A/N I'd like to say a very special thank you to Black Friar for the cheerleading, feedback and suggestions. I couldn't have finished this fic without you! :o)
"Robin, Kid Flash, report."
"No activity yet," Robin replied, lowering his binoculars. His cape billowed in the night breeze. "Lights are on in the warehouse, but nobody's been going in or out. At least, not since we arrived. We may have to go in for a closer look."
"Negative," Aqualad's voice crackled in his ear. "We are not to risk exposure."
"Aw, come on!" Wally whined from beside Robin. "We've been sitting on this rooftop for the past hour! I'm bored! I could just zip in and out and nobody would even notice!"
"Negative," Aqualad repeated calmly. "Batman's orders."
"Well, Batman's not here right n—"
"How about you guys?" Robin interjected before Wally could put his foot in his mouth. "Anything interesting?"
"I have not yet checked in with Artemis and Superboy, but all has been quiet on our end," Aqualad replied.
"Okay. Check back in twenty?"
"Affirmative. Aqualad out."
"I'm bored," Wally complained about five seconds later.
"You've said that already."
"Yeah, and it's worth repeating because I'm boooooored."
Robin sighed. "KF, am I gonna have to sit through your whining every time we're on a stake-out together?"
"Hey, if I'm miserable because I'm bored out of my freaking mind, the least you can do is listen to me complain about it."
Robin raised an eyebrow. "Uh…why?"
"You're my best pal! Best pals are supposed to sympathize with each other!"
Robin snorted. "Sympathize? Dude, I am not gonna sympathize with you just because you're bored! In fact, if anyone should be sympathized with, it should be me for having to put up with your whining."
"Oh, c'mon, tell me you're not bored too," Wally said.
"We've only been here an hour, KF. I've been on stakeouts with Batman that lasted six hours!"
Wally stared at him. "Six hours?! With Batman? With I'd-rather-die-before-making-conversation Batman? Dude, that's gotta be- that's gotta be torture! You know what? You're right, you do deserve my sympathy."
"Thank you. Now would you just hush up for a minute? You've been yapping non-stop since we got here," Robin said, lifting his binoculars to his eyes again.
Robin breathed a small sigh of relief. He scanned the warehouse across the street from where he and Wally were stationed on a rooftop. Batman had sent the Team to investigate a drug ring that had been operating in and around Gotham City; Batman himself had been tied up with League-business, so Robin had basically volunteered the Team's services. Aqualad had split them up in pairs and they'd spread out across Gotham to keep an eye on the three warehouses that had been on Batman's list of possible bases of operation.
"Okay, okay, shutting up."
It was silent for all of a minute and thirteen seconds. "Think Artemis and Supey are getting more action?" Wally asked him. Without waiting for an answer he went on, "They are, aren't they? I knew it! Aw, man! I always get stuck staking out places where absolutely nothing happens! Why didn't you say something?"
Robin sighed, exasperated. "KF, I've been sitting beside you this whole time, listening to the same comm. link you have. What makes you think I have more information?"
Wally looked at him with an expression that said the answer was painfully obvious. "Dude. You're the Boy Wonder. You always have more information."
Robin grinned and opened his mouth to respond when suddenly a metallic scent caught his attention. Then, in his peripheral vision, a shadow shifted. Frowning, he turned his head sharply to the side. Moonlight glinted off metal and before he even realized what he was doing, Robin shoved Wally away from him and threw himself in the opposite direction. "KF, MOVE!" he yelled, right when a massive boot swung through the air where they had been sitting only seconds before.
Robin quickly rolled to his feet and faced their opponent. The man standing in front of him was easily twice as tall as Superboy and had a chest the size of Kaldur's, Superboy's and maybe even Wally's put together. Robin had just enough time to take note of the huge weapon replacing the man's lower right arm, before the guy raised it and fired it straight at him.
Something slammed into Robin, knocking him off his feet and propelling him away from the explosion that shook the building beneath his feet. Landing in a tangled heap of limbs, he propped himself on his elbows, dazed, and found himself looking up at Wally's serious face. "Thanks," Robin said, a little breathlessly.
"No prob. Who the heck is this guy?" Wally demanded, as he extricated himself from Robin's legs.
"I dunno, but he seems like the shoot-first-ask-questions-never type, so-" Robin didn't get to complete his sentence, as the guy raised his gun once more and fired multiple rounds in rapid succession. Better prepared this time, Robin leaped and flipped out of the way, withdrawing two exploding batarangs from his belt and flinging them at their opponent.
With far better reflexes than Robin would've thought a guy that size capable of, the man simply knocked them aside and they sailed harmlessly over the edge of the rooftop. From the corner of his eye, he saw Wally launch himself at the man, using his superspeed to deliver a solid blow to the side of his face. The man blindly lashed out with his arm and Wally neatly ducked it.
"Ha! Too slow!" Wally boasted, slamming his fist into the man's gut and effortlessly dodging the elbow that came at him.
As Robin moved to join the fight, he took the opportunity to observe their opponent. His bulging arms were bare; the rest of his body was covered in dark blue spandex, which expanded to wrap around his entire head, leaving only two slits for the white lenses that concealed his eyes. Though the man was burly, he was fast, his swings and kicks only missing Wally by a hair. Robin suspected that Wally's superspeed had caught the man off-guard and that it was why Wally was able to get in so many hits.
Then there was, of course, that big canon of his. As long as they could keep the fight in close-quarters, the man would be unable to use it. One of the first things Batman had ever drilled into Robin though was to never take unnecessary chances. Which meant Robin would just have to take it out.
When Wally spun away to avoid getting kicked in the teeth, Robin spotted his opening. He ran at the man, then leaped and braced his feet against his opponent's hip. Grabbing onto the man's upper arm, he stuck an exploding batarang onto the weapon. Signaling Wally, Robin jumped back down, landing in a crouch as the batarang went off. Not wanting to allow the man time to recover, they didn't wait for the smoke to clear before pouncing on their enemy once more.
Robin had just delivered a hit to the side of their opponent's neck, when the man snarled. There was a sudden, sharp movement and before either of the teenagers knew what was happening, Robin found himself on the ground on his back, cupping an aching jaw and blinking away swirling black dots, a similarly dazed Wally lying beside him. "Uh, what just happened?" Wally wheezed.
Before Robin had gathered the breath to respond, his leg was suddenly yanked out from under him, his ankle trapped in a steel grip. The world spun around him and he felt the blood rush to his head as he was momentarily held upside-down. Before he could even think about attempting to twist out of the man's grasp, he was bodily flung into one of the old, brick chimneys that were situated on the rooftop. Pain exploded in his back and shoulders and he vaguely registered someone – Wally? – shouting his name, before he slumped to the ground. Breathing hard, he blinked furiously to get the world to turn right side up again.
He struggled to his feet, shaking his head slightly, and looked up when a cry of alarm rang out. Robin had just enough time to identify the dark blur that was sailing through the air towards him as Wally, before his friend crashed into him with bone-jarring force. Sharp pain lanced through his head when Wally's elbow inadvertently slammed into his temple and then, everything went black.
"I want them alive."
"Don't bother collaring the bird. He doesn't have powers."
Voices were floating through his mind, unfamiliar and harsh. His head was throbbing and his back and shoulders ached. Very slowly, he became aware that he was sitting up and leaning sideways against something that felt solid and warm beneath his cheek.
"Dude. Robin!" a familiar voice whispered urgently into his ear. "C'mon, Rob, wake up! Give me a sign you're okay."
Okay, that was Wally. Robin slowly raised his head from what he now realized was Wally's shoulder, and bit back a groan when he opened his eyes. Bright ceiling lights stabbed into them, making his head pound even more than it already was. Blinking rapidly, he waited until his vision cleared and took in his surroundings. The room they were in was fairly small and bare, with just a single workstation situated in a corner and an empty-looking cupboard standing beside a refrigerator on the opposite wall. The high ceiling was cracked and the white walls were stained yellow-
"Dude." Wally was nudging him gently with an elbow. "You okay? Say something." Wally was keeping his voice low and Robin quickly realized why; the guy that had attacked them was standing a few feet away, talking to someone who was decidedly shorter, though still tall. The other guy's back was turned to them, but something about his skinny frame was familiar…
"I'm fine," he told Wally, raising a hand to rub his temple – only to discover that his hands were tied in front of him, smooth wires digging into his wrists. Wait- his wrists? That meant his gloves were gone and so – he gasped – was his utility belt. He quickly brought his hands to his ear and discovered that his communicator, too, was missing. Wonderful.
He turned to Wally. "You o-?" he began, and was distracted by the sight of a metal band with flashing lights that encircled his friend's neck. "Is that an inhibitor collar?"
"Yeah. Seriously, where are they getting these things? Was there a wholesale on inhibitor collars and we missed the memo or something?"
Robin shrugged and glanced at their captors, who were still in deliberation, although the smaller man appeared to be doing most – if not all – of the talking. His voice sounded shrill and he was gesturing wildly, like he was angry or panicked, but it was the yellowish, straw-like hair that made Robin sit up a little straighter.
"What? What is it?" Wally asked, immediately picking up on the way Robin tensed.
"That's Jonathan Crane, AKA Scarecrow."
"Scarecrow? That dude that likes to scare people to death? Great. Although…he did sort of save our butts just now."
"Well, the big guy was about to blow our heads off when Scarecrow told him he wanted us alive."
Robin snorted. "Yeah, probably so he can experiment on us."
"Dude, seriously, don't even joke about that."
"Who says I'm joking?" Robin shot one last look at their captors and then quickly turned to Wally, grabbing his hands and setting about loosening the knots around his friend's wrists.
He'd only been at it for about a minute, when Wally suddenly hissed "Dude, watch out!", but it was too late. His breath literally caught in his throat as his cape was pulled taut around his neck from behind and he was lifted bodily off the floor.
"Ah, the little bird thinks he can escape."
Dangling from the man's hand by his cape and struggling to breathe, Robin still noted his captor's strong Russian accent. He brought his bound hands up to his throat, trying to find the clasp of his cape, but the man roughly slapped his hands away with his big canon.
"Let him go! You're choking him!" he heard Wally yell over the sound of blood rushing through his veins.
"You are speedster," the man told Wally calmly, looking completely unconcerned that he was strangling Robin with his own cape. Then he turned his head towards the gasping Robin, ignoring Wally's angry shouts. "And you are Batman's little brat. Good. I will not underestimate you again."
In his struggle for air, Robin began to kick out wildly. When he heard his captor grunt, he knew he'd scored a hit, but it did not have the desired effect. Without loosening his grip on Robin's cape, the man raised his weaponized arm and Robin suddenly found himself staring down the barrel of the huge gun that was slowly moving towards his face. It seemed like his exploding batarang hadn't even dented it.
"You are very bold, brat, but that was mistake."
Wally lunged at the man's legs. The man simply side-stepped, kicked Wally in the ribs and pressed the tip of his gun into Robin's already aching temple. It took everything Robin had to stop his struggles while still fighting for air, knowing that if he moved just a little too much, he'd be dead. As it was, his captor was slowly dragging his weapon downwards, and Robin felt it scrape along his skin, even though the lack of oxygen was starting to narrow his vision and making his body feel numb.
"Knyazev, enough. I've got something much more fun in mind," Scarecrow suddenly spoke up from behind them.
Knyazev? Robin thought vaguely. Definitely Russian.
He must've blacked out for a moment then, because between one weak gasp and the next, he was on the floor, on his hands and knees, coughing and wheezing. Then, Knyazev's big boot collided with his side, once again driving the air from his lungs and making him gag. His vision tunneled and for a few seconds, all that mattered was sucking in enough air to keep from passing out. Through a haze, he heard Knyazev's raucous laughter and Wally's angry voice. Gasping, he struggled to his hands and knees.
"Leave him alone, you freak!" Wally shouted, and Robin raised his head to watch his friend deliver a solid kick to the back of Knyazev's knee.
Knyazev turned around with a growl, grabbed Wally by the hair and smashed the back of his head against the wall. As Wally slumped to the floor, clearly dazed, Knyazev seized him by the front of his suit and flung him across the room like a rag doll.
"KF!" Robin gasped, watching his friend crash to the floor and slide head-first into a wall. He didn't move after that.
Robin's furious attempts to get to his feet were halted by Scarecrow, who crouched down in front of him. Robin stared at the gaunt face; already, the sallow skin, sunken eyes and hollow cheeks were creeping him out, and Crane wasn't even wearing his Scarecrow mask yet.
"Hello, Robin," Crane said glibly. "You remember me, don't you? I must say I was surprised to see you here. Where's the big Bat?"
"Around," Robin replied, his voice hoarse.
"Is he now?" Crane narrowed his eyes. "I don't believe you. I don't think the big bad Bat is around at all or he would've shown up before my associate here captured you. That's why you have your friend with you, isn't it?"
"Who says we're not just bait?"
Crane's lips twisted into a vague semblance of a smile. "No, little bird. I don't believe even the big bad Bat would go so far as to allow anyone to hurt his precious sidekick."
"Partner," Robin corrected before he could stop himself.
Crane cackled humorlessly. "Of course you are," he said. "But I don't think the Bat is around at all, which leaves me with two highly convenient test subjects. You see, I've been a very busy bee and now I'd like to see the results of my hard work."
Without warning, Crane reached up and tore the mask from Robin's face, but before the boy could worry about his identity being exposed, the criminal curled his hand in Robin's hair, yanked his head back and sprayed something into his eyes. The stuff felt like liquid fire and he cried out, his bound hands flying to his face. Somewhere above him, Crane was laughing and his hair was released, allowing him to turn his face away from the glaring ceiling lights. Robin fought the urge to claw at his eyes as they burned and instead ground the heels of his palms into them to try and alleviate the pain.
"Sorry about that," he heard Crane say, though he didn't sound sorry at all, "but I have to make sure you'll stay put. I know what a little escape artist you are."
Swiping at the tears that were streaming down his cheeks, he sensed more than saw their two captors leave the room, the heavy door closing behind them with a clunk. He blinked furiously, trying to clear his vision, but it remained extremely blurred – to the point where he could barely make out shapes. His eyes burned so badly that for a moment, he panicked, wondering whether this stuff was actually going to make him blind. Get a grip, Grayson! Get a damn grip! His mind shouted at him. Worry about your eyesight later!
He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and gradually managed to get his urge to scratch out his own eyeballs under control. As he did so, he became aware of a steady hissing sound. His heart sank when he realized what it meant: the room was filling up with gas. Most likely Scarecrow's fear gas.
Wally! He needed to get to Wally!
"KF?" he called out, a knot of concern tightening in his stomach when Wally didn't respond. "KF? Wally, talk to me."
Trying to visualize where Wally had landed when Knyazev had hurled him across the room, Robin used his hands and knees to move in the general direction of where he'd seen his friend fall. When he reached the opposite wall, he paused to withdraw a rebreather from a small pouch in his cape. The lack of sight and the fiery pain in his eyes, however, made his bound hands clumsy and he fumbled with the device, feeling it slip from his fingers and hearing it clatter to the floor. "Dammit!" He blindly groped around for it, and breathed a small sigh of relief when his fingers found it nearby. Realizing time was running out, he held onto the rebreather tightly with one hand, while with the other he probed the floor for Wally. Finding nothing, he reluctantly opened his eyes to slits, trying to see past the tears in his eyes.
His blurry gaze fell on a dark shape only a few feet away and Robin swiftly moved to kneel by his friend's side. As the searing pain in his eyes grew worse, he squeezed them shut once more. "KF," he said, his free hand finding Wally's shoulder and giving it a shake. "KF, can you hear me? Wake up!"
To Robin's relief, Wally stirred almost immediately.
"Rob?" Wally croaked, pausing to clear his throat. "What's-?"
"KF, listen to me," Robin interrupted him urgently. "Scarecrow's filling up the room with gas, and I'm guessing it's fear gas, so you've got to breathe through this thing, okay?" He held up the device in his hand.
Robin nodded, wiping at the tears that were still running down his cheeks with his arm. "It should filter out most of the gas."
"Okay," Wally said slowly, clearly still confused. "Wait- What about- Are you-? Dude, why are you crying?"
"KF, talk later! Shut up and breathe through this thing already!"
Squinting through his eyelashes, Robin jammed the rebreather between Wally's lips and pinched his friend's nose, forcing the still dazed boy to breathe through his mouth. A peculiar smell reached Robin's nostrils and he tucked his nose into the crook of his arm, hoping the fabric of his uniform would filter out at least some of the poisonous fumes.
As the air grew thick with the gas, however, it became increasingly difficult for Robin to breathe. He knew the fear gas wasn't going to suffocate him, assuming it really was fear gas, but knowing that with every breath he took, he was exposing himself further to a substance that was most likely going to drive him insane was…unsettling, to say the least.
Wally was pushing at his hands; he was still pinching Wally's nose closed and keeping the rebreather in place. He knew the other boy had probably recovered enough by now to take care of himself, but he wasn't going to run the risk of the speedster trying to share the rebreather with him by taking it out and getting a whiff of the gas in the process. Speedster metabolism or not, they would need at least one of them to stay in their right mind if they wanted to get out of there. And since he himself could barely see at the moment, Wally was their best bet.
Wally's hands pushing at him grew more insistent, and Robin knew he wasn't going to be able to hold out for much longer; his arms were starting to tremble from strain and he was having trouble keeping his mind focused.
He shook his head. "KF…Don't," he struggled to say. Why was it suddenly so hard to get his mouth to form words? "S-stay sane. Get- get us out."
The gas thickened and Robin almost gagged at the smell of it. His head and heart were pounding, his breathing hitched, and though his eyes were closed, he could feel darkness close in on him. A shiver of fear coursed through him; he'd been hit with Scarecrow's toxin before, but it had never felt like this. The hallucinatory effects had been almost instantaneous, and it had never caused him to black out. What- what if this wasn't fear toxin at all? What if this gas was really going to kill him?
It was his last coherent thought before consciousness left him.