. The assignment was a tough one, since the HIVE science instructor decided he and Gizmo needed an extra challenge. The problem, for Robin, was that without Gizmo's help Robin couldn't understand this level of science. Sure, he was above the skill levels of the rest of his class, but this assignment needed Gizmo's expertise.
As much as Robin felt he needed a friend, he knew Gizmo wouldn't be good for him.
"What do you need?" Robin said, standing in the doorway to Slade's room. Slade was working on his computer, using his fingers to tap the screen and bring up new documents. Something was obviously on the forefront of Slade's mind, and Robin tried to wait patiently until Slade turned to him.
"I will be leaving for a couple of weeks," Slade began, and Robin started. Slade would be gone? If so, Robin would have a chance to escape. And hide, since he knew that was what he needed to do to beat Slade. Robin couldn't beat Slade by fighting, the villain has already proven himself to be too good for Robin to even have a hope of beating him. Slade continued, "I expect you to be on your best behavior. You will attend your classes on time, obey the Headmistress, and train while on your own."
Slade stood up, and Robin found himself looking up into the man's eye as he asked, "Do you understand?"
"Yes," Robin said. He winced when he thought of his homework, and off-handedly commented, "but you won't like my grades this coming week. Barrage apparently believes that since I'm above a senior level I must be at 'nuclear scientist-level.' I can't understand the questions, much less come up with the answers."
"You were doing well before," Slade said, his tone sounding concerned and interested. "What changed?"
"The skill level," Robin replied. "This really is for Gizmo, not me..."
Robin proceeded to explain to Slade how the homework assignment worked, and he couldn't help but be astonished when Slade sat him down at the desk and explained the steps he was missing. It took the rest of the night, but by the time Robin was finally sent to bed he was able to complete each problem.
It wasn't until he was lying in the dark and thinking about the tasks that he realized he hadn't even glanced at his other class's homework. Luckily, Slade wouldn't know, since he was leaving the next morning.
It has been a long two weeks, Robin thought, looking back. It had been a long four months, but at least now he would have time away from Slade to collect his thoughts.
If only he knew.
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