The first thing that Robin became aware of was pain. His body seemed to ache all over, as if he'd been hit repeatedly by a crowbar. And Joker knows, he knew firsthand what that felt like. He kept his eyes closed, his breathing even, as he had been trained to do. Okay, first question: where was he? Obviously somewhere he didn't want to be. He forced down a groan as a bolt of pain shot through his shoulder blades. Ow. Ow.
Being careful not to move, he took mental stock of his situation: his hands had been strung up over his head, his dangling feet brushing lightly against the ground below. From the severe ache in his shoulders, he figured he'd been this way for at least a couple hours. Unfortunately, he couldn't stand on his legs to alleviate the pressure without revealing he was conscious, and until he was quite sure what was going on, he wasn't going to take any chances.
He became aware of voices somewhere in front of him, muttering in low tones that he couldn't quite make out. From the echo of their words, he decided they were in a pretty big space.
Next question: how did he get here? He struggled to remember, the dull ache pounding through his skull not helping matters. A mission. That was it. He and the team had been sent to Blüdhaven on a recon mission to gather intel on a rapidly growing drug ring that Batman feared could spread to Gotham. The goal was to get in, gather enough evidence against it so Batman could take it down, then get out.
He almost scoffed. That clearly hadn't happened.
Had the entire team been caught? He cracked his eyes open, trusting the lenses of his mask to hide the movement, and glanced quickly around the room. He resisted the urge to groan aloud. The rest of the team were dangling in the same fashion, lined up in a row on his right. They all seemed to be unconscious, and Robin thought he saw a couple blinking red lights that marked the presence of inhibitor collars. Great. Just great.
He flicked his eyes back to the front, where their captors seemed to be. To his frustration, they were out of range of his slitted eyes.
He wracked his brains, trying to remember how they'd been captured, since that's obviously what had happened. He remembered ducking into an air vent at the beginning of the mission...
A loud moan echoed through the room, and the whispers from the thugs ceased. Robin mentally cursed as Wally's dazed voice made itself known: "Wha's goin' on?"
Deciding it would be useless to pretend any longer, Robin lifted his head, gratefully planting his feet onto the ground, and finally took his first good look at their surroundings. As predicted, they seemed to be inside a large warehouse. Shelves and crates marched off in either direction; some in stacks, some in packs, and some that looked better off as kindling. They were standing in an approximately ten-by-ten circle of light, the rest of the room looming dark and onimous around them in pitch blackness that the meager light from the lamp overhead couldn't penetrate.
Finally, he settled his gaze to the front: at the men who had caught them. Next to a particularly large stack of crates, six thugs clustered around a card table that looked like it had seen better days. At Wally's words, they had looked up from where they stood crouched over their beer cans, greasy eyebrows rising over glinting, malicious eyes. The largest—a grizzled man about 6' 9" with serious sideburns—approached them, leering over their trapped forms. Okay, so maybe Dick was being a bit overdramatic, but what else could he do?
A quick cursory glance revealed his utility belt and Artemis's bow and arrows piled in an untidy heap next to the table. He wiggled his fingers experimentally. Gloves still in place. Good. Now all he needed was an opening...
The apparently lead thug came straight toward Robin as the remainder of the team began to groan into consciousness beside him. The other captors watched their leader with pig-like eyes, grinning as he swaggered to a stop directly in front of the Boy Wonder.
"You're up," he drawled, his disgusting beer breath washing over the bird's face in a very unpleasant wind.
Robin looked up, wrinkling his nose at the man's pungent odor. Seriously, he smelled worse than Wally's week old gym socks, and that was saying something. "Phew!" he sniffed. "Who dropped the skunk in the room?"
The thug snarled. "Very funny, Boy Blunder. I wouldn't be making wisecracks if I were in your position."
Robin raised an eyebrow behind his mask. "But you're not in my position. So, your point is...?"
The criminal blinked, obviously confused by the lack of fear in the boy in front of him. "I'm not."
Robin smiled in mock amusement. "See, you got it," he chirped. "Now was that so hard?"
The villain—Robin really needed to learn his name—scowled, his bushy eyebrows furrowing over his tiny little eyes. Robin decided to call him Piggy because his smell and appearance resembled that of a fat pig wallowing lazily in a mud pit.
"I don't know what you're getting at, Bird Boy," Piggy growled. "But it's not doing you much good."
"Nope," Robin said cheerily. "Probably not. But I just like annoying you."
Piggy's eyebrows went down even lower, confusion flashing across his face.
Robin turned to face Wally directly on his left, smirking. "Speechless," he whispered conspiratorially.
Wally snorted, trying not to laugh. Artemis and M'gann looked shocked, like they couldn't believe what he was doing. Superboy seemed neutral, and Aqualad just seemed resigned, like he knew there was nothing he could do to stop him. Which was true.
The man growled. "I swear, you say one more word and I'll—"
"You'll what," Robin interjected, "punch my lights out?"
Robin rolled his eyes behind his mask. "Not very talkative, are you?"
He grunted in pain as a meaty fist swung into his stomach, the air in his lungs escaping in one big whoosh.
"Actions speak louder than words," the man snarled, following through with a heavy smack to Robin's jaw that sent the bird swinging on his chain.
"Stop it!" Wally yelled.
Piggy leaned back for another go. One of the other thugs came up behind him, placing a restraining arm on his shoulder. "Not that I care, but we kind of need him awake."
For a tense moment, nobody moved. Then, Piggy lowered his arm. "Fine," he grumbled.
Robin took a few deep breaths, slowly facing the criminal—and grinned. "That the best you got?"
Piggy snarled. "You wish. Lucky for you, we need you able to talk."
Robin cocked his head to one side. "Isn't that what I'm doing right now?"
Piggy grinned evilly. "Not the way we want you to." He pulled a syringe seemingly out of nowhere, then, before Robin could react, jammed the needle into the exposed portion of Robin's right arm.
"Hey!" Artemis cried. "What are you doing?!"
The man stepped back, the grin not leaving his face.
Robin stared at him incredulously, ignoring the dull throb running through his arm from the point the needle entered. "And that was supposed to be...?"
"A tongue wagger," Piggy said casually.
Robin raised an eyebrow. "Truth serum? Really?" He shook his head. "Wow, you villains are all so cliché."
Piggy smirked. "We'll see who's laughing once you start spilling."
He gestured at the men behind him, and one of the thugs flicked the switch on what looked like a tape recorder on the table. Seriously, who used tape recorders anymore? Apparently these wackos did.
"Now," Piggy said, leaning menacingly toward Robin. "Who are you?"
Robin gave him an "are you kidding me" look. "Robin. Duh."
The thug frowned. "You know what I mean."
Robin pursed his lips. "Do I?"
Piggy's scowl deepened. "What is your secret identity?"
Robin smirked. "It's who I am when I'm not Robin."
The presumed leader growled, turning to face one of his minions. "I thought you filled that thing with truth serum."
The minion stared back at him, unimpressed. "I did."
"Hey, I'm telling the truth," Robin piped in. "Just not the truth you want to hear."
Artemis gave a small snort of amusement.
Piggy took a menacing step toward the Boy Wonder. "New question: what are you doing here?"
"Talking to you."
"Who sent you?"
"The same person that sent them." Robin tilted his head toward the others on the team.
The thug's face was now bright red in color. A quick glance told him so were Wally and Artemis's, though probably for a different reason. "Sooner or later," the thug prmised, "you're going to talk, Boy Wonder."
Robin frowned, feigning confusion. "Haven't we been over this already? I'm talking right now."
Piggy growled, grabbing the collar of Robin's cape and pulling him close. "Last chance: where did you train?"
Robin stared calmly at the man. "Somewhere on the planet."
Piggy roared, raising his fist in the air.
Robin instinctively swiveled toward the source of the new voice. Another man stepped out of the shadows. He was tall, even taller than Piggy, with greasy brown hair slicked back with way too much hair gel. His face was pinched, like a ferret, with a pencil thin mustache in uniform points. He was dressed in an oily black suit with a stone grey tie, the toes of his black dress shoes glinting in the low light. He smiled thinly, completing the image of a sly old fox.
"You need to be more specific," the stranger said smoothly, gliding toward the man who held Robin suspended in the air. At a look from the stranger, Piggy stepped back, muttering under his breath.
The newcomer turned toward Robin, an apologetic smile on his face. "You must forgive my...colleague. He tends to be a bit rough at times."
Robin studied him, putting on a bored expression. "Whatever. Experienced rougher."
The stranger's smile grew. "I'm sure you have." He gave a slight bow. "Felix Sharp, at your service."
"Robin. Not at yours."
The man gave a short bark of laughter. "Not surprised. Now, you're probably wondering why we haven't just yanked your mask off and been done with this whole thing, hmm?"
Robin blinked. Actually, he had been thinking about it, but had avoided saying so because it had seemed Piggy was just too stupid to realize he could just pull the mask off instead of grilling him, and he hadn't wanted to give the crook any ideas.
The leader leaned forward menacingly, and Robin reflexively leaned back, his breath hitching as a hand reached up to finger the corner of his mask.
"It's because this way is so much more fun," Felix whispered, sending involuntary shivers down Robin's spine.
Suddenly, the villain hopped backwards, clapping his hands together loudly. "Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, let's get to know each other a little better, shall we?" He took a step closer, once again narrowing the gap between himself and the trapped bird. "What is your favorite color?"
Robin blinked behind his mask. Then smirked. "A color of the rainbow."
Robin frowned in annoyance as the man smiled.
"Was that so hard?" he oozed. "Now where were you born?"
"Somewhere in the universe," Robin snapped.
"And where exactly on earth were you born?"
Robin gritted his teeth angrily. "Somewhere between the North and South poles."
Felix threw back his head and laughed, the sound almost as chilling as the Joker's smile. "Oh, I love the clever ones. Which country?"
"One of them," Robin said.
"One of 196."
Felix's eyes narrowed. "Its name?"
Robin's breathing involuntarily hitched. "Starts with a letter of the alphabet."
The man frowned. "I admit, you're more resilient than most." A wolfish grin spread across his features. "But you can't hold out forever. What is Batman's secret identity?"
Robin cocked his head. "Haven't you tried that already? BTW, that means I won't tell you."
The man waved a hand dismissively. "No matter. We'll figure it out eventually. Where is the current location of Superman's secret identity?"
Robin gave him a disbelieving look. "Are you kidding me? How am I supposed to know where Supey is right now?"
"Where does he live," Felix clarified.
"In the universe," Robin scoffed.
"Where did you grow up?"
"Around," Robin said vaguely.
"Around the world."
Robin bit his tongue when Felix smiled.
"So you were a traveler," the criminal said.
"I never said that," Robin grumbled.
The perp waved a hand dismissively. "It was implied. What is Batman's current occupation?"
"Fighting crime," Robin sneered. "Duh."
"His secret identity's current occupation," the man corrected.
"Earning money," Robin said. "And seriously, if you think you're going to get better answers by bouncing from topic to topic, it's not going to work."
The villain thought for a moment. "Who is your family?"
Robin hesitated briefly. "Batman. The League. My team."
"I meant your blood family," the criminal clarified. "Who are they?"
Robin tensed, images flashing before in his mind's eye. "Nobody."
The crook's eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "How can they be nobody? You have to tell the truth..." He trailed off, seemingly thinking.
Robin tried not to flinch when the wolf-like grin returned.
"Oh," he sneered, a look of pure evil crossing his features. "I see now. Let me rephrase the question." He leaned even closer to the Boy Wonder. "Who was your family?"
M'gann and Artemis gasped in shock. Kaldur's and Superboy's eyes widened, and Wally flinched horribly, his face stretching into a pained grimace.
Robin struggled to keep his expression unreadable. "People."
"What kind of people?"
The man sighed. "What did they look like?"
"Like people," Robin said.
"How did they die?" Felix said suddenly.
Robin opened his mouth, then closed it quickly. He should really have seen this coming. His mind leapt wildly, struggling to find a loophole through the truth. He took a shuddering breath. "Murdered," he whispered.
"Robin," Artemis breathed. "What?"
The villain glanced appraisingly at the team. "I see you don't trust your friends enough to tell them who you really are. I suppose that means it would be fruitless to try and get them to talk, hmm?"
"Yep," Robin snapped. "So don't bother trying." Only a half-lie.
"Who murdered them?" Sharp said.
"An evil moron," Robin hissed. Now that was true.
The man raised an eyebrow. "Well, at least you didn't say 'people.' What was his name?"
A strangled whine echoed from the back of Robin's throat—he really really hoped no one heard that. "Not important." Again, half-lie; Tony Zucco's name had been very very important to Dick during his first few weeks as Robin.
"Oh well," Felix sighed, sounding genuinely sad. "I was hoping we could do this the easy way. But since you are obviously set on not cooperating, let's add a little extra incentive." He raised a hand, and suddenly, every gun in every hand was aiming at the stranded members of the team.
"You probably know how this works," the villain said smoothly. "But let's go over it again, in case anyone's in the dark: you talk, and your friends live. You don't..." He didn't complete the sentence.
Robin gave him a stony glare, his mouth stiff and uncooperative when he first tried to answer. "Fine," he snapped.
"Excellent," Felix oozed. "Let's make this a little easier, shall we? From now on, simply answer 'yes' or 'no' to each question. Were you born in Gotham?"
Robin's glared so hard, he saw red. "No."
"Were you born in North America?"
Robin ground his teeth together. "No."
He could see the team exchanging startled glances next to him. He really wished they weren't here right now...
Suddenly, an odd click sound echoed throughout the room.
Felix glanced sharply behind him. "What was that?" he demanded.
Piggy shrugged. "I think it was the recorder."
"You think?" Felix snapped. "Go figure out what's wrong with it!"
Piggy lumbered over to the table, half-heartedly poking the device with his fat finger. "It stopped recording," he announced.
Felix frowned. "Why would it do that?"
Piggy shrugged again. "Dunno. Technology's always been a mystery to me."
Muttering something about incompetent idiots, Felix, much to Robin's silent relief, stalked over to the table holding the tape recorder.
Robin glanced at the other thugs: their attention was fixed on their leader.
Dick flexed his fingers, resisting the urge to smirk as his lock picks extended. The locks were undone in seconds—handcuff makers seemed to get lazier and lazier every year—and slowly stretched his fingers to return circulation to his wrists.
He had to do this very carefully. One mistep, and one of his friends could end up shot, or dead. With so many pointed at least in their general direction, the chance of zero casualties was nada.
His eyes cast around the room, taking in the wooden crates, utility belt and bow, partially lowered weapons, and the rest of the team. An idea wiggled its way into his mind. He would have to time this perfectly...
Robin glanced one more time at Felix, ensuring the leader's undivided attention on the ancient device. Then he made his move.
Slowly, silently, he slipped his hands free from the cuffs, treading lightly over to Miss Martian on his immediate right. He reached upwards and slipped a lock pick into the inhibitor collar, feeling slightly irritated at how much he had to stretch himself to reach that high, and the collar came free with a soft click. He moved on to the next teammate, as M'gann used her telekinesis to remove the cuffs from her wrists.
"There!" said Felix suddenly, slapping his hand on the table. "Got it." He started to turn around; he never made the one-eighty.
M'gann threw out her arms, eyes glowing green, and the pile of crates trembled, falling to the ground with a crash. The confused and startled gunmen fired wildly into the air, crying out as splinters and boards rained down on their heads.
The Martian redirected any stray bullets coming their direction while Robin hastened down the line of teammates, unlocking cuffs and collars.
The gunfire slowly stopped as a yellow blur shot through the ranks, finally solidifying into Kid Flash halfway across the warehouse to be seen dumping the guns on the ground a safe distance from the perpetrators.
Within minutes, the fight was over. The unsuspecting thugs lay groaning or unconscious on the floor as Conner's enormous fist put itself on a collision course with Felix Sharp's nose.
"Superboy, wait!" Robin ordered.
The clone's fist stopped an inch from the trembling man's face.
Robin dashed toward the table, snatching the tape recorder and pressing 'stop.' He removed the tape, flipped it over, and closed the compartment.
He strode toward the leader, gesturing at Superboy to let go of the man's shirt collar.
The villain crumpled like a sack of potatoes onto the concrete. He didn't have long to relax, though, as Robin was on him, snatching the man by the collar and slamming him against a support column. "All right, Sharp," he hissed. "Now it's my turn."
The man licked his lips, a false appearance of bravado coming over his features. "You're the one with the truth serum. Tell me—Gack!"
He was cut short as Robin's fist temporarily closed over his windpipe.
"Sorry," the acrobat growled. "Library's closed. Now." He pressed the villain into the wall, snarling into the frightened man's face. "Who do you work for?"
"Work for?" Felix scoffed. "I don't work for anyone."
Robin smirked. "Liar." He held up the empty syringe. "Let's list the reasons why you're lying, shall we?
He started counting off on his fingers. "One, you're not smart enough to know how to take down six teenage heroes, especially since two of them don't publicly exist. Two, there's no way you could have gotten something as rare as truth serum without having friends way up there. Three, it takes a really really smart—or experienced—person to know how to take off my utility belt on the first try."
He leaned forward, smiling into the man's pale, sweaty face. "Need I go on?"
Felix swallowed a couple times, looking extremely uncomfortable. "No."
"Didn't think so. So, was it Black Mask, Bane, or Riddler?"
The man gaped at him. "How—"
"Black Mask is the only crime boss with large enough resources to get truth serum;Bane is a typical drug gang leader; and not only is the whole 'ask questions, find out stuff' Riddler's schtick, but he's somewhat of a chemist and has made all sorts of concoctions similar to this."
Felix stared at him, mouth hanging open in disbelief.
"Although usually Black Mask hires people who are more competent," Robin said thoughtfully. "And you're not wearing the trademark green and purple." He raised an eyebrow at the villain. "I'd say Bane. And you stole the stuff from Riddler."
The horrified expression on Felix's face said it all.
Robin squeezed his shirt collar a little tighter, a tidbit of information surfacing in his mind. "Come on, say it for the recorder. You're part of the drug cartel that's been smuggling drugs over the Blüdhaven border for the past three months. Your leader is Bane, and your base of operations is in the Gotham Underground. Am I right?"
"Y-y-yes," Felix squeaked.
Robin smirked. "Thanks so much for your help." He stood up, switching off the tape recorder and lightly brushing the dirt off his pants. "Wally, Connor, secure them, please. Then let's get out of here. Oh, and Felix? That was a pretty poor Riddler imitation. And I can't lie."
Leaving the villain pale and sweating on the floor, Robin turned on his heel and stormed toward the door on the far side of the warehouse. Ignoring the curious looks he got from his friends, he stalked out the door and abruptly swung left to where the bioship had been parked.
A tight ball was beginning to form in his chest, making it hard to breathe as he struggled to keep control of his mouth.
He needed to get out of here—right now.
He was so focused on biting his tongue that he didn't realize he'd reached his destination until he bumped right into it—literally. The bioshop was still in camouflage mode. He felt his way over to the back hatch, prodding the sides for a button—only to remember that only M'gann could open it. He scowled. So he could fly the bioship by himself, but he couldn't get in it? That was just messed up.
He waited impatiently for the rest of the team, trying with all his might not to try and force the hatch open. After all, the bioship was alive. It might not appreciate him poking around.
After what seemed like forever, a canary yellow blur appeared from the warehouse, materializing outside as Kid Flash.
Robin resisted the urge to groan as the speedster glanced around and spotted Robin. Of all the people he wanted near him right now, Kid Flash was probably at the bottom of the list. Wally talked way too much. And he had no filter.
He opened his mouth, already prepared to tell the speedster to shut up, when Wally suddenly raced in the opposite direction.
Confused, Robin stared after his friend as the rest of the team filed out of the building, heading toward Robin.
"No signal," Artemis explained as Robin shot her a questioning look. "They had some sort of jammer. Kid's getting out of range to call the police."
Robin nodded minutely in understanding as the bioship's ramp extended. He tried not to act too eager as he hopped aboard, plopping down on his seat and strapping in without a word.
He missed the team's exchanged glances as he stared straight ahead, focusing on the dash in front of him. It was a two hour flight back to the Cave. He could hold his tongue that long. Right?
"Dude!" Wally cried, speeding over and clapping Robin on the shoulder, a grin stretching over his features. "How did you do that?"
"Do what?" Robin asked shortly.
Wally waved his arms expansively, ignorant of the snappy tone. "That whole deductive detective thingie back there. Finding out the leader."
"But how'd you know where they were operating?" Wally persisted.
"Some data from their computers," Robin grunted, his expression tense. "Before we got caught."
Wally blinked. "Um, you okay, dude?"
"Not really feeling the aster," Robin replied, curling up in his seat.
"No kidding," Wally said. "You look pale."
"I'll be fine," Robin insisted.
Wally blinked at the sudden tense change. "Uh, no. You're not right now. Hey, man, what's wrong?"
Robin winced, flinching as if he'd been slapped. "Stop talking."
Wally raised his arms in a placating gesture. "Dude, I'm just trying to—"
"Stop talking!" Robin yelled, clapping his hands over his ears.
Wally jumped, anger and hurt blooming in his chest. Everyone turned to stare at the Boy Wonder, startled at his uncharacteristic rudeness.
"Sorry," Robin gasped. "Please don't talk. Just ignore me. I can only hold the answers so long."
"The answers to what?" Artemis asked carefully.
Robin looked up, the white slits in his mask open wide. "Felix's questions."
The others exchanged worried, if slightly confused, looks before turning away and leaving the bird to his privacy. Wally took the hint, carefully backing away and settling into his own seat as the bioship started up.
The first half of the trip home was pretty uneventful, the awkward silence seeming to thicken the air around them. No matter how tired they were after a mission, Wally always managed to fill the enclosed space with rapid, if slightly unintelligible, banter in between (and during) bites. But now, the bioship was noticeably quiet as they made their way home.
The silence was broken momentarily as Robin groaned, grinding his teeth together and slapping a gloved hand over his mouth, as if trying not to puke.
Wally gave his friend a concerned look, wishing he could do something to take whatever was paining him away. But Robin had told them not to interfere. So he wouldn't—for now.
Another half hour passed in tense silence, with only the occasional moan from the Boy Wonder.
"We're almost to Happy Harbor," M'gann announced quietly, as if speaking too loudly would send the poor bird over the edge. "Ten more minutes. Activating camouflage mode now." She glanced furtively at Robin, who had curled into a tight ball on the chair, his teeth planted firmly in his knees.
Wally could see desperation written in every line of his friend's face as Robin ripped of his glove.
Before anyone figured out what was going on, Robin jammed his hand into his mouth, biting hard into his exposed palm.
"Rob!" Wally cried, ripping off his seatbelt and zipping to his best friend's side. He struggled to pull the hand out of Robin's mouth, panic welling up inside of him as blood oozed from under the clenched teeth. "Stop it!" he yelped.
The white lenses of Robin's mask opened, and Wally realized that the acrobat's eyes had been closed up to that point. The Boy Wonder shook his head tightly, curling even further into himself, his jaw clenching harder into his flesh.
Wally reached forward, prying Robin's jaw open with some difficulty before yanking the now rapidly bleeding hand out of the acrobat's mouth.
"KF," Robin wheezed, his voice husky. "Stop."
"You can't hurt yourself like that," Wally protested.
Robin ripped his arm out of Wally's grip. "Can't," he gasped. "Please. Leave me alone." He stuffed his hand back into his mouth, turning to face the other way as his face tightened in pain.
Wally opened his mouth to protest, when Aqualad's voice resounded through his mind: Wally.
He turned to face his leader. The Atlantean's face was grim, his eyes glinting with sadness. Leave him be.
Wally glanced back at Robin. His eyes were once again screwed shut under his mask, his breath coming in short, sporadic bursts with too long gaps in between. Blood stained his teeth and skin bright red, his hand sporting a thin glove of the stuff.
He realized that Kaldur was right. Him trying to stop Robin could end in disaster if the bird started spewing League secrets left and right within earshot of the whole team. If Dick accidentally spilled his secret identity, and Batman decided Wally was to blame... He shuddered.
Taking one more look at his friend, he reluctantly turned around and made his way back to his seat, strapping himself in and forcing himself to face forward for the remainder of the ride. He flinched at every quiet groan or squeak Robin made, but resolutely kept his gaze out the window at the surrounding landscape, mentally tracking their progress back to the Cave.
"Approaching Mount Justice," M'gann said tensely. "Two minutes till touchdown."
The ship swung a hard left, heading for the docking bay hidden on the side of the mountain. Wally gripped his armrests, unconsciously leaning forward in anticipation as the bay doors opened, the bioship flying in and settling lightly into the hangar. The door opened, and Wally could see Batman and Black Canary waiting for them where the slowly descending ramp would end. Not that that was a surprise; the team was several hours overdue.
Before the ramp had fully extended, Robin leapt out of the opening, making a less than perfect landing on the ground below. The moment he'd recovered his feet, he was shooting off down one of the adjacent hallways, running right past the two Justice League members and tearing down the hall with reckless abandon, his gloved hand clapped tightly over his mouth.
Batman turned toward the team as they disembarked, the white slits on his cowl narrowing. "What happened?" he demanded.
Wally was down the ramp in seconds, skidding to a stop before the Dark Knight. "Truth serum."
The white slits narrowed even further. Batman whirled around, stalking down the hall Robin had just disappeared down, his cape fluttering behind him. "Black Canary, debrief them."
Wally exchanged startled glances with the others. Batman always debriefed them. Wally had once heard Robin say something about the Bats hating secondhand information.
In unison, they turned to face the hall down which the Dynamic Duo had disappeared, wondering what on earth was going on.
The moment the training room was out of sight, Batman took off at a run, heading for his ward's room on the other side of the mountain. He made a mental note to do something about the location of the bedrooms.
He found the door slightly ajar, strange gagging noises coming from inside. He slipped inside, closing and locking the door securely behind him. Finally, he turned to face the interior of the room.
Robin had collapsed in the middle of the floor, hugging his stomach tightly. His breath wheezed in and out of his mouth, choking slightly as he came close to hyperventilating.
Batman swept toward him, crouching down and placing a gentle hand on Robin's back.
Robin looked up, terror and desperation written on his features.
Batman mentally sighed. This happened sometimes. The few times Robin had been injected with truth serum before, if he held the answers in too long, he found it hard to actually start. "Talk to me," he said softly.
"Richard John Grayson," Robin gasped. "Sent by Batman to infiltrate this drug ring and gather enough evidence to shut it down. Trained in acrobatics at Haly's Circus with my family, martial arts and everything else in Gotham City with Batman. Born in Romania, but grew up in said traveling circus."
Batman rubbed soothing circles on the boy's back, a silent sentry as Robin spewed the world's most guarded secrets in record time.
"—name Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter of the Daily Planet in Metropolis—"
On and on he went, answering all of the previous questions at record speed.
After what seemed like hours, the boy cried, "And no, I'm freaking not okay, Wally, I was just forcefully interrogated for half an hour!"
Robin took several deep breaths, finally able to fill his lungs without immediately expelling the air in top secret rambling.
Batman wordlessly handed him a glass of water, which Robin drained instantly. It had to be thirsty work talking for so long. Offhandedly, he wondered how the two residents speedsters could stand it; constantly talking and talking and talking, never pausing for breath until told to shut up.
"Are you okay?" Batman said roughly.
Robin turned to look up at him, a lost expression on his face. Without warning, he launched himself at the Dark Knight, throwing his arms around him and burying his face into the Kevlar-covered chest.
Batman didn't even hesitate before hugging the boy back tightly as he trembled in his arms.
"He almost found out," Robin whispered.
"Found out what?" Batman asked.
Robin looked up, tears tracing their way out from under his mask and down his cheeks. "He was clever. He found out...that my parents were murdered." He sniffed, rubbing his wet nose with his clean hand. "He came so close..." His voice cracked, a fresh wave of tears rolling down his cheeks. "He came so close to finding out the name of the murderer. It wouldn't take a genius to make the connection from there."
Batman reached forward, gently lifting Robin's chin up so his eyes met his. "Dick," he said softly, wiping tears from his ward's cheeks. "It's okay. You didn't tell him."
"I know," Robin said. "It's just..." He didn't seem able to complete the sentence.
It didn't matter; Bruce already knew what he meant: in those few minutes Dick had practically relived his parents' deaths all over again.
He pulled the boy toward him, wrapping his cape protectively over his shoulders as the boy began to sob. He rubbed Dick's back, resting his chin lightly in the soft raven locks.
It took ten minutes for the sobs to subside, and about another ten for the tears to finally stop. But Bruce didn't care; all that mattered was that his bird was safe and sound.
Robin leaned out of his mentor's embrace, rubbing roughly at his eyes to remove any excess tears. "Sorry," he mumbled, a red tinge beginning to glow on his cheeks. "Stupid of me to cry like that."
Batman's heart thumped in his chest. Dick was apologizing...for crying?
"There's nothing to be sorry about, chum," he said. "It's okay."
Robin gave him a surprised look, and Batman realized just how much he and Dick's relationship had weakened over the past year. With a combination of the formation of the team, and the seemingly imminent war brewing, Batman had been too busy to really pay much attention to his young ward anymore. He must have been really lacking if his boy was actually apologizing for a perfectly natural human reaction.
"Dickie," he said more seriously, gripping the boy's shoulders. "You shouldn't apologize for something completely normal for such a situation. I've seen grown men bawling over less. Don't go apologizing for things you can't help, all right?"
Dick gave him a watery smile, saluting lightly with his right hand. "Yes, sir."
Batman frowned as he noticed a dark, crusty substance covering the boy's fingers. "What's that?"
Dick brought his hand down, examining it skeptically. "Oh," he said sheepishly, gaining a sudden interest in the toes of his boots. "I kinda had a little trouble keeping my mouth shut on the ride home. The pain...distracted me."
Batman scowled. It must have been horrible if Dick had actually had to inflict pain on himself to control his tongue. He could see bite marks within the wound, and his scowl deepened. He gave Dick a quick once over, taking in the bruise blossoming on his right cheek, the way he seemed to curl protectively around his stomach, and suspicious square marks in the knee of his pants, as if he'd sank his teeth in there, too. "Let's get you cleaned up," he said gruffly, standing up and reaching down to help his protégé to his feet.
Robin stood up, reaching up to pull off his mask and wringing the soaking wet fabric out into the empty water glass.
Batman studied the red-rimmed blue eyes; he could see the pain reflected in the usually bright blue irises, grief flashing around the edges. Then the mask was replaced, and he couldn't see anymore.
The two walked toward the door, Robin hesitating slightly as his hand reached for the handle. "What about the team?" he asked nervously. "Now that they know what happened to my parents..."
Batman heard the unspoken second question: What if they don't treat me the same anymore?
Batman wrapped an arm around the boy's shoulder, pulling him close. "I'm sure they won't think of you any differently. Wally certainly doesn't."
Robin started, staring at his mentor in shock.
"I've known almost since you told him," Batman stated. At the nervous look on his ward's face, he almost had to smile. "And I don't mind. He's a good friend, Dick. I'm glad you two know each other."
A small, albeit relieved smile ghosted across Robin's face. "Cool."
He opened the door, and stepped out into the hallway, Batman right beside him, his hand never leaving the boy's shoulders.
And together, they headed down the hallway to the infirmary.