The water is as hot as his skin can bear. Steam fills the small four-sided glass shower, his only concealment, though a poor one.
Hands flat on the glass on either side of the faucet handles, head bent beneath the pounding spray, he can feel the ever-present eye on him.
There's nowhere to hide. He no longer bothers to try.
His skin is sensitized, almost raw, the nerves exposed to the cool air and the hot water. He can feel the water rolling down every inch of his body, making detours as it finds individual hairs and old and new scars. Not only water slides down the backs of his legs and he can feel it, moving slower, carving its own path.
Blood is, after all, thicker.
The pain deep inside him is almost welcome. It means he's still alive, despite feeling dead inside. It means he can still fight.
Despite the fact that he always loses.
An inner timer goes off in his head and he methodically reaches for soap and cloth. There's only so long he's permitted in the shower, only so long before his Master pulls his strings again. He washes almost carelessly, ridding his body of blood and sweat and things he doesn't want to think about. There's no fresh blood--those wounds are already healing, wounds only earned because he fought again.
As he turns off the shower he wonders dismally how much longer he'll fight.
He knows, despite his protests to the contrary, it's inevitable that he'll stop.
Unconcerned about his nudity, he exits the shower and stops. Facing him is a mirror, and the sight of himself--black hair slicked flat to his skull, bruises forming on the pale, muscular skin of his chest and shoulders and hips, mask firmly in place--makes him lose hard-won composure. He strikes out with a closed fist, shattering the mirror, a snarl breaking from tightly clenched lips. A bright flare of pain, the smell of fresh blood, and the anger goes as quickly as it came.
He winces, looking down to see cut knuckles, the throb bone deep, and he wonders if this time he broke his hand along with this mirror unlike the last dozen.
And he hates the fact that once again he's lost control.
A chuckle sounds, but he doesn't turn, knowing he's still physically alone and that the sound is coming from one of several hidden speakers.
"Fix that," the rich, sensual and hated voice says. "You have work to do and damaging yourself will only make the job harder."
There's truth in that statement, but he really can't bring himself to care. On automatic he moves to the well-stocked first-aid kit, the stone floor beneath his feet cold, the dim lights doing little to warm the room. He ignores the chill and cleans and bandages his hand, carefully flexing the fingers to discover that he hasn't broken any bones.
A door leads to his room--spartan, neat, not a place in which he lives but one in which he exists. Drying off the remnants of water, he moves to the closet to dress.
He hates the armor, the colors wrong, the feel wrong. The only thing that reminds him of who he was is his own mask.
He knows that will be stripped of him soon enough.
He dreads that day.
For, on that day, the last of Robin will be gone, leaving only Renegade.
The mission was unexceptional. No involvement of the Titans or any of the other heroes this time, just a simple night watchman. He left the man alive, wondering, as he always does, when he'll be forced to take his first life.
That's inevitable, too.
He's been Slade's apprentice for nearly two months now and he's skirted the line so many times. He's been trained to kill but so far he's only used the gun on his thigh once--to wound--preferring his bo staff or escrima sticks to take out his opponents. The sheath on his back holds the sticks well enough, but he knows what it's really for. So far he's been able to ignore the short swords in the armory, learning to use them but never taking them on a mission.
Again, there will come the time when he'll no longer have any say in that.
He's actually getting used to having no say in pretty much everything. Oddly enough, at times, it's a relief. All his decisions made for him, only the guilt remains his own.
Stripping off the armor, he replaces it with well-worn jeans and a soft t-shirt. The mask stays in place, his eyes hidden behind the retractable lenses. There's no real purpose for it. Slade made it known from nearly the beginning that his identity isn't a secret to him.
But, the mask stays on is the first rule his first mentor taught him, and he clings to it.
He finds Slade in the monitor room, running security checks, his mask off, because Robin isn't going anywhere, isn't going to tell anyone, and it amuses him that his Apprentice refuses to remove his own mask. Robin fears the vulnerability of exposure.
Slade fears nothing.
He listens as Robin gives his report, the young man's voice clear but empty of emotion. He takes the disk from him, turns it in his fingers, nodding as his active mind both digests and plots.
There's a bruise on Robin's neck, just above the collar of his t-shirt, and Slade finds his eye lingering there, remembering the feel of his teeth grazing along skin pulled taut over bone, hearing again the half-moan, half-cry that broke from his bird's lips at that instant of painful pleasure. Arousal flares and he fingers his goatee to distract himself.
Not yet, not again so soon, despite his wants. Robin needs to heal. Taking him again now will only break him too quickly and perhaps too permanently.
Slade is a master in many things, but properly crushing and rebuilding a young man's spirit is one skill he's still learning. Still, there are other modes of pleasure, other ways to train his Apprentice to his touch, that won't damage him physically. Smiling to himself, he acknowledges that a little more active participation from Robin is what's needed to make the next crack in his psyche.
Seeing the darkening of Slade's one blue eye, Robin tries not to shudder, and knows he fails when the older man smirks.
Not again, not so soon, he can't...
"You've done well, Robin," Slade praises, knowing the need for the carrot as much as the stick. "Go eat something and then report to my room in an hour."
It's a dismissal, and, as Slade turns back to insert the disk into one of his computers, Robin lets his shoulders slump as he turns to leave.
He doesn't know how long he can take this.
Robin eats because he knows that his body needs to remain strong for his mind to remain strong. Everything tastes empty, leaving a dusty aftertaste in his mouth, but he forces down the necessary nourishment.
In his bathroom, the shards of the mirror are gone, and he brushes his teeth and hair without reflection. Standing at the sink, watching the water swirl down the drain, he feels a moment of despair and notices the hand holding his comb is trembling. A quick swallow and stiffening of his jaw and the trembling stops.
Emotional weakness is as bad as physical, both to be exploited by his Master, and Slade has played on so many of them over the two months. Robin has tried anger, indifference, even toleration, which, while akin to acceptance still leaves him some pride. Fighting the bigger, stronger man is futile, but still he tries. He hasn't begged.
At least...he prays he won't.
The trembling resumes and he curses savagely beneath his breath, letting out his anger and frustration. He's tried to reign in his temper, knowing that's what got him into this mess, but it's so hard.
He's just angry all the time.
And, very, very scared.
As Robin silently slips through the corridors of Slade's underground lair, his bare feet making no sound on steel and stone, he tries to let his mind drift away from what's coming.
Unfortunately it drifts too easily into memories.
Four weeks to the night he'd made the devil's bargain with Slade, Robin was summoned to his Master's suite. He'd only seen it a few times. Usually they met in Slade's office or the monitor room, even a few times in the living quarters, and always in the dining room for dinner. Wondering what new task Slade would have him perform this late at night, Robin frowned and knocked on the door.
Slade opened it a few seconds later and Robin was surprised to find him wearing only a pair of black silk pajama pants. It had taken several days for Robin to get used to seeing his captor without his armor and in regular clothes. He'd been surprised to discover the right eye was really missing and while the white hair was still a shock, the muscular build wasn't. That, Robin had always known hadn't been enhanced by the armor.
But, he was confused by Slade's lack of dress at this hour of the night if a mission was involved. Even if he didn't go along, the man still tended to wear his armor for work.
"Promptness is a virtue," Slade said with a hint of pride in his voice and that annoying smirk on his lips.
Robin entered the sitting room, noting all possible weapons without even realizing, as well as the fire banked on a marble hearth, a glass of brandy on an elegant little table next to a wing-backed chair, and a copy of 'Frontinus: Stratagems. Aqueducts of Rome' face down and open on a low footstool.
Not liking the tone of Slade's voice--oddly playful--Robin eyed him warily, making sure he always kept him in front of him as Slade moved through the room. "Brandy?"
"I think you've corrupted me enough."
That comment earned a chuckle which sent a shiver down Robin's spine.
Slade picked up his glass and took a sip to finish it, then carried the glass over to a cart with decanters and other glasses. Setting the dirty one down, he toyed with it for a minute before turning back to Robin.
Robin could see a decision had been made, and dread filled him.
He just knew something really bad was about to happen.
"Did you know that in the Spartan Army, the older soldiers were responsible for the training of the younger? One boy to one man? It was not only common practice but expected, that men and boys would be together, one as the teacher, the other as the student, forming a bond that could last until death." Slade's one eye narrowed slightly. "You were trained from a young age to fight. Did Batman teach you other things?"
"What are you talking about?" Uncomfortable with this odd topic, Robin bristled at the mention of his former mentor and a memory came fast and furious--of a conversation overheard between Batman and Green Arrow about rumors about the men and their sidekicks. He felt himself flushing and saw the smirk on Slade's face deepen. "I'm not a boy."
"No, and not to my regret. I don't like boys."
An instant of relief was wiped out by Slade's next words, spoken so darkly they made Robin freeze. "I prefer men."
Robin stared at his Master, wanting to protest, wanting to run, wanting to demand Slade shut up, but that one glistening eye had him paralyzed.
And a part of him, a part he'd denied for a month, was almost relieved. Subconsciously, he'd expected this, that he was more than an Apprentice to Slade, that Slade needed to master him in every way. He'd seen looks in the man's eye, heard things in his voice, and been in complete denial.
As fear wove its way through him, Robin wondered why Slade had waited this long.
"No protests? No fervent denials? No...pleas?"
The fear choked him but Robin managed one short sentence. "I don't beg."
"Shall we wager how long it will be before you do?"
In a flash Slade was in front of him, looming over him, and Robin had to force himself to hold his ground. He couldn't meet that knowing eye, though, focusing instead on the taut artery in Slade's neck.
The desire to rip it out came hard and strong and his hands clenched into fists at his sides.
"Are you really surprised, Robin?" Slade asked, his voice silky.
"Smart boy." Lifting a hand, the older man cupped Robin's chin, forcing him to look up. "Smart man."
For a horrified moment Robin thought he'd kiss him, but then Slade released him and stepped back, sweeping one arm towards the door to the room Robin had never entered.
"You'll have to make me,"Robin snarled, anger that this was going to happen joining the fear, galvanizing him for action.
Slade only smiled. "Then I'll make you."
Angrily shaking the memories from his head, Robin passes silently through the dark and empty sitting room and stops before that same closed door. After a long moment composing himself, he knocks with one clenched fist, and enters when beckoned.
Slade is nude, reclining on the large bed with one arm pillowed under his head, a glass of wine in his other hand. As Robin rounds the bed, he holds out the glass, which the younger man takes and drains.
He started drinking four weeks and one day into his captivity.
Slade chuckles, and the sound is like fingernails on a chalkboard.
Setting down the empty glass, Robin ignores the man lounging so confidently and peels off his clothes.
"You need more sun. Such pretty white skin bruises so easily."
"You force me to live in an underground bunker and send me out almost always at night," Robin retorts, proud of himself for focusing his anger into words.
Words often put Slade in a good mood, even bitter, angry ones, and if Slade's in a good mood, chances are Robin won't earn any more bruises to mar that pale skin his Master loves so much.
Graceful as a cat, Slade rises on one hip and nods his head down to the spot beside him. Robin takes a deep breath and settles there, not bothering to shield his nudity. Modesty was lost weeks ago.
Still, he doesn't look at his Master, simply waits to see what happens.
"While I do enjoy a good battle with you, Robin, I think it's time you accept this."
An angry flush glides up Robin's cheeks and he snaps one quick look at Slade's arrogant face. "You think I haven't?"
"If you had, you wouldn't fight."
"I'll always fight, you son of a bitch." Bitterness bursts from him in a staccato of words. "I'll never want you. I'll never be willing. I'll fight you every single time until you win. You'll never have more than my body, Slade."
A hand around his throat stops his speech and he chokes at the pressure, and for a brief instant he hopes this is it--that he's pushed his captor too far--but then the pressure lets up and he gulps for air. Slade's face is right in front of him, that lone eye snapping in anger and lust, and his free hand is on Robin's hip, hard and holding him in place.
"You're breaking, my bird, every day a bit more, and as you break, you become mine a bit more. Soon you'll not only stop fighting, you'll seek me out." The hand glides off his hip, across his thigh, coming to rest between his legs on his soft cock.
Robin flinches at both his body's automatic reaction to the touch and Slade's knowing look. "I'm eighteen. I get hard thinking about cheese puffs."
Slade chuckles and squeezes until Robin gasps in pleasure. "Would you like to eat me?"
"Sick bastard!" His protest is cut off by hard lips and a powerful tongue, forcing between his teeth, kissing him deeply. Robin struggles, fists pressed hard against Slade's chest, but the hand around his shaft both strokes and confines and he can't twist free. Gasping for air, he finds himself returning the kiss without a thought, as rising desire sends his mind spinning.
Always in control, Slade's the one to break the kiss, the only sign that he's at all touched, the obvious evidence of his own desire pressing hard against Robin's hip.
"I don't want to hurt you," he croons, stroking one finger down his Apprentice's cheek, delighting in the color staining the digit's path. "Not that I won't enjoy it if you make me."
"I hate you," slips out before Robin can prevent it and he mentally curses his lack of control as Slade smiles in pleasure and traces his finger over the earlier bruises along his collarbone.
"Yes, I know. I wouldn't expect anything less. Not yet, at least. Devotion will come."
The promise leaves a bleak feeling in the pit of Robin's stomach and he tries again to pull away from Slade, but he's trapped by the gently stroking hands. He tries a new tack. "Didn't you get enough this afternoon?"
"Well played, and, no." Another kiss, this one to Robin's stubborn jaw, and a nip of teeth that makes the young man hiss as a throb of pleasure hits his cock. The mouth slips around to whisper sibilantly in his ear, "But, I do recognize that you're damaged from before, so I'm willing to forego that pleasure for something new. Something...that demands your participation."
Robin jerks his head away, glaring from behind the opaque lenses. "I always participate."
"You fight, you struggle, you resist until you can't do anything else but give in. That's not participation."
"What do you want?"
"I want your willingness, my bird. I want your mouth and your tongue and your lips, and I want you to learn something."
The tone goes from seductive to chilling in an instant and Robin feels himself paling. He's not stupid and no longer innocent and he has wondered why Slade hasn't forced this method of sex yet. Shaking his head in denial, his protests are cut off by a hard kiss. When Slade pulls back, there's anger in his expression and in his hold on the nape of Robin's neck. The other hand has stopped the arousing stroking.
"You have two options, Apprentice. You do this willingly and, if you please me, I might even return the favor. Or, I force it on you. Picture yourself on your back with me kneeling over your shoulders, holding your head up..."
Robin knows he's gone bright red at the image, but he can't help himself, and he stammers a denial and quickly jerks his head away, staring blindly across the room.
"Choose," Slade whispers in his ear.
His eyes close for a moment, and he feels the unwelcome sting of hot tears, but there's only one answer he can give, because being that vulnerable will destroy him so much faster than seeming willingness.
Slade releases him, waiting, and Robin turns, braces his hands on either side of the older man's hips and lowers his head.
Later he is on his back, but Slade is kneeling between his spread legs, his mouth working him quickly, with hard pulls that make him quiver. Robin has one arm over his eyes, the fingers of he other hand twisted in the bedding. His hips arch and he can't control the moan of pleasure that bursts from tightly clenched lips.
He doesn't want this, doesn't want this, but it feels so good and Slade's mouth is so hot and his tongue is hitting all the sensitive spots along his shaft.
Behind the lenses of his mask, the tears come even as his body explodes in wild spasms. A cry, like that of a bird, erupts as well, and he feels everything, fingers caressing quivering thigh and stomach muscles, throat gulping around the tip of his cock, air passing over his heated skin, the brush of Slade's beard, and it's too much.
It's all too much.
Robin sobs, and Slade is there, covering him with his body, the weight just enough to pin but not enough to threaten, and his mouth is gentle against trembling lips as he drinks in the whimpers of pain and fear.
The carrot can be so much more useful.
As Robin quiets, Slade moves off him to his knees, and the younger man looks up hesitantly, not knowing what to expect or what to do next. He sees the hands approach his face, then stop a breath away from his flushed skin.
And he knows what comes next.
Squeezing shut his eyes, he does nothing to prevent his Master removing the mask.
"Open your eyes, Dick," Slade croons softly, calling him by his name for the first time.
And Dick does, his eyes now dry and flat and empty.
As Slade slides down next to him, wrapping him in possessive arms, he knows that when he faces the next mirror, he won't see Robin or Dick.
He'll see Renegade.
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