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The Red Right Hand

Chapter Text

 "For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground And tell sad stories of the death of kings" —William Shakespeare, King Richard II scene 2 act 3

The night sky hung over Gotham with dimly lit stars, faded from the lights of the city. The streets were damp as mist rolled off the pavement and collected in the cool night air. At this hour the city was scarce of people, except for those who craved adventure or worse—infamy.

Still, the streets seemed quiet, harboring little commotion (at least for the moment). A few homeless men gathered around an old barrel they'd set flame to, trying to find warmth form the fall air. The leaves had begun to change, signaling the end of a summer and possibly the end of an era.

"Does anyone have some of the crystal?" One disheveled man asked, nervously scratching his skin.

"Sorry Davey, I'm dry at the moment. What about you Hitch?" replied a heavy set man with long disheveled grey hair.

Hitch looked up from the flames, his cold hands barley covered by torn fabric, but filthy none the less. "I can't even afford to buy myself a decent pair of gloves, never mind being able to afford that crystal shit." Hitch said with a strange sense of pride, his voice thick with his Scottish origins.

"Man, I need something," Davey snapped, trying to hold back from his tweak. It had been hours since he'd had his last fix and his high was beginning to wear off. "Maybe I can find enough money for that cheap tar some of the dealers are selling."

"You may wanna rethink that Davey, I hear that new shit will rot form the inside out" Hitch said asked looking back down at his filthy hands.

"That's cause that shit's not really heroin, just some cheap homemade shit from Russia." The man with the ratty hair replied, taking a sip of scotch he stored away in his coat.

Suddenly, in the distance the three men heard the squeal of a car engine approach. From the edge of the ally they could vaguely see the glare of head lights far in the distance, but before they knew it, the car speed passed them. The blur of a black SUV flew by, splashing water up from the streets disturbing their clothing before it vanished into the fog.

"What the fuck was that?" Davey exclaimed.

"Um… I think that was the Batmoblie?" the heavy man replied in an air of confusion.

Just then a sleek black car soon cut through the fog, racing passed them with swift intensity.

"No… that was the Batmobile."

The homeless men watched with stunned eyes as the two vehicles drove by and sped off into the foggy streets of Gotham. Moments later the sounds of sirens wailing in the distance began to grow closer. Their lights flashed through thick fog and soon blurs of blue strobes rode by in hot pursuit.

"Who do you think their after?" The heavier man asked, watching the police cars fly by.

"I don't know, but there's something foul in the filthy air," Hitch growled and spit into the flame.

The three men went back to their business, warming their cold hands by the fire while justice chanced those who dare to cross it.

The black SUV charged down the road doing its best to avoid pedestrians who ran fearfully out of its way. The driver looked back in the rear view mirror to see the sleek black vehicle behind it, gaining fast.

"Shit Bruce!" The young man scoffed, gripping the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles began to turn white.

He looked over to the passenger seat where a young woman sat slumped over and bleeding heavily from a gunshot wound. "Raven, Raven answer me!" He demanded, knowing she didn't have much time left.

She groaned and rolled her head back, her long black hair now clinging to her white skin. The young man quickly looked up at the road, looking eagerly for an escape route. "Just hang in their Rae, I'm gonna get you help, just stay with me."

He knew these streets well as if he'd never left. They hadn't changed much from when he was a child and if his memory served right, a cut through road to the bridge should have been coming up. 'But how to ditch the Bat,' he thought grimly.

He pushed the pedal to the floor, picking up speed with every second. The SUV began to pull further ahead of the Batmobile, which meant that at any moment one of the Bat's handy gadgets would come hurling out in an attempt to slow the vehicle down or dismantle it.

He saw the Dark Knight's car begin to ready itself to release some sort of projectory. If his memory severed right, he knew it was only moments before he took aim and fired it. He'd have to think fast if he wanted to escape in one piece.

An old road soon appeared on the right and just as the Bat took his aim the driver turned sharply nearly rolling the SUV. The Bat himself was taken by surprise and tried stopping short, but had to come to a squealing stop to get his barrens, but not before sliding into a row of parked cars.

The young driver tore down the narrow road scrambling to remember the fastest way to the bridge. He knew it was only a matter of time before The Batman caught up with them and when he least expected it.

He looked over at Raven again, his concern for her beating in his chest. He needed her to make it, if she didn't he'd never be able to live with himself. He'd already lost too much. The cut through road soon arose from the darkness and with metal and furry the young driver turned down it, nervously taking the chance that he'd come face to face with the Dark Knight.

Swiftly he came around the bend and to his surprise there was not a car insight, or so he thought. From out of nowhere the sleek black vehicle shot out in front of the SUV, cutting it off. The young man whipped the wheel to the left and floored it, pulling up the E-bake to drift around the Batmobile. The Bat himself was stunned, not expecting to see such a sight and watched as the car straightened itself, slightly fish tailing before it sped off.

"Who the hell is this guy?"

The stunt had gained the driver some time and he punched it for the bridge which he could see just up ahead. He knew his pursuer was not far behind, but he hoped with any luck he could escape him. Under the dim street lamps the black SUV shined, catching the light in its reflective dark paint. It flew upon the on ramp of the bridge, speeding wildly down the clear road. The smell of scorched tires rising heavily in the air, leaving thick tracks on the pavement.

"Mmm… Richard?" He heard Raven mutter.

He turned his head quickly to see Raven roll her head back and slightly gain conciseness. "Raven, can you hear me?" He questioned urgently.

For a moment the girl didn't respond and he watched as she let her head go limp again.

"Raven!" He yelled, and reached out his hand to take hold of her chin. "Raven, Raven, answer me PLEASE!"

He peered up and in shock found a woman standing in the middle of the bridge. He jerked the wheel, but this time he lost control and rolled the vehicle over. The scream of scraping metal and shattering glass echoed into the empty space. The car slid violently on its passenger side, bringing to life the bellow of crushed metal as it hit the barrier of the bridge with great force.

The scent of scotched rubber and ground metal rose from the pavement, burning the woman's nose. She'd watched in horror as the SUV slid passed her and broke through the rusty barrier, plummeting from the bridge into the black river below.

The splash of the car was epic, sending white sprays of water into the air at a prominent height. The SUV began to submerge, sinking quickly beneath the black water. On the bridge the woman watched helplessly among the broken glass that lay scattered on the scarred pavement. Her eyes became glassy and her voice quivered in disbelief. In the distance a pair of headlights caught her attention and cut through the smoke left behind from the crash.

Beneath the dark water he couldn't breathe. His head held a dull pounding that rippled through his thoughts. He wanted to open his eyes, but he couldn't his mind being too scattered. Deep in his train of thought he wondered how he'd gotten to this point and how he'd let himself fall so far. Guilt began to set in, devouring him in his breathless state.

'What have I done to us…'

Chapter Text

One Year Prior...

The day had been long, the trip from Jump City to Gotham being tiring and seemingly endless. He'd been told not to come, but he didn't listen. It had been over a year since he'd seen his old friend, the one he'd had for most of his life.

Roy left the Titans two years prior, wanting to go off on his own and become his own hero. His departure was civil, it had nothing to do with the team. Roy only felt like he'd out grown the Titans and maybe he had, but it seemed now that maybe he wasn't ready after all.

A year ago, Roy accepted a mission to go undercover and infiltrate a criminal arms dealing organization that had ties to the Mexican Drug Cartel. It was a high risk mission and even the Justice League questioned taking it on (only doing so as a favor to the government). Roy jumped at the opportunity and hardly thought twice. Dick remembered the details and even thought about volunteering, but didn't, knowing his code of ethics would be compromised. It was no different for Roy.

He'd come back from the failed mission a disgraced, broken man. And from what Dick could tell it was going to take more than his moral high ground to remind Roy how far he was from his own.

He approached the rundown looking building, its brick crumbling into decay from years of neglect, but no one seemed to care. It was only among the many structures in this part of town that reflected the lives of those who lived along the "Methadone Mile." Their lives in ruins as they let themselves rot away.

Dick looked up when he reached the main entrance at the top of his steps, his apprehension fresh in his mind.

"Well here goes nothing."


The young man worked frantically, looking for just the right implement to suit his needs. A lit cigarette hung from his lips, burning as he inhaled the toxic smoke. He ran his trembling fingers through his shallow strawberry hair. He needed something deep that could hold just the right amount of water. His eyes became glassy as a sick feeling filled his stomach and throbbed in his head.

It had been hours since he had his last fix and he needed his next. Finally, he found the right tool that could perform his distasteful task. Irritated, the young man sighed in relief and took an old spoon in his hand then placed it down on the table. He opened a small box and placed it down beside the spoon. From it, he took out a syringe, filling it with a small amount of water and ejected it into the cradle of the spoon. He placed a fine, rose grey power in the water, being careful not to add too much. Diligently, he took the spoon in his hand and lit a lighter, allowing the flame to heat the bottom. The liquid began to bubble, reaching its boiling point to breakdown the substance. Once the liquid had reached its peak, he placed down the spoon and used the end of the plunger to stir the contents, then sampled the concoction to check its purity.

He both loved and hated the taste of the drug. This time it was very bitter and he couldn't help but cringe at its foulness, but this is where love came into play. He loved that he was moments away for drowning out the world and quelling his craving just like he loved the high he'd face when he got there.

He placed in the spoon a small piece of cotton and watched as it engorged itself with the poison that was killing him. He hated himself for what he was about to do, but it called to him, holding him tight in its grip.

He pressed the needle down into the cotton, using it as a filter and filled the syringe to the desired amount. He'd tied an old phone charger around his arm and began to look for a vein. He traced his finger along the skin of his arm, hitting it to provoke their prominence. He'd always wonder if this was the time he'd take too much or just get a bad batch. Deep down he always wanted it to be the last time, but knew that it wouldn't be. A vein pronounced itself and he set his sights on it, aiming the needle toward it. He knew the feeling that awaited him, wanting nothing more than to forget his self-hatred and failure. But just as the needle was about to pierce his skin, a knock wrapped at the door.

He wanted to ignore it, to push his thoughts away from the sound and centered his focus back on achieving his high, but couldn't. The knocking persisted, making it hard to concentrate, but he refused to acknowledge the sound, until he heard a familiar voice call his name.

"Roy, I know you're in there! It's Dick! Open the door!"

Roy sighed and let his head fall back as though the call of his name was enough to pull him out of his despair. However, the need to indulge in his sickness still pulled at him, but the voice at the door refused to cease.

"Roy, come on, I just wanna talk. I'm not here to hassle you, I'm just—" Suddenly the door flew open and the dissolved face of his old friend appeared in the door way, "worried."

"Nice of you to drop by Dick." Roy replied dryly. "Did the League send you?"

"No," Dick replied quickly, trying to hold on to his friend's trust, "I came on my own. I wanted to see how you were."

Roy looked at his dark haired friend who stood helplessly in the doorway. It had been a long time since they'd last seen each other and in truth, part of him was happy to see him, but not in his current state. "Dick, you can't fix me, so don't—"

"Roy I'm not here to fix you, I just wanna know what happened," Dick pleaded, trying convince Roy to see his sincerity.

"You wanna come in?"

Dick accepted his offer and entered the disheveled apartment. The living room was nearly bare and only possessed a flimsy coffee table and a cheap looking couch. Off to his left was a kitchenette, its counters covered in filthy dishes and empty take out containers. The floor looked as if it had never been swept, being littered with dust and dirt that became trapped against crux of the base boards.

Dick looked around and noticed a doorway that led to the bedroom. A nearly bare mattress lay on the floor, covered in thin rag-like blankets. The windows were covered, keeping out most of the light, leaving Roy alone in the dark. He didn't know what to think in the tiny apparent, its small size nearly suffocating and secluded from the world. It was as though demons hung on the wall, taking refuge in the shadows, both physically and emotionally.

"You wanna sit down?" Roy said taking a seat on the couch.

Dick nodded, pulling himself from his grim thoughts. He took a seat across from Roy in an old chair that sat alone in a corner. He looked over at the young man across from him. His eyes were dull and empty as they looked back at Dick embittered and hollow. A darkness coiled beneath them like bruises, making Roy's skin take on sickness it had never possessed.

"So how long have you been here in Gotham, Roy?"

The archer lit a cigarette and took a long drag, "I came here a month ago, I couldn't stay in Star City anymore. Ollie was too ashamed of me." His voice was filled with despair and indignity grew in his worn eyes. "I just wanted to be as far away from him as possible."

"I get that," Dick replied, knowing the feeling of wanting to run away from who you are. "What happened in Mexico?"

Roy blew a puff of smoke through his nose, the offensive smell poisoning air around him. His face fall even further than it had and regret hung heavy from his brow. "I went against nature, that's what happened."

"Roy, that doesn't make any sense?"

"It wouldn't, not to you or anyone from the world we come from." Roy replied flicking the ash off his cigarette.

"Ok, so how does that lead to you becoming a heroin addict?" Dick asked trying to understand his friend's concept.

Roy's face hardened with more anger, becoming colder and more resentful, "If you knew the things I saw, the things I did and couldn't stop… you wouldn't ask me that question."

Dick remained silent for a moment as Roy's words fell dark and nearly hurtful.

"I couldn't deal with the guilt I faced, there were so many people I couldn't save. I had to sit by and watch those…" Roy choked on his words as they were bitter on his tongue, "there was nothing I could do. Some hero, right?"

His eyes fell to the floor, too overcome by the blood stained memories he poisoned himself to forget.

"I'm really sorry Roy," was all Dick could say. There was nothing that could be said to change what happened to him, and deep down, he'd always have that brokenness.

Roy took a long drag of his cigarette and angrily exhaled through his nose bull-like. There was something lingering, something more he wasn't sharing and Dick knew it was something he should know.

"Roy, if there's something you think you should tell me—"

"No Dick," Roy cut him off bitterly, "I fucked up, that's all you need to know."

"I don't buy that for a minute. There's more isn't there?"

"There's nothing you can do Dick… There's nothing Nightwing can do."

The red haired boy's words hit him like the fist to the jaw, leaving him speechless for a moment. But there was something his friend was hiding and he knew it more than simple nature.

"Roy?" The dark haired boy growled in a fatherly tone.

"You're such fool Richard, you know that?"

"Maybe I am, but I'm not gonna walk away, now what won't you tell me?" he demanded.

Roy shook his head and grit his teeth regretfully, "If I tell you, I'm signing your death warrant."

Dick just looked back at him and shrugged unfazed by the declaration. "Then sign it."

"When I was undercover… I found out some things, things that the League is unaware of." Roy said in a cautious manner.

"Like what?"

"Like the fact that Slade has a major hand in the drug trade."

Dick nearly seethed at the mention of his name, the man who threatened to ruin his life and shamelessly depose everything he stood for, and all for his selfish need to win. Dick balled his fist tightly, his anger filling his veins and heating his blood with the deepest hatred he'd ever felt.

"That's not it though."

"And just when I thought this was gonna be dull," Dick said rolling his.

"Slade is also the owner of a major pharmaceutical company. From what I could gather, he's using the profits to gain control over the political flied."

"Why?"

"For power, why else do people do anything?" Roy's voice became even more irate as he spoke. "Slade wants a hand at the table, and not just any table. He wants to deal in with the people who make all the big decisions."

"That sounds a lot like-"

"A paranoid conspiracy theory? Yeah the League already told me that."

And it did.

Dick looked back at him, torn by hatred and logic. The theory was off putting and sounded like something no sane person would conceive. "Roy, do you have any proof to support this?"

"Nope, I blew my cover trying to get it," he said stubbing out his cigarette bitterly. "I know it sounds crazy, but it's real. Very real."

Dick furrowed his brow with distaste unsure of how to take it, "What else do you know?"

"Not much else, but I know there's more, it's just well hidden," Roy replied letting his words sink into his friend's mind where they festered and began to bury themselves. "I'm right Dick, but no one will listen to me. I have nothing to back it up and my credibility is shot, Slade's made sure of that."

"How—did you get close to Slade?"

"No, but he has eyes everywhere. The second he found out it was me he played me right into his hand. He compromised my ethics, my conscience… he forced me to make decisions I never thought I'd have to make… He made sure he broke me." His voice became weak and hindered by the darkness that hung over him.

"There has to be a way to get proof?" Dick said shaking his head.

"There's isn't, he's too careful. I couldn't even find out the name of the company he owns."

Roy looked away having no fight left to give.

"What if…" Dick began, "What if I go after Slade myself?"

"Yeah like Nightwing can actually stop Slade?" Roy laughed, mocking his friend's statement.

"Maybe Nightwing can't, but maybe Richard Grayson can?" Dick said defensively. "I can go undercover and find out what his plans are, then I'll tell the League it's true myself."

The archer leaned forward, "That would never work; you'll just get yourself killed. This is exactly why I didn't want tell you."

"Roy, if what you're saying is true, then someone has to do something," he reasoned urgently.

"There's nothing anyone can do! Plus you already went after Slade undercover and he knew exactly who you were the entire time!"

Dick felt a blow to his pride, remembering how much he was willing to sacrifice and how much he almost lost from that mission. "That's was years ago, I was impulsive and arrogant. If I take my time and come up with a seamless plan I can makes this work," he reassured.

Roy shook his head and got up from the couch. Dick couldn't help but notice how thin he'd become. His face was less full and even his muscle mass had decreased. He moved clumsily to the bedroom to retrieve something he'd hidden away. When he returned, he threw down a small bag on the coffee table in front of him. Dick looked down at it and noticed the contents of the bag were dark, almost a rusty color that resembled cheap heroin.

"That's your ticket to figuring out what Slade is up to." Roy said gravely.

"Heroin?" Dick asked picking up the strange bag.

"It's not heroin." Roy sat down again and watched as his friend looked at it with wonder clouding his eyes.

"Then what is it?"

Roy leaned in with a grim look, his eyes holding a repressed anger "It's called krokodil, it's a heroin knock-off made of codeine, red phosphorous, and in some cases even deasil or gasoline. It rots you from the inside out and it's 10 times more addictive than heroin."

Richard looked up at Roy stunned, disbelief etched on his face. He'd heard of krokodil and its horrifying effects to those who indulged in it, but he'd never seen it before. Hell, he wasn't even sure if it actually existed. "Who made this?"

"Slade has some cooks working on a formula, that's from a batch I was able to get my hands on."

"So what am I supposed to do with this?"

"Figure out what it's made of," he said as though the question were mundane. "It's uncommon for Krokodil to come in a power form and the fact that it is leads me to believe that Slade's gonna try and pass that shit off as heroin since it's cheaper to make."

Dick raised an eyebrow, letting a sly look flicker in his eye, "But aren't bad drugs bad for business, plus codeine has a high street value?"

"Well that's the thing, when you own a pharmaceutical company and can make codeine, sky's the limit. As for business, people in the drug game take short cuts all the time, why and else would shit even exist?"

"I don't know, but it's Slade, he probably has some twisted motive," Dick said recalling his past with the sinister man. "You said he owns pharmaceutical company?"

"Yeah."

"Well pharmaceutical companies make a lot of money off drug addiction, especially heroin. Maybe he's looking to make a profit off Krokodil treatment, I mean if what you sat is true?"

"I would have never thought of that," Roy said with bewilderment and took a drag of his cigarette.

"Well sometimes you gotta think like the devil to catch one," Dick said with a shrug, trying to stomach the horror of how true his observation was. "So how am I going to get this on a plane?"

Roy laughed numbly, "Send it in the mail."

"Ha, that's real funny Roy, but really?"

"No, I'm serious, send it in the mail," the young archer continued, "make it look like a birthday card, just don't send it priority and DO NOT put it in a box," he warned.

"Okay then." Dick said patronizingly. "I guess I'm going to mail myself knock-off heroin?"

"Ya know Dick, you don't have to do this if you don't want to." Roy said knowing his friend didn't come from such a gritty world.

"I know, but someone has to take Slade out of the game, it might as well be me," Dick replied dully. "Plus, you went through all this trouble trying to plant the seed in my head."

"What," Roy pulled back a moment unsure of what to think, "excuse me?"

"Cut the bullshit act, Roy." Dick said in a much darker tone. "You knew I'd come here eventually, and you knew if you told me Slade was involved, I'd make it my personal mission stop him. So you don't have to acting like you're not trying play me."

The false look of surprise fell from the boy's face and his posture relaxed as he rolled his eyes, "Well, then, guess I can stop pretending now. I forgot how smart you actually are and how manipulative you can be too."

"I'm not manipulative," Dick added, letting a small flood of resentment fill his voice.

Roy gave him a hard look that shot bitterness and a little disdain. He knew that Dick was smart; it was why he knew if anyone could stop Slade, it would be him. Brute strength, supper speed, or even the power of flight wouldn't be enough to topple him. Only someone smart enough to play Slade's game and play it better would be the one to take his crown, and Richard Grayson was the only one with enough hatred to claim victory. But the real question was, how far would Nightwing be will to go before Dick left him behind?

"So what are you gonna do?"

"Honestly, I'm not sure yet." Dick replied getting up from his chair, "I guess I have to figure out if this is worth the damage."

"Of course it's not," Roy replied, heavily, "but it will haunt you whether you pursue it or not."

The two men looked at each other sharing that mutual understanding. They'd both lost something to Slade and through that he had control over them, but the real questioned rest in whether those losses could be reclaimed.

"Well let me do some research and see what I can come up with, maybe I can find something the League couldn't." Dick replied and walked to the door. "Besides, I haven't made up my mind yet. But, even if I decide not go through with this, you're not getting your Crocodile back."

"Krokodil," Roy corrected with an eye roll, "if you're gonna keep it at least get the name right."

Dick cracked a smile, closing the door before Roy could respond any further and made his way down the filthy hallway. He walked passed the unkempt occupants coming from small, cluttered apartments. Each one harboring a new, but foul scent as he passed by. His mind quarreled, primarily knowing the idea was unethical and dangerous. He also knew the League would never sanction it, and to go through with it would be a blatant disregard of both them and the law.

He stepped out into the dim sunlight, the mid-afternoon taking on a dull warmth in the dark Gotham streets. This part of the city was one of less fortunate neighborhoods and he knew it well. Mostly from long nights of patrol and investigating leads. The people that walked these streets all came from unfortunate circumstances, but some were more dangerous than others.

He kept his guard up as he walked toward the subway station that was about a mile away. He remembered Bruce telling him never to go there on his own, especially at night. It was a rule he'd always obeyed, knowing that many people never left it alive. However deep down, Dick always knew there would come a day he'd have to go there on his own, and when that day finally came, he ended up in the hospital with a bullet in his shoulder.

He recalled how upset Bruce was. He was furious at the fact that Dick almost died and any hope of Bruce seeing him as anything more than a child was gone. The bitter memory caused him to grit his teeth as the sweetest of ironies all crashed in his mind. It didn't matter how hard he tried to prove that he could not only take care of himself, but also his team, Bruce just couldn't see passed fact that to him, Dick was his son. And he feared for him, it was his nature to. But Bruce couldn't stop Dick from growing up, he could only deny that he did.

Dick didn't even call himself Robin anymore, he was beyond that part of his life. It had been years since he shed his childish identity and taken on the one of Nightwing. He'd also graduated from the ridiculous color scheme of red, yellow, and green to a simple black kevlar suit with a symbol of a blue bared across his chest.

"So you're done being 'Robin'?" Raven asked leaning against his desk as she looked down at the new suit with a critical eye.

Dick could recall the look on her face when he'd told her of his new found identity.

"Yep," he replied, "it's time to put that part of my life behind me. I'm not a kid anymore." His voice ached with frustration and urgency, as though he wanted her to hear him.

"I know Dick, none of us are. But I know this is more to you than just a name change. I get it." She ran her fingers along the blue wings, taking in the outline of their shape. "Did you come up with a name yet?"

He looked up at her with his blue eyes as she shot him a quick glance, "Um… Nightwing?" he replied nervous at what her response would be.

"Like the novel?"

"What?"

"It's a horror novel by Martin Cruz Smith, partially based on Native American mythology. It's actually not bad, pretty creepy. The movie was horrible though, don't watch it." She smiled and looked back at her friend slightly amused.

"Noted, but it was a story Superman told me that I really related to that makes me gravitate toward the name," Dick said mildly.

"Oh, this'll be good, I wanna hear this," Raven replied sarcastically, making herself comfortable on his desk.

Dick smiled at her irony and leaned back in his chair, "It's just about a man from Krypton who was cast out by his family and dreamed of a just-world. No one ever knew his true identity they just knew him as Nightwing."

Raven looked at him a moment with a serious look, cradling her tea cup in two hands. "That's a cute story," she said patronizingly and shot him a playful smile.

"You can be a real bitch sometimes," he laughed endearingly.

"That's what I'm here for," she replied taking the "insult" with little impact. "But I do like it, it's mysterious and dark, plus I can still call you Bird Boy so I don't have to adjust my material," she added wittily.

"Oh good, I was worried this transition was going to be an inconvenience for you."

Dick couldn't help but laugh at the memory and how crass his friend was, but that's what he liked about her. Raven had always been a very dry humored woman with a subtle, but witty way about her. Her personality was mild and to some, even bland. It was only the people she was closest to that were privileged enough to see her as anything more.

Dick himself had always seemed to understand her sense of humor (which was dark) but it was clever none the less. He appreciated it and her honesty. It made her easy to talk to and understand. Not to mention she actually listened to him.

He let his thoughts slip back into his subconscious where they shaped and sculpted his character into the man he was meant to become. In the distance he could see the subway tunnel as it wasn't far from his current position. The heat from the tunnels below rose from the grates beneath his feet. If he hurried he could make the next train, allowing him less time to wait on the filthy train platform.

He began to pass an old ally way to his right. It appeared dark and unwelcoming, barely catching his attention. The metallic sound of a trash can hitting the ground startled him and he readied himself for a possible attack. But to his surprise only found three homeless men, looking tentatively through the garbage.

"God damn it Davey, do you have to make so much damn noise," a heavy set man growled.

"Sorry man, I'm just real edgy is all," the younger man he called Davey replied.

"Would you two shut up? We have company," The third one said in a thick Scottish glick.

Dick looked on at them awkwardly as they acknowledged his presence. The three men all wore rags and torn layers of clothing. Their hair was unkempt and filthy as were their faces and clothes.

"Well hello there Brat Prince," The fat one said in a facetious tone. His hair was long and wild, being streaked with multiple shades of dull silver and gray.

Dick looked back at him with a creased brow of discontent at being called a "Brat Prince."

"Oh stop it Boonie, can't you see he's neither a brat nor a prince, but a thane," The Scottish man said in his most regal voice.

"He still looks like a brat to me," the heavy man scoffed under his breath to his much thinner and very jittery friend known as Davey.

'They're just three crazy homeless men,' Dick thought and motioned to leave.

"And now where does Mr. Grayson think he's going off to?" He heard the Scottish man call from the ally way.

Dick turned back to the three men, the Scottish one standing tall at its mouth. A thick scar carved deep through his top lip.

"How did you know my name?" Dick questioned awkwardly.

The heaviest man smiled, revealing several missing teeth as stepped he forward. "Who doesn't know your name in this city, you are after all its brat?" He exclaimed to Dick's distaste. "But every brat may one day become a king."

Dick snarled his lip and looked at the man cruelly, "Can you stop calling me a brat? I'm not even a kid anymore."

The three homeless men all laughed as the Scotsman replied, "In this city, kid, you will always be his son."

Dick felt a rush of anger fill his heart, feeling reduced and undermined by those of whom seemed to have little regard for his manhood. In their presence he'd become something small and meaningless like the child who watched his parents die. He backed away from them with an eagerness, an eagerness to be free of their heavy and unwanted presence.

As he did, he turned from them in an attempt to shut them out, but heard the Scotsman call with elation, "All hale thee, Thane of Cawdor; he shall be king thereafter."

He could feel the rough smile of the scared man grow as he moved away, striving to put distance between himself and the ill tamed men.

The sound followed him with their laughter as he moved swiftly to the subway station where he arrived just in time to catch his train. The words replayed in his head as he looked out the window over the city's landscape of aging buildings converging with new ones. There was a dull beauty to Gotham this time of day, when the light began to fade and the light hue of copper filled the world around it. Dick looked on at the city as it flew by, remembering his life as a child.

'Maybe here, I truly am nothing more than his son?' The thought was spiteful and sharp; to think of himself as little more than a child alongside the man he admired most.

The last set of words remained with him for the duration of the train ride. They were haunting and troubling, yet somehow, he also found them intriguing and powerful. "He shall be king thereafter," Dick mumbled, looking out at tall building that read Wayne Enterprises across its face. The building itself was one of great prominence and envy. The Waynes had built this city after all, taking a solid pride in the place they called home. But there was so much more to it.

Beyond the money and prestige was a loyalty and duty the Waynes always felt for the city of Gotham. And ironically enough, it was that same duty that drove Bruce to become the Batman, setting out to protect those who cannot protect themselves. And that's what Dick stood to inherit most.

The train door slid open and Dick exited the car, stepping out on the platform. His need to destroy Slade had decreased and his thirst for vengeance began to dry, becoming over thrown by his sense of pride.

He entered a small shop not far from the subway exit, mostly marketed towards tourists. Once inside he looked around to find t-shirts that read things like "I heart Gotham City" and "I'm not saying I'm Batman, I'm just saying no one has ever seen Batman and I in the same room together." He let out a small chuckle and fought the urge to purchase the shirt for Bruce (mostly because he knew Alfred would enjoy it).

He soon found himself looking through the card rack, reading through a wave of clever jokes and bad puns. (All the while unaware of the young check-out girl adjusting her cleavage, hoping to catch his attention.)

'Why am I even looking through these? It's not like I'm gonna go through it. I should just flush the Krokodil the second that I get to the manor,' Dick thought, still looking through the cards. 'But if Roy's right, then there has to be something more to it. Slade's been planning something for years and whatever it is, it has to be big. But to go through with this plan would be unethical. It would go against everything in my nature, everything I stand for, but what if it's the only way?'

Dick finally picked up a card with a poorly drawn picture of a birthday cake on the front that read, "Your birthday cake has a special message for you!" He reluctantly opened it with an eye roll and read the punchline in the speech balloon, "Blow me!" He let out a small laugh under his breath, finding its crudeness amusing. 'Well at the least it will make a great birthday card for Beast Boy,' Dick thought picking up the intended envelope.

He approached the counter and placed the card down for the check-out girl to ring up, oblivious to her flirtatious nature.

'But what if Bruce found out? He most likely would. You can't get anything passed him. I would never be able to live with myself if he found out, it would kill him… and me—he would certainly kill me.'

"$1.99, will that be all?" the young blond said pleasantly.

Dick looked over at the ridiculous shirt again and couldn't resist. 'I give it to Alfred, he'll get more use out of it,' he thought, placing down the shirt for the girl to ring up.

"Oh my God, you don't even know how many of these things we sell. Sometimes I wonder if the Bat has one himself?" She giggled placing the items in a paper bag.

Dick smiled at the pretty blonde, "Well, ya never know."

Minutes later Dick found himself hailing a cab to take him to the manor. The streets here were busy and filled with people blindly going about their business. The sun was beginning to lower from the sky, leaving the air cool as dawn began to approach. The smell of the warm pavement rose from the ground and mixed with the scent of exhaust from the traveling cars. Around him was the murmur of voices lost in fragments of passing conversations. They merged endlessly with the sounds of passing traffic as they collided in one cacophony of white noise. It was a union of chaos sewn together ruthlessly by many, leaving pieces of their small worlds behind, each one pumping life into the city of Gotham.

Dick took a moment to take in the smell of the city and the music it harbored like a heartbeat. He truly missed Gotham and its virtuosity. It had a life to it that Jump City just didn't possess. There was an element of Gotham that could overtake you if you allowed it to. It was powerful and unforgiving to those who didn't respect it, and there was a part of it Dick missed that carnivorous nature.

A bright yellow taxi pulled up alongside him. Dick pulled open the scratched door and got into the torn up back seat.

"Where to Kid?" The driver—a scruffy looking man with white hair— asked.

Dick looked up through the plexiglass window and replied, "Wayne Manor, please."

The driver laughed and glanced back at him, revealing his red face that had endured years of obvious alcoholism. "No really Kid, where can I take you?"

Dick shook his head wearily, realizing how odd it must've sounded to be taking a cab to the home of his wealthy father.

"Really," he replied and took out his wallet, "take me to Wayne Manor," and placed a 100 dollar bill in the driver's hand.

The driver inspected it a moment and shrugged, shoving the bill in his pocket then began to drive off. Dick realized the gesture was a bit over kill, but it was something Bruce would have done. 'I guess I'm more like him than I realized,' he thought watching the dusk claim what little sunlight still lingered. He watched as the tall buildings began to disappear and become over run by trees and open spaces. Once outside the depths of the city the road began to narrow and grew tunneled beneath the arches of tree branches overhead.

He leaned back as he counted the passing minutes, knowing he'd soon be at the home of his mentor. In the distance, he could see the edge of the long stone wall standing high along the road. He looked to the left and watched it grow shorter until they reach the bend in the road.

The taxi began to halt, Dick took a deep breath and looked on at the black iron gate. Old memories began to hit him as he threw open the door and pulled himself out of the cab. He bid the cab driver goodnight before shutting the door and watched it disappear down the dark road. He waited a moment in the cool night air, looking up at the scattered stars that began to fill the deep lavender sky.

He turned to the gate and apprehensively rang the intercom button. A long moment went by without a response so he rang it again, this time hearing an elegant accent, "Master Richard, is that you?"

He immediately recognized the rich dialect as it spoke eloquently over static, "Yes, Alfred how are you?"

"I'm well Master Richard, I'll unlock that gate. Should I send a car down for you?"

"No Alfred, that won't be necessary, I'll walk."

"Alright then, I'll inform Master Bruce that you have arrived, he will be happy to see you."

"I'm sure he will," Dick concluded, holding back his sarcasm.

Moments later a loud buzz rang out, giving Dick permission to enter. He pulled open the gate, but waited a moment before walking through it, a little reluctant. It had been years since he'd step foot in the manor and part of him wanted to keep it that way. Still, he wanted to move passed that and mend the wounds that still lingered between he and Bruce. He just wasn't sure he was ready to.

The drive way was long, but the walk gave him time to clear his mind and settle his nerves. The soft sound of crickets singing in the grass was rhythmic and gentle, setting it apart from the world he'd just come from. It reminded him of his childhood, before his days of being a hero, bringing him back to a time when his life was simpler.

He looked ahead to see the monstrous mansion, sitting triumphantly on the hill. It had been built in 1858 by Bruce's great grandfather, a well-known Judge who set out to insure equality in Gotham. The manor had been passed down to each generation, and had changed very little over the years. It still possessed its original wood floors and brass chandeliers.

Dick remembered the first time he ever laid eyes on the great structure. He was only a young boy, small in stature and mild in nature. He remember how dwarfed he felt looking up at it and how empty the manor felt. In its shadow he was alone, the manor itself only being a reminder of how big the world was and how forgotten he was in its wake. It had been years since that time, but he found even as an adult that its presence was towering.

He wondered if Bruce ever felt that way in its shadow, if he too felt as though the world was too much and had little need for him. It was a feeling Dick had never entirely out grew and deep down, he knew he never would. He'd always feel small in the shadow of great things, and he could only hope he himself would become one of them.

He finally reached the door, tall and made of a heavy oak. Before he could knock, the large door swung open, pouring light into the early spring night.

"Master Richard, how great it is to see you," Alfred said colorfully. "It's been far too long, my boy."

Dick smiled at the elderly man, letting reels of fond memories warm his cold mind. "I know Alfred, it has been."

"Well, I informed Master Bruce of your arrival. He should be along shortly." The butler added. "I have taken the liberty of making your favorite meal, it should be done shortly."

"You really didn't have to do that Alfred." He replied placing his bag down.

"Well I wanted to Master Richard, it isn't often that Master Bruce and I are fortunate enough to have you visit."

Dick felt a hint of guilt stir in his chest. It was clear by the look on Alfred's face that him visiting, even for just the night, meant more than he could have imagined.

"I really appreciate that Alfred, but I also took the liberty of getting you a gift," he said handing Alfred the paper bag. "The best part is you can patronize Bruce with it."

The old man looked into the bag with intrigue and chuckled as he read the print. "Ah well, this will come in handy next time Bruce throws one of his soirees," he joked wittily.

"The look on his face would be priceless."

"That it would be, Master Richard, that it would be."

"What look?" The two heard echo from the top of the staircase. "Dick hasn't even been here a whole five minutes and you two are already trying to make me the punchline in one of your jokes," Bruce said in a dull voice.

"Bruce, you're a grown man in a Bat suit, you are a punchline," Dick said daringly and smiled in a slick manner.

Bruce narrowed his eyes at his former protege's brazen words, "And you used to wear pixie boots."

"Touché," Dick nodded, acknowledging the quick remark.

"Well anyway, it's good to see you, Dick." Bruce added in a nostalgic nature. "How was the trip?"

Dick smiled at the man's fatherly nature, "I wasn't bad, a little long though."

"How's Roy?"

Dick flinched at the question, unsure of what to say. Deep down he knew that Bruce really cared about Roy, he'd known him for almost as long had he'd known Dick. Roy had almost become like a nephew to him, as he and Oliver had worked alongside each other in the League for years. But Dick wasn't sure if Bruce could truly understand Roy's situation. Bruce had never been one for self-medication and Dick knew if it were him with a needle in his arm, Bruce would likely break both his hands so he couldn't shoot up. Dick also knew if Bruce found out that Roy'd given him deadly drug and tried to play him into a suicide mission, he'd be a lot less sympathetic.

But before Dick could reply, he heard a knock at the door. Dick turned his head to see Alfred motioned toward it. 'Who could that be?' he thought looking at the door with intrigue as Alfred pulled the heavy oak open to reveal a familiar face he hadn't seen in years.

"Why Miss Gordon, it's lovely of you to join us," Alfred greeted and motioned the lovely redhead inside.

Dick's heart skipped a beat as his eyes hesitantly met hers. She was as beautiful as ever, and her eyes held a warmth that made him smile in a way only a first love could achieve.

"Dick, it's so good to see you." The lovely redhead exclaimed, wrapping her arm around the young man.

Dick embraced the girl, taking in the raspberry scent of her coppery hair. "Hey Babs," he muttered fondly.

"So how's it feel to be back in Gotham?" she asked removing her lavender, spring coat.

She smiled and bit her lip in a shy manner. The two hadn't seen each other in a number of years. The last time being Dick's 18th birthday, to which Barbra was invited. Even then he was happy to see her, however Dick was at that time dating his team member Kory, who was sure to take up most of his time. He remembered how awkward Barbra looked in the corner alone. She'd never worked too closely with the Titans or any of their sub divisions. The only other people she really knew were Roy and Donna (who were far too busy being one another's distractions) to really pay her any attention.

However, to Dick's surprise, Raven (of all people) warmed up to the pretty redhead, keeping her company while the party persisted. Raven, like Barbra, was one the few single people there, and even though she preferred it that way, Dick knew she still couldn't help but feel lonely.

Toward the end of the night he was able to slip away and take Barbara to the roof with him. Raven of course promised not tell anyone where they went. She understood that it had been years since the two had seen each other and he later found out it was Raven who thought enough to invite Barbra in the first place.

He remembered the moon lowering in the sky and the soft scent of rain lingering the air. It felt good to be free from the many and to be with the girl who'd always be his first love. He had so many question for her, like how she'd been, did she still have that old teddy bear she kept by her bedside—the one her father gave her? Did she still have nightmares of him never coming home, or had she finally learned to trust in fate to do so? He wanted to know what her life had been like since he'd left, what it was like without him. And deep down, he wanted to know if she still loved him the way he still loved her.

"Alright everyone let's continue this conversation in the dining room," Alfred said ushering everyone along.

During dinner he told this adoptive family of his time with the Titans and how things had been since they last spoke. Bruce updated Dick on the state of Gotham and how things had been since he left. Even adding in a few jokes that were almost out of character. Barbra was about to graduate from Gotham University and added that she was going to take a year off before heading back to get her masters in criminal justice.

"That's great Babs, what you gonna do in the mean time?" Dick asked.

She smiled and looked down a moment, "Well, I'm just gonna work part time at a local law firm, nothing really exciting." She said in her soft, thin voice.

"So does that mean you're gonna start back up on patrol again?" Dick asked curiously.

She looked at Bruce who glanced down narrowly.

"No, I'm not," Barbra replied.

She'd retired as Batgirl around the time she'd started college, mostly so she could focus on her studies.

"I just know if I start again I'll probably never be able to put that part of my life behind me," she added looking back over at Bruce. "You understand that?" And Dick did.

Fighting against those who set out to harm others was a code he lived by and giving it up was never really an option. But every now and then he wondered if what he did really made a difference. It just seemed like it didn't matter how many criminal master minds he took down, there was always someone bigger and badder waiting to wear the crown.

"Yeah I get that Babs." Dick said, trying to hide the defeat that lingered in his mind.

After dinner, Dick and Barbra helped Alfred clear the table while Bruce took a business call. Once everything was done, Alfred offered to make coffee for everyone if they wished to continue their conversation.

"I'm sorry, I wish I could, but I have a final in the morning." Barbara said apologetically. "I really need to get going."

"Well I can't stand in the way of one's academic future," Alfred chuckled. "I'll walk you out, Miss Gordon?"

"It's okay Alfred, I got it," Dick volunteered, trying to hide his eagerness.

"Alright then. It was lovely seeing you Barbra," Bruce said bidding the young woman goodbye before she wrapped her thin arms around him.

She pulled away after reciting her own farewell then moved over to the older man and hugged him as well.

"Yes, it is always a pleasure Miss Gordon," Alfred reiterated.

"Well Alfred, I will take that coffee down in the Batcave if you wouldn't mind?" Bruce added. "Dick, why don't you join me? We have a lot to catch up on."

Dick nodded as he replied, "Alright I'll meet you down there."

"Good, I'll see you shortly. Be safe Barbra."

"Define safe," she snickered, making the man crack a smile.

Dick looked back at the redhead and tilted his head in the direction of the foyer. She smiled and followed with a flirtatious look in her eyes. Dick felt his heart skip a beat, remembering what it felt like to be that 15 year old boy again.

Once they reached the foyer, Barbra asked him if he'd walk her to her car to which Dick agreed. He opened the door and held it for the pretty redhead who looked beautiful beneath the light of the stars above.

She turned to him and smiled warmly, "I've really missed you."

He closed the door and smiled back at her, "I've missed you too Babs." He walked toward her, a fond look reflecting in his eyes, "I'm sorry I haven't kept in touch more."

She looked away a little dejected, "Yeah, well, sometimes we have to leave the past behind, remember?" She turned and walk toward her car, leaving Dick to linger in those words.

"Barbara," he called quickly, rushing toward her, "that's not what I meant when I said that. I just meant—"

"That you can't be Robin forever, I know," She replied, "you made that inevitably clear."

"Babs, I don't wanna fight," he pleaded, feeling the sting of her venom.

She crossed her arms and let go of some of her anger, "I'm sorry, I guess I'm still holding on to the past?"

"It makes us who we are."

She bit her lip tensely, and slipped her hands into her pockets, stiffening her posture, "You still engaged to that girl?"

"Kory, no." Dick replied.

"Oh, what happened?" She asked, trying to hold back her peaked interest.

He smiled foolishly and rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly, "She was already kind of betrothed to another man."

"Betrothed? I can see how that could be a problem," she laughed enjoying the young man's discomfort. "I'm sorry to hear that though. So your back to the single life are you?"

"Um… well, sorta. We're trying to work it out… I think?"

"She married another man… what is there to work out?" Barbara said with a skeptical look.

Dick rolled his eyes painfully, unsure of how to explain the situation, as complicated as it was.

It was true, he wasn't comfortable with the notion that the woman he thought he'd spend the rest of his life with, willingly married another man. But to her, the notion of loving one person was unheard of. Apparently, it was a common practice on Tamaran to take on more than one spouse and they didn't limit their love to one individual. But still, Dick couldn't bear to think of sharing her with anyone, no matter what the reason was.

"She says that it's perfectly natural to love more than one person."

Barbara creased her brow and cocked her head inquisitively, "And what's your opinion on that?"

He smiled weakly and looked at her a moment, remnants of old memories filling his head fondly, "Well I guess in a way I understand how it's possible to love more than one person, but… that doesn't mean I agree with polygamy." He said with frustration. "Plus she didn't even tell me she was betrothed to anyone and we've been together for years."

"You feel like she betrayed you?"

"Yeah, I do," he replied dryly, "but she just doesn't see it that way."

Barbara put her arm around Dick and let her chin fall on his shoulder as she looked up at him with her large blue eyes. "I'm really sorry she hurt you, but you just need to have faith that everything happens just the way it's supposed to."

Dick looked back at her, catching the lost look that peered deep in her eyes. She looked at him the way she used, the way he always wished she would. But that look faded as her own words settled deep in her heart, as though she'd heard them for the first time. She looked away from him quickly with an air of defeat rolling off her pale skin. He could smell the light scent of lilies as the breeze pulled through her hair and rode over the bridge of regret they'd built between them. Time had been cruel to them; it brought them together, then pulled them apart. Leaving her was the hardest thing he'd ever done and he still wondered what they'd be like if he stayed. He told himself that in the end they'd most likely never make it as couple—they were too young and foolish to—but deep down, he thought just maybe they were something more.

"Do you think everything is always as it should be?" he asked pulling her attention back to his favor.

A cloudy look pooled in her eyes as her face softened, allowing her jaw to fall slack, "How am I supposed to answer that when you don't even know the answer for yourself?"

Dick looked down at the ground unable to speak, his words drying up like the bottom of a dying river bed. He didn't know what to say to her, he just felt lost in emotions, both new and old, and no definitive answer to shed on the question.

Barbara stood up and fixed the hem of her grey dress. "Well it was nice seeing you again, Dick. I hope everything works out for you," she said turning toward her car.

Dick shot up quickly and took her hand in his grip before she could step away, "Wait," he said feeling her fingers tense at the once familiar touch, "I'm sorry Babs."

She glanced down ruefully while sadness tugged at her features, "I know, but just because we want things to be something they aren't, doesn't mean they were meant to," she said softly, and lightly kissed the young man on the cheek to his surprise. "Take care of yourself, Dick."

She pulled her hand away, though she was reluctant to, his grip harboring feelings she thought she'd never feel again.

"You too Babs, and if you're ever in Jump let me know," he said feeling his hand becoming cold without hers to fill it.

She smiled nostalgically at him and got into her silver Corolla. Dick watched from the glare of the headlights as the soft sound of the engine hummed in the night. All the while thinking about how in a way, he'd once again just let her go.

When the car vanished he was left with nothing but the sound of the natural world around him. After a brief moment he turned and entered the manor. Once inside he looked around at the old foyer, noticing how it never really changed. Bruce himself was never really one for change and it had become inevitably clear the older Dick got. It didn't matter that he was well within his twenties—to Bruce—he was still a boy.

"Ah Master Richard, Master Bruce is still expecting your company. You must still remember how to get down to the cave?"

"Yes Alfred, I do," he replied. "And you don't have to wait on me either. You already work too hard."

Alfred smiled and nodded, "Yes, I know, but old habits die hard," he laughed richly. "But it is truly wonderful to have you back, Master Richard. You must visit more often."

"I know and I'm sorry it's taken this long to come back," he said feeling a bit of guilt.

"Well, I have an early start tomorrow, so I'll be retiring for the evening. Your old bedroom is ready for you when you're ready—"

"My old Bedroom?"

"Yes, it's just as you left it… aside from my upkeep."

"You guys just kept it that way?" Dick asked puzzled, but slightly touched.

"Well yes, I think deep down, Master Bruce always thought you'd come back and when you did, he wanted you to feel welcome, Master Richard."

More guilt bit deep into his empathy and caught in his throat. He always knew Bruce was regretful that he'd left, but he hadn't realized how much so.

"Goodnight, Alfred." The young man smiled.

"Goodnight, Master Richard." Alfred replied before walking up the steps.

Dick made his way down into depths of the Batcave, its cool, dark atmosphere so familiar, yet so distantly in the past. Like the manor it hadn't changed much, the large computer still stood high on the back wall while everything else seemed to be in its rightful place. Bruce sat with his back turned, facing the large screen. He'd already dawned his suit, his cape draping over his broad shoulders, covering the kevlar and armor that provided him much needed protection.

He turned in his chair when he heard Dick's steps grow near, his face still exposed and uncovered.

"It's weird being down here again," Dick said looking around at the wide space.

Bruce smiled with a dullness and looked at the boy with regret. "Well time will do that to you."

Dick stopped in his tracks and looked away noticing the old Robin uniform that used to belong to Jason.

"Have you heard from him?" Dick asked, trying to lessen the discomfort between them.

"Not lately," Bruce replied. "We sort of learned to stay out of each others way."

Dick was more than aware that Jason had gone on to become a major player in the Gotham drug trade. Successfully taking over the territory of Black Mask. Bruce himself felt responsible for the life Jason led. He'd tried hard to reform him and lead him away from the life of his father, but nature proved too much for them both.

"Why haven't you done anything about it?" Dick questioned, clearly curious, wondering how Bruce could be so morally ambiguous.

"Well, to be honest, he's just not the cities greatest threat." Bruce looked down a little ashamed at his response.

"Wow, I didn't think it was possible for you to go soft."

Bruce groaned at the young man's quip and rubbed his forehead, "It's not that simple, I just have my hands full with everyone from Two Face to the The Joker not to mention the rest of the lunatics in this city…" Bruce paused a moment and looked over at the barren uniform as though maybe it had the answers he didn't.

"You still blame yourself, don't you?" Dick asked, knowing the question was nearly crossing the line.

Bruce let his face darken and fall stoic, "Yes, and admittedly, I'm not really sure what to do."

Dick bit down on his lip, realizing that even someone as righteous as Batman could find himself at odds between right and wrong. Dick himself even found himself standing on the wrong side of the tracks a time or two. Before then he'd never understood how fine the line was or how quickly it could blur. Or even how in some cases, there just is no right.

"So you saw Roy today?"

"Yeah, I did."

"How is he?"

Dick shook his head wearily, unsure of what to really say. "He's like any typical drug addict. He's depressed, irritable, but I just feel like there's more he wouldn't tell me?"

Bruce exhaled with a heavy sigh and let his head fall back. "Did he tell you anything about why the missions failed?"

Dick wasn't really sure how much to reveal, uncertain if he should tell Bruce what they'd discussed. "What'd you mean?"

"I mean, did he tell you what he told us?"

"He mentioned something about Slade," the former sidekick said cautiously.

His mentor's face hardened, knowing the history his protégé had with the mysterious mercenary. "I can assure you that whatever he told you, the League looked into it and we found nothing," Bruce said in his stern tone, subconsciously telling Dick to leave it alone.

The ex-sidekick bit his tongue a moment, trying to read whether or not Bruce was just saying that to push him away from his obsessive nature. "Roy said that's because he didn't leave anything to find."

Dick could see the man's face became irritated and realized he'd struck a chord. "Because there is nothing to find and I don't want you thinking there is," The Bat warned in a deep tone.

"But Bruce," Dick replied urgently, "what if Roy's right? What if Slade really is planning something? We never really found out what his intensions were," he pleaded hoping his mentor would listen.

"Dick, I'm telling you that the League has no reason to believe that what Roy is saying is true and neither should you."

"But he's my friend?"

"A friend who knows full well that you hate Slade to the core and will go to no end to track him down. He's playing you, Dick"

"I know that, but I'm asking you to help me find out if there really is any validity to what he's saying. I know Slade, and if he's involved than there's something, I can't just ignore that." His voice was vaguely desperate and at a loss, just hoping the Dark Knight would hear his plea.

"Dick, I know that you feel like you're responsible for Slade, but he is—at this point in time—not a priority or a threat to the Justice League. If he were, then we'd handle it, but as far as we know, Slade is not on anyone's radar." His tone had a reprimanding quality to it, it chill fairly cruel.

He looked back at the young man who was clearly frustrated and visibly distraught at his lack of understanding. Though Bruce understood fully what his young protégé was feeling, he just didn't want him to go chasing after ghosts or worse, his every undoing.

"Dick, I know you want with every fiber of you being to go after this, but I'm telling you not to."

"But Bruce I—"

"Richard," Bruce said with intensity, "I'm not asking you, I'm telling you not to. Do you understand me?"

Dick clenched his jaw tight as both rage and furry bit at him and his pride. He wanted so much to tell his mentor that he was a grown man and he'd do whatever he pleased, but in the end he knew he'd never win or get his blessing. As far as Bruce and the League were concerned there was nothing to be done and after what happened with Roy, they'd never risk another stain on their reputation.

Dick nodded apprehensively, repressing the urge to scream at his mentor and just take it like a good dog.

"Good, I'm glad we understand each other," Bruce said turning back to his computer once more.

"Yeah, I'm glad we had this little chat," Dick said patronizing, unable to hold back his venom.

"I meant what I said Dick. If you go against me then you're going against the League and we won't condone anymore reckless behavior," he warned, pertaining to Roy and his questionable actions.

Dick rolled his eyes without Bruce seeing him, "I know Bruce, I get it. You and the League won't help me if I go after Slade and you'll hold me responsible for my actions if I do."

"Which you won't, you can go know," Bruce replied with a coldness, void of any fatherly nature.

Dick let a hint of bitterness flicker in his eyes, the coldness hitting him in poor taste. It was moments like this that drove him to leave, and it was moments like this that made him feel less than a man. He just didn't want to be a boy anymore.

"Hey Bruce, just one more thing," Dick asked before walking away.

Bruce turned one last time, a look of weariness on his face at what more his former sidekick could possibly say.

"Do you have a stamp?"

Chapter Text

Dick placed his bag down in the hallway of the tower, taking in how quiet it was. He thought about how nice it was to be home, though in a way he felt as though he'd left home behind. He'd spent the last 10 years of his life living in Jump City on the opposite coast from his childhood home. It was here he'd learned to become a leader and met the people who'd help him overcome what Bruce couldn't.

Overall, the trip had made him tired, though his lack of sleep didn't help. He'd lain awake most of the night staring at his ceiling, questioning what his next move was. Questioning whether or not he should really travel down the path he was faced with. His mind was once again infested with Slade and the hatred he held for him, but also the spite he held for Bruce.

He was adamant about what he wanted Dick to do, just as he always was. But Dick honestly just wanted to do something in spite of his wishes, simply because it was what he wanted. For once he just wanted to make a decision that wasn't in some way shaped or even influenced by Bruce. Yet still, he couldn't help but wonder what his real father—John Grayson—would think?

It had been years since his father's death, yet Dick could remember it clearly—them plummeting. He closed his eyes as they hit the ground, the memory playing itself for the thousandth and something time. There was a lonely feeling to it and a question he always asked as they hit the ground, 'why didn't He keep them in the sky?'

Dick himself wasn't very religious (mostly due to his parents' deaths) but his parents were both very spiritual, especially his mother. He was too young to truly understand the concept of a higher power, but he did understand that it was supposed to protect them, and it didn't.

He opened his eyes, suddenly finding the silence of the tower uncomforting and cold. His mind quickly grew numb and he withdrew himself from it promptly. He picked up his bag and made his way down the dark hallway. In the silence he began to wonder if anyone was home and entered the common room where he found her.

She was sitting on the couch, lost in one her books. Most likely a tale written by a long dead, but ever living playwright. She loved her poets. She looked up at him through her long dark hair, smiling at his arrival.

"Welcome home, Boy Blunder," she said fondly, pulling her black hair from her pale skin.

"Nice to see you too, Rae," he replied with a light laugh as he moved to the couch. "What are you reading?" he asked, falling down beside her on the couch wearily.

She exhaled, knowing what he'd say when she showed him the cover of The Tragedy of King Richard II.

"You're reading that again?" he teased.

She smiled and tilted her head to the side. "Yes I am, you should read it sometime. You might learn to be less cocky."

"What's to know, it's the story of how King Richard of England was deposed by Henry Bolingbrook for the English throne."

"Congratulations Bird Boy, you know your history," she smiled, "but it's more than that. It has a very in-depth political point of view of what not just makes a good king, but a good leader."

"Are you saying I'm a horrible leader?" he asked falsely insulted.

"I might be, you have been our leader for too damn long. We may need a regime change around here," she said sarcastically and placed her book down.

Dick watched as she did so, realizing that he wasn't the only one who'd grown. Raven had become quite beautiful in her own way. Her skin had lost its grey hue, becoming a wintery shade of porcelain and looked striking against her now black hair (which she'd colored when she started her college courses). However, she hadn't grown much taller in the last 9 years or so, though her figure had filled out to a lovely hourglass that nearly every male Titan had snuck a look at.

Still, she was acutely oblivious to her looks and didn't think much about how pretty she was. She was more concerned with being taken seriously and respected for her intelligence and strength which Dick appreciated fully, among other things.

"So how was your trip, Grayson?" she asked leaning her elbow on the back of the couch.

"Long, somewhat painful, and overall disappointing."

"Bruce refuses to acknowledge you're an adult?"

"Yep," Dick sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

Raven cracked a patronizing smile. "I swear that man needs some new material, that's so him."

"Tell me about it," Dick leaned his head back and looked up at the ceiling, taking in how quiet the tower was. "Where is everyone?

"Well, Gar and Vic went out with Sara and Jillian, and Kory is out with Donna, doing god only knows what," she said cynically.

Dick turned his head just slightly in her direction, staring back at her questionably. "How come you didn't go with them?"

Raven let out a careless sigh and rolled her eyes just slightly. "Um, I don't know, I guess I just didn't want to sit through a few hours of girl talk?"

Raven had never really been one for malls and lunch dates and only did those things for Kory's sake when they were younger. However, now that Kory had Donna, who enjoyed those things just as much as she did, Raven had little need to join.

"So do I dare ask?"

"Dare ask what?" Dick replied, knowing exactly what she was implying.

"Roy," she said confirming his suspicions, "is he…"

"Bad? Yeah, he's really bad."

The two both looked at each other ruefully, both unsure of what to say next. Raven herself had always been very fond of Roy; the two of them had always enjoyed each others odd sense of humor. She feared for him when he'd taken on the mission, especially since she'd spent an entire night talking Dick out of volunteering.

"So what do we do?" she asked, looking away a moment.

Dick looked back at her for a moment with regret fixing on his unmasked face. "At this point nothing." He paused a moment as the bitterness of his words tangled up his tongue. "He doesn't want help, at least not the right help."

"What do you mean the right help?"

She looked at Dick crudely, a cloudy nature pinned in her eyes. He hated this look because it meant that even if he wanted to, he couldn't lie to her.

"If I tell you something, do you promise not to tell the team or anyone else for that matter?" he questioned cautiously.

Raven gave him a coy smile and leaned in. "When have I ever not kept your secrets, Grayson?"

Dick smiled agreeably. Raven had always been loyal to him and never once broke the trust they shared. It was what he loved about her.

His smile quickly faded as reality called him home again. "Roy said that Slade's the reason he failed his mission." Dick's face hardened as the name formed sound. "He said he was trying to get proof that Slade is involved with the cartel and possibly worse."

Raven raised her brow and gave him a look of disbelief. "That can't be true, we'd know if it was… wouldn't we?"

Dick gave her an unfortunate look, unsure if what he was saying was even remotely factual. "I don't know. I wanna believe that we would, but you know Slade, he's…"

"He's Slade," Raven said bluntly, his name being the only way to describe how deceptive and vindictive he was. Slade had a way of knowing everything about anyone, and he made it his businesses to destroy everything about them.

"He said Slade figured out who he was before he even knew his cover was blown," Dick replied warily, looking down at his boots. "He made it sound like whatever happened, happened because Slade wanted it to, like he played him to fail."

"Well that does sound like Slade now doesn't it," Raven muttered and bit her lip. "What's the League say?"

"They say that there is no proof and without any proof there is nothing to be done."

"Did Bruce say that?"

"Yeah."

Raven could feel the darkness in his voice as it bled from his pride, staining his words. She knew deep down that information was haunting to him and ate away at his resolve. There was something about Slade that tormented Dick and it was something that would never truly die.

"What are you gonna do?" she asked cautiously.

Dick sighed in frustration and leaned forward bitterly, "Nothing." His voice was pained as though it hurt his pride to speak.

"You're really just gonna let it go that easily?" Raven questioned with suspicion.

"Yeah, I don't really have a choice… at least not yet," he said, forgetting himself a moment.

Raven leaned forward and placed her hands on his shoulders in a comforting manner, "You do have a choice. You can just choose not to let Slade have power over you, you can choose to forget him." She knew her plea was partially false, that there was no way in hell Dick could just forget Slade.

"It's not a choice if you have to, Rae," he said with disdain and rubbed the bridge of his nose between his clasped thumbs.

Raven placed her chin on his shoulder, feeling his frustration boil beneath his skin, "And why do you have to?"

He turned to Raven with a resentful look, though it was not intended for her. Still, Raven could see the contempt and anger as it hit her empathy hard with all its venom.

"Because Bruce told me to."

He got up unable to hold back his anger and ripped away from Raven's grip. She looked up at him concerned, feeling the wound that bore deep in his pride. To him, Slade was more than a man; he was a sickness, an infection with no cure or immunity—no absolution.

"Raven I'm sorry, I didn't mea—"

"Know Dick," she said cutting him off, "that wasn't meant for me, you don't have to apologize."

Dick looked down at Raven through his stormy eyes and let his face soften. He loved how much she understood him, and that to her, he never had to explain himself. He placed his thumb and forefinger beneath her chin and gave her a kind smile, letting her know how much he appreciated her. Theirs was a bond that was unspoken and void of any animosity. They shared a mutual respect for one another and never questioned each other's actions without an open mind. Dick trusted her in a way he could never trust anyone else, not even Barbara. He'd always have her loyalty.

"Thanks Rae."

She smiled at him devotedly with a silent you're welcome then looked away toward the table as something caught her attention.

"Oh, this came for you," she said picking up a familiar envelope. He took it from her and recognized his hand writing, remembering how he'd written it just days before. He quickly looked at her then looked away, trying to see if she too noticed the hand it was written in.

"Thanks," he said trying to hide his nerves, not wanting to make her suspicious.

She leaned back and picked up her book again. If she knew anything she kept it well hidden under her stoic confidence. Still, Dick placed the envelope in his bag, concealing it from view.

Just as he was about to walk away, he heard her voice as she said, "You know Grayson, if you need anyone to talk to, I'm here."

He smiled and leaned in with a thankfulness, "I know Rae, my secrets are always safe with you."

He kissed the top of her head, taking in the light scent of alstroemeria and violets. She truly was his best friend.

He turned from her again and headed to his room after letting her know where to find him (not that she needed to be told).

Once in his room he shut the door and locked it, something he normally did in order to keep some of his fellow teammates at bay. He looked around his dark room, littered with old newspaper clippings and charts pointing to all sorts of leads. He placed his bag down and retrieved the card form the pocket he'd hidden it in.

Dick sat down at his desk and simply looked at it, taking note of his hand writing and the exact moment he'd written it. He'd just come down for breakfast after making his bed so the room would look just as it did the night before. Before leaving the bedroom, he took a few minutes to look around. The room was kept neat and free of dust, and like Alfred said, it was just as he'd left it. Even some of his old clothes still hung in the closet and lost memories still remained forgotten in drawers.

In the closet he'd found an old shoe box he hadn't seen in years. With curiosity resting intently at his fingertips, he took the old box and sat down on his bed where he opened it. Inside he found old pictures of what appeared to be another life, one of nomadic travels and simpler times. But among the photos of fading and even nameless faces was a pair of old leather gloves Bruce had given him.

He'd nearly forgotten about them, not having seen them since he was a child. He could recall the very day he'd received them. It was the first snowfall of the season and winter had finally shown its full white color. Dick had hardly ever seen snow before, due to his childhood in a traveling circus. He remembered how excited he was and how he could hardly wait to go out in it.

Alfred of course made sure the boy had put on his new boots and coat, expressing how upset Bruce would be if his young ward caught ill.

"Bruce probably wouldn't even notice if I got sick, he hardly even notices I'm here," the young boy said in his then childish tone.

Alfred looked back at him slightly aghast, yet truthfully understood the boy's point of view. He'd only been living at the manor for little more than three months and had spent very little time with the man who was supposed to be his prominent father figure.

"I know it is hard to see, my boy, but Master Bruce does care a great deal about you. He just doesn't know how to show it," Alfred replied as though he were reciting verse.

"He doesn't show it at all," Dick replied with a pout.

The loss of his family was still very fresh and before becoming the ward of Bruce Wayne, Dick had been sent to a juvenile detention center with the explanation of "child services is too full." However, Dick's age and upbringing made him a prominent target for bullying, causing him to be removed from the facility within a month's time. It was after that he was sent to a well-known Catholic orphanage, which presented its own set of hardships. He was often punished for refusing to say the Lord's Prayer, not out of disrespect, but because he just didn't believe in God anymore.

Lucky for Dick, he didn't have to stay there long. Bruce had heard of the boy's struggle and identified with it fully. It was not long before he'd fully taken the child on as his ward (to everyone's surprise).

"Well Master Richard this is a transition for the both of you and I'm sure that you two will find your footing—eventually," Alfred said handing the young boy his hat. "Now go outside and enjoy yourself, my boy. Do you have your mittens?"

"Yeah," he replied not really hearing the question, wanting nothing more than to be free of the manor that made him feel so small.

"Alright then, have fun, but don't stay out in the cold too long."

"Ok Alfred!" The boy exclaimed, bursting through the door and into the winter air.

It didn't matter that there were no other children around to play with, he just enjoyed being outside. It was where he'd spent most of his childhood, it was where he learned and played, watching the world as it went by. However, since his parents' deaths he felt as though the world had simply felt him behind.

His life no longer resembled what it once had. Dick now spent his days trapped in classrooms, learning in a formal and constructed manner. And when he wasn't forced to sit in a classroom, he was placed in the care of tutors who shared and forced their knowledge of academics on him. All in hopes that his mind would become more refined and eloquent. Even Alfred spent a good deal of his time correcting the boy's grammar, replacing his crude Irish slang with refined, intelligent words and speech patterns.

There was a lack of freedom in it all, but he went along with it simply because it helped him forget. Part of him wanted to erase those mannerisms that were the living parts of his family. To be free of that sadness, and those things that kept them close to his heart and hurt with the greatest of pains. To forget them the way the way the world had forgotten him.

He'd even completely eradicated the slight dialect he'd used to form his words and taken on a more proper one, announcing things with a fluid accuracy. But still, he couldn't deny that when he was outside he was free. Free of classrooms, and tutors, and proper speech. He was free to be himself and to his surprise, it didn't hurt.

He'd spent a good hour or so outside, the smell of crisp winter high in the air. Its chill present on his tiny hands that had become red and dry from its bite. Still he didn't want to go in; he found the world too beautiful to. The sun beat down on the white landscape, making it bright in contrast to the manor. Reminding him that there was still light to be found even in the darkest of places.

He looked behind him to see a tall man walking in his direction, standing out vividly like black ink against the snow. It was Bruce, bound in a dark trench coat, his hands stuffed deep in his pockets. 'What does he want?' Dick thought, with annoyance as the man's presence pulled him unwilling back to reality.

"You've been out here for quite a long time Dick, do you think it's time to come in?" Bruce questioned approaching the boy.

He looked back at Bruce with stubbornness flickering in his eyes, "Is that really a question or a request?"

Bruce let out a small grunt at the boy's wit, shocked at how pragmatic he sounded, "Well, looks like the tutoring is paying off," he said, "but it's whatever you want it to be, Dick."

The child didn't say anything, he just looked out at the snow before him, his nose raw and red from the cold air. His hands had begun to hurt. He didn't have his mittens like he'd told Alfred, his childish mind being too much for his ego to care.

"You know if you stay out here too long, you'll get frostbite?"

The boy looked at him with question as though he'd just heard something ridiculous and juvenile. Bruce had noticed early on that the boy had been becoming a bit of a cynic. He had a nearly neurotic and obsessive nature about him that reminded Bruce of his own.

"What's frostbite?" Dick replied curiously.

"It's when your extremities get so cold that they lose circulation and die," Bruce said, clearly having no talent for talking to children.

Dick could recall the tone of his voice being very nonchalant, as though he were telling him the score of a ball game.

"What happens if they die?" The boy asked a little disturbed.

"Well if it's really bad, they might have to remove the damaged tissue."

"Like cut it off?"

"Yes, actually."

Dick immediately became overcome with worry and pulled his small, red hands out of his pockets, "Bruce, I think I have frostbite!" he exclaimed, revealing the small wind bitten fingers.

Bruce could immediately tell that though they were not frostbitten they were painfully numb and losing circulation.

"No, but I think you're well on your way," Bruce said placing his hands on the boy's shoulder. "Come on, I'll have Alfred make you something warm to eat. What happened to your mittens?" he asked guiding the boy back to the manor.

"I lost them," Dick said feeling foolish, knowing he'd be scolded by Alfred for lying to him. But Bruce didn't seem to care. "Aren't you gonna yell at me or something?"

"No."

Dick looked up at Bruce dumbfounded, "But I lied to Alfred, shouldn't I get in trouble?"

Bruce stopped and turned to him, looking down, he noticed the boy meagerly trying to warm his chilled hands. "You know lying is wrong?"

"Yes."

"Then why did you do it?" Bruce asked, taking off his black leather gloves.

Dick looked down sheepishly, trying to justify his actions, "I don't know, because I wanted to go outside, I wanted to be free, I guess."

That last part hit Bruce harder than he'd expected. He knew just what Dick meant by it. Free from that lost feeling, to forget how cruel and unkind the world could be.

"Well, sometimes you can't always get what you want," Bruce said with a sigh, "but that doesn't justify lying to get your way. In the end that lie may make things a lot worse, and sometimes, you can lose more than what you bargained for." Bruce then handed Dick the gloves to warms his icy hands that had begun to turn blue. "Do you understand me?"

The boy took them hesitantly and nodded. He remembered slowly putting them on—how ill they fit. His hands were far too small as he was only a boy. But still, they were warm, having a wool lining that comforted his blistered skin.

The boy looked up Bruce and said, "Yes, I promise not to lie again."

"Good, because next time you lie, you might end up with more backlash than a pair of cold hands."

Bruce was stern and fatherly, something Dick hadn't seen much of since he'd become his ward. He didn't yet know who Bruce actually was, that part would come later.

Once back at the manor, Dick tried to return Bruce's gloves, but Bruce refused to take them.

"No, you keep those," he said with a halted hand.

Dick furrowed his brow, unsure why he wouldn't accept them, "But they're yours, they don't even fit me?"

"They will one day," Bruce said, "when you're ready."

"Ready for what?" the boy asked, looking down at the worn gloves.

"To be a man."

Bruce placed his hand on the boy's shoulder in a fatherly manner, a small look of pride actually present in his eyes. Dick smiled, feeling for once like he wasn't alone, like the world wouldn't swallow him whole. It was the first time he'd ever looked at Bruce like a father and the first time he'd ever truly felt like he was his son. Normally, Dick would have smiled at this memory, but a smile couldn't find him now.

'Too bad you can't see me as a man,' Dick thought sharply, 'all you see is a little boy who was too stubborn to remember his mittens.'

Dick placed the letter down and took the gloves out of his bag, placing them in his desk drawer, unable to look at them. He wasn't entirely sure why he'd taken them. He couldn't bring himself to wear them, he just couldn't for some reason. But still they meant something to him and he thought maybe one day Bruce would respect him enough to don them.

He took the envelope in his hands again and carefully opened it to reveal the obnoxiously crude birthday card that had hidden away the unlawful contents. He thought of how ironically easy it was to mail himself an illegal substance and removed the small bag from the card, looking at it again. He pushed the card aside and laid the narcotics on his desk. He'd done a little research on the substance known as Krocodil before leaving the manor.

Bruce had gone out on patrol and Alfred was by then fast asleep. Dick's ID authorization still worked perfectly, so using the computer was easy enough. He knew the Batcave's database could access more federal organizations than almost any other, including the Titans'. However, he'd have to be careful not to leave a trail for the Bat to find, meaning he'd have to completely delete all the current history. Once he'd found several files from the FBI and a few Russian organizations, he emailed himself the files using an untraceable email address. Then went to work deleting the emails and searches, using the skills he'd picked up from Victor, who was without a doubt one of the best hackers in the world. However, he knew that if Bruce really looked, he'd find traces of Dick's visit. So he'd just have to make sure he made it look like he wasn't there.

After scrubbing the computer of the search, he looked around and made sure that every last item was left in its rightful place. And that everything he touched looked like it had been left the way Bruce would leave it. This wasn't too difficult considering Bruce hated change. So the chances of his mannerisms changing drastically in the last 9 to 10 years were minimal.

As far as he knew, Bruce didn't notice, but he couldn't be sure and he never would be. If Bruce noticed anything, he'd keep it to himself until he felt the need to address it and that could be never.

Dick opened his email to retrieve the files and began to read them. The basics were the same, krokodil was indeed used as a heroin substitute and was made to quell the high demand for the drug at a fraction of the price. However, to his surprise, krokodil was actually not a new drug at all. To the medical community it was known as desomorphine, an opiate derived from morphine (or in the case of krokodil—codeine) and was first synthesized in 1932. Reading further, he found that the drug's was 10 times the strength of morphine and was used in Switzerland and Russia to treat severe pain. However, its use was terminated in 1981 when the medical community finally recognized that the drugs many cons actually outweighed its few pros.

The files also revealed that the krokodil itself was highly toxic and composed of highly toxic substances. As a result of this, when the drug is "cooked" it is crudely synthesized and little is done to remove the poisonous chemicals and toxins from the product. Dick quickly realized that this is what gave krokodil its horrifying effects, knowing that a drug with such high toxicity could cause extensive tissue and blood vessel damage.

Dick read on—in horror—the long list of known side effects krokodil possessed that included: blood poisoning, infection of the muscle tissue and bone, memory loss and impaired motor skills, rotting gums and teeth, and of course the biggest and most likely side effect—death. The overwhelming majority of krokodil users usually dying after only two years of continued use.

"Why would anyone willingly take this?" he said mortified as he looked at the detailed photos of regular krokodil users. Their bodies covered in festering lesions, like rotting corpses refusing to die. One video actually showed a woman sobbing in pain and incoherently mumbling in Russian as a doctor tapped the widely exposed bone of her forearm.

Other pictures and videos depicted the poor cooking methods and explained that the ingredients for krokodil are extremely inconsistent and may actually contain no desomorphine. Typically desomorphine is derived and synthesized from morphine, whereas street style krokodil is derived from codeine and is usually coupled with red phosphorous, hydrochloric acid, and ethanol or gasoline. As alarming as these ingredients were, Dick found that there was no shortage of addicts and found the number of Russian krokodil users to be in the millions. The irony being the result of the drug's popularity, which was the result of poor drug policies and the high accessibility of codeine in drug stores.

Dick finally had to stop reading the information in front of him as he felt sick to his stomach thinking about how someone would willingly make and take a substance that could wreak such havoc. He'd also need to have the remaining documents translated from Russian as he didn't speak a word of it.

"I wonder if Raven knows any Russian?" he questioned aloud, looking back at the strange letters of a foreign alphabet.

He printed out a few of the photos of what typical street krokodil looked like then compared it to the product that presented itself in front of him. The photos depicted what looked like a dark, waxy substance, its color rusty and murky. However the drug that sat before him was something very different. Unlike the waxy looking material depicted in the photo, this was a rough powder. Its color more of a brown than a red and in all honesty, it looked like a typical Q of heroin.

"I'm clearly not dealing with kid shit here," Dick scoffed under his breath.

He picked up the small bag and placed it in his pocket. If he was going to gain any true understanding of how this drug was made, then he was going to have to break down its chemical composition.

He rose from his chair and left the room. His fellow Titans hadn't returned as far as he knew which gave him a clear window to use the lab. Most of the Titans no longer lived in the tower, the only occupants being Raven, Cyborg and himself.

The tower had been his home for most of his young adult life until he'd moved out with Kory when he was about 20. They'd saved their money and gotten a condo in Downtown Jump, in hopes of starting a life together, and Dick happily lived there until about 2 months prior. Dick had been engaged to Kory for a little over a year when she'd received a message from her home, stating that she must return and solidify her "betrothal." She hadn't told Dick of the arrangement that had been made for her when she was only a child and felt that she didn't really owe him an explanation. Dick however, felt differently and their relationship began to dissolve.

Kory insisted that it was customary for Tamaraneans to have more than one spouse, but Dick just couldn't accept that. To him, it didn't matter if she still loved him, he couldn't handle her loving another man. But still, she told him that for the sake for her people, she must accept the marriage and that if he truly loved her, that he would be waiting for her when she came home to him.

Dick didn't respond, he just watched her leave, leave with the nearly 9 years they'd spent together. He knew that was the way of her people, and tried to understand it, but she didn't seem to understand that he had a way too. And it didn't involve marrying a woman who was tied to another man. So with that grim realization, after Kory left, Dick packed his bags and moved back to the tower.

He wasn't exactly proud of himself for it, but he felt it was what he needed to do. He couldn't share a bed with her anymore, not when she didn't fully belong to him.

Dick opened the door and entered the dark lab, switching on the harsh fluorescent lights as they flickered, awakening from their frail sleep. Dick looked around the room thinking of where to begin when his eyes fell on the mass spectrometer. It had been a while since he'd used it, as Victor was primarily the one running forensics. However, Dick was more than qualified as he'd spent a good part of his life around lab equipment and knew his way around a beaker.

Within minutes he'd set himself up to prep the sample then placed it in the device for analysis. With any luck, the mass spec would be able to give him the very chemical makeup of the Krokodil. With it, he could see the finest details of the product and possibly figure out how this drug was formed into a powder. The sample wasn't very big, so he knew he'd have the results in less than 10 minutes which gave him plenty of time to think.

"What am I doing?" Dick asked himself, his voice echoing throughout the empty lab.

It was like he was kidding himself, that he was just appeasing the very fabric of his ego. He kept telling himself he wasn't going through with it, that this was him talking himself out of it. But deep down, he wasn't sure if he believed it. There was something deeper clawing at him, a darkness that always seemed to be there. It was like a distant shadow that followed him everywhere, but kept its distance from him. But every now and then, it would come closer and when it did, Dick would find himself becoming a different person.

The machine made a long beep, signaling the completion of its duties. Dick snapped back to reality and removed the sample and began cleaning the machine so that it would be prepped for its next use. He also couldn't have Victor stumbling across his activities, so he needed to be thorough.

Once he was finished he viewed the results of the test. The results showed that the sample was almost entirely consistent with the elemental classification of desomorphine. As he continued to read through the chemical properties, something occurred to him,

"Is he doing what I think he's doing?" Dick asked looking at the screen with an inquisitive expression.

Dick printed out the results then cleared them from the history. Looking down at the small amount of Krokodil still left in the bag. He picked it up and placed it back in his pocket then took the results in his hand. Before leaving, he took one last look around the lab, making sure that any trance of his work had been sterilized. Once he was confident that his presence would go unnoticed, he switched off the light and closed the door behind him.

Walking down the hall, he could hear voices echoing from the common room. They carried with them the light sounds of joy and excitement, something he hadn't really felt as of late. He'd been so caught up with Roy and his deteriorating relationship that he hadn't taken much time to just let things be. Dick knew he should probably make an appearance and at least make it seem like everything was alright, but he'd have to get rid of his extracurricular activities first.

As Dick began to reach the end of the hallway, he noticed a tall redhead knocking at his door. Her normally confident hand seemed weak and unsteady as it trembled just slightly, rising to his door. Dick took a moment to look at her. He stilled loved her, he couldn't deny that, but that was what made it so bitter.

"Hey, Kory," Dick said trying not to let the taste cloud his words.

She turned with a hint of surprise on her lovely face. Its usual warmth seemed muted and held back by the uncertainty that hung over her head like the rain of a coming storm.

"You came back," she muttered, her voice holding a dwindling hope.

Dick shrugged at the sound and the notion, "Of course I came back," he said a little abrasive, "it's not like I was running away from anything."

Kory crossed her arms and looked away, feeling the ill nature harboring his words, "It kind of feels like you are," she remarked, not holding back her disappointment.

Dick could feel the sting on his pride, making him more indignant than he already was. This had become a common occurrence between them of late. They didn't really speak to each other as much as they just spat venom in one another's direction. It was clear neither one of them were happy with the other's actions, but they could never seem to find the right words between them. Instead, they just said what felt good.

"Moving out isn't running away."

"No, but coming home to an empty home makes it feel that way, Dick," Kory snapped.

Kory's knowledge of English had matured vastly over the 10 years she'd spent on Earth. She now understood the correct contexts and complexities of the language, and no longer struggled to string together her sentences. However, Dick missed her young, naïve nature as it reminded him of simpler, less complicated days.

"You married another man," Dick said with utterance.

Kory's face fell with a heavy anger, "From a completely different world that you refuse to understand!"

"You mean like you refuse to understand mine," Dick rebuttled.

Kory didn't say anything for a minute she just uttered a sigh of disbelief. She and her former finance had never spoken to each other like that before, never with such vengeance and veracity.

"What happened to us, Dick?"

Dick looked up at her as her tone softened with sadness, her eyes glimmering with the ruins of their tarnished memories.

"We aren't 16 anymore," he replied ironically, even going as far as to find a little humor in it.

Dick walked passed Kory, her eyes never leaving him, "What is that supposed to mean?"

He pressed his back against the door and glanced up to the ceiling, "I think it means it's over, Kory."

Dick looked back at her as he could see her world come crashing down around her. His empathetic eyes winced at the sight, but reality held him at bay from reaching out for her. Her eyes filled with glassy tears as her tongue tangled, unable to form words.

"I'm sorry," he mouthed, opening his door before she could try and convince him otherwise.

Kory watched as he slipped behind his door, Dick taking one last look at her, and for a moment, he saw her. The girl he'd fallen in love with all those years ago, her heart broken and splintered as a result of his pride. She still didn't quite understand as she wanted to believe that the man she'd fallen in love with was indeed the man she wanted him to be, but he wasn't.

Dick closed the door on everything, pain aching in his hands as he did so. Once the door was locked he sighed as the full impact hit him to its full extent. Suddenly, a loud scream of frustration and anger rang out from the hallway. The bitter sound hit him with its fragile, yet volatile emotions. They caught him by the throat, making it difficult to breathe for the moment while tears pushed to free themselves. He let his head fall against the door as defeat rested heavy on his brow.

A few moments later he could hear her walk away, her steps heavy as they dragged themselves away. He wiped the solemn tears from his skin and pulled himself together. He knew this day was coming, he just wasn't sure how it would play out. But it seemed it was written in contrast. Their time together had been nearly unrealistic and fairytale-like, but like every fairytale, reality eventually caught up to them. Kory may have indeed been a princess, but Dick was not, and could not be, her prince—he had his own empire to build.

Chapter Text

 "Nothing in his life Became him like the leaving it." --Macbeth Act I, scene 4, line 7.

Dick awoke suddenly as the alarm sounded, startling him to the point that he nearly fell out of bed. It took him a moment to settle his nerves as reality hadn't quite set in. Stumbling out of bed, he looked over to see the time.

"3:15 am, shit," he cursed tiredly.

Anxiety began to overcome him a little, causing him to scramble around the room frantically, trying to get himself together. As he was pulling his uniform on, he heard a loud knock on his door.

"Hey man, you up?" questioned a deep voice that rolled over the sounding alarm.

"Yeah Vic, just give me a minute," Dick replied, tripping over his own feet.

"Alright then, meet ya in a few," Victor said, taking off down the hall.

Moments later, Dick clumsily ran out of the room, strapping on his utility belt as he went. His mind was scattered and unfocused as he ungainly tried to asses if he had everything and just hoped to God that he did.

He burst through the doors at the end of the hallway where his team was impatiently waiting.

"Oh hey Dick, nice of you to join us," Gar said with a playful, yet blithe tone.

"Can it Gar," Dick growled, slightly losing his temper. "What's the call Vic?"

The robotic man looked back from the computer screen and he pulled up the coordinates, "I'm still working on the details, just give me a minute," he replied, continuing his work.

Dick gave a weary nod and looked around the room uncomfortably when he noticed Kory standing on the opposite side. She refused to look at him, though he couldn't blame her. He could tell by the look of her eyes that she'd spent a good part of the night crying. Her usually vivid green orbs appeared ruddy and held a tired, puffy look. He himself had shed more than a few tears, however he had some aid in drowning out his sorrows.

"Rough night," Raven whispered under her breath so that only Dick could hear her.

Dick turned his back to the rest of the team so that only Raven could hear his reply, "Is it that obvious?"

Raven let out a cynical chuckle, "No… but you look like you drank half a bottle of Bourbon."

"I didn't drink half a bottle… it was two glasses," he said with a shaky confidence.

"Drinking alone isn't healthy," Raven quietly lectured.

"I know Rae, you don't have to remind me…"

"Yeah well, that doesn't change the fact that you did and you didn't even ask me to help you finish the bottle," she added wittily, catching Dick off guard.

He playfully rolled his eyes and shook his head at her ability and placement for dark humor. Raven shot him a quick smirk that bared the slightest hint of cynicism. Neither of them noticing the look that Kory shot them.

"All right Dick, it looks like the call is coming from the old warehouse district and it appears to be a team led by Jonny Rancid... Really?" Victor said with muddled perplexity.

Dick looked up at the screen with confusion and disbelief. Johnny Rancid hardly ever worked with anyone let alone lead a team. "Who's the team composed of?"

"It looks like Gizmo, Mammoth and Kid Wykkyd," Victor responded.

"Kid Wykkyd," Gar laughed, "you mean Rae's future soulmate?"

Raven rolled her eyes at the green boy with a little disdain, "So is the joke supposed to be that you're accusing me of having an inappropriate relationship with my cousin?" she said dryly.

Gar's eyes shot wide open while a disturbed look flooded his face, "The fuck! ... You guys are related?"

"Yeah. Maybe if you're attention span wasn't that of a rodent's, you'd know that," Raven drawled in her low monotone.

"But I totally ship you guys!"

"You should probably stop doing that, man," Victor said, making a 'what the fuck is wrong with you' face.

"As fascinating as this all is, can we please get back to the matter at hand," Dick said mildly annoyed, taking control of the situation. "Something doesn't fit right, Rancid's never worked with the Hive before."

He looked back at his team as his gaze left the monitor. They were all adults now with Victor being the oldest and still signature big brother of the team, Gar playing the token younger brother. They still bickered at times and knew just how to get on each other's nerves, especial Gar and Raven. (Could those two fight?) Kory and Raven were kind of like sisters, however in recent years that bond seemed to hold less weight. Dick always suspected it had to do with Donna, who'd joined the team for a few years until she transferred to Titans East to be closer to Roy (they broke up soon after). (Every one saw it coming.)

Still Donna and Kory remained close and would constantly keep in touch and plan trips together. Raven would always decline their invitations as she was too busy attending college courses. She'd earned her Associates in English and Literature and was closing in on her Bachelors in Political Science. Kory'd taken to modeling which also kept her close to Donna as she had nearly become a well-known photographer. It just seemed that the girls didn't quite have the same ambitions or even values. Raven wanted to own the world through knowledge whereas Kory wanted it through a photograph.

Dick, however, hardly noticed the change and didn't take note of it until recently as his distance from Kory became more of a reality. He'd always leaned on Raven, especially when it came to the darkness that wreaked havoc on his mind. But now with all the civil unrest within the team, he leaned on her even more. He knew Kory resented it a little; that she felt he was replacing her, but he wasn't. He was simply doing what he always had—going to the one person he knew understood him. And that person wasn't Kory, not anymore.

"Maybe he's just trying new material, God knows his solo act wasn't getting him anywhere," Gar said breaking Dick out of his thoughts.

"Or, maybe the job is too big for him?" Raven said looking over at Gar patronizingly.

Dick looked back up at the monitor, a dubious look in his eye, "Either way we need to keep our guard up, I have a bad feeling about this."

The old warehouse district was one of the few places in Jump City that you didn't want to be after dark. It was widely known as gang territory and belonged to those who'd rush where angels dare not go. Among these lost souls were dozens of stories, each with a where and a why of how it all came to be, and for Johnny Rancid, it was no different.

He'd spent most of his life as a street kid, moving from city to city however he could, but it wasn't until he was sixteen that he'd crossed that line. His father had been locked up for what seemed like the hundredth time and his mother was still very much in love with the pipe. Johnny didn't have very much of a choice. He could either go out and be an outlaw and at least stand a chance. Or, he could wither and die with his crack addict mother—he chose the way of Jesse James.

He ran off and spent a few years looking for something to live by, something that could give him the structure he needed to reinvent himself. He wanted brotherhood. And he found it somewhere between Gotham and Chicago when he stumbled upon an outlaw biker club living on the edge of fringe society. He immediately found himself enamored with the lifestyle and the unity amongst the members. Something he hardly knew then.

The group took the young boy in and made him prospect, meaning that he wasn't a full patch member and held no authority. They told him he'd have to earn those privileges which he full-heartedly did and dedicated his life to the club.

Within a year he'd earned his full kutte and the fabric of a new life among a small, but successful criminal organization. The group called themselves The Black Horsemen, and identified as the 1%. The Black Horsemen made their money by selling drugs and other contraband while also providing protection to those who were willing to pay for it. They owned a few legitimate businesses that they mostly used to launder their drug money and make some legitimate earnings. But eventually, the club's past caught up with them.

A massacre ensued, a bloody street war between his bothers and a rival biker gang both looking to settle old scores. And by the time the smoke cleared, and Johnny could see the finally see again, he was the only one left of his chapter.

He immediately skipped town, changed his name and adopted a new persona, one that honored his fallen brethren. Johnny had learned all he needed to about moving and selling contraband and he wasn't afraid to drop a man or the consequences that came with it. But he didn't know much about people. He worked solo mostly and eventually established himself as a go-to for moving high risk product, which brings us to the exchange at hand.

"You damn scuzz-brains are short!" Gizmo yelled obnoxiously.

Johnny looked at the black duffle then back at the group of men he'd received it from, "Short huh?"

The leader of the group looked up. He was a tall, thin man with wiry muscles and wide glassy eyes as he was visibly high on cocaine.

"It's only a couple grand, sales have been down the last couple of weeks," the white haired man said. "The product is lacking in purity."

Johnny furrowed his brow and let out a small ignorant laugh, "And you know that cause you put that couple grand up your nose, right?"

"I resent that accusation, I have been doing business with your handler for years!"

"Yeah and every time you come up short, Snowflame," Johnny spat. "Gizmo, exactly how much money is missing?"

Gizmo stood up, his stature still small and his mouth as big as ever, "At least 10 grand."

Johnny scowled. Snowflame was always a few grand short, but never by that much. It was usually a grand or two and in the end he did always pay it back in favors. However, Jonny noticed that recently the margin started to grow, and so did the man who was paying him to provide the money be collected.

"Oh and Rancid, it gets better," Gizmo snickered childishly. "They lined the stacks with real bills to hide that fact that at least half these are fake. Like we wouldn't notice?"

"So you're saying that they're 20 grand short?" Johnny asked in a surprisingly calm tone.

The tiny man nodded his head assertively, "Maybe more."

For a moment nothing was said as the team of young criminals looked back at the cocaine king and fumbling gang. When suddenly Johnny pounced on Snowflame and slammed him into a steel beam.

"You stupid son of a bitch!" Johnny shouted and pulled out his G21. "Did you really think you could just fuck us over?!"

He pressed the barrel of the gun against the addict's throat, ready to pull the trigger at any moment. Snowflame's crew had tried to run to the man's aid, but were intercepted by Johnny's team. The horrified man raised his hands defensively in an attempt to calm Johnny, but had little success.

"Johnny I—"

"Save it Snowflame's, you piece of shit!" Johnny snapped, "I was given strict orders by Slade to terminate you if you pulled something like this. Your whole crew, too."

Johnny looked back at his team a moment as each one readied themselves for the coming standoff. This was about respect, if they didn't punish Snowflame for his audacity then other crews would think it was acceptable to do as well.

"But I've been doing businesses with him for years!" The cocaine addict exclaimed.

"Well you should have thought of that before you tried to screw him for over 20 grand." The outlaw biker began to chuckle sinisterly, "You see, Slade and I have come to a little agreement. You're a liability, a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. You can't even run your crew. This town needs new leadership and a new operation and you just don't fit in with that plan."

"So you're just going to exterminate all of us?!"

"Yep, you're all collateral damage in a much bigger picture," Rancid said in a logical tone.

"Not as big as the collateral damage you're gonna be when we take you out," a confident voice shouted.

Jonny and the rest of the low class criminals looked up to find the Titans standing behind their masked leader.

"Not you pit sniffers!" Gizmo whined.

"You're still talking like a spoiled brat I see," Raven said with an eye roll.

"This doesn't concern you, Titans! Now get the hell out of here or I'll pump led into every last one of you!" Rancid growled looking up at Nightwing.

"It's over Rancid, the only way you're walking out of here is in cuffs," Nightwing warned.

"Then you're leaving here in a body bag." Jonny's face darkened and fiery rage lit up his eyes, but before he could make good on his threat, he felt Snowflame reach for his gun.

"Gun!" Nightwing shouted.

But before Snowflame could pull the trigger, Jonny pulled his. Blood immediately spilled everywhere as the bullet severed his carotid artery. The sound of the gun echoing through the vacant warehouse like the chime of a funeral bell. Snowflame fell to the cold concrete below him as the immediate blood loss left him with little life.

Everyone, including the Titans, watched in horror as not a sound was made. For a moment nothing happened, everyone just stood still, clearly shocked at the brutality.

"Aaaahhhh!" screamed one of Snowflame's crew members.

The overzealous man quickly whipped out his own hand gun and aimed it at Johnny, pulling the trigger. Johnny too took aim and fired at the man, hitting him in the chest and before anyone knew what hit them, the whole warehouse was under heavy fire.

The Titans scrambled to take cover from the flying bullets. Cyborg began taking aim with his sonic canon, while Starfire retaliated with her star bolts. Raven threw up a shield so she could get to Nightwing, in hopes of coming up with a plan.

The scene was pure chaos, bullets and blood being the frightening constant. Gang members began falling one by one while Nightwing looked on at the chaos trying to find a solution. Gar had begun to take on Mammoth, becoming a full sized gorilla while Cyborg took on Gizmo and one of his ridiculous gadgets.

Raven eventually reached Nightwing and phased from the floor in front of him, shielding him from the flying metal.

"I think we need a plan," she said nervously and blocked a bullet from hitting her chest.

"We need to get Rancid's gun away from him, he just reloaded his magazine," Nightwing replied. "You take Wykkyd, I'll take Rancid."

Raven nodded, "Oh and Dick," she said before fazing through the floor again, "don't get shot."

He smiled confidently and watched her black shadow consume the energy around her. Nightwing looked on, waiting for just the right moment as his team fought gallantly for justice. Rancid turned toward him. 'This is it,' Nightwing thought and took aim, 'just one more…'

Rancid's finger readied itself and squeezed the trigger, but to his shock the gun backfired in his hand. He could hardly see it coming, something sharp and quick had embedded itself in the barrel of his gun. Within moments the chamber of the gun exploded in his hand. A painful howl left his lips, but before he could get his bearings back, he felt a swift kick to his face.

Nightwing landed flawlessly as Rancid fell aimlessly to the floor. This left Nightwing with the upper hand while his adversary scrambled to recover. The young hero swiftly took hold of his escrima sticks and readied himself for the offense.

Rancid pulled himself up, gaining his balance, anticipating Nightwing's coming assault. He took sight of the hero's weapons and knew he'd have to produce his own if he had any chance of victory. However, luck was on his side when a nearby pipe was blown his way as a result of one of Starfire's attackes. He charged Nightwing who was anticipating his next move, but faked him out at the last second. Rancid slipped passed the acrobatic hero and took hold of the steel pipe.

Nightwing, who was caught off guard by the sudden maneuver, turned quickly to see his adversary greedily holding his newfound weapon. The two stood off like two alpha wolves ready to fight for territory, their eyes locked. Their old feud had reignited itself and this time there seemed to be more at stake. At the exact same moment they charged each other. Ready to spill blood and once and for all, see who was the bigger man.

They moved between each other, dodging blows and reconnecting with their own, each one more lethal than the last. The two continued this while the rest of the team found themselves in their own deadly battle. Cyborg still had his hands full with Gizmo who seemed to have put more strategy into his attacks while Starfire and Beast Boy worked together to take down Mammoth. Starfire seemed to be hitting him with everything she had and then some, her scorned interior driving her forward. Raven however, seemed to be having some luck in dismantling her adversary as she was without a doubt his better—both in power and in blood.

"Seriously Wykkyd, you should just call it a day already," she called as the young demon fell to the ground.

"You really think I'm gonna lose to a Halfling like you?" the demon boy replied. "Not this time, witch."

With that venom, the demonic boy shot back at her with his own ravenous attack, causing Raven to go on the defense.

Nightwing and Jonny Rancid still fought with ferocity, but were descending into a deadly game of cat and mouse. Jonny wasn't ready to be taken in alive—he was a true 1%er. He'd much rather see Nightwing tarnish his own moral code if it meant Rancid would forever be the key to one man's destruction; he wouldn't mind clipping him either.

He could see his adversary was struggling, fighting his darkness. Rancid had accepted his years ago, but men like Richard Grayson, they spent their whole lives trying to suppress it. Rancid could use this.

"Getting tired Birdy Boy?"

Nightwing laughed, "Seriously, I could do this all day." His tone was a little cocky, but he knew if he just kept his guard up he could finish Rancid.

"Really, you seem angry to me. You on your period?"

"That the best you can come up with?" Nightwing asked with a superior in his voice. "But I mean, I guess it's clever for someone with a room temp IQ."

"Careful kid, I might just be smarter than you think. Ha, if you were capable of such a feat."

A quick look of loathing shot in the hero's eyes.

'Got him,' the outlaw quietly snickered and locked his sights on Nightwing's pride.

"Oh, by the way," Jonny added, "you still fight like a spoiled brat."

'I wish people would stop calling me a brat,' the hero thought as his eyes grew with animosity and for a moment, he became blind to Johnny's tactics.

Johnny struck out and hit Nightwing's left oblique. The young man flinched from the pain, throwing him a little off guard.

"Oh too slow," Johnny cued patronizingly, causing Nightwing to make an unseasoned attack.

Rancid took advantage of the misstep, catching the hero by the neck and throwing him against the wall.

"God, you fall for that trick every time, I guess you're not as perceptive as you thought," Rancid snickered.

Nightwing looked back at him a little surprised, "You don't even know what that word means," he gasped, then used his left hand to forcefully free Johnny's grip from his neck. He shot a quick elbow into Jonny's windpipe and followed up with a swift uppercut. "But I guess I'm not the only one who hasn't learned anything."

Johnny looked up as he struggled for breath, "You… uh… mother…fu… uh," he gasped.

"You should never count me out," Nightwing said with a small hint of triumph.

'Fuck,' Rancid scoffed to himself. He glanced down and from the corner of his eye caught a glimpse of a small hand gun not far from his side. Luck was truly his lady.

"Hey Bird Boy… fuck off."

Johnny quickly grabbed the gun and pulled the trigger. The sound moved through the warehouse with a vengeance as it filled every last Titan with fear and unbridled reality. Raven could practically feel the bullet piercing her own skin, her eyes becoming wide with sorrow.

Nightwing felt it. The bullet burning through his flesh and his blood running free from its vessels. For a moment he was stunned and lost in a daze somewhere between reality and delusion where seconds felt like hours. He looked down, taking vacant notice of the fresh blood on his glove. Looking up, he saw Johnny with a snide look of victory on his face, like he'd already won, but he hadn't. At least not yet.

He saw Johnny shakily rise to his feet, the gun still in hand as he took aim for Nightwing's head. Within a second he'd pull the trigger and Nightwing would be dead, but then he heard his inner darkness as it said,

Do it now…

And before Nightwing knew it, he flung a shuriken free from his hand without even a second thought. The flying metal flew through the dusty air and logged itself in the flesh of Johnny's neck and in that moment—reality crashed.

Johnny fell back as blood poured from his neck with a rapid fluency.

For a moment Nightwing didn't feel anything, nothing at all. It was like whatever possessed him to do such a horrible thing kept his empathy bound within his grasp, but then the pain hit him.

Nightwing fell to his knees as blood seeped from his side. Reality, with all its cruelty, began to set in and his actions finally began to hold weight. "What have I done?"

Raven ran to his side, giving Kid Wykkyd a chance to make a run for it.

"Quick BB, go after him!" Cyborg shouted, causing the green changeling to fly like a bat out of hell (literally).

In the commotion, Mammoth tried to plow passed Starfire, but it appeared that she wasn't in the mood. With all her fire and furry, she shot the large man through a nearby wall, leaving him unconscious for the time being. She turned militantly and shot Gizmo a smoldering look as he tried to run as well.

"Ma—maybe I'll just stay here?" the small boy quivered in her wake.

By now Raven had reached Nightwing, who was now fighting for consciousness. His body was becoming limp and he was losing blood fast.

"Dick—Dick stay with me," Raven begged as she began to rip off his uniform.

"Uh Rae, you have to help Rancid," Dick panted with little strength.

Raven pulled the top half of his uniform free to reveal the gushing bullet hole, "There's nothing I can do for him," she replied examining him for an exist wound.

"Please Rae, you have to try."

Raven looked down at him, her eyes glassy as she said, "I can't."

"But Rae I—"

"He's dead, Richard," Raven finally said assertively, the weight of his guilt pressing hard on his chest. "Now please," Raven begged, "let me help you."

A heavy tear fell down her cheek as Dick closed his eyes in submission and nodded his heavy head weakly. Raven smiled meagerly at the motion and placed her hands on the bullet wounds. Within moments her black energy began to pulsate through his body, healing him. He could feel the pain begin to burn in Raven's side, her body fighting hard to extinguish it. He hated when she healed him, he knew too well what she went through when she did. How draining it was and how much of herself she gave away when she did it. Yet she didn't care.

Dick lay there on the ground while Raven continued to heal him, his eyes still closed. He tried to open them, but found his lids too heavy. A tired feeling was taking over him like a chill from a cruel wind. 'I lost too much blood,' Dick thought as his head rolled to the left from weakness, his thoughts becoming diluted and less composed.

"At… at least I won't have to…" Dick began.

"At least you won't have to what?" Raven replied, trying to keep his attention.

He could hardly find the strength to finish his sentence, he just didn't have it in him.

"Live with…my… gui…"

"Dick… Dick?" Raven said as panic quaked in her voice. "Damn it! Stay with me!"

He could hear her distantly as though she were miles away. The world seemed to be but one very different plane now. He couldn't feel anything, it all went numb and in that moment, everything went dark.

The room was dark when a light shined down on him in an almost objectifying way. He tried to shield his hazy eyes from the harsh glare, but found little refuge. He was confused as he tried to retrace his steps and recall how he'd even gotten to this strange place. He scoured his thoughts, frantically searching through memories that played like film cuts.

His eyes finally adjusted to the brightness of the light as small minimal specs of dust rose into the air with all their insignificance. There was a loneliness about him now, something he'd not quite felt before, as though he were now truly alone.

"All hail thee, Thane of Cawdor," said a far, but familiar voice, "thou shalt be king hereafter!"

An emptiness fell over him as the voice echoed and faded into nothing but a memory. He looked down toward the ground below him, the light recoiling from its surface. He caught a glimpse of something, a crimson shade resting menacingly on his hands. He raised them to his face and in horror found them soiled with blood. Dismay fell upon him once more as he heard the voice speak again, three shadowy figures standing just out of sight.

"Thou shalt be king hereafter…"

His eyes shot open and he gasped for air, but was caught by a shooting pain in his side.

"Oh thank God," he heard Raven say with a sigh of relief.

He looked to his right to find her at his bedside, a basin filled with water nearby and a bloody cloth in her hand. He relaxed as his dream left him, though it still lingered in his depths.

"I don't think God's too happy with me right now," Dick groaned.

"Well, then it's a good thing you're an agnostic." Raven smiled and placed a gentle hand on his head. "I thought I was gonna lose you."

"Uh, not so lucky, what happened?"

Raven gave him a scolding look as she wasn't amused, "You lost consciousness," she replied, "the bullet hit an artery, I had to bring you back to the tower for a transfusion. The others are out tracking down Kid Wykkyd and securing the crime scene."

He could hear panic freeing itself from her voice as she spoke. Raven worried about all the Titans, but she worried about Dick the most. Probably because she knew him too well and could anticipate his actions before he even knew them himself.

"Rancid?" Dick asked cautiously, fearing the answer of course.

Raven remained silent, but the look in her eyes said it all.

"Fuck," Dick sighed as reality hung heavy over his head like a crown of burden, "I'm a murderer..."

His words were defeated and meager as they held the reflection of men he despised and those he loathed from the pit of his soul.

"No, you're not," Raven insisted.

"I killed a man, Raven, that's the definition of murder."

Dick lifted his hand to his face to brush the mess of hair from his eyes, but flinched in horror. Raven quickly noticed his reaction to the dried blood that still clung to his right hand and lightly took it in hers.

"Not when it's self-defense," she said, once again taking the cloth from the basin, attempting to cleanse him of his guilt.

Dick watched as she did so, her touch warm and comforting. He could feel her fear and her concern as it pulsated through her own hands and into his. This left him with a disappointment—he wasn't as good as she thought he was.

Raven looked at him, a sympathetic look in her eyes, "You did what you had to."

Dick looked away from her, 'How can she believe that?'

"You're a good man."

An astonished look fell over Dick's face and he quickly looked back at her as a small, but honest smile fixed on her face.

"That doesn't change what I did, Rae."

Raven sighed, placing the cloth down as she rose from her chair. She turned from Dick a moment, running her hands through her hair wearily, blood staining her uniform.

"Do you wanna know what I think?" she asked as she turned to him and leaned against a counter.

Dick shrugged, pulling himself upright and nodded for her to proceed.

"I don't think it matters."

He stared at her a moment as a coldness crept into her words, "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means what's done is done and there's nothing you can do to change it..."

"I know that Raven but—What's the Justice League gonna think?"

Raven crossed her arms in frustration and rolled her eyes, "You care too much—I mean who cares about what the League thinks? They're not always right y'know?" Raven huffed as she began to pace the room. "You're a good man, you were only defending yourself."

"I didn't have to kill him."

"He aimed a gun at your head, Richard!" Raven exclaimed with dominance. "He was gonna kill you! It was kill or be killed—Hell, if he'd blown your head off like he wanted to, I would have killed him myself!"

Dick bit his lip as the weight of Raven's words hit him with a cold, but ambiguous truth. Rancid would have killed him—he wanted to. Dick could see it in his eyes as he was a moment away from pulling the trigger. But still, Dick couldn't help but think that there had to have been another way, but was there?

"Raven are you even sorry that Rancid is dead?"

Raven looked over at him from the counter where she was leaning for support, a hardness in her gaze as she took in the words.

"Honestly, no, I'm not. Jonny Rancid was a 1%er with a bad attitude and a propensity for hurting anyone who got in his way and nothing would have ever changed that. So no, I'm not sorry he's dead and you're alive."

Dick could feel the emotion that erupted in her voice, a mix of rage, sorrow, pain, fear, worry, and above all, love. Her friends meant everything to her and without them, he wasn't sure what she'd do.

"I know you might think of me as cruel to say something like that, Richard, but if I lost you, I don't know what I'd do..."

Tears began to form in her eyes and her guard came shattering down from its shackles. Dick carefully rose from the gurney he'd been placed on and removed his IV, feeling a slight sting. He slowly approached Raven and took her in his arm. She placed her tired head on his chest as she no longer had the emotional stamina to hold herself together.

"You really shouldn't be out of bed," Raven said through her tears.

"I think I'll be fine… I mean Rancid couldn't kill—" Dick immediately stopped himself and took a seat on the cot behind him.

Raven sat down beside and pulled her knees to her chest, facing him. She could see his dark thoughts festering, eating away at his pride and his humanity.

"What is it, Dick?" Raven asked quietly.

Dick looked at her and sighed, "If I told you something really awful, would you look away from me?"

"Never."

Dick glanced away from her a moment, unsure if what he was about to say was right or even remotely normal under the circumstances. "I'm not upset that Rancid's dead, and I'm not upset that I killed him…" He stopped a moment, nearly unable to spit out the words. "I'm upset because I wanted to."

Dick looked back at Raven whose eyes hadn't moved.

"I'm not a good man, Raven."

His eyes grew glassy as the realization began to delve deep into his soul like a parasite. Raven wrapped her arms around him and placed her chin on his shoulder.

"You're not a monster," she whispered looking up at him with her deep violet eyes.

"I feel like one."

She sniffled and pushed her hair behind her ear. "You should really get some rest," she suggested. "We can talk more about this when you have your strength back."

Dick nodded and laid down on the cot. Raven took the blanket in her hand and laid down beside him, pulling it over them. She wrapped her thin arm around his form protectively, unwilling to leave him.

"Hey Rae?"

"Yeah?"

"You're not really related to Kid Wykkyd, are you?"

"Nope," Raven replied dryly.

Dick turned to look back at her, a small, sly smile on her face, "You're a Wykkyd bitch," Dick chuckled for a moment forgetting his dark thoughts.

Raven giggled a little with him, "You know it, Boy Blunder."

The two settled down after that, though it seemed Raven was the only one to really fall asleep. Dick only lay beside her with his mind racing with chatter and guilt that he couldn't seem to bury. He once again lifted his right hand and caught a glimpse of red Raven had missed under his fingernails. He exhaled as his heart fell from his chest and a sick feeling flooded his senses.

' I guess this is what Hell feels like?'

 

Chapter Text

Dick woke up on the cot after sleep had finally placed pity on him. He rolled over to his side to find Raven gone, the place where she laid now cold. The sun, by now, was high and crept in from the window the way it would around noon. His mind was still hazy and his thoughts not quite there as he pulled himself upright. He was greeted by a small pain in his side and remembered being shot only hours before. He looked down at what was left of the initial wound, several stitches keeping it tied up tight. He recalled Raven mentioning that she wasn’t able to heal him completely, as she’d exerted most of her power trying to prevent him for bleeding to death.

He rose to his feet, feeling the chill of the tile on his bare soles. He wondered if the others were still in the tower and what the status of their mission was. He approached the elevator and hit the button for the main floor. As the elevator began its ascent, Dick noticed something under his nails and began picking at it absentmindedly when it hit him.

‘I killed Jonny Rancid last night!’ His mind shouted in disquiet.

Dick looked down at his hands that still held remnants of blood beneath his fingernails. It didn’t matter that it didn’t belong to Jonny, it was symbolic of the sin he’d committed. The thing he could never take back, the thing he could never undo. Blood would always stain his hands.

The elevator door opened, revealing an empty hallway. Dick entered, looking down both ends. He had one of two decisions to make; he could either go to his room, take a shower and get dressed, or—face his friends. The latter option left him with a sickening feeling as he feared what their reactions would be. He’d never taken a life before, nearly none of the Titans had. Still, he thought that due to his state of dress it was permitted to at least shower and put on a change of clothes. Not to mention scrub the blood from under his nails.

He took a longer shower than normal, trying to wash reality away, and of course, hold off on facing the consequences of his actions. Still, there was a feeling of uncertainty and guilt, like he’d betrayed everything he was ever taught, like he no longer lived up the code he lived by. He remained there until the water no longer held its feverish temperature, the cold hitting him like the cruel hand of death.

After his shower, he got dressed, throwing on a long sleeve shirt and a pair of old jeans. As he was doing so, he caught a glimpse of a photo of his parents, sitting faultlessly on his dresser. It looked back at him from its place where it sat like a distant memory he wanted so desperately to relive. He took the picture in his hands that ached for just the chance to once again hold his mother’s hand. To once again smell her perfume or hear her sing him a lullaby. He remembered his father’s voice as it was distinctively low and colored in an Irish inflection. His father was a kind man who seemed to be a favorite among his fellow nomads. John Grayson was the kind of man who would have given anyone the shirt off his back if it meant making someone’s life a little easier. He never turned his back on a friend, even if it was in his best interest to.

“I’m so sorry Dad,”Dick sighed, “I guess I’m not the man you were.”

His voice was heavy with disdain for his actions and the disappointment his father would hold for them. Dick placed the photo down and faced it away from him, unable to look at it.

He went back to getting dressed, putting on his black leather belt and dark boots before going out to face his team for the first time. Moments later he found himself dawdling, looking around for something that could distract him form reality, even for just a moment. He knew it was only a matter of time before one someone came looking for him. It would mostly likely be Raven or Victor, possibly even Kory. He knew he could handle Raven, but Victor or Kory—he wasn’t so sure about.

Dick finally found the strength to open the door and step out from the shelter of his room. Within moments he’d be in the belly of the beast, facing the darkness he’d fought so hard to keep down. What would they say? What would they think? What would they do with him? These were the questions that infested his mind like scorpions, clawing and burrowing their way into his heart, trying to crush it.  This left him with a worried, sick feeling that nestled in the pit of his stomach and hung there unmoved..

“There’s no going back now,” he mumbled, approaching the door to the common room.

It opened to reveal the open layout where his team seemed to be eagerly waiting for him.  Each one looked up from their intended distraction, a look of surprise present in their individual expressions. He couldn’t bring himself to say anything, leaving the awkward silence intact.

Victor quickly snapped out of it and turned off the TV, “Hey man,” he mustered vaguely, “how ya feeling?”

“Like I got shot I guess?” Dick replied not really sure how to respond.

“That’s such a Raven thing to say, Dude,” Gar drawled in his absent mind.

Raven immediately administered a smack to the back of the green boy’s head, causing him to whine in protest.

“Ahh Rae, what the—” the changeling began, but stopped when the young sorceress shot him a look filled with daggers.

Dick admittedly found a little comfort in the exchange as it briefly allowed him to think that things were normal. However, this didn’t last long.

“Soooo… Speaking of, do you remember anything about last night?” Victor asked with an awkwardness. “Rae says you were out cold.”

Dick looked over at Raven who was sitting with her legs crossed on the couch. He could tell by the look on her face that she’d revealed nothing of their previous conversation (not that it surprised him). But the fact she’d lied to the rest of the team about him even being awake provoked some intriguing questions.

“Yeah, just woke up a little while ago,” Dick said going along with the ruse and walked toward the couch.

Victor nodded and looked at him with concern, as did Kory.

“Why don’t you take a seat, Dick, will you not?” the pretty redhead said in a falsely light tone.

“Is this an intervention?” Dick asked as he sat next to Raven on the couch.

“No, of course not,” Victor replied, “we’re just concerned, ya’ know, about last night.”

“Because I killed Johnny Rancid,” Dick said bluntly and clasped his hand over his knees.

Victor flinched at the statement, while Gar and Kory looked away uncomfortably. There was a tenseness between them that Dick could feel pouring into the air.

“So you do remember,” Victor began and leaned forward, “do you remember why you did it?”

‘Because he deserved it.’ “Because he was going to kill me if I didn’t,” Dick replied repressing his darker thoughts.

The atmosphere in the room quickly changed as the words fell from his lips and an uncomfortable silence filled the air. This was what Dick was afraid of, the silence. The air of uncertainty and the cruelty of those who could not understand the guilt and justification that rivaled in his head.

Dick looked over at Raven who was sitting beside him. She too seemed uncomfortable, but not for the same reason.

“It was self-defense,” Raven asserted, breaking the ominous silence.

The rest of the team looked at her as she crossed her arms stubbornly, ready to defend her leader further.

“We know that Rae, no one is saying that it wasn’t, but we need to hear it from Dick’s perspective,” Victor reassured, as though he were team leader. “So then Dick, why don’t you tell us—if you can—what was going through your head before… ya’ know.”

The young man bit his lip and looked down at the floor for a moment. He knew what he’d done and why he’d done it, but he wasn’t really sure how he’d gotten there. The details were blurry and the fact he’d been shot, disoriented his memory as to what exactly happened. The only thing he was really clear on was the moment he’d snapped out of his daze and that voice.

“I remember fighting Rancid,” Dick began as he looked at his team, “I made a mistake and he took advantage. However, before he could really do any damage, I hit him in the throat and he fell to the ground… that’s where he found the gun. Before I knew it… I’d been shot.”

He stopped a moment and took in the different expressions on their faces. Gar’s seemed distant, though it was clear he was listening, but it seemed to be from another world. Raven’s was stoic, but Dick could feel how much it hurt her to think of it, to have to see it again, even if it was only a memory. He thought about how emotional she was the night before and how uncontained she was. It was a rare sight to see Raven that shaken and liberal with her thoughts. Whereas now she seemed to have cinched herself back into her confines, though she still held her current stance.

Victor, of course, appeared pragmatic.  He needed to first hear his friend’s side of the story before he could come to his final conclusion, but he also had to be critical of it as well. And then there was Kory. Kory looked back at him with a deep look of something that resembled regret, but was just short of pity. Dick suspected it had something to do with the fact that Kory knew what it felt like to take a life and for justifiable reasons. But at the same time, she had a hard time accepting that Richard Grayson, the man she’d fallen in love with, could do such a thing. This made the look on her face hard to swallow and left a bitter taste on his tongue.

“I don’t really remember, what happened in that moment. The initial shock hit me harder than I want to admit, but it took over. The last thing I really remember was seeing the gun aimed at my head… I guess instinct took over and well… Rancid’s dead and… I’m not.”

The room once again fell silent and not a sound could be heard. Dick exhaled a heavy sigh not sure of what to think after the confession. He felt a soft hand on his shoulder and knew immediately that it was Raven’s. However, he still felt Kory’s eyes upon him and for a moment, he couldn’t bear to look at her, even if she did understand.

“Ok,” Victor finally said, “I talked to the police commissioner last night and that’s pretty much what I told him. However, he’s gonna want your statement, when you’re ready of course.”

Dick nodded, but said nothing. He had a feeling this would happen and oddly enough, he didn’t find any relief, he actually felt worse.

Jonny Rancid was a murderous, reckless son of a bitch, and there were probably more than a few who’d look at his death as a public service. But that still didn’t justify his end, or at least that’s what Dick kept telling himself. In a way he truly did feel sorry for him. The city would rest easier knowing Rancid was gone and the man who’d killed him wouldn’t even get a slap on the wrist for his troubles. But even with that, Dick knew it was only a matter of time before someone new came along and filled that void. So in the end, Johnny truly did die for nothing.

Dick looked up and said a little weakly, “So I’m gonna go now... I need time to think.”

The team looked back at him with worry and uncertainty.

“I’m fine, really. I just need some time to myself.” His face was rueful, but not overcome with it. Like he was trying to hold it together long enough to get away.

Victor nodded as Dick stood up from the couch and turned to walk away, but before he could, he heard the robotic man once more,

“Oh and Dick, there’s one more person who wants to speak with you.”

‘Oh fuck…’


 

Dick sat in the conference room by himself, his arms crossed in disdain for the less than anticipated conversation. In the huddle of it he’d forgotten about Bruce and how he’d have to answer to the man who’d trained him.

Victor had explained that he informed the League about Dick’s indiscretion and that a certain Bat felt the need to speak with him in regards to the situation. Adding, that Bruce would have made the trip to Jump himself, but was currently dealing with a “League emergency.” Dick could see Bruce’s face now, riddled with disappointment and contempt for his actions, even if they were somewhat justified.

Within moments, Dick began punching in the communication codes and waited patiently for Bruce to appear on the monitor.  Quietly, he hoped the masked man wouldn’t answer, but he wasn’t so lucky.

“Dick,” Bruce began, his face unmasked, “how are you feeling?”

“Like I got shot,” the former protégé replied.

Bruce creased his brow as his eyes filled with distaste, “This isn’t a joke Dick, a man is dead.”

Dicked looked down and ran his fingers through his dark hair in discomfort, “I know, I’m sorry,” he said regretfully, “I just don’t really know what to say, I guess?”

Bruce looked down at him his face filled with a fatherly concern. He’d always feared this day would come.

“Victor told me that you didn’t have any choice, is that true?”

Dick looked up at the screen, disdain heavy on his face, but regret was not far behind, “I’m honestly not sure.” There was a shameful remorse in his words, a lost sound that didn’t quite know what to think of his actions.

“What does that mean,” Bruce asked in a darker tone than usual.

“It means that I was careless, that I let my guard down and as a result, I got shot. I gave him that opening, and if I hadn’t, Jonny Rancid would still be alive.”

The sound of bitterness and self-loathing filled his mentor’s ears, his protocol son hardly able to look at him. He may have been able to hold back this side of himself from his friends, but not from the man who’d raised him. Not the man who’d taught him to be a hero.

“It was a mistake,” he heard Bruce say and glanced up at him with surprise, “but like any mistake, you’ll learn from it,” the Bat said wearily. “However, I am concerned about how this event is effecting you?”

Dick, finally faced his mentor as his fatherly tone began to surface, “I mean… how well am I supposed to handle it, Bruce?”

“There’s no real answer to that, Dick,” the Bat replied. “You just can’t let it cloud your judgment. Maybe you should consider taking a leave of absence?

The former side-kick looked up at his mentor, unable to hide his resentment for the suggestion. “You make it sound like I can’t handle it, Bruce,” he replied sharply.

“Dick it’s not that you can’t handle it, but what you’ve done has serious consequences. It won’t just go away.”

“I know that Bruce, I don’t expect it to. But I need to learn to live with it. I can’t just run away.”

“Dick, taking a step back isn’t running away,” Bruce said with a harsh, yet stoic tone. “This isn’t just something that you move on from. Death changes people, look at Jason.”

“How can you even compare me to him?” Dick snapped, clearly irritated. “This isn’t even the same thing!”

A darker look grew on the Dark Knight’s face at the sound of the young man’s tone, “That doesn’t change what you did, Dick, self-defense or not, you need to take time away.”

“Why! So everyone can think I’m broken?” He was more defensive now, like a wounded animal, and as usual, his father was his judge, juror, and even executioner.

“Dick, this isn’t about what other people think—”

“Really, it isn’t? Cause it feels like it is, Bruce?” Dick snapped again. “All I’ve been doing since I woke up is explaining myself, to everyone that I care about, why I threw a shuriken into a man’s jugular!”

Dick immediately rued his shortness and looked up at the Dark Knight in horror. A look of disgust and distortion read thick on Bruce’s face, as though he didn’t recognize the young man before him.

“I’m sorry Bruce,” he said apologetically, “I’m just tired of being judged.” There was a weakness in his words now as the coldness from Bruce’s glare extinguished the fire they’d burned with only moments ago.

The older man didn’t reply at first, he couldn’t bring himself to. This was something he couldn’t quite navigate through and he found himself struggling against the tide of ambiguity. On the one hand, he knew that Dick needed to face some sort of consequence for his actions and the fact that he was responsible for a life lost (self-defense or not). He’d broken the first and most important rule that Bruce had ever taught him, and he needed to be held accountable for the wrong he’d committed. But still there was the other hand, the one of a father’s need to protect his son from the cruelty of realty, the one that held himself accountable.

‘Maybe if I’d taught you better, or… been a better father?’

“So is the League gonna do anything to me… like it did to Roy?” Dick finally asked, catching Bruce’s withering attention.

“I don’t know,” the Dark Knight replied, “according to your team you acted in self-defense, and if it were not for your actions, you’d be dead and well… I’m happy you’re not.” There was a dismal quality to his statement. As though his happiness was selfish or too good to be true, like he may have even resented his feelings. 

Dick looked away again as he knew that his actions reflected upon Bruce just as Roy’s reflected upon Oliver Queen. He could now understand Roy’s disdain and dejection that he felt towards the League. How he could blame them for the rift between him and the man he looked at as a father.

The League put a lot of pressure on its members to uphold a standard and if that standard was ever tainted or tarnished they took it personally. Dick could recall walking within the lines of their rules and regulations as he was raised to do. It was something he deeply resented and at his core, he hated it, but he’d never breathe a word of it to anyone. It was like his own little festering wound of hatred.

“Listen Richard, I know that this situation is not easy for you, but I strongly suggest that you take a leave of absence,” Bruce urged one final time.

“And what if I don’t?”

Bruce sighed heavily as though taking the ex-side-kick’s statement as a dare, “Then we’ll make you.”

It hurt him to say that. To blatantly tell his own son that his father would throw the book at him if he didn’t comply, and in the same breath promising to protect him if he did. ‘I never wanted to be this person,’ Bruce thought, realizing he was no better than any other parent who’d swept their child’s indiscretions under the rug. ‘Why are you making me be this person, Richard?’

Dick was shocked at Bruce’s statement and wasn’t quite sure how to take it, “Do you expect me to be grateful?”

“No Dick, I expect you to do what I tell you,” Bruce growled at the young man’s audacity. “Nobody ever comes back from death the same, if at all.”

It was a warning. A warning to stay on the path and not venture off into the woods like Jason did. 

“Do we have an understanding?” Bruce asked in a grave tone.

Dick looked up at him with a glare of betrayal in his eyes. Like his own guilt or even resolve didn’t matter because in a sense all that mattered was the League.

“I have to talk to my team first. Also, I need to think about it,” he replied daringly.

The crease in the Bat’s forehead deepened, as though he’d kill Dick himself if he wasn’t careful, “You have 24 hours before I make this a League matter, and I really don’t want to do that to you, Richard.”

“It’s not a League matter Bruce, it’s a Titans matter and more importantly… it’s my matter.”

Bruce hated how much Dick sounded like him, how stubborn he could be. ‘I guess I taught you more than I thought?’

“Dick, make the right decision?”

“I will,” he replied placing his hand over the End Call button, “I’ll make the right decision for me.”

Before Bruce could reply, Dick hit the button, closing out the conversation. ‘Bruce is gonna be pissed,’ Dick said to himself as he rubbed his temples, wanting to scream until his vocal cords bled.

“I should have let Rancid put a bullet in my head,” Dick groaned with a dejected, but sarcastic tone.

“But then I’d have to write your eulogy,” he heard a dull voice say from the doorway, “and I just don’t know how I could make a death at the hands Jonny Rancid sound heroic or honorable. I mean it would be a really disappointing ending, worse than you accidently tripping and breaking your neck on a rock or something mundane like that.”

“You read too much, Raven,” Dick called with a tired voice then turned toward the young sorceress.

She shot him a coy smile, though its presence was short. He returned it, finding her humor somewhat inviting.

“How long have you been standing there?”

“Not long, I came in around the whole “make the right decision” speech,” Raven replied with an eye roll. “Care to tell me what decision he was referring to?” 

Dick looked away from her as he didn’t want her to see his defeat and guilt before it spilled from him like fresh blood. Still, she could tell something was amiss within him (she always could) and if he were to tell anyone, it would be Raven.

“Bruce and the League want me to take a leave of absence from the Titans,” he finally said in a rueful voice.

Raven quickly closed the door, a serious look on her face. He recognized the look in her eyes from the night before as they bled of fear and regret. He knew she had a true fear of losing him, though he wasn’t sure why, but he felt it had to do with their bond because in truth, he feared losing her too.

“Is that what you want?” she inquired cautiously as she approached him.

It was typical of her to ask him what he wanted. Sometimes he wondered if she was the only person who cared about his wants and took them into consideration. He watched as she sat down beside him, her face still riddled with troubling thoughts.

“It doesn’t matter, because they’re not giving me a choice,” Dick mocked bitterly. “If I refuse to take a leave, than the League will take action against me.”

Dick could see Raven’s anger as it lit like flames in her eyes, her hand curling into a violent, but idle fist.

“They can’t do that, they’re overstepping their boundaries,” she growled, “tell them you’re not going anywhere and your team backs your decision.”

She could be so fiery when she wanted to be. Her intensity always peaked when the League was involved as she wasn’t much of a fan. Raven was one of the few people who looked at the League with contempt and had no problem letting her opinions be known. Dick didn’t agree with many of them, but he couldn’t blame her for her critiques as they’d burned her pretty badly in the past. 

They’d made it inevitably clear that Raven would never become a League member and publicly blacklisted her after her father’s failed attempt to claim this world. Raven herself didn’t give a damn about becoming an “over-glorified” League member as she liked to put it (after a few cocktails). They could have their “high horse” and their “pedestal,” but they would never have her gratitude as long as she took breath—no. Her grudge rested in their lack of respect for her and everything she’d done to help the same people they stood to protect. It didn’t matter that she’d fought alongside the people they’d trained and trusted with their lives because they deemed her a threat from the very beginning. And there was nothing short of death that could change that fact.

Dick looked back as her smoldering eyes flashed of the League’s past injustices towards her, reopening themselves like old wounds. “I can’t put the team in that position, Rae. I can’t make them pick between me and their future.”

“So you’re just gonna let them blackmail you into leaving?” Her voice was venomous and challenging—she could be so cruel to him.

“No, but I have to think about the consequences of my actions.”

Raven looked away from him a moment trying to cool her tone, “And what can they possibly do to you, what can they do that you are so afraid of?”

Dick glanced away at her combativeness, feeling a little minor from the challenge she placed before him. But it truly was a valid question; what was he afraid of?

“Well for starters, they can blacklist me like they did you and Roy,” he began as she shot up from her chair.

“Good, you don’t need them,” she said dominantly, her fists clenched with fury. “You have us, you’re a Titan not a Leaguer. You can be something better.” Her words were becoming less fiery as they began to burn out, noticing Dick’s reaction.

Dick took both of her hands as they softened from their propensity. He knew she meant every word she said, but they both knew the team wouldn’t be together forever—it was already starting to fall apart.

“Rae, I know how you feel about this, but if I’m gonna take on the League, then I need to do it alone. The team stays out of it.”

“My chances with the League are long gone, I’ll stand by you,” she urged with a soft desperation.

“But if there’s ever a chance for you to join, then this will—”

“Like I’m gonna join an organization that thinks I’m the Devil?” Raven spat, cutting him off.

“Well, you kind of are, I mean your dad’s like the ruler of Hell ‘n all,” the young hero joked, trying to lighten the tone between them.

“Shut up, Grayson, this isn’t a joke,” she snapped and sat down on the desk, giving her the dominant position.

“Ok Rae, I’m sorr—”

“Stop apologizing,” she demanded, “you always apologize for everything, even when it isn’t your fault. Just own what you do.”

Dick wasn’t really sure what to say as he realized that for the first in years, Raven was actually disappointed in him.

“Are you telling me that I should just not acknowledge my actions?” he asked awkwardly.  

“No,” she said turning to him with a potent look in her eyes, “I’m saying you have a backbone, use it.”

Dick furrowed his brow with discomfort, feeling small and a little marginalized by her now overpowering presence. There was an ambitious nature about her now, one that he only saw when he was backed into a corner. She was always there for him, but in moments like this, she was something else.

“I’m going to do what I wanted, Raven,” he said crossing his arm and evening out his voice.

“No, you’re gonna do what people expect Richard Grayson to do.”

She place her feet on the edge of his chair so that they rested between his knees and leaned in with a daring glare.

Dick could feel his frustration with her as she was clearly trying to make him fight back, “No, I’m tired of everybody telling me that they know me, that they know what I’m going to do, that they know who I am,” he growled and stared pervasively into Raven’s antagonizing stare.

She smiled and crossed her legs, looking back at him smugly, “That’s much better, Grayson,” she said and gently jabbed his chest with her foot, “you’re actually convincing me that you have some rebellion in you.”

“You’re so tapped, Rae.”

“True, but no one fucks with me and gets away with it,” she replied in a pragmatic fashion.

It wasn’t even an overstatement, nobody ever crossed Raven for fear of being verbally outwitted or worse. The only person who ever towed that thin line was Gar, who regretted his actions about 90% of the time. However, even as an adult, the green boy still continued his foolish pursuit to best her which was never going to happen. She would always be a few steps ahead of him. And for someone who was raised pacifist, Raven was quite skilled in the art of revenge.

“If you can stand up to me, you can stand up to anyone.”

Dick softened his eyes and let his guard down once more, “Listen Rae, no matter what my decision is, I’ll need your support.”

“I’ll support your decision,” she replied with a warning, “not the decision you think you should make, but the one you make for yourself, the decision that’s right for you. Don’t let the League bully you into what they think is best.

“No offence, but isn’t that what you’re doing?”

She laughed and slipped off the desk to her feet, “Yes, but the difference is I want what you want, and I trust you know what’s best for you. You’re capable of more than I think you know.”

Dick stared up at her. She’d become so confident with age and feared very little. He envied her ability to throw caution to the wind and speak uninhibitedly, especially to the man who was supposed to be her superior, but in fact she was his.

“And what if you’re giving me too much credit? What if I do what you say… and I fail?”

She sighed and rolled her eyes as she knelt down in front of him until she was eye level with him.

“Then you fail, Grayson, but I know who you are, and I know what you’re capable of. I expect that you won’t.”

An intensity clung to her voice, one of encouragement, but Dick questioned why she felt so strongly about his future as a leader.

“Now, screw your courage to the sticking place and you won’t fail.”

“Ok, Lady Macbeth,” Dick mused with sarcasm.

“Maybe you need a Lady Macbeth, God knows your Juliets haven’t gotten you very far.”

“Only you would take that as a compliment.”

“I’d rather be a Lady Macbeth than a Juliet, foolishly being in love with the idea of being in love, and God knows I spent too much time living life as Ophelia. I live by my own terms now and you, Prince Hal, should follow my lead.”

She turned and swayed to the door, letting Dick wade through the various Shakespeare references she’d painted, and she had a point. He’d played Romeo to Kory and Barbara, but to Bruce he was Prince Hal, unwillingly waiting to take his aging father’s throne once his crown became too heavy for his weary head to carry.

Bruce really was King Henry in a sense. He was growing older and his guilt (though he’d never admit it) was catching up with him. Bruce’s own rebellion had conjured its own backlash in Gotham, causing a question that hung heavy on his head at night. Was his rebellion justified, and without his existence would Gotham have even needed him? And now, Bruce was growing ever frustrated with his own successor and his own rebellious nature. But there was one other element that truly made the Bat King Henry, at least to his son. Bruce could never separate being a King from being a father (figuratively of course). Bruce always fused training with fatherhood, as though the two lives were, but one, and to a degree he was right. A hero was only as good as the man who lay behind the mask, but at some point that mask had to come off, which is what Bruce could never understand.

Dick had spent a good part of his life hiding behind his, keeping the real world at an arm’s length and in truth, he realized that he’d never quite taken it off. He still hid behind it from time to time and even let himself become the mask if he needed. Raven was right, he often did what people expected Richard Grayson to do. He always did the right thing, but was the right thing really right for him?

Dick got up out of his chair and went after the dark haired girl in the hall.

“Raven wait,” he called as she turned with a questioning look on her soft face. He approached her and pulled her into a hug. “Thank you,” he muttered kissing the top of her head.

She let out a slight chuckle and looked up at him, “Anytime Boy Blunder, and I meant what I said.”

“I know Rae,” he replied with a smile, “I’ll let you know what my decision is when I make it.”

She nodded pulled away from him, “Well I have a thesis to finish, but if you need me, my door is open.”

“Yeah you say that, but then I’ll try and open it, and it will be locked.”

“Yes, but I actually unlock it for you. So consider yourself lucky, Grayson,” she shot back sarcastically over her shoulder.

Just then, Kory came around the corner, catching the end of the exchange.

“Hey Kory,” Raven mused as she passed her causally.

“Hi Raven,” she replied catching her now ex in her sights.

He looked back at her with a little dejection, a feeling of guilt bleeding from his heart. He still loved her, but he couldn’t bear to be with her. She truly was the cruel dagger in his heart, nesting the blood before she pulled it from him once more.

“Dick are you alright?” she questioned with her soft voice.

He could see her eyes had dulled and held less vivid emotion than usual.

“Well, I wouldn’t go as far to say that I’m alright, but I’m holding up,” Dick replied sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck.

“Listen, I just wanted to say I do understand what it is you are going through,” she said with a shaky confidence.

Dick looked over at her and noticed that her normally firm hands were shaking, just enough for him to see. The sight pained him as she continued.

“And if you feel the need, I’m still here for you…”

“I know Kory,” he said comfortingly.

Normally an exchange like this would warrant a kiss or some sort of embrace, but now he couldn’t quite bring himself to touch her for fear of what boundaries might be crossed.

She looked down awkwardly as the space between them lay barren and somewhat cold.

“Kory,” Dick finally said, “I know that this is new for both of us, and I still value our friendship, but right now, I need to make my boundaries clear.”

Kory’s eyes grew colder and bitterness filled her tone, “So you cannot even bring yourself to hug me?”

“No,” he replied, “I’m afraid if I touch you that things will get…um… complicated.

“Complicated?” she patronized, a little sarcastic, a disgusted tone rising in her voice.

“Yeah.”

“Is that what it is with Raven, complicated?”

“Uh…What?” Dick said wide eyed, “Did you just imply that Raven and I are…?”

Complicated?” she said with a vexed nod, “Yes, I did.”

“Oh my God Kory, really?” he replied shortly. “You’re being ridiculous!”

“Am I?” she spat, “You two share a “bond” do you not?”

“It’s not like that Kory, you—”

“You love her,” Kory said cutting him off.

“Kory I—”

“It wasn’t a question Dick,” she asserted again. “I know you love her. I know you well enough to know when you love someone. You loved me after all.”

“Kory, I still do.” Dick said with a defeated quality.

A bittersweet smile filled her face, “But not like you used to love me, not like her, not anymore.”

“Kory, I don’t love her like that, I—”

“It is fine if you must lie to me, Dick. I’m not your wife and I’m no longer the woman you are going to marry, but do not lie to yourself, especially about me.”

Her voice was softer now, more at ease, but there was still a little bitterness on her breath.

“But I do love you, Kory,” Dick urged weakly.

“Not the way you did when you were sixteen,” she replied throwing his words back at him, “you have not for a long time.”

Her words stung him, twisting the dagger with all their cruelty. Not only did she not believe that he loved her, but she questioned his loyalty. A look of guilt broke through his eyes as unspoken transgressions revealed themselves from their watery graves. He may have never physically been unfaithful with Raven, but emotionally, he’d betrayed the woman he’d almost married many times. He’d just never realized it until then. There were other moments he wasn’t proud of, things he’d never told anyone. Maybe she was right, maybe his love for her was indeed counterfeit.

“Kory, I’m sorry,” he said in a wounded voice, “I’m sorry I can’t be the man I promised to be when I asked you to marry me—hell, I’m sorry I was never the man you deserved.”

“Being the man I deserve, and being the man you promised to be are two very different things,” she said regretfully. “And I think we’ve both made some harmful decisions towards our relationship.”

Dick sighed at her softer tone, the malice now alleviated from her voice and no longer driving her actions.

“I just wanted you to know that after what happened last night, I realized I do care about you, but not like I once did.”

It was kind of a harsh thing to say; he did almost die. But it was nothing Dick hadn’t already felt for himself so his bruised ego wasn’t really warranted.

“And if you love Raven, I am alright with your pursuit, I know she cares for you deeply.”

“Kory, Raven and I are friends, we just understand each other, that’s all.”

“Dick, you may understand the complexities of the world, but when it comes to matters of the heart, I hold that understanding.”

Dick knew he couldn’t argue that point, Kory indeed had the higher EQ and knew far more about the complexities of love. Maybe that’s where it all went wrong with them? Maybe he just wasn’t capable of understanding the different layers of emotions the way she could. Kory came from a culture that thrived on the extremes of emotions and hindered them very little. She was taught that love was something that should be shared and not subjected to seclusion. And most importantly, it wasn’t wrong to love more than one person.   

In a sense, Dick knew that he too loved many, and that he had no right to judge her, especially after seeing Barbara again. And his past with Barbara could not be ignored, especially because it made him a hypocrite.

Dick looked back at her foolishly, though he tried to keep it under lock and key, “Your intelligence certainly does live between love and war, Kory. I guess I never really learned to understand that?” 

“I’m not sorry for my decision, Dick,” she said, having no regret in her voice, “but I am sorry that my decision hurt you.”

“And I’m sorry I tried to make you choose between me and your people.”

Kory smiled and slowly wrapped her arms around him, disregarding his earlier wishes. Dick slowly accepted the embrace, letting go of his cautious feelings. She finally pulled back, slightly stopping just as she was face to face with him. They looked at each other a moment, their old habits biting at their senses. But before either one of them could force them to die, things got complicated.

Chapter Text

 “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” —The Tempest: Act 1 Scene 2

The smell of fresh coffee hung faint in the air as a white-haired man entered the large dining room. He took a seat at the head of the table and looked over at the tall brunette, enjoying a cigarette at the other end.

“You know I don’t appreciate you smoking at the table, Adeline,” the man said, taking hold of his morning paper.

The brunette let out a long puff of smoke, “And I don’t appreciate you not even saying good morning, Slade.” She lightly flicked the ash off her cigarette with an eloquent hand movement. “Oh, and by the way, you might want to brace yourself. Your business dealings are all over the front page.”

Slade looked down at the plague of black print, reading the headline aloud, “Jump City Vigilante Slays Outlaw Biker,” his voice robotic, as it drawled off the words coldly.

He continued to read on as his wife stood up from her chair, “Jonny Rancid is dead,” she said picking up a fresh pot of coffee, “and it gets better, Nightwing killed him.”

Slade looked up at his wife with a sharp look in his cunning blue eye, “I always knew that boy had it in him.”

His wife lifted her head and gave him a sinister smile, “You sound proud?” She slowly poured him a cup of coffee and took a quick drag of her cigarette. “If I recall, Nightwing is the same young man you recruited as your apprentice, if I’m not mistaken?”

“Yes, only he was known as Robin then,” the assassin mused, “God, how I would have loved to see the look on the Bat’s face when he heard the news that his little sidekick, Robin, finally killed a man.”

His voice was sick with pride and amusement as the mental picture of Bruce’s disappointment played in his head.  

Robin, as I recall,” Adeline began with a slight laugh, “was more trouble than he was worth?”

“Just like his father,” Slade replied, taking a sip of his coffee then looked down at his paper. “Always going against nature, it seems the Graysons will never learn.”

Adeline put out her cigarette and poured herself a cup of tea, “Who was his father again?”

“John.”

“Oh yes, Tommy Dawley’s grandson,” the brunette said picking up her cup, “Whatever happened to John? Wasn’t he practically raised by Tommy?”

“John learned the truth, but I think deep down, he knew it all along.” Slade paused, reflecting on his words and let his gaze fall a moment. “However, John learned little from the truth, and that’s what got him killed.”

“Well then, it would seem that irony has had the last laugh, his son has killed your enforcer now, hasn’t he?” Her voice had a vexed quality to it as though part of her was annoyed with her husband’s predicament.

“It is a shame. Rancid was good, but not irreplaceable. There are plenty more where he came from, there always will be.”

Adeline could feel the cold chill roll off his words as he turned the page without missing a beat. “I know that, but I’m more concerned with the plan, in case you’ve forgotten?”

“No of course not, but I promise this setback will do little to the overall agenda. At the least we are rid of Snowflame and his insolence.”

“Yes, but now Jump City is wide open for the taking and we can’t afford to lose it, not with the clinic in the works. Rancid was a key player in that plan.”

“We won’t lose it,” Slade urged, “you just kept moving forward on your end and I’ll handle the battlefield on mine.”

The white-haired man looked up at his wife as she stared down at him with warning on her aged face. She’d sacrificed too much to fail now and wouldn’t accept failure as an option for anything. It was what made her the perfect business partner, that and her tactfulness. She was systematic and ambitious and above all, committed. She also wasn’t afraid to draw blood if that’s what it took, even her husband’s.

“Ugh,” Adeline sighed, “so would you care to tell me what’s the next move is in this little game of chess?”

Slade smiled and picked up his coffee, “Let’s just say the blood on Nightwing’s hands may actually push things in the right direction.”


 

Dick laid in his bed staring up at the ceiling. His thoughts heavy as they began to cave in on him, finally processing what had happen. He looked over at the beautiful red-head who lay beside him, looking up with her inquisitive green eyes.

‘Shit…’

“So?” Kory asked cautiously catching the questioning look in his eyes, “what now?”

Dick looked away from her unable to come up with a clear answer. ‘I can’t believe that I let this happen, what was I thinking? Oh yeah, I wasn’t,’ he thought disappointed with himself.

“Dick, can you please just answer me?” Kory urged, feeling the tension growing between them.

He sat up and placed his arms over his knees, still struggling to find a direction.

“Dick?” Kory finally snapped.

He looked over at her with confliction, a void glare in his eyes, “I honestly don’t know?”

She threw the ruffled sheets off her with a wroth hand and quickly sat up, pushing herself off of the bed with urgency. He watched her, wincing at the force of her movements and her frigidness, though he couldn’t blame her for it.

“Kory I…”

“Save it Dick,” she hissed, throwing up her hand at him, “I have grown really tired of this game.”

“Kory this isn’t a game, I just don’t know…”

Kory finished pulling on her jeans and began buttoning her blouse. She took a deep breath and let it free itself raggedly.

“Dammit,” she huffed and plopped down beside him, “I should have listen to you, this is—”

“No Kory, this isn’t your fault. It’s just…”

“…Complicated,” they both said in unison.

“I know,” Kory continued with frustration dripping from her voice, “you have been saying that all day.”  

Dick looked away from her ruefully as honesty bit at the tip of his tongue, “I know this is wrong, that I shouldn’t be doing this to you, but it’s like I can’t make a logical decision these days, Kory.”

She looked away, letting her gaze fall to the floor, and hesitantly took his hand in hers. He looked over at her a little surprised and saw a heavy look on her face. She was just as torn as he was. Part of her wanted to scream at him and the other wanted to tell him that she still loved him and always would. But it was different now—fractured. The physical attraction was still there, but the emotional one seemed distant and poorly translated, yet part of them still reached for it.

“I’m really sorry, Kory.”

“The last time we started down this path we found ourselves here,” Kory mumbled with a shrug, “but I understand. I just wish we could go back to the way things were, when you were home… with me.”

Tears started to fall from her misty eyes and once again the sharp dagger delved into his heart with sorrowful furry. It was then Dick realized what “home” actually was. It was a feeling you sometimes couldn’t get back.

“If only it were that simple,” he said looking down defeated and wounded.

“I’m going to go now,” she said choking back the majority of her sadness.

He nodded and watched her walk away—dejected and embittered as though the whole world was ending. Like it would fall from the sky and shatter at any given moment for both of them.

She opened the door, but before leaving, looked back at him and said, “Oh and Dick, I…” she began, but couldn’t find the words she strived for.

Dick looked up at her, noticing the betrayal and hurt pooling in her eyes—twisting the dagger even further, “Yeah Kor?”

“I don’t know anymore…” she smiled briefly, but disdain claimed it promptly, “Goodbye Richard.”

His name fell into ruins, filled with disillusion and broken promises that would always bare the cracks of their relationship. The door closed slowly, Kory unable to look back at him again. He unavailingly watched, lacking the words to stop her, and in truth, part of him didn’t want to stop her.

Once she was gone, he fell back on his bed and attempted to sort through the mess cluttering his head. In the last 48 hours he’d managed to (once again) break his ex’s heart, possibly divided the team, get blackmailed by the Justice League, kill a man, and on top of it all, didn’t even know how to help his friend battle his addiction.

“Yeah Grayson, you’re a real winner,” he scoffed in frustration.

It was like no matter what he did, he could never find the right answer and in truth, part of him felt there wasn’t one.

A hand rapped at the door, catching his attention.

“Hey Dick, it’s Vic. Can we talk?” the mechanical man said from behind the door.

Dick pulled himself out of the bed and picked up his clothes, “Yeah just give me a minute.”

“Okay man.”

Once he finished getting himself dressed, he opened the door and allowed the robotic man to step in.

“So what did you wanna talk to me about?” Dick asked a little sheepishly, though he tried to hide it.

Victor looked back at him, quickly realizing that something was off, though he kind of expected it to be.

“Um… well, there are a few things,” he replied looking around, noticing the torn up state of the bed. “Like what happened last night? How are you holding up?”

“If I told you the house might fall apart, would you worry?”

“If you told me it wouldn’t fall, I’d be worried,” Victor replied dully, “I mean with everything that’s been going on, you should be feeling the weight.”

Dick sat down and pinched the bridge of his nose, “The League contacted you didn’t they?”

Victor crossed his arms and immediately changed his stance, “Yeah.”

“So you know… what they want me to do?”

“Yeah.”

“And what do you think I should do?” Dick asked his friend earnestly.

“I don’t think it’s a bad idea,” Victor replied with a little regret breaking in his voice. “I mean, Roy and Kory aside, last night was a big game changer for you, and I think some distance might be good.”

“You too,” Dick sighed, “Well I appreciate your honestly, Vic. Thanks.”

“You sound really disappointed?”

“Yeah, disappointment becomes me these days.”

“Dick, sometimes we can’t help the situations we find ourselves in,” Victor said reassuringly. “Sometimes life just happens.

“Yet I’m still being punished for it.” Dick looked up at the robotic man  a moment, forgetting himself in his weary mind set. “I’m sorry Vic, I didn’t mean for that to sound personal.”

Victor gave him an understanding smile. He understood that his friend’s emotions were staggering and caught between opposite ends of the spectrum.

“I know it feels like you’re being put in a time out, but just think of it as putting things into perspective. You’re caught between being a Titan and your personal life, and both have been really hard on you.”

He was right, Dick was struggling to balance his dueling lives, but his pride refused to see it that way. To him, stepping down meant submitting, to admit he wasn’t strong enough to handle the pressure when it truly added up.

“Some leader I’ve turned out to be?” he said mournfully, taking in all his current failures.

“Sometimes what makes a good leader is knowing when to step back,” Victor said with a firm, but light nature.

Dick looked up at him, but couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge the words with positivity. He only kept a flat, defeated expression that clung dully to his eyes, filling them with a broken stare. Victor let his sight fall from his wounded leader, a little disappointed in his expression. He knew Dick would come to see this was all for the better when he was ready. He just hoped that he’d come to see it sooner rather than later.

“There is one other thing we need to discuss,” Victor added with a heaviness.

Dick shrugged, cueing him to continue.

“The commissioner called today,” he said noticing Dick’s eyes widen with a fearful guilt, “he wants to know when you’re gonna give your statement?”

Dick looked away again, unsure of what to really say. He had no problem giving his statement, however it meant he’d have to acknowledge his actions and tell (in great detail) how he’d taken a life. The thought made him a little sick and a lump formed in his throat. But what made it so much more difficult is that he’d have to face what drove him to do such a thing, he’d have to face that darkness. It was something he didn’t quite understand, though it was always there, waiting for just the right moment to rear its ugly head. Always managing to do so when his thoughts were infested by one particular proponent—Slade.

“Listen, you don’t have to give me an answer tonight, but I’ll have to know by tomorrow—”

“I’ll go now,” Dick said cutting Victor off.

The robotic man gave him a hard look, a little offset by the sudden decision. “Dick that’s not necessary, we don’t have to go right now.”

“I just wanna get it over with, the longer I wait, the less I’ll wanna do it,” he said standing up in a stern manner.

Victor remained silent for a moment, unsure of what to think. “You sure, Dick?”

“Yeah Vic, I’m sure.”

With that, the two made plans to head down to the station where Dick would meet with the city police commissioner. He took a quick shower in a feeble attempt to wash away his poor judgments, but the guilt still lingered, weighting on his morality. He soon after got dressed and put on his uniform, though he wasn’t sure how much longer he’d be wearing it. As he was pulling on his gloves, he looked back at the backward picture frame, unable to look at its face—he was too ashamed to. He ran his fingers through his damp hair and put on his mask, attempting to shield more than just his face.

He soon met Victor in the main room where he was the only one waiting. Dick noticed he was putting away his cell phone, a conflicted look on his face.

“Hey Vic, everything okay?” the masked hero asked approaching him.

The mechanical man sighed a moment before he spoke, “Yeah, I just forgot Sara has this family thing tonight I was supposed to go to. It totally slipped my mind.”

“Is she mad?” Dick asked feeling a little guilty for taking up his time.

“A little disappointed, but she understands,” he replied. “I just hate letting her down, ya know?”

“Do I…”

“Man, I’m sor—”

“Don’t be,” Dick said cutting him off, “I need to man up to the decisions that I make, no matter how uncomfortable they are.”

Victor just looked at him simply, not really sure of what to say.

“Go with Sara,” Dick finally said breaking the silence.

Victor looked at him sharply, “But what about you?”

“I can do this on my own, Vic. Don’t disappoint Sara on my account.”

“Sara gets it,” Vic replied, “I wouldn’t feel right letting you go through this alone.”

“Vic, this is my mess, I have to clean it up. I’d be a shitty leader if I didn’t and last I checked, I’m still the leader of this team.” Dick said with reassuring sternness.

“I know man, as far as I’m concerned, you’ll always be our leader.”

The two shared a moment of mutual respect, finding comfort in each other’s understanding.

“Then as your leader, I’m ordering you to let me do this on my own and not fuck things up with your girlfriend.”

“Only if that’s really what you want?” Vic asked one last time.

“It is,” Dick replied, “I’m the only one who can put this ghost to rest, I don’t need to take you with me.”

The robotic man nodded, but had more question, “Okay Dick, just one more thing.”

“Yeah?”

“I really don’t know if asking this is alright, but it’s been eating away at me all day an—”

“What Vic?” Dick asked a little cynically, cutting him off.

“I know that at the time it seemed like the right decision, but do you really think killing Jonny was the only decision?”

Dick looked away shocked at the question. His friend’s eyes holding a truthful regret that held his stare firm.

 “Do you mean do I think it was right?” he questioned cautiously, not really sure what to think.

“No, what I mean is; do you think there was another way, even if you didn’t see it?” Victor corrected.

“Probably,” Dick said weakly and shrugged, “I mean, I let him get the better of me and because of that I made a bad call, maybe if I’d just… I don’t know… not been so—fuck. He probably wouldn’t be dead if I’d just done my job right.”

Dick looked back at his friend who’d watched him struggle through the answer to his question. His face wearing a look of confliction, but also acceptance.

“I can respect that answer,” Victor said in a dull tone.

The statement didn’t leave him much comfort, but stirred his curiosity, “Why’d you wanna know?”

“I don’t know… I guess I just needed to know what you really thought about it,” Victor said still searching for the right words. “Sometimes it’s hard to know how you really feel, you tend to hide behind your mask.”

His statement came off a little cold and deep down, but deep down Dick knew he was right. He did hide behind his mask when facing the world became too hard. However, part of him got the feeling that Victor questioned his sincerity on the matter, and if so, he wasn’t entirely wrong. Part of him did feel horrible for what he’d done, but a darker part of him didn’t seem as overburdened as it should have been.

“I’d be lying if I said I don’t know how to feel about it,” Dick replied letting a bit of his guard down. “It’s hard to wrap my head around, I’m honestly afraid of who I might become as a result of it.”

“Even more reason why you should take a step back and just figure things out,” Victor replied with concern.

‘Not this again,’ Dick thought with a hint of bitterness, but pushed it down, no longer willing to fight the point.

“I’ll think about,” he finally replied. “Well, I’m off, give Sara my best.”

“I will. If you need anything, just call, okay?”

Dick nodded as he moved to the doors, leaving the past conversation behind. Part of him knew if he left, the team would be in good hands, yet he still found the idea profoundly hurtful. It was his team, his mission, and his responsibility. Letting it go was going to be more difficult than anyone could truly imagine. But maybe letting it go was the right thing to do in the end.


 

Nightwing felt odd as he entered the police station, something he really didn’t do often. He’d come in through an emergency door in the back as to not raise any unwanted attention. Though he still fell subject to the curious stares of the dubious officers as they went about their business. The commissioner—an older man, but not quite as old as Commissioner Gordon—set him up in an interrogation room and sat down across from him. This wasn’t the first time the two men had spoken, in fact, they’d dealt with each other regularly over the years.

“Well I’d like to thank you for taking the time to come down here, I just want to ask you some routine questions,” the commissioner said in a dull manner.

“I understand,” Nightwing replied coldly.

The man nodded and began asking Nightwing the same, tired, questions he’d already answered several times that day. And of course, he replied with the same dry answers, leaving little room for emotion, keeping his front unscathed. The questions rolled on, some even being asked twice, but with different words.

“Alright, I have one more question for you,” the commissioner said finally looking up from his files.

Nightwing nodded, allowing him to continue.

“Was it—at any point—your intention to kill Johnny Rancid, during your confrontation with him?”

The question raised some rather interesting points as Nightwing took in the words. The commissioner’s expression was cold as it clung to his leathery skin, leaving an absence of innocence or guilt. Nightwing wanted to reply with a simple answer, but to him, there really wasn’t one. He just wasn’t quite sure what the truth was.

“No,” he finally replied, his voice flat to mask his turbulent thoughts.

The commissioner looked back at him a moment, letting his eyes wince in response, “You hesitated, anything you’d like to add?”

Nightwing felt his heart sink, but kept his stoic look intact, “No, only that I do feel responsible for his death.”

“How so?”

“Because I wish I could have found another way.”

The hero had to fight his voice as it so badly wanted to break as he spoke, the sound producing something of a  pseudo confidence.

“Sometimes there isn’t one, kid,” the man replied gravely.

Nightwing looked away as he could see a man who’d been somewhat hardened by the tasks he had to commit. Leaving him to wonder how cold he himself would eventually become.

“You’re free to go, we won’t be pressing charges.”

Nightwing looked up just a little shocked, “That’s really it?”

“Yeah, as far as I can see, this was self-defense, and Johnny Rancid was a mean son of a bitch, a trigger happy one at that. I can’t even count how many people that guy’s killed and in how many cities.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right?” Nightwing replied with a heavy defeat on his brow.

“Listen kid,” the commissioner said sternly, “I can see this is weighting heavy on you, but if you ask me, someone shoulda taken him out a long time ago, maybe some good people’d still be alive?”

Nightwing appreciated his efforts, but he couldn’t really find the will to fake a smile or feel grateful for that matter, especially knowing Jason was out there. He (like Rancid) had lost his way, and Dick couldn’t stomach the idea of someone taking his life and brushing it off like it didn’t matter.

He also thought about himself and how easily he could have become that person. That street kid destined for terrible things with no guidance, all alone in a world that thought nothing of him. And if it weren’t for Bruce, he would have become that person, running off into the woods with the wolves and the hoods, never once looking back.

‘It could easily be me on that slab… and no one would give a fuck…’ he thought with a cold irony.

As Nightwing followed the commissioner out, he looked to his right to see a small man slumped over in a holding cell.

“Gizmo?” he questioned with surprise.

“Oh yeah, our little friend here’s learning a valuable lesson,” the man replied looking over in Gizmo’s direction.

“And what lesson would that be?” Nightwing asked raising a brow.

“What happens when you refuse to cooperate,” the man said cynically. “Gizmo here, is waiting to be transferred to Rockbell Prison.”

“That’s maximum security,” Nightwing said a little off put.

“Yes, and he may not look it, or act it for that matter, but this young man is indeed, a full grown adult. And well, I’m inclined to treat him like one.”

Nightwing immediately looked at the man with a heavy stare. He may not have liked Gizmo, but he couldn’t just let him get thrown to wolves like that. He was defenseless without his gadgets.

“Commissioner, he’ll get killed.”

“Like you have any right to talk,” Nightwing heard the small boy laugh as he woke up from his hazy state.

Nightwing resented the comment, feeling almost lessened by the harsh words, but threw them aside.

“What if I can get him to talk?” the masked hero questioned with a curious desperation.

The commissioner stroked his coarse chin and creased his forehead in thought, “If you get him to talk, I can probably have him sent to Strafford. What’d ya say Gizmo, medium security?”

“Fuck off,” the boy spat vulgarly.

Nightwing looked over at the commissioner a little awkwardly, “Can you give us a minute?”

The man shrugged carelessly and moved away from the cell. Nightwing watched, waiting for him to no longer be in sight.

“So what are you hoping to gain, Bird Boy?” Gizmo asked, looking back at the hero bitterly.

“Don’t call me that,” Nightwing replied in a void tone, still looking away.

“Oh I’m sorry. You gonna kill me now to avenge your damaged ego, Bird Boy?” His voice was vexed as he mocked the masked hero grimly, his opinion of Nightwing quite poor.

“You have every right to hate me Gizmo. I’m not going to deny that,” Nightwing said through his guilt. “But please don’t let your hatred for me stop you from helping yourself.”

Gizmo rolled his eyes and shook his head as he laughed, “You are so fucking full yourself aren’t you, Bird Brain?” The man let a bitter texture seep into his voice, his anger and frustration finally surfacing in their raw identity. “My choice not to talk, has nothing to do with you or your fucking guilt trip. And personally, I’d never help you redeem yourself, even if it was in my best interest to, murderer.”

Nightwing filched as the sharp word caught him by his empathy, letting guilt bleed heavily.

“Gizmo, that’s fine, but please? You and I both know if you go to Rockbell, you’ll never come out in one piece,” he pleaded, trying to get the boy to listen to him.

“And if I open my mouth and tell you who I’m working for, then I’ll be as good as dead anyway. So really, why does it matter?”

“Because it’s your life,” Nightwing said, “we can protect you.”

“No… no you can’t,” the small man replied with a laugh. “That’s bullshit and you know it.”

“I’ll make sure of it,” The hero pleaded, trying to reason with him.

“Like you were sure to kill Rancid?”

The small boy might as well have cut out the hero’s tongue as he was left speechless by the venomous statement.

“You may not have thought much of him, and maybe he deserved to die, but the fact that everyone is just brushing your mistake under the rug makes me sick. And you call yourselves heroes?”

Nightwing looked away from the dwarf with shame painted on his face, “Gizmo, just tell me who you’re working for,” he replied in defeat.

The small boy stood up and strolled over to the bars of his cell, a sadistic smirk on his boyish face.

“You really wanna know?”

“Yes, I do?”

“Why?”

“Because it’s my job to.”

Gizmo snarled his lip and took on a meaner expression, “No, your job is to know what he wants you to know.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Nightwing questioned of the cynical boy’s expression.

“It means, you’re a pawn in his game, pit sniffer. You all are.”

The mood in Gizmo’s voice changed and became more ominous in quality, giving Nightwing an eerie feeling.

“If that’s true, then don’t you think I should know who I’m playing for?”

“That would just take the fun out of it, Bird Brain,” The dwarf replied spitefully. “But since I’m practically a dead man, I might as well give you a hint, but just one.”

“Get to the point, Gizmo,” Nightwing snapped sharply.

“Hum, you have quite the temper, don’t you? You should learn to curb that, you might kill—oh wait…” Gizmo mocked.

Nightwing growled and rolled his eyes, his blood practically boiling. ‘Why am I putting myself through this, he doesn’t even want my help?’ he pondered in disdain for the little dwarf.

“What, no quirky remark, Nightwing? No witty pun, huh?”

“Ya know what Gizmo, I am trying to fucking help you. If you wanna die in Rockbell then fine, at least I tried,” the young hero barked and began to walk away.

“Oh save your bullshit, you just didn’t want my blood on your conscience,” the small boy spoke sarcastically. “But seriously, I hope you never sleep again. Or better yet, I hope you eat the barrel of that gun Johnny tried to kill you with.”

Nightwing turned to the boy with a hard look in his eyes that even made Gizmo wince as he reached through the bars and grabbed the intimidated dwarf.

“Remember what I said about that temper?” Gizmo asked, eyes wide.

“Yes, and it’s wearing really thin right now,” the hero replied forcefully. “Now you owe me a hint.”

The boy snickered selfishly, “You don’t have to raise your voice Bird Bo—”

“Tell me!”

Gizmo immediately jumped at the man’s tone, the look in his eyes growing bitter and untamed.

“I work for the man who’s gonna be the end of you, Nightwing,” Gizmo said dryly, sourness clinging to his words, “but he knew you best as Robin.”

Nightwing’s eyes grew wide as a long wave of reality broke over him, crushing him with everything it had.

“That can’t be true?” he said letting his grip loosen and freeing Gizmo.

“There are always three sides to every story Bird Brain; your side, their side, and the truth; where you end up is up to you.”

Nightwing looked back at him still in disbelief, his eyes glaring intensely through his mask. Gizmo turned and went back to his bench, where he sat down.

“Oh and do me a favor Bird Boy, don’t squeal to the commissioner about all this, I’d like to die with some dignity and not go out like a rat.”

Nightwing looked back at the dwarf in shock, horrified at what he just implied.

“He’d honestly just let you die?”

“You know him better than I do, what’d you think?” Gizmo quipped and leaned back against the wall.

“But you didn’t do anything?”

“I got caught,” Gizmo said weakly, “and in his world, that’s an offense punishable by the red right hand of God.”

“But he’s not God, he doesn’t get to make that decision,” Nightwing replied in disgust.

“In my world there is no God, there are just men with a lot of power, and they decide whether we live or die. In those terms, doesn’t that kind of make a man God?

Nightwing felt his brow sink with repulsion. The thought of Slade playing God was a little too much to bear. He knew every villain had a bit of a God complex, but to go as far as to decide whether someone’s mistakes were punishable by death just didn’t sit right with him.

“Think what you want about me, but you and I, the Titans, even the Justice League—we’re all blind,” Gizmo added with a fatal look in his beady eyes. “And in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king.”

He looked back at Gizmo who started to look away toward the wall as though he were looking beyond it. His eyes blank as they seemed to see something distant in his mind, maybe something that brought him a little closer to home. Nightwing never knew much about the small man, but now he wondered what brought him to the place he stood now. Was he the victim of circumstance, or was he just chasing after that same power that Slade strived for? Who was he in the land of the blind?

His thoughts were suddenly pulled away as he heard a bit of a commotion from down the hall. He looked over to see the commissioner giving orders to two other officers who had, in their custody, an ornery looking man. He was tall with long, ratty hair, pulled off his face by a seasoned bandanna. His clothing consisting of torn jeans and worn out leather, covered with patches, one reading 1% across his outlaw heart.

The man had been arrested on a few charges, including disorderly conduct and public intoxication. Though it seemed he’d walked off some of his drunken fog as he made his snarky, but clever remarks to the commissioner.

“We’ll Mr. Gunn, looks like you’ve earned yourself a night in holding,” the commissioner drawled in annoyance of the man’s tone. “Take him to his cell.”

Nightwing watched as the two officers directed the outlaw biker down the hallway toward him. At first the man didn’t seem to notice him as he rolled his eyes at the situation. But then out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Nightwing. The look on his face immediately changed, his annoyance quickly turning to rage. Nightwing couldn’t quite figure out the cause for the sudden shift, but then he saw it. The number 28 tattooed on his thick neck, for the second and eighth letters of the alphabet. He was a Black Horsemen.

The two made eye contact and Nightwing could see the loathing that gaped in his eyes and cried for vengeance. Something the Horsemen were long known for. The man’s face was creased with blood lust as the two exchanged hard looks, waiting to see who would recoil first.

Nightwing stood his ground, having looked into the eyes of far too many mad men to count. But he never looked too deep, knowing that at their depths, he might not like what he’d see. However, this exchange was different, and though he would never admit, it or show it, he was actually a little intimidated.

The man was only a few feet away from him now, his eyes still growing from the deepest pit of his hatred. A long moment passed as the man menacingly crossed Nightwing’s path in the hall, then suddenly lurched at him out of nowhere. His eyes were wild and accompanied by a furious expression. The two officers held the wild man back, but he still managed to get only inches from the young hero’s face. But Nightwing didn’t move, he didn’t even flinch. He just watched as the man lunged toward him.

The rough looking biker’s expression changed to inquiry as the two officers fought to keep him at bay. He could see something in the hero’s eyes, something he’d seen in many others.

“Something’s not right with you kid,” the man said looking back at Nightwing, trying to see further than his mask.

The hero didn’t say anything, he just frowned at the comment, but did not act on it, or take his eyes of the biker.

“Oh and kid, you may wanna watch where you walk at night,” the man threatened from over his shoulder, “the Black Horsemen are coming for you.”

Deep down Nightwing found the warning a little unsettling, knowing it was more than an empty threat. If given the opportunity, any Horseman that was true to their patch would take him out if they could manage. But that was a big if.

He watched as they threw the overzealous Horseman into a cell and eagerly locked him in like a rabid dog.

“Looks like I’m not the only one whose days are numbered?” he heard Gizmo quip from behind the bars.

“You still have a choice you know?”

The boyish man looked to the wall again as if taking one last look at a distant memory and said, “I think I’ll take my chances with the wolves, I’m too far off the path anyway.”

88888

Dick entered the common room after he’d changed out of his uniform. The tower itself was once again quiet with Gar and Vic clearly out for the night. Kory had obviously gone home, her broken heart all she had to keep her company. Dick could still feel the coldness she felt toward him and how much his actions had dispirited her. But he couldn’t think of that now.

There was now something deeper and darker afoot. Something that confirmed his questions and only solidified his deepest fears. He could feel his hatred for Slade growing, its loathing nature festering within him like it once had. Only now, he was faced with a new question; should he pursue it?

Before he could consider the matter any further, he heard the call of a low, raspy voice.

“Hey Grayson, you’re back,” he heard the pretty goth girl say, “so how’d it go?”

He looked to his right to see Raven standing in the kitchen, obviously making a pot of tea.

“Um, well, they’re not pressing charges against me,” he replied and motioned toward her.

“Well that’s a start,” Raven said placing down two cups. “Black, no sugar, right?”

Dick nodded and sat down. Raven could see the disparity on his face and heard the light brokenness in his voice. It hurt her to see him so lost—that discouraged. She turned and retrieved the tea kettle, taking a moment to let his emotions sink in.

“So have you thought about what you’re gonna do?” she asked, pouring his tea.

“Not yet, I haven’t exactly had time to think today.” He looked away from her, not wanting to provoke another standoff. He just didn’t have the energy for it.

“I can see how that could happen.”

Dick noticed a little awkwardness in her tone, like she knew something he didn’t want her to.

“She told you, didn’t she?”

Raven looked at him a moment and pressed her lips together, “Yes, she did,” she replied, noticing Dick’s face fall from the confirmation, “sorry…”

“I can’t win today,” Dick sighed in defeat, “what’d she say?”

He noticed her body tense a bit, but unwillingly responded, “She asked me if I thought it was a mistake.

Raven looked down at him and bit her lip as she leaned on the counter, waiting for his reply.

“What’d you say?” His voice was hesitant, unsure of what he’d hear.

“I told her I couldn’t answer that because it’s not my place to make that judgment,” Raven shrugged and continued, “and that it was between you two to decide…”

“Oh thank God,” he sighed with a little relief and took a sip of the hot tea.

“Yeah, so was it a mistake?”

Dick looked up at her, her tone brazen, but then let his eyes fall down to his cup again, “I think so.”

Raven creased her brow and painfully muttered the word, “Ouch.”

Dick could tell that she found his response uncharacteristic of him, but he could see that she oddly understood.

“I just can’t believe I let it happen.”

He ran his fingers through his dark hair, frustration lightly shaking his normally steady hands.

“It’s not that big a deal,” Raven assured, “I mean, I’m kinda surprised you two made it this long without any slips.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dick questioned a little unnerved.

“That I honestly thought you two would work it out, or well, end up doing… well… that.”

Dick only looked at her and shook his head with an eye roll.

“What?” the dark girl said defensively. “You two have been together forever. I thought if anyone could work through this shit-storm, it would be you two.” There was an ironic quality to her voice, but it was what it was. “But I guess I was wrong.”

Dick took another sip of tea and shook his head at Raven’s response, “I thought we could too, but it’s just not the same now. I just don’t feel it anymore.”

Raven sat down in the chair beside him and placed her hand on his while he continued.

“I mean, a year ago I thought I’d be married by now, maybe even thinking about having kids… But the closer I got to that thought becoming a reality, the more I couldn’t even pick a date.”

He looked down, not letting her see his eyes, the pain and relief nearly too much for him to bear.

“Are you saying that your feelings for Kory started to change before she even got married?”

Dick looked back up at Raven as she caught his eyes with hers, “I don’t think I realized it at the time, but yeah, I think they did. I just didn’t see it until today.”

Raven wrapped her still hand around his supportively.

He looked at her and smiled, though to do such a thing felt crude. “It’s like my eyes are open now, and I can see that part of my life is really just a lie at this point. I’m not the man she fell in love with, and she was never really completely mine. Some fairytale huh?”

“Fairytales are just lies to help children sleep at night, so we can pretend the world isn’t as cynical as it truly is. But in reality, the princess is an evil queen and the prince is never comes,” Raven said darkly. “In reality, endings are never perfect, life’s just not written that way. The decisions that we make determine what happens to us and where we end up, and better yet, who we end up with. But we like to pretend that the world doesn’t work that way, we like to pretend that we can be someone else. But the truth is if you love enough, you’ll lie a lot,” Raven added with a slight shrug.

“Quoting Shakespeare again, are we?”

“No, it’s Tori Amos.”

“That was my next guess,” Dick said, slowly letting one side of his lip curl.

“The point is, that sometimes we try to become the person that we think we need to be for someone,” Raven replied, meeting Dick’s eyes once more. “But most of the time, we’re just not that person.”

Neither one of them said anything for a minute as Dick let her words sink in with their sobering truth. He’d told himself that Kory made him want to be better, but looking back he never really tried to be. He just did what he though she wanted. True, he was still himself to an extent, but to another, he was tethered to someone he only seemed to be around her.

He finally took his hand away from Raven’s and stood up, “I’m gonna try and get some sleep, but thank you for, listening, Rae.”

She looked up and smiled kindly at him, “Anytime, Boy Blunder.”

He rolled his eyes at her playfully, only slightly annoyed by her term of endearment. She was the only one who could get away with calling him that.

He turned to leave, but then a quick thought crossed his mind, “Oh Rae, you took chemistry, didn’t you?”

Raven stood up and picked up her cup, “Yeah, I wasn’t very good at it, but I took two courses. You actually helped me with it, remember?”

“Yeah, you hated it,” Dick laughed recalling how frustrated she got going over the rules of basic chemistry formals and theories. “You wouldn’t happen to still have your text books, would you?”

“Uh yeah… you can have them, I don’t even know why I kept those?”

“Because you can’t take it upon yourself to throw a book away.” Dick quipped as he watched Raven put her cup in the sink.

“Yeah, that’s probably it,” she replied and turned back toward him. “Remember the only way you could get me to understand chemistry was when I told you about alchemy?”

Dick smiled, recalling how Raven had told him that back in Azarath she’d studied the subject for years. “Yeah, and I had to read one of your old alchemy books, that was fun,” he said with a sarcastic nod.

“Good times… so what do you need my old chem books for?” Raven asked and leaned next to Dick.

Dick didn’t reply right away, having to think of his answer before responding, “Um… I just wanna brush up on an old skill, plus I need something to take my mind off things.”

“So you’re gonna read old chemistry books?” she questioned crudely.

Dick, nodded, but could tell by the look in her eyes that she didn’t really believe him, mostly because she could feel something was off. However, Raven wasn’t one to dig, especially not with everything he’d been through in last 48 hours.

Raven shrugged and told him to follow her while she collected the volumes for him. The two didn’t say vey much as they made the trip to her room. It had been a while since Dick had actually entered it which was only a handful of times. Once they reached her door she opened it and told him to come in (to his surprise). She didn’t often let people into her room, even him. It was something that she’d always clung to and probably always would, but for now, she was willing to let him in.

Dick stepped inside. As she flicked on the light, he looked around at the dark paint and gothic art that hung on the walls. There was always something about the dark art he found menacing, but also comforting at the same time, kind of like her. She was coarse and had a sharp edge to her that would cut you if you weren’t careful, but she was also very inviting if you knew how to approach her.

Raven walked over to one of her many bookshelves and started looking through old volumes of books she’d collected over the years. He watched as she carefully let her fingers grace over the spine of each one until she finally stopped. She took in her hand an old leather bound book that looked quite heavy and didn’t look like anything a university would give to a student.

“So I have this,” she said turning toward him and handing him the heavy book. “It’s an old chemistry journal form the Victorian era. It’s mostly chemical compositions and formals for early medical grade drugs.”

Dick flipped the cover open to find the hand written ink faded form time and light. “Where did you even get this?”

“Believe it or not, Eric gave it to me. So when you’re done with it, feel free to burn it,” Raven replied with a little venom toward her hated ex. “But I think I buried my text books in the back of my closet to be forgotten. So I guess I’ll go dig them up.”

“Need help?” Dick asked not looking up from the journal.

“No, I’ve got it.”

“You just don’t want me in your closet,” Dick laughed leaning against her desk.

“Yeah, I can’t have you seeing how many actual skeletons I have in here,” Raven called, her voice muffled as it carried.

“Oh so that’s where you keep the bodies?”

Raven finally came out with an armful of books and a sarcastic look on her face, “Well, I couldn’t put them in the fridge now, could I?” she said and handed Dick the heavy stack of tomes. “But since you know my secret, I’m going have to kill you now.”

“And I always thought Slade would be the death of me,” Dick said with a grim humor as he took them form her with a little irony.

“Speaking of,” Raven replied ambiguously, “how are you dealing with everything Roy told you?”

“Are you asking me if Slade had anything to do with what happen last night?” Dick asked knowing exactly what she was she was implying.

“Did it?”

Her face was equivocal, and the look in her eyes unclear as though the answer didn’t matter as long as it was the truth.

“Yeah,” Dick said ruefully, “he brings out the worst in me.”

“He has that effect on everyone,” Raven replied in an unadorned manner.

Dick looked down at her as she sank to her bed, her eyes still hindered with concern, but her face still unvarnished. He knew she’d experienced Slade’s wrath for herself, and his involvement with her father left a bitter taste in her mouth. But Slade only targeted her because he had to, it was in his best interest to do so. But Dick never did quite figure out what why Slade had personally chosen him. It was a question that bothered him more than he’d ever let on, but deep down, he knew there was a reason for it. And he knew whatever it was, he wouldn’t like it.

“Yeah, but not like me…” Dick finally said, “he makes me blind.”

Chapter Text

 

“Master, go one, and I will follow thee, To the last gasp, with truth and loyalty.” —William Shakespeare, As You Like IT, Act 2, Scene 3

He tried to inhale, but was greeted only with the taste of filthy water. He began to struggle as his body fought for breath, the chill of the cold river wrapping tightly around him. Finally he remembered what had happened only moments before, and his eyes shot open.

He was met with darkness—the murky depths of the water making it hard to see even a few feet in front of him. For a moment things seemed dissolved and offset, making him realized that the car was no longer upright.

‘Raven!’ he thought in alarm, recalling she’d been horribly wounded.

He had to act quickly, and pulled himself from the driver’s seat. In a slight panic he noticed that the passenger window had been broken in the crash. He swam beneath Raven and through the broken window, making sure there were no glass shards purging out of the frame. Once outside, he pulled her seemingly weightless body from the car, noticing a trail of blood as it dissipated behind her.

Just stay with me Rae, please,’ he silently begged and wrapped his arm around her chest, holding her close. 

His ears began to ring as he looked up to see the city lights reflect vaguely at the surface, the faint light calling him to their salvation. The air in his lungs was becoming toxic, leaving him with a surge of panic. His need for breath was growing with every moment he was not permitted to inhale. He set his sights to the illumination and pushed toward the glow that awaited above him, just hoping he could make it in time.

He wasn’t sure how many yards he’d have to swim or how long it would even take, but it felt like a decade before he actually broke the surface. Deep relief fell over him as he gasped, filling his dying lungs with oxygen. He quickly remembered the nearly lifeless girl tucked under his arm and pushed himself, panting to the shoreline. It was at least 100 yards away and he knew if she had any chance at survival that he’d have to get there quickly. His body ached as he paddled, his breath still ragged and unsettled.

Approaching the shore, he quietly cursed himself for not being able to make it sooner and scooped Raven up in both arms. The pain in his head began to scream even louder, aching in his left temple, nearly forcing him to his knees. ‘I can’t,’ he huffed, marching forward, emerging from the now knee deep water. 

Once at the shore, he placed Raven down beneath the cover of the bridge, her limp body looking lifeless. He brushed away the damp hair that clung to her face, his hand shaking as he choked back both tears and shock. He wasted no time and began administering CPR. Pressing down on her chest, he noticed her skin was looking whiter than usual, as though it were losing life with every moment lost.

“Come on Rae,” he growled with desperation, her stillness nearly insulting him.

Finally a rough cough emerged from the wounded girl’s throat, freeing the stale water that was trapped within her lungs. An emotional smile stretched across his face as he let his forehead rest on hers in a moment of silent relief.

However, this victory was short lived as he recalled that she wasn’t able to heal herself. But before he could address the matter any further, he heard the arcane voice of the man who’d taught him to be a hero.

“Don’t move kid, it’s over.”

The young man’s eyes flew open as a wave of shock ran through his body. He was trapped now and he knew he couldn’t escape, not without leaving Raven—he couldn’t do that. Fear grasped him tightly as the weight of the moment built in his chest, but he knew only Batman could save her now—not him.

He raised his hands above his head and pulled himself up right, the Dark Knight’s looming presence watching him the whole time. He took a deep breath, swallowing the fear that was caught in his throat and finally turned to the man who’d raised him.

“Please, Bruce. She’s dying?”

The man flinched at the sound of his name, but his heart dropped to his stomach at the sight of the person who’d spoken it.

“It can’t be—Richard? You’re…”

One Year prior…

The masked man turned to the hero who’d called out to him, a cocky smirk resting beneath his mask. The two had remained enemies for years, but over time seemed to have developed something of a mutual respect.

“Here to kill me, Chuckles?” the masked villain said with a laugh, though his counterpart was not amused.

“You’re just so funny, X,” Nightwing drawled painfully.

“Hey, I couldn’t resist,” the young outlaw mused, “So what brings you to my side of the tracks?”

“I have a job for you,” Nightwing replied apprehensively.

“A job?” Red X asked doubtfully. “Really? Don’t you mean setup?”

“No, I mean job. As in, I’m hiring you to a job for me.”

Red X turned his head away for a moment then looked back at the hero he’d spent most of his life outrunning

“What kind of job could you possibly need me to do?” he inquired skeptically. “Cause I don’t do corps disposal,” X added patronizingly, unable to help himself.

“Not when it’s yours.”

The young anti-hero looked back at Nightwing a little shocked at his candidness, truly caught off guard.

“Well look at that, Chuckles made a joke… I don’t know what’s more disturbing? The joke or fact you made one?” 

Nightwing rolled his eyes, thinking how bad his idea was, but persisted regardless, “Listen X, I’m not here to hassle you and I’m not here to stop any of your shady dealings with God only knows who. I’m only here because I really do need you to do this job for me.”

Red X nodded in what appeared to be understanding, until he opened his mouth to speak, “Well what’s in it for me?”

Nightwing creased his brow as his jaw fell slack at the response, “Uhh, you get paid?”

“Yeah, but what’s stopping you from turning around and coming after me with those punch happy assholes you call friends?”

“Um, maybe the part where I hired you break a short laundry list of laws?”

“Well then, forgive me for not really feeling the trust,” X patronized and crossed his arms.

“Listen, if you do this… I’ll owe you a favor,” Nightwing added, not completely confident in his answer.

“A favor?” X questioned curiously. “Like the kind that includes a get out of jail free card?”

“Yeah sure,” he replied, holding back his better judgment, “but you have to promise this deal and all of the information I give you stays between us, okay?”

“What deal?” X said in a forgetful tone and shrugged.

Nightwing finally smiled with a bit of relief, “I’m glad to see we have an understanding.”

“So what’s this laundry list you were rambling on about?” he asked walking over to the ambiguous hero. 

Nightwing produced a few sheets of paper and handed them to the masked villain who began to read them. He said nothing for a few moments as his eyes scanned over the black and white pages.

“Krokodil?” the outlaw questioned glancing up from the papers.

The hero shrugged not speaking a word, trying to play it off as nothing, but it wasn’t.

“What is all this, are you looking to cook it? Cause I’m not really willing to—.”

“So that’s where your personal line of decency begins?” the hero asked, shaking his head, actually surprised that Red X even had one. “And no. I’m not looking to cook it, but someone is and I need to figure out who made this.”

X looked up as Nightwing produced the krokodil, immediately noticing its physical form.

“Uh, that’s heroin,” he assured, not doing much to hide his demeaning manner.

“That’s what I thought, until I tested it and found that it has almost the same properties as desomorphine.”

He pointed to the results that Red X held in his hand, the young villain reading them with a little disbelief.

 “For real?”

Nightwing only nodded at the young man’s question then began to explain. “I did some research last night and what I found is that this sample is actually made with both codeine and morphine and synthesized from a lot of the same chemicals used in making home cooked krokodil.”

“So?”

“So this stuff was made in a high grade lab by someone who knew what they were doing,” Nightwing said a little disappointed that X didn’t seemed to follow. “Plus, I check its toxicity level. Most of the toxins that are present in home grade krokodil have been removed, but not all of them. This drug is still toxic and though it may not seem it at first, it will eventually build up in the body and eat away at it just like that shit they make in Russia. But what makes this even more dangerous, is that it looks like heroin, and is far more potent.”

Nightwing looked at Red X who seemed disturbed by the notion, but also apprehensive to help.

“I don’t know if I can help you. My specialty is stealing shit, not chemistry.”

“That’s not why I need you. You know the streets better than I do. You know who runs what territories and where they get their shit, and even who they answer to—” Nightwing abruptly paused with realization and looked at Red X soberly. “You’re afraid of whoever made this… you know who made this.”

Red X looked away, as though Nightwing could see through his mask.

“I’m right aren’t I?”

X rolled his eyes with apprehension strong on his face, “There’s only one person with the means to make something like this…”

“Slade?”

The young man nodded and remained quiet for a while.

“X, I need your help. I can’t go digging into this right now. I’m about to lose my team, and to top it all off everyone sporting the #28 wants me dead. I need to know where to begin. Please help me.”

The young villain began to laugh a little cynically, “I never thought I’d see the day that the almighty Nightwing would come begging for my help.” 

Nightwing crossed his arms and looked away realizing how pathetic he must have sounded and how weak his identity had become.

“Okay, I’ll help you,” X said with disbelief, “but only because, like you, I don’t wanna see this shit hit the streets.”

 “Good, then we have a deal.”

“Not so fast,” Red X replied, “we still have the matter of payment.”

“What’s your rate?” Nightwing shrugged.

“Well since the item is information, that’s gonna take a lot of digging which can be dangerous. People don’t like it when you start looking for the shit they’ve buried. The fact it’s Slade, makes it more high risk—”

“Just name your price.”

“10 grand?”

“Ok, you want cash right?” Nightwing said without even flinching.

“Really?” X asked, slightly shocked that the hero even agreed.

“What?”

“I just told you that this little excursion is gonna cost you a small fortune and you didn’t even flinch?”

“Cause I’m not worried about the money,” Nightwing replied with a faint shrug.

“What are you like some trust fund baby by day or some bullshit like that?”

Nightwing let an awkward smile pull at his face coyly. “Uh, I was just gonna sell something.”

“Okay then, I’ll take 5 up front,” the outlaw said still in disbelief.

“I’ll get it to you tomorrow.”

“Okay,” X replied, “be at the docks tomorrow at 2:15, bring the cash and come alone.”

“In the middle of the day?” the hero questioned in concern.

“Yep, less suspicious that way; and don’t come as Nightwing. You’re already getting enough unwanted attention.”

The hero let discomfort take hold as his true identity was becoming jeopardized. “But then you’ll know who I am?”

“No I won’t. We won’t even see each other. Just trust me.”

The thief smiled beneath his mask as Nightwing could hear the confidence creep back into his voice.

“That’s asking a lot.”

“Then that makes two of us,” the villain said and turned from the hero.

“X wait, I have one more favor to ask,” Nightwing called before he could vanish.

X turned, letting an annoyed look play on his face, “What else could you possibly want, Chuckles? I’m not a fucking delivery service.”

He turned back to Nightwing and noticed the apprehension knit into his brow.

“Can you get me in touch with the Red Hood?”

The thief waited a moment before responding, then said, “What do you want with the Hood?”

“I just need to talk with him, that’s all,” Nightwing replied slowly.

The thief took a few steps forward as surprise rang through his words, “He’ll never go for that.”

“Yes he will, I’m his brother.”

The two fell silent for a moment as reality echoed over the wind between them.

“I’ll tell him, I can’t promise he’ll answer, but I’ll tell him,” Red X replied then took off into the night.

Nightwing pondered the conversation a moment as he watched the mysterious figure vanish before him. He questioned his actions once again and the fact that he was one step closer to the line he was on the verge of crossing. Still there was something about it he found liberating. Like there was some sort of freedom at the edge of the world. However, he knew that freedom was a double edged sword that blind men so often fell on. Its sharp blade ready to bear his blood for his audacity to live outside the confines of the work he knew. But then why couldn’t he turn away?

As he ventured home, he thought about what Bruce would say if he were aware of his transgression, the moon hanging her head in disapproval.

God only knows the things the Moon’s lay witness to, yet it never speaks a word of it?’  

He found the thought bitter and odd, but metaphoric in manner.

‘I feel like that’s something Raven would say—God, what would she say if she found out about all this?’

The thought hit him abruptly as the possibility of, not just Raven, but his whole team finding out became a plausible reality.

It was a pulpal question, what would they say if they discovered his plans, or better yet, caught him in the act? The scenarios played wildly in his head as looks of disgust and utter disappointment stared back at him in nervous thought. He knew the League would crucify him for such transgressions, but his own team, he couldn’t quite find one plausible outcome.

The collision of fear and reality was enough to make him feel sick as he approached the tower that stood tall in the near distance. He realized something as he stood within the late hour of darkness. He realized that nothing good ever happened beneath the cover of the moon, but many secrets she kept. His secrets she kept.

Once inside the tower he went straight to his room and removed his uniform with haste. He hated that he’d worn it to such an unlawful occasion, but realized he’d already soiled its reputation.

He tiredly crawled into his bed, once again unable to find sleep. It didn’t matter how exhausted he was, his head was far too heavy with guilt to rest. If he wasn’t replaying his standoff with Rancid, he was thinking of how much he’d hurt and betrayed Kory. He also found himself internally arguing about his “leave of absence.” Luckily for him, the League had an emergency they had to deal with, leaving Dick an extra day to think things through.

“If I leave, well then… at least I can pursue the Slade angle and keep the team out of it,” he said aloud, as though speaking to the ceiling. “And if I don’t leave, well…”

The thought of what the League might actually do to him left him cold and uncertain. They’d never put an outside member on mandatory leave, so what would actually be his punishment?

“It’s not like they can throw me in jail or anything like that, but they could probably make my life a living hell. Bruce however, that’s a different story.”

Another thought began to sink in, and that was a question of his safety. The Black Horsemen were out for blood—his blood. However that wasn’t what scared him—no. It was the possibility of his friends getting caught in the crossfire that did. Dick could live with having to look over his shoulder and accepted that there was a likelihood that he could—indeed—die as a result of his actions. But to think of one of his friends getting injured or dying as a result of them was something he could not. The Horsemen may have been after him, but they weren’t above taking out the people he cared about and that was what made them so dangerous. And the Justice League was no different.

Dick knew if he truly didn’t want to leave that his whole team would most likely back his decision and that’s where the League got their leverage. Aside from Raven, every Titan stood to be part of the next generation of the Justice League, including him. But if they all deliberately disobeyed a mandatory order, they’d all end up having their future memberships scraped before they were even given. All the League had to say was they’d all “misplaced their loyalty.”

Once again, Dick could take being punished for his actions, but he couldn’t stomach his friends taking the punishment for him.

Still there was a bitterness to it, as the loyalty to his team was in the end, going to be his undoing.

“Irony’s a cruel bitch,” he whispered staring up at the ceiling, vacantly looking beyond it.

He finally sat up, unable to stand the feeling of laying down. He brushed a small amount of hair from his face, trying to shake the feeling of displacement. He stood up and began to pace the room a moment as reality was beginning to crash in on him. He leaned over the dresser, resting his arms against it for support. His head hung downward as he exhaled abrasively. He looked up and caught his reflection in the mirror as it sat against wall. He could only see the dark outline of his features, coarsely illuminated by the moon. The sight was nearly sickening to him, and that’s when rage took hold.

Dick let a low growl free from the depth of his throat and with a quick swoop, swept everything off his dresser with force. The sound of crashing filled his ears and he picked up a random object and flung it at the mirror, watching it shatter on impact. For a moment he felt a dark fulfillment form the action and a slight euphoria washed over him as the adrenaline left his veins. His heavy breath began to steady and for a moment everything went numb, but then reality set in again.

He let out a rough sigh as he’d realized what he’d done. His euphoria quickly becoming disappointment, and his loss of adrenaline turning to shame. He turned on his bed side lamp, letting light shed over the damage.

“Shit,” he muttered as he look upon the broken glass and discarded items that now littered the floor.

Dick took a deep breath as a little shame crept into his fingers and began picking up the broken glass. He looked over and saw the picture of his parents, the frame splintered and cracked as the photo lay buried beneath fragments of glass. He picked it up, being careful not to tear it. He felt an emptiness for his behavior as he realized he’d used the photo to shatter his own reflection—to destroy himself.

“I just keep disappointing you guys, don’t I?”

He placed the photo aside and carefully put the shattered pieces in a paper bag. As he did so he couldn’t help but feel as though he were throwing himself away. The pieces of glass holding his reflection as he cast them aside. It was like each piece held a part of him he’d lost or was about to. It was a rancorous thought. Like the person he was, was slowly dying or maybe he was just never really that person at all.

Once he’d put the fragments in the trash with a little disdain, he once again tried to lay his tired head down, but once again found no mercy. It didn’t matter that many had deemed him absolved, or pardoned his crime, it was clear his soul had not, and probably never would.


 

It had been a long morning and none of the Titans seemed willing to speak to one another. The tension being so thick, a dull butter knife could have cut it with ease. Dick sat beside Raven, who seemed to be the only one enjoying the silence as she read one of her old leather books peacefully. Kory sat off in the corner fighting any urge she had to look in Dick’s direction. He too tried to avoid eye contact for fear of what he might see in her gaze. Victor was off in the kitchen, cooking something as he couldn’t stand the silence. Gar looked down, enamored with his phone, clearly off in his own world.  Dick couldn’t blame him though. If it were even remotely possible, he’d be blissfully ignorant too, but his world offered little comfort.

“Well this is getting awkward,” Raven drawled, turning a page dryly.

“And it’s about to get even more awkward,” Victor added, walking into the common area.

Suddenly an alerted flashed on the screen, warning them of an incoming transmission from the Justice League.

“Oh man, this is gonna hurt—isn’t it?” Gar said, finally looking up from his texts.

Dick shook his head submissively and replied, “Not as much as it’s gonna hurt me, Gar.”

Victor made an unpleasant face as he accepted the call and within moments the Bat could be seen on the screen. However, he wasn’t alone.

“How have you been holding up?” a caped man asked.

“I’m holding…” Dick responded, not really feeling comfortable, “Thanks Clar—I mean Sir.”

He looked up at their faces as some stood hindered by masks, whereas others remained unrestricted. Each one held a different expression, Superman’s was clearly somewhat positive, whereas Green Arrow’s (or as Dick knew him, Oliver Queen) remained somewhat skeptical. As though his turmoil with Roy was affecting his judgment. But the expression that killed him the most, of course belonged to Bruce.

He was clearly disappointed to be sitting alongside his fellow Leaguers, waiting to hear whether his protégé and son would resign as directed. There was a cold feeling coming from him and deep down, Dick just wanted to disappear from all of it, but he couldn’t—at least not yet.

“So Dick, have you made your decision?” The Dark Knight asked gravely.

Dick could hear the urgency in his voice and the unspoken demands that dripped from it bleakly.

He looked up at him with a look of reluctance clear on his face, the words tasting bitter on his tongue.

“I have,” Dick replied slowly.

“So what’s your decision?”

Dick took a moment before responding, trying to brace himself for the back lash, “I’m going to leave the Titans…”

Dick could feel the multiple looks from each of his teammates, each one holding some sort of shock or regret in their stares.

“That’s very wise of you,” Bruce said blankly.

“It’s the right decision,” Dick replied glancing over at Raven, “for the team… and for me.”

The Dark Knight quickly glanced down a moment, as though he were dodging the blow. It was subtle, but a light air of tension arose in the air between them, filling it with unspoken animosity.

“How long do you plan on being gone?” Superman asked, trying to alleviate the tension.

“I’m not sure yet,” Dick replied unwillingly, “I guess, we’ll see how things go?”

“All right then,” the caped hero replied, looking over at Bruce who seemed a little suspicious about the statement. As though they were both expecting Dick to put up more of a fuss.

“Do you have a replacement in mind?” Superman asked a little apprehensively.

Dick sighed, “Yes, um… while I’m gone, I want Victor to take over as leader of the team.”

He looked over at the robotic man who glanced down a little uncomfortable with the idea of replacing his best friend.

“All right then,” Superman finally said, “If any of you need any assistance during this transition, the League is here to help.”

He paused a moment, noticing the lack of eye contact between Bruce and Dick, as though he could feel the blow to their relationship.

“Good luck, Victor. We trust the team’s in capable hands.”

“It is,” Dick nodded, knowing he could trust the mechanical man with his life and his team.

“And good luck to you too, Richard. Justice League out.”

And the screen went blank.

Awkward silence once again filled the room as the four remaining Titans sat looking at their now former leader and Titan.

Dick could feel the weight of their stares. The question and scrutiny that dwelled deep within their thoughts, weighting heavy on their tongues, but dare not spoken. A moment passed, and Dick knew that with the next drawn breath one of his ex-teammates would speak. But before he could be bombarded with any of their words or inquiries, he spoke himself.

“Well, I’m gonna go for a walk.”

Dick then uncomfortably rose from the couch, hardly making eye contact with any of his friends. Victor tried speak, but couldn’t seem to get the words out in time before Dick quickly disappeared.

The remaining Titans all looked at one another as though playing a strange game of chicken, none of them really sure what to do.

“Richard wait,” Raven finally called, shooting up from the couch, a slight panic in her voice.

Dick heard her throw down her book and follow behind him, and for once, he didn’t want her to. He could feel her steps gaining on him as he tried to further himself from her.

“Richard, wait, just talk to me,” she pled as she finally caught up to him.

“I don’t wanna talk right now, Rae,” Dick said, trying to keep himself together.

“I get that, but I know something’s wrong and I—”

“Raven,” Dick spat sternly, “I’m fine. You don’t have to worry.”

“I don’t have to worry?” she questioned as they reached his room. “You just gave up your entire life, and you’re telling me I shouldn’t be worried?”

“Yeah.”

They both looked at each other a moment as Dick tried to keep his withering front intact.

“Where are you going?”

Dick looked away from her as he grabbed his wallet and an old bag, “I’m going for a walk, to clear my head, ya know?”

“If you’re just going for a walk then what do you need an empty backpack for?” Raven questioned as he motion toward the door.”

Dick stopped dead in his tracts as she looked back him, challengingly. She knew he was lying, and this time, she didn’t appreciate it.

“Rae, I know you’re worried, you have every right to be, but right now, I have to do something and I would prefer if you didn’t know about it.”

“Richard, if you can’t tell me what you’re doing, then it’s nothing good.”

Her eyes were fiery, like she could see the misdeed just waiting to be done. He couldn’t reply, the more he said the more he dug himself into a hole. Deep down he wanted to tell her, but he couldn’t bring himself to. She’d fought so hard to shed the misconceptions that shrouded her most of her life. He couldn’t take her down with him.

“Raven, I know you are trying to help, but I don’t need it,” he said picking up his coat and closing the door.”

He walked past her as though she weren’t even there, avoiding her eyes. It pained him to do so, knowing that he’d never been so cold to her. He could feel the offense she took at this action as it erupted under her skin and boiled in her blood.

Before leaving the hallway, he stopped and with a bit of pain in his voice said, without even looking at her, “And Raven, please don’t follow me.”

The words hit her deep in her empathy and burned within their bond as she watched him walk away. She could feel that the words hurt him as well and the overwhelming darkness within them. Yet there was something about them that felt eerily familiar. She looked to his bedroom door, its secrets hidden under lock and key, but not hidden well enough.


 

Dick made his way down to the docks. 5 grand nestled safely away in the backpack slung over his shoulder. He looked around, vigilantly keeping an eye out for cops or heavily crowded areas. He also made sure to keep his back turned to any cameras he noticed. 

He wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but he figured he’d just keep walking until he found it.

“So what am I supposed to—” he began, but stopped—he’d found it.

He looked over at an old rusty looking storage locker, sitting by an old shipping unit. The locker was rough looking with a very weathered face, painted heavily in graffiti tags, but only one stood out to him.

“X marks the spot,” Dick murmured and began walking toward it.

He found the old polyethene, covered in erosion from rain and sea water. Its lock, however rusted, was secure. Dick looked around to assure he was alone, then pulled out his wallet to retrieve a small paper clip. He quickly straightened it and placed it in the lock. Within seconds, he could feel a quick pop and the confines came unhinged. 

“That was a little too easy.”

He pulled open the door to discover a tired looking key and a new burner phone. Be took the phone in his right hand and the scratched key in the other. Flipping it open, he saw a very small X displayed on the keypad. He pressed the button and watched as a nameless phone number appeared on the screen and dialed itself out. Dick placed the phone to his ear and listened as the lonely dial tone rang, until a voice replaced it.

“So you found the key,” Red X spoke with little surprise.

“Yeah, what do I do with it?”

“It’s for a safety deposit box at Jump City Federal. Bring the cash there. When you enter the bank, ask for Walter Whitman,” the young thief said blankly. “They’ll ask you for the box number, it’s 1212”

“Of course it is. What about Red Hood?”

“I put the word out, I haven’t heard anything, but I’ll let you know when I get a response.”

Dick creased his brow a moment as the sun hit his eyes, reflecting off the water.

“Okay, I’m on my way there now.”

“Good,” X replied, “And leave the key in the security box. I’ll contact you when I have they information.”

The call ended with a faint click. Dick then closed the phone and placed it in his pocket, setting his sights on the direction of the bank. He kept the key in his hand, holding it protectively. As he moved down the dock, the smell of salt rolled through the air while seagulls cried in the distance. He held his pack on his shoulder, the thought that he was touting a large sum of money, strange and out of place.

He’d gotten the money earlier that day by selling his 2012 Ducati 848 EVO at a dealership for roughly 12 grand. He’d deposited half of the check in his account and took the other half in cash.

As he walked, the thought finally hit that he truly was no longer a Titans, especially now that he was on his way to complete a transaction with a well-known thief. The look on Bruce’s face left a small, but palpable feeling of indignity as he thought of that moment. It was like a dream as it happened. His personal disappointment slowly driving to the pit of his stomach, while reality seemed like it could not adhere to such a thing. And Raven—where could he even begin?

His thoughts eased as he looked ahead toward the large building up ahead, the words “Jump City Federal Saving Bank” standing high in the warm California sun. Dick took a deep breath and braced himself before crossing the street. Telling himself that this is what it would take if he wanted to find answers. If he wanted to stop Slade.

Once inside the bank, he looked around, a little out of place. The bank itself was sort of high profile and for a minute he pondered if he was even in the right place.

‘What if this is a setup; that would just be my luck,’ Dick thought, part of him fearing something would go wrong.

He stepped to an open teller’s booth, a young woman waiting for him to approach.

“Welcome to Jump City Federal, how can I help you today?”

Dick smiled at her pleasant tone, noticing that young woman looked kind of familiar.

“Yes, I was told to ask for Walter Whitman, is he in?”

“The young woman nodded and said, “Yes, do you have to make a deposit?”

He nodded, still trying to figure out just where he knew the young teller from.

“Alright, let me call his secretary.” She picked up the phone and rattled off a few words. “And what is the box number?”

“1212.”

 A few moments passed until the young woman spoke again. “You can go take a seat in the lobby over there,” she said pointing to her right, “Mr. Whitman will be right with you.”

Dick thanked her for her help and took a seat in the far corner where he waited. He looked around at the organized chaos that ensued before him in the glass offices, like little drones in their suits and ties. Finally a tall man with clean cut greying hair and a dark grey suit approached him.

“Hello, I’m Walter Whitman, and you must be Mr. Sutter?” The man said rattling off any name he could think of.

Dick immediately responded and played along with the vague ruse.

“Please, right this way.”

Moments later the two men walked down a hallway and approached a door, once there they stopped as the crooked banker began, “This is a privacy room; there are no cameras. Place the deposit in the box and leave the key inside. I will take care of the rest.”

Dick nodded in understanding, relief filling his eyes that his face wouldn’t be caught on camera officially breaking the law.

Mr. Whitman unlocked the door and Dick stepped inside. The room wasn’t very big and only possessed a table in its stark center. On the table was the deposit box, sitting patiently as he approached it. He threw on his hood, not taking any chances that the banker was lying, and covered his face. He opened his palm, revealing the key, as though it were indeed the one to unlock his destruction.

“I guess there is no turning back now,” Dick whispered and turned the weary key.

The latch to the box came undone, Dick opened the lid and looked inside to find it empty. He placed his bag on the table and began placing the cash inside, still unable to shake the nervous feeling in his gut.

He finished putting the money away and placed the key inside the box, being sure to double check the amount. With a deep breath he closed it, solidifying his business deal and officially straying away from everything he stood for. In hindsight, it really wasn’t all that big of a deal, but to Dick, it felt like he’d just turned his back on everything he believed in. Like he was turning his back on Bruce.

As he made the walk home, his conscience beat at him, but so did his pride. They both held their arguments strongly, yet neither one of the seemed to bring him any comfort. As he drew closer to home, he could see the tower, though he wasn’t sure if it felt like home anymore.

The tower now represented more to him than it once had. In his eyes, he no longer adhered to its code, he no longer had the right to call himself a Titan—how could he?

He tried to think of a place that would be less cruel to him, but found he had nowhere to go—so he just kept walking. Solemnly finding miniscule distractions along the way to avoid the questions and worry that awaited him. The questions he didn’t have real answers for.

He wasn’t sure where he would go yet, whether he’d stay in Jump or move on and find another city that would have him, but it all meant so little to him now. Jump no longer had anything to offer, it only reminded him of what he’d so begrudgingly lost. There was nothing he could do for the city now, and nothing the city could do for him.

Once he finally entered the tower, he found that most of the Titans had gone home. He walked into the common area where he found Victor, sitting on the couch working on some sort of gadget.

“Hey Dick,” he said looking up at him, “everything good?”

“Yeah…” he began, but stopped and corrected himself, “No, it’s not, but it’ll be fine once I figure out what I’m gonna do.”

Victor smiled and placed down what looked like a circuit board, “You don’t know who you are outside of this team anymore, do you?”

Dick nodded as he stared blankly into nothing.

“Well then maybe all this is a good thing after all,” the mechanical man said, “now you’ll finally have time to figure that out.”

Dick looked over at his old friend who’d probably grown the most out of all the Titans, overcoming everything Dick couldn’t fathom.

“This team has been my life and my identity since I was 15 years old, now I have to learn to live without it.”

Victor leaned back as the weight of his friend’s statement pulled him to its depths, “I know, I think we all feel the same, but you’ll always be a part of this team and when you finally figure out who you are without it, this team will be right here waiting for you.”

Dick smiled vaguely, “Thanks Vic.”

“Not a problem, plus I’ve only been appointed leader for a few hours and I’m already a whole five minutes away from killing myself. How the hell do you put up with this fuckery?”

Dick laughed genuinely as he replied, “I ask myself that same question every day, but I guess it grows on you.”

“Like a benign tumor?”

“Yes. Like a benign tumor.”

The two shared a sarcastic laugh for a moment. Dick had all the confidence in the world that Victor could handle the team, and possible be a far better leader than he.

“Well, it’s your fuckery now, Vic,” Dick said as he rose from the couch.

“Yeah, feel free to reclaim it whenever you’re ready.”

Dick shook his head at his friend’s sly tone, “Yeah, who knows, maybe I’ll get used to civilian life and completely give up this life of unruly chaos.”

“Dick, you without fuckery and unruly chaos, is like Batman without brooding and darkness. It’s not gonna happen.”

“You’re probably right, but ya never know?” Dick said leaving the room.

He walked down the hall, taking in the quiet. His talk with Victor had somewhat settled his nerves, but they still bit at him with an eagerness. He wasn’t sure what exactly his next move was, but he’d have to start thinking of it soon if he wanted to move forward, but where?

He opened his door and stepped inside, taken slightly off guard, “Raven, what are you doing in here?” Dick asked startled at the sight of her.

“Funny,” Raven replied looking down at some files, “I was gonna ask you nearly the same question.” She looked up at him with a bit of amusement as though part of her almost found the scene comical. “What is all this?”

“You went through my things,” he asked angrily and approached her.

“Nope,” she said flatly, “you left them out on your desk, so I read them.”

“Raven…”

“Grayson…”

The two just stared at each other a moment, neither one of them ever invaded each other’s privacy like that before.

“Get out,” Dick growled at the dark-haired girl.

“Not until you explain, this,” she replied, placing down an open file filled with FBI information, “and this, and this, and uh…this,” she added, throwing down the small bag of krokodil upon the vulgar photos of its corpse-like victims.

He looked down at the pile of evidence against him as she looked up at him curiously, unable to say anything.

“It’s krokodil isn’t it?” she asked sternly. “This is what Roy told you about? This—all of this, is Slade… isn’t it?”

Dick was suddenly overwhelmed by how much Raven had actually figured out and sunk down on his bed in defeat. He could hardly speak, unsure of what she would do now that she knew, and he feared she’d tell the team, or even worse—the League.

“How can you do that, how can you figure all that out?” he shouted in frustration.

Raven rose from his desk and leaned over it as she said, “Because, Richard Grayson, I know you. I know you better than anyone, and I know you’ve been lying to me ever since you got back from Gotham.”

Dick looked up at her warily, a fire burning in his eyes, “I can’t believe you. How could you do this to me, Rae?”

“How I could not?” Raven spat, picking up one of the files. “You’ve been hiding this ever since you got back. This is why you left the team so easily, right?” She paused in realization still holding the file. “You’re going after Slade…”

Dick looked away from her and quickly rose from his bed in anger as though he could actually escape her.

“God damnit, Grayson,” Raven growled throwing the file down. “You were gonna try to do this alone, weren’t you? Or were you and Roy gonna band together on this?”

Dick turned to her in vexation, an overzealous look on his face, “You think you know everything don’t you, Rae?”

“No, just about you Bird—”

“Shut up and let me finish!” Dick yelled suddenly, taking Raven by surprise.

She bit her tongue a moment, holding back her more than harsh words for him and raised an eyebrow for him to continue.

“You’re right, this is all Slade and yes; I’m going after him because you know what—no else will. Bruce, the League, all couldn’t be bothered. Slade is gonna set that shit loose on society for whatever reason and no one cares but me. So yeah! That’s everything. You can continue to belittle me now.”

Raven shook her head after hearing what her former leader had to say, “I’m not here to belittle you, Dick,” she sighed, “I’m here to prevent you from being stupid.”

“Oh fuck off Raven,” Dick growled in frustration.

She rolled her eyes at him as he began to pace with discomfort, “I get it, I really do, but the last time you went after Slade, you just went chasing after a ghost.”

He turned to her again only this time with less venom in his voice, “He’s out there Rae, I know he is.”

“You’re probably right, but you can’t go after him alone, not again.”

Dick shook his head at her urgently, “I am not telling the team—I can’t tell them.” 

Raven looked down at everything on his desk, hearing the defeat in his voice, “Because you think the League will punish them if they find out?”

“They probably will, Rae and I don’t know what they’ll do when that happens.”

He leaned against his desk again, his worn resolve showing greatly.

“I’m fine with ruining my own future, but I’m not fine with taking you, and everybody else down with me. I’ll burn in my own hell alone.”

She looked over at him with a sentimental gaze. She knew how he felt, how hard it was to hide something that was practically killing you inside. To feel like heaven wouldn’t have you.

“I’m coming with you.”

Dick looked back at the young sorceress dumbfounded, her statement taking him a completely off guard.

“You can’t,” he said finally, pulling himself together.

Raven looked back at him and raised a brow at his response, “It’s not an option, Grayson.” She looked him square in the eye and continued, “I’m coming with you.”

Dick could feel a bit of frustration hit him with a little animosity. She could be so persistent and rarely didn’t get her way, but now he couldn’t let her win.

“Rae, you can’t. Everything I’m doing has been forbidden by the Justice League. If and when they find out that I went against them, they’ll punish me. I can’t bring you or the team down this road with me!”

“I don’t care about the League Dick, I care about you,” she said in a softer tone.

She looked away toward his window and out at the bay. She slightly reminded him of Gizmo as she held that same distant gaze of something lost by many years.

“I understand that you don’t want to be responsible for the team’s future with the League, but I have no future with the League. I know you think that in time that will change, but it won’t.”

She looked back at him regretfully, a little hurt now placed in her violet eyes. Life had been quite cruel to her and though time had helped heal some of those wounds, others would never truly close.

“It could,” Dick replied meagerly.

“It won’t, you know that.”

“Raven, this mission will be dangerous, I can’t ask you to—”

“You’re not, I’m volunteering,” she said cutting him off, “I can’t let you go after Slade alone.”

He took a ragged breath, unable to break her will, “Raven if something happened to you, I’d never forgive myself.”

“Dick, this isn’t up for debate,” she snapped, “I can’t let you go after Slade by yourself. I know what he does to you, I’m not gonna be able to sleep if I know you’re out there looking for him.”

Her words left him with disparity as it bled from her like fresh blood. Dick ran his fingers through his hair, his emotion becoming more untamed.

“See this why I didn’t want to tell you.”

Raven smiled and rolled her eyes, “You actually thought you could hide something from me, Grayson?”

“I thought I could try,” Dick replied submissively. “You can’t tell the team, Rae.”

Raven looked at him a little torn. She didn’t want to lie to the team, but at the same time, she knew if she betrayed Dick, he’d most likely go after Slade regardless. And she couldn’t allow him to chase after that ghost by himself. He’d come back in a body bag if she did. 

“Only if you let me help you.”

Dick let his face fall, her loyalty his current curse, “Raven…”

“I’m not giving you a choice, Richard. If you wanna go after Slade, I’m not gonna stop you, but I’m not gonna let you go after him half-baked like some pseudo-cowboy with something pointless to prove. If you go, I go. You’re gonna need me.”

She was right, he would, but not if it meant dragging her to Hell with him.

“Raven, the teams is gonna need you more than me. I’ll be fine.”

Raven looked at him and shrugged, “Dick, I don’t know if I can be on this team without you,” she said, letting free the words she kept steeped in regret. “The truth is this team isn’t the team we grew up on, it hasn’t been for a long time. Everything, everyone, is different now, and our bond is the only thing keeping me here. Everyone else is going in their own direction. It’s only a matter of time before this team falls apart, and I don’t wanna fall apart with it.”

Dick looked away from her, he knew what she was saying was true, it was just hard to hear. The team truly wasn’t as unified as it once was and some of the Titans had begun to grow apart. They still cared for each other, but they each had different paths ahead of them. It was only a matter of time before they parted at the crossroads.

“I don’t want you to get hurt…” Dick said brokenly taking her hand.

“And I don’t want you to get hurt either,” she replied dimly, “I know all of this is hard on you, and as much as I think what you’re doing is reckless… I know if I try to stop you that you’ll just go ahead and do it anyway. At least if I’m there with you, I’ll know what you’re doing, and I might be able to stop you from getting yourself killed.”

“Is that it, you think I’m gonna go running off halfcocked without thinking?” he asked with a cynical laugh.

“I know you will,” Raven reassured and leaned on the desk in front of him

“I don’t know where this mission is gonna take me, Rae. But I have a feeling you might not like what we find—hell—I don’t know if I’m gonna like what I have to do when I get there?”

“I can live with that, Richard.”

“I was afraid you’d say that.”

Chapter Text

 

“To do a great right, do a little wrong, and curb this cruel devil of his will.”

—Williams Shakespeare Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1

Dick woke up around 5 am, his thoughts heavy from the events of the passing days. It had been a few days since his conversation with Raven, her adamancy outweighing his better judgment. (Though it seemed a lot of things had been outweighing his better judgment as of late.) But still, even in his unwillingness to accept Raven’s help, Dick felt better knowing that he had her on his side.

He could now confide in her the secrets that he’d been keeping and all the details that kept him awake at night. He told her of his meeting with Red X and how he’d hired him to collect information. Raven, of course, held skeptical feelings toward this decision, but kept her complaints to a minimum.

He also told her that he’d asked X to contact the Red Hood. This she found a little more concerning, but more because of Dick’s history with Jason. The two had not spoken in years, and even before Jason’s run-in with the Joker, the two didn’t exactly get along.

“Dick are you sure contacting Jason is a good idea?” Raven questioned shortly after their previous conversation.

Dick shrugged, knowing that it was a risky call, “I don’t know we’ll have to see. Jason might not even respond.”

“How come you didn’t reach out to him yourself?”

“I don’t exactly have Jason on speed dial, now do I?” Dick said cynically, “Plus if Red Hood thinks Nightwing is coming after him, then he’ll probably be less forthcoming.”

“That’s a good point,” Raven replied looking down at the stack of information, “you haven’t spoken to him since… well you know.”

“Yeah, he was pretty screwed up by the whole thing, I think he felt kind of forgotten to be honest.”

Dick snapped back to the present as he heard a strange vibrating noise erupt form his desk. He quickly got up, recalling the burner phone Red X left him. He scrambled to his feet and began frantically looking for the device as it lay hidden beneath layers of papers. He finally found it and took it in his hands with great urgency. He flipped it open in haste and placed it to his ear.

“Hello,” Dick muttered in a tired voice.

“Meet me at Wayne Enterprises tonight at 11, come alone—”

The line abruptly went dead and nothing but silence followed.

Dick closed the phone and immediately wrote down the time and location just to solidify the details.  He knew in hindsight he didn’t have to, that he was more than capable of recalling such details when needed. However, ever since his run-in with Jonny Rancid (and its lethal outcome) he found himself letting his nerves get the better of him.

It was only little things, like second guessing his decisions during training sessions (which he was still attending with the team). He also found that his hands didn’t quite feel like his own. They were not as steady as they once were, and trembled slightly as they went through their motions. Sleep was another thing that continued to allude him. Leaving him awake at night to ponder his unsteady hands and the decisions they were stained with.

On one particular night as he lay alone in his bed, he stared up at the ceiling, recalling a past conversation he’d shared with Bruce. The exchange had taken place the day of Jason’s funeral. Bruce, of course, was very broken up over what happened to Jason and Dick could see his guilt slowly eating away at him. Dick, however, tried to convince Bruce that the incident was not his fault (as Jason had run off the path and into the woods). Still, this brought Bruce little comfort and would for as long as he lived.

Somehow the two began to talk more in depth about guilt and irony, and Bruce mentioned a past conversation he’d had with the Joker.

“So you asked Joker if he was ever haunted by the people he killed.”

“Yes,” Bruce replied in a plummeting tone.

“What’d he say?”

“Only when I’m awake…”

It was a bitter thing to swallow, yet its truth is what made it so potent. However, to think of the Joker feeling anything even close to remorse for his horrid deeds, seemed completely out of character.

‘But now that I recall, Bruce never said that he did.’

Dick entered the common area and headed straight for the kitchen. As usual, he found Raven, who was already pouring him a cup of coffee.

“Well you look like you’ve had a rough night?” she greeted, placing the cup in his hand.

“So it’s starting to show?” He was being sarcastic and took a sip of the fresh coffee.

Raven cracked a half smile and picked up her tea as she leaned on the counter. “News flash Bird Boy, it’s been showing for days. I’ve only had the heart to tell you now.”

“Yeah that’s what happens when you don’t sleep much,” Dick replied. “Is the team worried?”

Raven sighed, cradling her cup, “A little. You’ve been through a lot so it’s hard not to be. I for one know you’re not really taking it well.”

Dick looked Raven in the eye as he replied to her comment, “I’ve lost my leadership, my relationship with Kory, the League has me on bench duty, and I killed a man. Every part of the reality I knew, is gone… and I’m never getting it back. I don’t know who I am anymore. I can’t be Nightwing, I haven’t been Robin for a long time; who am I supposed to be now?”

There was an emptiness to his voice, a hollowness that echoed of those lost things. It was a mournful sound, like a song bound by its sad story and its sorrowful verse. Like there was nothing left.

Raven placed down her cup and took his face in her hands as she looked at him, “You’re a good man. You’re a loyal friend, that’s still a part of your reality. Maybe you outgrew Robin, and maybe you’ve lost faith in Nightwing, but you’re still Dick Grayson, and that’s the part of you that matters. That’s the part that’s important.”

She smiled and withdrew from him. She knew her words couldn’t change his conscience or relieve his guilt, but she knew it helped him cope, and that was really all she could do.

Dick stared down at his coffee and noticed his hands again. They were physically clean and no longer bore the product of his misdeed. However, he knew from the pit of his heart that they’d never truly be clean. He’d always have Jonny Rancid’s blood on his hands.

Raven noticed the troubled look on his face, but didn’t quite know what to say. So, she did the only thing she could do. She tried to change the subject, “Have you heard from Red X?”

Dick placed down this coffee and nodded wearily.

“What did he say?” the young sorceress asked.

“He said to meet him tonight at Wayne Enterprises,” Dick replied still staring down blankly.

“What time?”

“11.”

“Okay, I’ll be ready.”

Dick finally looked up at her, clearly stirred by the declaration, “He told me to come alone.”

“Well you’re not,” she reasoned taking another sip of her tea as though any further discussion were mundane.

“Raven, he hardly trusts me—hell—he doesn’t trust me. If I show up with you, he’s gonna run and we’ll have nothing.”

Raven sighted and shook her head, “Listen, if you were at your best I’d say go, but you’re not.”

“Raven I’m fi—”

“No, you’re not,” Raven said cutting him off. “You haven’t slept in days, you’re shaky, and—to top it all off—you can hardly concentrate.”

Dick tried to interject, but she would not allow it. She wasn’t about to trust someone as dubious as Red X with the well-being of her wounded friend.

“I will handle X, trust me. Okay?”

“…Okay,” Dick replied.

He rolled his eyes, too tired to argue with her. Sometimes Raven reminded him of his mother, a fiery woman who never took no for an answer. It was like he finally knew how his father felt when he was overpowered by the small, but sturdy stature of a strong woman. He could recall times where his father would try to make decisions that she insisted on being a part of. Her head would turn stiffly as she puffed out her chest. And her voice, her voice would become something low and husky, losing its softness and replacing it with an orotund sound. He remembered how tall she seemed when she stood like that. How she seemed to tower over her husband even though she was hardly even over five feet. But as poignant as she could be, she was also capable of great compassion and unbreakable loyalty.

It left an impression on him even as a young boy, and for that, he had a great respect for women. He always looked at them as his equals, and on many occasions, his betters. Strength and loyalty was something he looked for in his women, those qualities present in both Barbara and Kory. He actually thought that he’d found the right balance in the alien princess, until she left for Tamaran.

It was odd, but deep down, he knew the thing that broke him the most was that his mother would have never done that to his father—she loved him too much.  This thought left him with a sadness that ached in his heart as he lay awake in their empty bed that night thinking, ‘I guess she didn’t love me enough.’

Dick heard Raven turn on the sink as the sound of rushing water pulled him away from his thoughts. She took his empty cup and placed it in the sink to wash it. As she ran the porcelain piece under the water she looked over at him a little stoically.

“Everything will work out, we won’t fail.”


 

The day had gone by with little interaction. Dick mostly just kept to himself and spent little time with his present teammates, even rejecting an offer to participate in a training session. He was just too anxious to be around them, especially with all he was keeping from them. He didn’t know how Raven could be so calm, how she could just act like nothing was the least bit out of place.

His team however, had begun to walk on egg shells around him, treating him more like a piece of glass than a man. This bothered him more than anything, because it made him feel weak and only reminded him of his failures. Like he wasn’t strong enough to handle them. Dick may not have been proud of his actions or his questionable decisions, but he felt he was man enough to own them. He didn’t want to pretend that what he did was right, and he didn’t want to be treated like a child just because others felt his ego was too frail. He just wanted to be treated like a man.

Then there was the matter of Kory, who hadn’t spoken to him in days (which he couldn’t blame her for). But he couldn’t stand the bitter feeling she held close to her heart, the place used to hold him. Its warmth extinguished, and its space vacant and cold. He may not have been in love with her anymore, but he still loved her and always would. She would always have a part of him that no one else could, but he sometimes questioned what that part was.

There was also the issue of assets that he knew would have to be dealt with sooner or later. Like who got the condo or do they sell it and split the difference, those things. The things that only solidify the end of a life together and the uncertainty of a future without each other. Dick contemplated cutting his losses and just letting her keep everything, but he thought that he may grow to regret that decision. He also wasn’t sure if she’d be able to afford the mortgage payment on her own since he’d been paying his half for the last few months. Not to mention, Kory had a bad habit of spending money she didn’t have.

Dick could recall many times that he’d come home and find a new something or other that cost more than an arm and a leg. One incident being the time Kory bought a $2,000—white—designer rug that she just had to have. Dick could recall having to suppress the urge to scream at her for doing such an irresponsible thing, but didn’t. Only because (despite his best efforts) he knew Kory didn’t quite grasp the concept of a credit card. In the end, he let her keep it, but only because she spilled red wine on it not even an hour after rolling it out. Ironically, leaving the two footing the bill for a stained throw rug.

However, Dick couldn’t help but smile at the memory, recalling how upset she was over the incident.

“Well, it’s not that bad,” he remembered saying, “we can just hide the wine stain under the coffee table… I mean if we’re gonna pay for it, we might as well use it.”

They had a lot of moments like that, where Kory would get emotional over something that to many, would have seemed trivial, but to her, it was like the end of the world. Roy had asked him once if that sort thing became exhausting or even a little annoying over time. Dick could honestly say that it had its moments where it was those things, but in all, he found her perception of the world endearing and even a little romantic to an extent. She was very passionate, and making her happy didn’t take much. So fixing what was broken took little effort, but maybe that was part of the problem?

Kory was always good for Dick’s ego, but he couldn’t help but wondered if she was ever really good for his heart?

“Got here early, Chuckles?” he heard the young thief call as he appeared out of nowhere.

A crass look fell over his face as he withdrew from his thoughts, “Actually, you’re late, X,” Nightwing quipped dryly.

“Well I had to case the area to make sure you came alone.”

“Yeah… about that…”

“What the hell is she doing here?” the thief said in a hostile voice.

Raven let out a small laugh, glancing up from under her hood and stepped out of the shadows where she’d lay hidden for some time.

X shook his head arrogantly, “No, this wasn’t part of the deal, I’m done.”

“X wait!” Nightwing called with urgency.

The young thief however, refused to listen and was getting ready to bolt. Raven let her eyes roll, looking back at Nightwing and fazed through the concrete of the roof. Within moments she reappeared in front of Red X, catching him off guard.

“And where do you think you’re going?” Raven asked in a dry tone, cutting him off.

“Move, Sunshine. I don’t deal with liars.”

 “Seriously? Have you met half the people you work for?” Raven quipped, trying to level with him.

“You’d be surprised how many of them have more integrity than you two,” the thief replied trying to find a way passed her.

“Listen, I know you think we’re here to bust you, but it’s not like that. Now could you just hear us out?”

“You have 10 seconds,” X replied, fighting his urge to run.

Nightwing slowly approached them, taking his steps carefully as to not spook the young thief. “I know you told me to come alone and I was going to, but well…”

“I forced him to bring me,” Raven interrupted with an unfazed shrug.

X furrowed his brow and looked over at Nightwing questionably.

“She knows everything,” the hero drawled wearily.

“Why the fuck did you tell her?!”

“She figured it out!”

The young thief looked over at the dark sorceress with a little contempt, as though shocked at her audacity.

“What,” Raven questioned, “I’m very resourceful. Plus Bird Boy’s a horrible liar… at least when it comes to me.”

Red X shook his head, clearly fuming beneath his mask, “So who else you gonna tell, Chuckles? Grass Stain, Gear Head, your cute little girlfriend?” Red X whined throwing his hands in the air sarcastically.

“No one,” Nightwing exclaimed, “My team can’t know what I’m doing.”

“What are you doing?” the thief questioned. “And reality check, Sunshine—is a member of your fucking team, genius!”

“Well technically, he’s not on the team anymore, so that makes us former teammates,” Raven corrected, Nightwing staring back at her with a little contempt.

“So it’s true,” Red X mused, “Nightwing is no longer a Titan?”

The hero rolled his eyes to cover his injured pride and replied, “Yes, it’s official… I’m no longer a Titan.”

“Well shut the fuck up,” X laughed with a cynical shock, “what about you, Sunshine? You still a member of the Goodie Brigade?”

Raven looked over at Nightwing with a little uncertainty basking in her eyes, “At the moment I am, but I’m not sure for how much longer.”

Nightwing looked at her again, but said nothing, a little taken off guard by the proclamation.

“So I guess the mighty have fallen, now haven’t they?” Red X said in a cocky tone.

“Okay X, we get it. You don’t have to get all giddy about it.”

Red X looked over at the sorceress, as though he were smiling with irony, “Well Titans or not, that still doesn’t mean I can hold up my end of the bargain.”

“Why the hell not?” Nightwing snapped.

“Because I told you to come alone and you didn’t. You clearly don’t know how this game works, Kid.”

“First of all, X,” Nightwing growled, “I’m not a fucking kid, so don’t treat me like one. And second; I paid you to do a job for me.”

“Which I did.”

“So what the fuck did you find?” the hero demanded.

“I can’t tell you.”

“Why the hell not?!”

“Because I agreed to do a job for you, not you and Raven.”

“You fucking—”

“Whoa—wait,” Raven said placing herself between Red X and Nightwing as she could tell the young hero’d had enough. “I get it. You don’t trust us and you have every right not to,” she said looking at the thief. “So what will it take for you to trust us?”

Red X looked down a moment in thought before peering back up through his mask, “Take your mask off,” the thief replied, “I wanna see who the infamous Nightwing actually is.”

“No!” Nightwing spat in detest, his eye shrinking in protest.

“Then no deal.”

And with that, the thief turned and began to walk away.

“Wait,” Raven called with an urgency.

He turned back to her and crossed his arms, “What, haven’t you two wasted enough of my time?”

Raven walked forward a few steps as she pleaded with him, “If you take off your mask, Nightwing will take off his.”

Both the young men looked at her with shock as they gasped at her suggestion.

X however, quickly recovered and chuckled sinisterly, “And why the hell would I do that?”

“Because then we’ll all have leverage on each other, I’ll even do it too.”

His head tilted to the side inquisitively as though the thief may actually have been intrigued. “Hmm, do I have to tell you my name, Sunshine?”

“Raven, what are you doing?” Nightwing whispered nervously.

“I’m getting the job the done, just trust me,” she growled back at him then replied to X’s question. “No, you can keep your name. You can lie about a name, but not a face.”

“Okay, let’s do it,” X said freely, shrugging the idea off as if it were nothing.

“Wait hold on! Raven, can I talk to you?” Nightwing said, taking her by the arm and pulling her around. “What the fuck?”

“Just show him your face and we get what we came for.”

“No, my identity is non-negotiable, Rae”

“Is it?” She snapped. “Because last I checked you’re hanging up Nightwing?”

“I am, but not like this.”

“Okay Dick, but then who are you without your mask.” Her tone was ferocious and deep, hitting him at his core.

He watched as she turned, whipping off her hood with a hint of irony as though mocking him.

“So that’s what you keep hidden under that hood,” Red X said smoothly. “Who would’a thought Sunshine had a face like that? You’ve been holding out on me, Chuckles.”

“Shut up X,” Nightwing replied with smoldering annoyance.

“Whatever, it’s your turn, Kid”

“You first.”

“No. You.”

“Dear God,” Raven said pinching the bridge of her nose, “just go at same time.”

The two looked at each other smugly, but nodded with disdain for the other.

“Ok then,” the young witch replied, “on 3. 1, 2, 3!”

Each boy began to pull of their mask, but stopped hoping to fake out the other.

“What the fuck, X?”

“Me? You’re the one who stopped!”

“Shut up, the both of you!” Raven finally yelled. “The point of this is to learn to trust each other, which, you two suck at by the way. Now take off your fucking masks before I remove them for you.”

“I see now why you brought her,” X said looking over at Nightwing.

Nightwing rolled his eyes ruefully, “Yeah, she can break down an iron will.”

“I’m about to break more than just your will, now masks off!”

Once again the two adversaries began to remove their masks, but this time actually doing so (with a little fear for motivation). Nightwing could feel his hands tremble as he’d broken one of Bruce’s most important cardinal rules of vigilantism. Never show your face to anyone. Once the cover was free from his eyes, he immediately felt vulnerable and anxious, as though he were more than exposed

He looked over at Red X, his boyish face framed in shaggy blond hair, “That’s not what I expected at all.”

Red X looked over at Dick with a smug look, “You’re just pissed cause I’m better looking.”

Dick crudely raised a brow and shook his head with annoyance, “Yeah, if you like blond pretty boys that can’t even grow facial hair?”

“Are you two really having this conversation? Cause if so, I’ve lost respect for both of you,” Raven drawled with an eye roll.

Dick looked at Raven tiredly, but more than agreed with her.

“So what did you find, X?”

“Not much.”

“For real?” Dick replied ready to ring the boy’s neck.

“Christ Chuckles, chill. I did find something.”

“What?”

“You’re not gonna get anything out of me with that tone,” X said smugly.

“X, stop fucking with him.” Raven demanded, clearly tired of his bullshit.

The thief looked over at her with his blue eyes, filled with a devilish charm, “You got some bite now, don’t cha, Sunshine? And I thought Cutie was a catch.”

“I hope you don’t think your chauvinistic tone is charming? Because if anything, it’s only showing me what area you’re lacking in.” Raven said patronizingly as she sized the young thief up.

He let out a slight laugh, taken aback by the comment, “Smart, pretty, and derogatory, I can’t think of a better combination,” X replied in a flirtatious manner.

Dick looked on at the exchange with disgust, though he couldn’t really place where the feeling was coming from. ‘She better not fall for that line,’ he thought tightly balling his fist.

“Oh, because if I wasn’t pretty then my intelligence would hold less weight, right?”

‘Good girl.’

The thief’s eyes flew open as he was caught off guard by the fact that a woman could actually resist his charm. 

“Now, if you could remove your mind from the gutter in which it’s been steeping in, that would be great?” Raven added, the words practically chewing him up and spitting him out.

X glanced over at Dick, the two sharing a brief look, Dick knowing full well what it was like on the receiving end of Raven’s wrath.

“Okay, so I confirmed that the sample you gave me was indeed lab-grade,” the young thief said finally answering the question, “But this probably wasn’t made in a lab, at least not in the U.S.”

Dick furrowed his brow and a grave look took over his features as Red X continued.

“The U.S. has higher pharmaceutical regulations than most countries and has standard inspections and protocols.  And as of part those protocols, pharmaceutical companies also have to track their inventories. Now there are ways around this, it’s been done before, but if Slade actually had someone make this stuff, he wouldn’t be stupid enough to make it in one of his own labs. Odds are, he most likely put more than a few thousand miles between him and this product.”

“Is that seriously all you found?” Dick said bitterly as the boy concluded.

“No.”

“Well what else?”

“Word on the street is, Jump’s free territory and it’s up for grabs,” Red X added a hint of fear in his voice. “See, Snowflame may have not made a lot of noise, but he was a big player in this city’s drug trade and he had a lot of pull with someone who had a lot more power than him, which is why his grip was so strong.”

Dick frowned uncomfortably, “Are you saying Snowflame was working with Slade?”

“Yeah,” Red X replied, “I mean it’s not a definite, but it would explain how someone as unstable as that coke-head could run this territory and not get clipped for so long.”

“Slade would never work with someone like Snowflame, there’s too much risk,” the former Titan replied, feeling Slade would have higher standards.

“You don’t know that,” X said darkly, “Slade plays people like pawns, and the smarter a person is, the harder they are to play.”

Dick raised an eyebrow, “Before Rancid killed Snowflame, he mentioned that he was just collateral damage. Johnny had orders to kill him,” the hero said in revulsion.

“Slade probably gave him Snowflame his power and helped him maintain it until he didn’t need him anymore. Then he—”

“Took it away,” Dick concluded, letting loathing reflect in his eyes.

The two shared a dark look as they both came to the same conclusion. Dick immediately recalled his exchange with Gizmo, his words now holding a more prevalent reality than they already had. ‘The one eyed man really is king….’

Dick ran his fingers through his hair, one final question resting on his tongue, “What about the Red Hood?”

X pulled out a white envelope and held it in his hand, looking down at it for a moment, “Well to my greatest surprise he told me to give you this. I guess he really is your bother.”

Dick shrugged and began to approach X, but was interrupted as the thief spoke again.

“Yeah, hold on there, Chuckles. You haven’t paid the full amount yet.”

Dick glared at the anti-hero who looked back at him maskless. As far as Dick knew he’d already done his job. He’d gotten him some confirmation that Slade was indeed pulling some deadly strings and he had even produced a possible letter from Jason. Dick took a deep breath and nodded to Raven, who replied by throwing him a bag filled with cash.

He caught it and then moved toward X, apprehension heavy on his soles. X, himself, seemed to have his guard up, as though he were waiting for some other hero to come crashing in at any moment.

Dick reached out his hand to the thief’s, surprised as he looked down for a moment pondering whether to shake it or not, but did.

“Thanks X,” Dick said slowly, “I guess I can trust you after all. I’ll let you know if I need your help in the future.”

Red X nodded as he took the money and handed him the letter, “Good luck, you’re going to need it.”

The ex-Titan felt the grave words hit him harder than he let on, Red X clearly knowing more about Slade than he previously thought. The young thief looked over at Raven and smiled mischievously, then took off into the night. Dick could feel her footsteps drawing close to him, her presence starting to loom.

“You didn’t tell me you were leaving the team,” Dick said, his tone grave and dripping with disappointment.

Raven immediately stopped as the words left his lips, unsure of what to really say, “I was gonna tell you when we had a better plan,” she replied feeling the tension grow between them. “I mean… I thought you already knew—”

“Well I didn’t, Rae,” Dick said turning to face her.

She could see in his eyes that he was angry, but he wasn’t overcome with it. She crossed her arms and straightened her back, signaling that she was ready to defend her decision.

“What did you think I was going to do?”

“I don’t know? I guess I thought you wouldn’t officially leave,” Dick replied dumbfounded, “I mean… I don’t know Rae, I really don’t?”

Raven looked at him and let her stance fall, becoming less threatening, “I can’t do what we’re doing and be a Titan, Dick. You know I can’t.”

He took a deep breath, he knew she was right. He couldn’t be a Titan either, he’d broken the code, but Raven hadn’t.

“It’s not too late for you to turn back, maybe it would be better if you did?”

“I can’t do that either, not after tonight,” Raven replied looking back at him as he stood at odds with her decision.

He turned from her for a minute. As much as he wanted her to come with him, he couldn’t stand the idea of taking her away from her life. She was about to graduate and make something bigger for herself, he couldn’t take her away from that. He had to let her go.

“Raven I—”

“I know what you’re going to say and no, I’m not changing my mind,” She replied cutting him off. “This is what I want.”

“You can’t want this Rae, there nothing here for you to gain.”

“There’s nothing for you to gain either, but you’re going after it anyway, Richard.” She remained small, her tone soft as she continued, “Like you, I don’t know who I am outside the team, and if I stay , I’ll never find out who I am without it. I’m not just coming with you because of you, I coming because I need to.”

Dick had never thought of it that way, he always thought he was the only one with an identity crisis, but alas, he was wrong. He could see that she meant every word, that she’d become trapped in her world and wanted to be free of it, like he wanted.

“There are other ways to figure that out,” Dick finally said.

“Maybe, but this is the way I wanna go.”

“Why? Why would want that?” Dick asked in a disgruntled manner.

“Want what?”

“This,” he replied moving toward her justly, “I asked you to look away and you won’t? How can you see me like this?”

Raven tilted her head, perplexed as she looked up at him, seeing the trouble in his eyes, “Because I know why you feel what you feel. I know that you think what you’re doing is right.”

He left his jaw fall slack, nearly at a loss for words, “But is it, Rae? Do you really think this is right?

“What is right, Dick?” Raven replied looking up at his troubled expression. “There’s a lot in this world that’s considered wrong, but is it truly wrong? Or is it just the way we think of it? I’m not saying every misdeed is warranted, but sometimes, to do a great right… you have to do a little wrong.

For a moment neither one spoke. Raven glanced away unsure of how Dick would handle her comment, though in a sense she was right. There were plenty of things that people considered wrong and plenty of things they’d consider right. But could anyone truly make that judgment, and could he really put his actions in either category?

“Just because the ends justify the means, doesn’t make it right, Rae,” Dick finally said, pulling forth his old values.

She glanced up at him and ever so gently said, “I never said that it was, Richard. I just said that everything isn’t as black and white as you want it to be.”

He turned from her, and walked to the edge of the roof and he looked over the ledge. Everything looked so small, so fragile from up there, just so—distant. It was like he couldn’t see things the same anymore, like this world no longer belong to him, or he no longer belonged in it. It just felt like there wasn’t anything left now, so what was there?

“Raven, can I tell you something?” Dick called from the ledge, the wind blowing passed him as he spoke.

“Of course,” she replied taking a few steps forward, “what is it?”

He bit his lip, but didn’t bother looking back at her. He just stared over the outlying world beyond him.

“I just feel like my entire life is just one very long free fall,” Dick said looking up to the moon. “Like ever since my parents died, I’ve been plummeting and I can’t seem to make that feeling stop.”

He could hear her steps cease, but he still couldn’t look back at her for fear she may turn to stone if he did.

“I know part of me died with them, and I know I can never get that back, but I feel like that’s what I’ve been chasing. That piece of what’s gone—that lost reality. And now, I don’t know if I’ll ever be whole again?”

Silence fell over them as Raven sat beside him on the ledge, looking up at his stoic form. His words wreaked of pain, steeped in years of unspoken suffering and untold endurance. She knew those things rested within him, but to hear them take on breath and form words to live, was nearly too much to handle.

“The hardest part about it,” Dick continued and looked down at her, “is that I built a new reality and I moved on. But now, I’ve lost that too. I’m back where I was a whole lifetime ago… and I can never get those things back.”

“I know you can’t,” Raven replied, “I know there is nothing I can say or do to bring you back to that place, but if you let me, maybe I can catch you?”

Dick smiled at her weakly, though he knew even her grip wasn’t enough, but she brought him a little comfort.

“I just don’t want you to fall along with me, Raven.”

“You and I both know falling is what I do best,” Raven said as Dick sank down to meet her eyes. “But, I was taught by a strong, yet stubborn, and slightly annoying, man that it’s not how we fall, it’s how he get back up that matters.”

“Has it ever occurred to you that guy might be an idiot?” Dick asked, realizing she was indeed quoting him.

Raven laughed as a cynical looked took over her face, “Oh he’s an idiot alright, but he has his moments. I mean even a dim bulb can be bright in a dark room.”

“Oh thanks Rae, that’s really encouraging.”

“Relax Dick, I’m only kidding,” Raven drawled. “But I meant what I said about getting up.”

“What if can’t though?”

“Sometimes we need to let ourselves break, if we break we can put ourselves back together again—start over.”

“I guess you’re right?”

Dick looked off at the city again, but it still felt too far away. He knew Raven had a point, that sometimes breaking was the only way to move on or find our limits. But he wondered how hard he’d have to hit the ground, how deep he’d have to break before it was enough? And if he did, would people still be able to see them, those fractures spidering across his face? Or better yet, would he be able to see the cracks when he looked in the mirror?

Chapter Text

They both stared at it as it lay on the table before them, its face written in a hand Dick had not seen in years. However, now it held more structure and arrogance than it once had. Raven glanced over at Dick, his eyes stormy as they rested on the message that bore itself on the white paper.

Hey Boy Wonder, long time no see. Word on the street is you wanna meet with me. Now normally I wouldn't even acknowledge this kinda request, but I'm amused so I'll allow it—on one condition, of course. You have to do me a favor.

You see, there's a certain clown in Gotham, who has something that belongs to me, and well, I want you to get it back for me.

Now, I know what I'm asking is dangerous, and even something Bruce would consider reckless. But I get the feeling you don't really care about that anymore—do you?

Well, if you accept this mission, contact X. He'll fill you in on the details. Also, feel free to rough the clown up a bit for me, or kill him (I'd prefer that). And one last thing, I will not take failure as an option. You want your meeting, you better do the job. Even if you have to pry it out of him.

Well good luck with your decision, Grayson. Either way, I guess we'll see what kinda metal you're really made of. Have a great fucking day, Dick.

—JT

"That's a colorful farewell," Raven muttered sarcastically. "So what are we gonna do?"

Dick looked over at her stone faced, "Well, if we want to move forward, then we have to do it," he said, picking up the letter and peering down at it. "So the real question is, do we wanna move forward?"

Raven crossed her arms and looked down at her feet, her cloak draped around her small form. It was clear she wasn't completely sold on the idea, but she didn't want to say it.

"Do we really need him?" she asked looking back up at Dick again.

He nodded and placed the letter down, leaning his arms on the table for support.

"Jason knows everything about the drug trade, and the criminal underworld. He has access to knowledge and information we can't get on our own."

Raven let her hand rest on the table as her body leaned into it, her long glove stretching the length of her fair arm. "What's the plan?"

Dick glanced over at her questionably, "You still wanna do this?"

"Only if you think Hell's empty?"


 

The day had finally arrived, the day Dick and the other Titans thought would never come—Raven's graduation.

The ceremony had finally come to an end. The team standing beneath the hot spring sun as Dick and Victor looked on trying to find the dark-haired girl in the horribly large crowed. They were of course accompanied by Gar and his girlfriend Jillian, as well as Kory and to some surprise, Donna.

Dick hadn't seen Donna in months, not since he and Kory'd broken up, but the two actually went back quite a bit. For a while the two were actually pretty close, almost as close as he and Barbara. However, Dick always look at Donna as more of a sister. So it didn't surprise him when Donna had led him away from the flock.

"So it's really over?" she asked as they walked through the thick crowd.

Dick let out a heavy sigh and looked back at her regretfully, "Yeah."

The two kept walking, moving through the waves of people, trying to find their new graduate.

"So what are you gonna do now?"

Dick looked forward, trying keep his eyes hidden behind his sunglasses, "Well tomorrow, Raven and I are leaving for a road trip, but we're not really sure where we're going."

Donna laughed, letting a soft smile stretch across her face, "Just gonna go where the wind takes you?"

"Something like that," Dick replied, trying to keep his motives hidden.

"There's nothing like getting in a car and driving away without any idea where you're going," Donna said glancing up in a nostalgic manner. "There's a freedom to not having a destination."

Dick let a comforting smile take form on his face as he took in the thought. "You sound like you know?"

Donna laughed lightly, "Yeah, before Roy and I broke up, we went on road trip. Just us, a car, and a map."

"I can only imagine the damage that ensued."

"It actually wasn't that bad," Donna replied, "I mean for all his faults, I always felt really free with Roy. Like I didn't have to be anything but myself with him."

Dicked felt his brow crease as he looked over at her, "You don't feel that way now?"

Donna's gaze fell from him, her face falling with it, "I haven't told anyone yet, but I'm leaving Terry."

Dick felt his jaw fall for a moment, wondering if he'd heard her right, "What? Does Terry know?"

Donna shook her head slowly, but said nothing as she pressed her lips together in discomfort.

"Well if you need anything, I'm here. I'm sure Bruce knows a few good lawyers."

Donna smiled at the slight joke and tilted her head, "Thanks, I'm just trying to get everything squared away before I make it official, but it's good to know I have your support."

Dick placed his hand on her shoulder and gave her comforting squeeze, "Well if it's any consolation, I've never really liked Terry, so I mean it's not really much of a loss for me."

Donna laughed, but didn't say much, as though the words didn't comfort her the way they were intended to.

"Donna, I'm sorry. I—"

"No it's fine," she reassured, "it's just… I know none of you really ever liked Terry, and you, of all people, just endured him for the sake of mine and Kory's friendship. But I mean… we have a son together, and house, and… a life—and I'm about throw all of that away."

The two shared a deep moment of regret that only they could really understand, as nothing needed to be said.

"Does it ever get better?" Donna finally asked, lifting the silence.

Dick looked away trying to find an answer, but there just wasn't an easy one that came to mind. In a sense, he knew the pain that Donna was going through, but in a sense, he couldn't begin to imagine her guilt. He and Kory didn't have any children, so their collateral damage was minimal. They also only had a few assets together that at the end of the day were easy to split. But the thing that really separated their situations was the fact that Kory and Dick never even got married.

This in its own way made it easier to walk away as there were less ties keeping them together. There was no law keeping them bound to one another, or holding them accountable to see it through. There was just the bond they made and maintained. And when the bond grew thin, they cut it, like a ball to a chain.

Dick took a breath and prepared to answer her question, but before he could free the words he'd gathered, they heard a voice call from the crowd.

"There you two are!"

They both turned to find a ragtag group of Titans pushing their way through the crowd of people.

"Looks like we found them?" Donna said with a dull tone.

"Or they found us?" Dick added.

His three teammates were of course followed by Jillian and Sara who both clung to their men with a proud fondness. Raven and Kory both seemed content as they approached. Kory looked stunning in her pink sundress as Raven had already begun stripping herself of her graduation gown.

"If I ever have to wear another one of those things again, it'll be too soon," she growled, folding the yellow fabric over her arm.

"I don't know Rae, yellow's kind of a good color for you," Gar said with his arm propped around Jillian's shoulder.

Raven gave the boy a crass smile and said, "Yeah, I get the feeling you only came so you could see me actually look like a fool."

"Correct! And mission accomplished!" the green boy exclaimed.

"Hey, the girl may not look good in yellow, but she's still smarter than you, Grass Stain," Victor teased, giving Raven a high five.

"Yeah seriously, your Masters degree. I feel like I'm never gonna get my Bachelors," Sara added, trying to shift the mood in a lighter direction.

Victor smiled and looked back at her, "With the way you study, you'll have it by next year."

The two continued their conversation with one another, as though forgetting they were in the company of others. All while Kory and Jillian giggled at Gar's callow antics.

Raven looked over to Donna and Dick and smiled awkwardly. She hated being the center of attention.

"So how's it feel to be completely done?" Donna asked.

"Kinda like I have my whole life ahead of me, and I can do anything I set my mind to."

"You don't mean a word of that, do you?" Dick asked Raven in a flat tone.

"Yeah, I'm trying to keep up the inspirational spirit, but I just don't have it me," Raven drawled with her usual cynicism.

"That's probably for the best," Dick laughed, "I'd be nervous if that was somewhat convincing."

"What? The goth girl can't be anything but gloom and doom?" She said, looking back at him sarcastically.

"So Raven, are you excited for your trip tomorrow?" Donna asked feeling a little left out.

Raven looked at her with little emotion, "Eh, I mean I am, I guess. However, I don't know how I'm gonna be able to stand long periods of time with the legendary Boy Blunder?"

The Amazon looked over at Dick and giggled at his expense, "I can see how you'd find that concerning, Rae," Donna replied, receiving and eye roll from Dick. "So what made you two wanna take this trip anyway?"

The two birds looked at each other a moment, something they'd been doing a lot of when explaining their plans.

"Uh, timing I guess?" Dick said causally, "ya' know, it's kinda like when are we ever gonna get the chance to do this again?"

Donna smiled and nodded, "Yeah I can totally understand that, and you're right, trust me. I know you're right—"

Just as she was finishing her statement, the three heard Victor's thunderous voice yell over the white noise of the crowd.

"So who wants to take this party back to the tower? I wanna spend what little time we have together as a family," he said in a hearty tone, filled with sincerity.

It was something that they hadn't really called themselves in a while, at least out loud. Dick looked around at his fellow Titans, and though he may not have held that title anymore, he'd always be one of them.

It was hard to think that tomorrow he'd be leaving them, and for something they may not consider noble. But it was something he'd accepted by now, and something he felt was necessary.

"Yeah, it'll be like old times," he replied with a genuine smile, staring back at his team.

"Yeah dudes, I can't wait for you guys to try my tofu casserole! It's totally bomb," the green changeling said triumphantly.

"Oh yeah, it's gonna bomb alright," Raven said dully, "like a bulimic after Christmas dinner."

The rest of the team burst out in laughter, some out of genuine humor and others out of a little discomfort. Gar however, looked back at her with little amusement, a listless stare in his green eyes.

"That's real classy, Rae. I thought you were supposed to be above that sorta thing?"

Raven looked back at him, her expression unmoved from its sharp glare, "Hey, it was cheap, but I went for it," she replied. "I like to judge things from a similar level of quality."

"Okay, point taken," Dick interjected, trying hold back his laughter, but hardly succeeded, "no one likes tofu, and Raven has no problem articulating that she hates it. So with that realization out of the way, let's go eat."

"I second that motion, man. Best plan anyone's had all day!" Victor exclaimed, setting his sights on the parking lot.

He was followed by Sara who laughed as the robotic man rambled on about the stake tips he'd let marinate overnight, and how he couldn't wait to fire up the grill. Gar of course grabbed Jillian and followed, whining about the injustice of eating animals, earning a, "Shut up, Tofu Breath," from Victor.

Donna walked over to Kory, calling out that she'd see everyone back at the tower. Dick and Raven greeted the two goodbye, Kory and Dick still somewhat tied to their awkwardness. They still hadn't really discussed anything that happened between them, both too hesitant to approach it again.

"You need to talk to her," Raven said as the two women stepped just out of eat shot.

"I know," Dick replied weakly, "I just don't know what to say to her."

He looked back at Kory as she walked away, her red hair getting caught up in the wind as she left. It was a sight he once found great beauty in, but now found its greatness withering into nothing. There was a sadness that attached itself to the feeling, leeching the very life out of it.

"Well you better figure it out," Raven replied then looked over Dick blankly, "You owe her that."

Dick looked over at her, but remained silent. He knew he owed Kory a proper goodbye and that he couldn't leave the bridge aflame, but part of him just wanted to walk away.

"I'm serious Dick, you can't move on to tomorrow until you get through today," she replied seeing the reluctance in his eyes.

"What if tomorrow doesn't come?"

"Then you better hope today means something, because you might regret what came of it." Raven turned and walked away, not even giving him a moment to reply. She had no patience for his childishness, mostly because she knew he was bigger than it. She wouldn't allow him to just run away like he wanted to, though he hardly saw it that way.

Dick stood there a moment, lost amongst the crowd, shrouded in insignificance. The world was clearly moving around him, once again not stopping for fear of leaving him behind. He knew how cruel the wind could blow, how hard the rain could pour, and how unfair time itself could be. Life didn't stop for anyone, and if you couldn't keep up, it would break you without a second thought. It was something he felt time and time again, that need to break, but the trick was to keep moving, to keep fighting the tide.

He thought about something his father had told him about coping. A deep sentiment of time and duty that Dick always kept with him.

" Someday you'll be faced with situations that you'll find very difficult to handle, and you'll be told to man up. Now, I know you think you'll be willing to live up to the challenge, but there will be moments you won't, and in those moments, you may have to make decisions you're not proud of, but you'll have to make them anyway."

Dick could recall asking his father how he'd be able to do that, how he could navigate through such harsh waters. How he could make such decisions?

His father drew back and let his eyes fill with the difficulties he still kept with him, and always would, then he spoke.

" Anybody can endure one moment, and once it's gone, another moment begins, you just need to take life one moment at a time."

His father went on to say that one day tomorrow wouldn't come, but he would always have today, and that the decisions of today would enviably construct tomorrow. Dick thought about his decisions as of late, and the effect they'd had on him, and the tomorrow he faced. Part of him held a cynical view of himself, as though it didn't matter. But another part of him still questioned if what he was doing and what he'd done was right. But what was done was done, he couldn't turn back now, he just had to endure it.

"One moment at a time…"


 

A few hours had passed as the Titans sat around the roof top, blissfully enjoying what little time they had left together. For the most part things seemed comfortable, and for the first time in weeks, things felt less turbulent, both as a unit and individually. It was as if nothing had ever changed. The team once again found themselves laughing together and sharing stories of old times before life had become heavy and complicated.

For Dick, this was a relief, to forget the things that bogged him down, the things that continued to keep him awake at night. For the moment, he was free of that darkness, and that clawing reality, and deep down, he really didn't want tomorrow to come.

He watched as Beast Boy theatrically retold of the time he'd taken an awful job at Meaty Meats, so he could win a moped.

"I still can't believe you did that, man!" Victor exclaimed in hysterics.

The green boy smiled wide, "Yeah Dude! And after all was said and done, that piece of crap fell apart!" he laughed.

"Great story," Raven said hardly amused, as she'd heard the tale told and retold more times than she cared to count, "I'm gonna get a refill," she said, picking up her wine glass.

"Uh Raven, there's a nearly full bottle right—" Donna began, until Raven cut her off.

"That's not the kind I want."

"That's awfully picky of you, Rae. Care to tell us what kind you do want?" Gar said with a hint of curiosity.

Raven looked at the changeling a little annoyed, "The kind that comes from the kitchen."

The rest of the team couldn't help but laugh at the exchange as a foolish look fell over Gar's face.

Raven smirked at her victory and turned, walking toward the stairway and made her way down the corridor. As she vanished, the conversation kept persisting, but seemed to be veering off in different directions.

Victor and Gar began talking amongst themselves as Sara and Jillian asked them to tell more funny stories. Meanwhile Dick and Donna retreated into their own conversation.

"God, Raven really knows how to stick it to Gar," Donna said with a laugh.

"Oh, she can do that to anyone. Trust me, I've found myself on the receiving end of it quite a few times."

Donna laughed a little at Dick's expense and took a sip of her wine, "Hey, have you seen Kory?"


 

Raven entered the common room a tad on the tipsy side. However, she was quite lucid, but in the event that she'd have to sit through another one of Gar's jokes, she'd see to it she wouldn't remember. She walked into the kitchen and began reading the labels of the various liquors at her disposal.

"Now which one of you is gonna get me to Lushville the fastest?" she mumbled.

"I personally find great solace in the Vodka of Raspberries," she heard and jumped at the sight of a figure popping up from behind the couch.

"Oh shit Kory," Raven sighed roughly, "you scared the fuck out of me."

Kory leaned sluggishly on the back of the couch, draping over it carelessly, "My apologies, Friend Raven."

Raven looked back at the girl crudely, immediately realizing that something was off, "Uh Kory, are you okay? You haven't talked like that since you got plastered at Donna's wedding and cried cause you didn't catch the bouquet—"

Raven then realized that she'd answered her own question, her eyes growing wide at the discovery.

"Yes Friend Raven, I am afraid that I am what you call the shitfaced."

Raven's concern for her friend quickly flooded over her face as she looked on at her from the counter.

"Do you… um, wanna talk about it?" she asked, watching Kory struggle to hold herself up.

"No, I do not want to burden you with my feelings, I know you do not care for the taking it out."

Her words hit Raven hard in her empathy, making it sound like she didn't care, but she did. She could just never really bring herself to really voice it out loud.

"Kory, I know I can come off as cold and uncaring—"

"Gar claims it is because you are the reigning Queen of Bitch."

Raven bit her lip as a crass, yet bitter smile curled across her lips, "and Gar's the reigning King of Dumbass. The point is, I know I can come off as a cold-hearted bitch, but that doesn't mean I don't care about you guys." Raven said, trying to reach out to the drunk alien. "So if it will help you, I'm all ears."

"So you will do the listening of my problems?"

"Yes."

"Oh glorious, Friend Raven!" Kory slurred, throwing her arms up sluggishly, knocking over what was left of the raspberry vodka.

Raven watched the mishap from the counter, feeling a blood vessel in her forehead begin to throb.

"Mother of Christ, I'm not drunk enough for this—just give me a second," she said pouring herself a generous shot of whatever whisky was available.

Kory clumsily looked back at the young sorceress as she threw back the dark liquid, leaning on the counter as she forced its burning contents down.

"Are you the good?" Kory asked as Raven looked up at her.

"I will be," she replied, picking up a bottle of wine and an empty glass, then made her way to the couch. "Okay, go."

Kory looked down a moment as if she were trying to find a starting point, "I suspect that I am having a hard time with the moving on," she said. "I have spent a long time on this world and I feel as though I still understanding little of it and its people."

"You don't understand why Dick doesn't understand your decision?"

"That is correct," she said, leaning her head on the couch somberly, "I understand that it is not his custom, and I can live with that, but I do not understand why he uses it as an excuse."

Raven looked away from her and toward the large window in front of them. Kory really was a lot smarter than most people gave her credit for, and she was far less easy to lie to.

"I don't think he does it on purpose," Raven finally said, "he's probably not even aware that he's doing it."

"But how is that possible? How can you all be so oblivious?"

Raven peered down at the rich Merlot in her hand, its scent faint as she inhaled, "Have you ever heard the quote, 'some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them'?"

"I have not, but I understand the concept that you speak of. Is it by that Spear Shaker you are so fond of?"

Raven laughed at Kory's ignorance of Elizabethan playwrights, wondering for a moment about her interpretation, "Yes it is, but I think that concept is universal," Raven said taking a sip of her wine, "Some are born into their situation, whereas others achieve it over time, but other have no choice."

"I do not quite understand?"

"I mean look at Dick's life and his circumstances. He was born into a life—a culture, that a lot of people don't understand. Then that life was taken away from him and he was forced into another—a completely different life, with completely different responsibilities and values—that he had to learn to adhere to."

"What is your point, friend Raven?"

"My point is, there's a lot about Richard Grayson we don't understand, and I think part of that is because he was taught by both his parents and Bruce that letting the world in isn't exactly a noble practice. It also doesn't help that he's Romany and Irish. Top that off with Bruce's jaded view of the world, it's a shock he's as well adjusted as he is."

"But that does not explain why he no longer holds love for me," Kory said weakly, "I feel as though it is my fault."

"He still loves you," Raven replied, "just not like he used to, but that's no one's fault, that's just life."

"How can life do such a thing?" Kory questioned, disillusion pressing against her heart.

"Life changes us," Raven replied, "it takes us to places we never thought we'd have to go. Our experiences shape us, they make us see things differently and we grow from that. That's what people do, they change and it takes a great amount of ignorance to remain static."

"So he is too complex for me?"

"No," Raven corrected, "you're both too complex for each other,"

"You think I'm complex?" Kory perked up a moment, as if the notion was truly a surprise.

Raven smiled as she traced the rim of her glass, "Yes, there are far more layers to you than most people are capable of seeing, Kory. You may not understand our world in its depths, but you understand things about humanity that most people can't, and that makes you pretty profound sometimes."

Raven paused and took a long sip of her wine as Kory pulled her knees up to her chest.

"Thank you Raven," she said sincerely, "I always thought you viewed me as the naiveté?"

Raven looked over at the beautiful alien, a little hurt on her face, but only for the fact her friend felt that way, and she'd allowed it.

"You have every right to feel that way, I haven't exactly been the friend I should have been."

"What do you mean, Raven?" Kory questioned with a spark of intrigue, "is there something you have not told me?"

"No," Raven said with regret, "but I did practically remove myself from your life. I haven't always been there for you."

"I always thought you felt I had replaced you with Donna."

"No, I know you didn't," Raven reassured, "and you at least made an effort to include me. I however, always kept the door closed."

"May I ask why?"

Kory's green eyes looked up at her with intrigue, but no malice to be found.

"I guess because it was easier."

"How so?" Kory grimaced with an inquisitiveness.

"Because if I spent time with you," The dark girl began, "I'd have to put forth effort, I'd have to try things I wasn't willing to. I'd have to try and see the world through your eyes and well, I didn't want to."

Kory remained quiet for a moment as she tried understand such a reason.

"Don't ask me why, because to be honest, I don't think I know for myself." Raven finally concluded.

"I understand," Kory said, "I appreciate your honesty."

"Thank you I—" Raven began, but stopped as she heard a ruckus stir from behind her.

The two young women turned their heads to quickly find their fellow teammates come stumbling in (and over each other).

"So this is where you two have been," the mechanical man said as he plopped down on the couch beside them.

"Finally one of the greatest mysteries is solved," Raven drawled, finishing her wine.

Gar threw himself over the back of the couch and wrapped his arms around the dark girl, her eyes flaring from the embrace.

"Oh Raven, have I told you how much I'm gonna miss you?"

"No, and you're touching me," the sorceress growled slightly, Kory giggling at her discomfort.

"Well… I will," Gar cued drunkenly, his arms still wrapped tightly around her.

"I as well," Kory added as she too threw her arms around Raven with Gar still holding her tight.

"Aww bring it in, group hug! I'm gonna miss you too, Rae," said Victor, joining the embrace.

"Okay, okay, I'm gonna miss you guys too," Raven groaned, a little annoyed, though she truly did appreciate the gesture. However (physical contact wasn't really for her). "Now can you guys stop with the touchy feely, I'm starting to freak out."

"You know you like it," Victor said in a singsong voice.

"Yeah, I like it as much as I like pestilence and famine."

"So—a lot!"

8888

As the light-hearted moment between Raven and her fellow Titans went on, Dick and Donna continued their pervious conversation.

"So you and Terry are totally done?"

"Yep, it's over, and it's not worth saving," Donna said rolling the base of her wine glass.

Dick glanced down, each word hitting him like a hard blow. He understood how she felt. That moment where you no longer want to put any effort into saving your relationship, because for you, there is nothing to save.

"It's a shitty feeling, I'm sorry."

Donna shrugged, and peered down at her glass, "I tried to ask you early if it gets better, you didn't answer?"

"I don't know, I'm not there yet." Dick looked up at her with uncertainty in his eyes, "I mean, maybe it's starting to, I guess. It's hard to say, every day's a bit different. It's tough thought, to have your whole identity wrapped up in someone, then without them you don't know who you are. I think that's the worst part, not knowing."

Donna smiled meagerly as she peered up at the sky reminiscently, "How'd you know it was over?"

It was a good question, one he hadn't really thought about. Dick took a moment to think of where he'd exactly given up, when he'd lost the will to fight anymore, when he just wanted to let go.

"When I realized that we could never get back what we had, that was the moment it hit me, but I think part of me knew long before that."

A dull, but mournful look took life on his face as the words formed sound and left his thoughts. Donna nodded, understanding how hard that moment hit him—she'd felt it for herself.

"What about you?" Dick asked, "How'd you know?"

Donna let go of a deep breath and straightened her back as she began sifting through the details.

"We'd gotten into a fight, something marginal in all honestly, but it was still enough that I couldn't even look at Terry. So I left. I took a long walk, trying to clear my head and began going over what I could possibly do to fix our relationship—what we could do."

"What'd you come up with?"

"Nothing," Donna replied with a bitter smile, "There was nothing I wanted form him anymore, there was nothing I wanted to fix. I just didn't love him anymore."

Dick looked away, hearing a little hatred drip into her voice. He knew how it felt to give up on fighting for someone, but he didn't know how it felt to hate them like that. To hate someone for loving you.

"So," Donna said picking up her glass, "how do you get through it? I know you still love Kory, that can't be easy for you?"

Dick shrugged and took a deep breath, "My dad told me when I was a kid that life is hard, but that you can endure anything for a moment." He looked up at Donna who seemed intrigued by the notion. "So I guess I'm just getting through it one moment at a time."

"That's awfully poetic of you," Donna said with a little surprise.

"It's not poetic, it's just life."

Donna cracked a smile and said, "You have to stop hanging out with Raven."

Dick laughed cynically, unable to help himself, "Sorry, I'm in the angry phase of the mourning process and the beer isn't helping."

Donna chuckled as she stood up, "The last time you said something like that was right before you left Gotham, kind of ironic, isn't it?"

Dick resented the statement, though he knew Donna meant no harm by it, but still it hurt to know she was right. Dick's departure from Gotham came after a string of events, including his first falling out with Bruce and his decision to walk away. He gave up everything when he made that decision, his family, his home, his first love—he relinquished all of it and gave up his life. A lot like he was about to do now.

"It's funny how everything comes full circle," Dick said noticing the moon hanging low in the sky, "I left one life behind to build a new one, and now I'm walking away from this one too."

Donna felt for him, knowing the parallels of his story and how they'd brought him here. She looked down at her watch to check the time and found it was it was 1 am.

"Well it's officially tomorrow, we should move forward, leave the past to the past," she said catching his attention.

Dick looked over at her and smiled, trying to take her advice and leave that past to memory. "We should go find the others, God only knows what they're up to."

Donna nodded and followed him down the steps from the roof, leaving the moon to her lonesome watch over the world's indiscretion.

As they walked, they made small talk, leaving Dick to think about how alike they were and how much they weren't. The lives they knew were both coming to an end, but for very different reasons. For Donna, it was the end of her shiny happy life as the perfect wife and mother she portrayed herself to be. And she'd given up a lot for that life, even walking away from the culture she'd come from to obtain it. Maybe that was why she hated Terry, he took her away from who she was and she wanted it back, or maybe she just wanted to be someone without him?

The two finally reached the common area where they found an odd sight. Raven was sitting up with both Gar and Kory, drunkenly passed out on each shoulder, Victor out cold to her right.

"Raven?" Dick questioned, looking on at the sight a little surprised.

She looked over at him and rolled her eyes with just a hint of submission melting into her expression.

He moved closer to her and knelt down beside the couch, "I never thought I'd see the day…" he chuckled, the light scent of beer rolling off his breath.

Raven sarcastically smiled with a mocking laugh, "I'm glad you're enjoying this moment, I feel really complete."

Dick let out a small grunt of laughter, just slightly enjoying her pain, "Would you like some help?" he asked.

But to his surprise the dark girl declined, "No, I'm good. This may not be an ideal situation, but it's grown on me, literally."

Dick looked back at her shocked and raised his hand to her forehead, "You feeling okay, Rae?"

He placed his hand on the warm plane of her brow as her eye glaced up at it.

"I'm fine Grayson, I'm just enjoying the moment… I think?" she replied, slightly questioning her emotional response. "I could just be drunk… I'm probably drunk."

"Well then you're in good company, I think we're all a little shitfaced at this point," Dick mused, taking in the current sight.

"Oh good, I'm not the only lush," Raven laughed dryly.

"So you're good here?"

"Yeah," Raven smiled, "for now. I'll probably kick them off when I can't feel my shoulders anymore."

"Ok, night Rae."

"Night Boy Blunder."


 

The next day came with the rising of the sun. The team sluggishly helping place bags in the back of the forest green Jeep Cherokee, each one moving through different degrees of pain.

The sun was high which (for once) seemed to be working against Kory, who was clearly hungover. Raven suggested earlier that morning that she go back to bed. Adding, that she'd bring her some water and have Vic make her something to eat. However, Kory refused, wanting to see her friends off. She didn't want to put a damper on those final moments.

Gar (who was also quite sloshed) wasn't so humble. He made it no secret that his head was pounding, comparing it to a jackhammer pulling up tile.

"Seriously, I'm never drinking again, I can't even think straight," the green boy whined.

"That's nothing new," Raven drawled as she carefully checked to make sure she had everything.

"Haha, funny Rae" Gar replied unamused, his head too cluttered for humor. "You really know how to kick a dog when it's down."

"Only when the dog is you."

"Oh stop it you two," Victor intruded on the banter, "these are our last few moments as a team. Let's not spend them fighting over how basic BB is."

"Yeah!" Gar agreed, not really thinking. 'Hey—wait!"

Raven raised a brow, clearly amused with how easily Gar stumbled into that joke. "Vic's right, but in the future, Gar. Next time you drink half your weight in beer, sleep with the air conditioning on high and drink a lot of water. It will spare us the torture of listening to you whine."

While this was taking place, not far in the distance, Kory looked on at her friends wearily. She wanted so badly to spend those last moments with them, but couldn't quite lift her spirits. Looking on, she could feel herself becoming quite hot and a sick feeling began to fill her.

"Oh X'hal," she muttered, placing her hand over her mouth and took off for the bay.

She sprinted for the shoreline, but didn't quite succeed, doubling over in discomfort, unable to hold back her sickness. She by now, was out of sight of the others, her body voiding itself, unable to take the heat any longer.

"Oh God, Kory! Are you okay? She heard a once familiar voice say.

She hadn't noticed, but Dick had been sitting on a rock not far off her right, bearing witness to the unsavory sight.

She looked up at him, still hunched over in unpleasant agony.

"I'm fi—" she attempted to say, but was overcome by sickness again.

Dick, quickly ran to her side and pulled the massive red locks from her face, creasing his face at both sight and smell. A long minute passed while Kory's body continued to purge, her core finally feeling weak from the fatigue.

Dick helped her sit down on a rock as she tried to get some of her strength back, her head buried deep in her hands.

"You really need to go back to bed, Kory," Dick said, gently combing some of her hair behind her ear.

She looked up at him, tears running down her face from the disorientation. She nodded, not really having the will to verbally agree. He helped her up, and walked her to the tower where he placed her in her old room. Its color scheme still overburdened with purple and pink hues.

Once Kory was safely tucked away in bed, Dick left the room before she could even thank him. This didn't shock her, as doing the bare minimum had become something of the norm for them. Which Kory had begrudgingly begun to accept.

She rolled over and miserably wrapped herself in her blankets a little diluted, but couldn't quite bring herself to sulk.

'I am just going to have to get used to him not caring,' Kory thought disenchantedly, when she heard the door open.

"I am fine, there is no need to check on me," she moaned, not having the emotional strength to stand any pity one might place on her.

"It's me Kory," Dick replied to her surprise.

She looked over her shoulder to find him standing in her doorway with a plate of toast and two bottles of water. He stepped forward, placing the plate down on her bedside table and opened one of the waters.

"You need to stay hydrated," he said, handing her the bottle then got up and went into the bathroom to retrieve a damp wash cloth. "You should eat something too, even if it's not much, just what you think you can handle," Dick added, once again sitting beside her and began cleaning the worn expression on her face.

The look she wore read of confusion and conflict, "Why are you doing this?"

Dick shrugged, placing the cloth down and retrieved the plate of toast, "Because you're my friend and you need help."

Kory looked away from him a minute, feeling a little betrayed by his statement. In the last few months they'd hardly spoke, and when they did, it usually ended with one or both of them feeling empty and decepted. They sometimes spoke poorly to each and even questioned each other's loyalty. So could they really call themselves friends?

Dick's expression changed as he noticed hers was less than pleased with his answer.

"What?"

She shook her head, not really sure what to say.

"Kory?"

"I don't know if we can do this?" she finally sighed in defeat.

"Do what?" Dick questioned, not really sure what to think of her realization.

"This," Kory urged, "you being nice because you feel guilty, me wishing things between us never changed." There was panic in her voice now, but it was inevitably filled with truth.

Dick shook his head and stood up, "What the hell do you want from me, Kory? I know I fucked up and I'm sorry, but I'm trying to fix what we have left."

"And what would that be, Dick? Really, what do we have?" Her sluggish voice had become daring and fed up as she looked up at him candidly. "I mean, we can't have the relationship we did have, and you don't want the one we could have—X'hal… I don't even want the one we could have."

Dick's jaw tightened as anger and frustration bit at him, that inner darkness begging to come out.

"Fine!" he yelled unable to hold back, "If you don't want me to care anymore, then I won't. You never needed me to save you anyways, I'm done trying."

"What does that mean, Dick?" Kory asked knitting her brow.

"Nothing," Dick replied abrasively, "that means nothing, it shouldn't mean anything to you."

His tone was filled with resentment and even a little hate, as though he hated her for loving him.

Kory grew with discontent, the sick feeling in her stomach driving her to roll over and reach for her bedside table. She rummaged through her purse a moment as Dick stood there awkwardly waiting.

She finally retrieved what she was looking for and sat up, holding out her hand ruefully, "Here," the brilliance of a diamond ring gleaming softly in her hand, "I don't need this anymore, nor do I want it."

Dick felt a cold wave of shock run through him. The image of the woman he'd loved for nearly a decade, relinquishing her love for him with a tongue. A sharp lump caught in his throat and he knew he'd regret what he was about to say, but he said it anyway.

"You should have said that to your husband."

"Get out! Leave!" Kory shouted, unable to take his presence any longer.

"Too late Kory, I'm already gone," Dick replied venomously, and shut the door behind him.

It took everything he had not to slam it or punched the wall by its fame. His anger hung heavy in his chest, like it would tear him a part at any moment if he didn't let it go, but how? Before he could come to any conclusion, he turned and literally slammed into someone, both crashing to the floor.

"Damnit Grayson," Dick heard Raven scoff as she pulled herself to her elbows, "just plow me down why don't ya?"

Dick didn't say anything as he pulled himself up, offering the dark girl a hand. Raven took it and rose to her feet, noticing the troubled look on his face.

"You okay Boy Blu—"

"Don't call me that!" he snapped, no longer able to bite his tongue.

Raven drew back slightly as his tone hit her the wrong way. She let her brow crease in distaste, feeling the inner rage rolling off him like a muggy fog.

"Okay Dick," Raven said sarcastically, "I'm gonna go say goodbye to Kory, I'll meet you in the car."

Dick rolled his eyes and walked passed her, immediately disappointed in his actions, but couldn't bring himself to acknowledge them in the moment.

"And don't you touch the radio, that's a Raven Zone only, got it?" Raven called, watching him disappear down the hall. "I swear to whatever God is out there, that man is gonna be the death of me."

Chapter Text

 "In Time we hate that which we fear." -William Shakespeare

Night had fallen a few hours prior. The two birds had driven nearly non-stop for the past 12 or 13 long hours. By now, they were somewhere between Utah and Colorado, as they'd driven a long stretch of the infamous Interstate 80. A highway with a lot of history and a lot of past lives. An exit came up in the headlights, the worn sign barely glowing in the glare. Raven swiped on her turn signal and slowly veered toward the off ramp, not even asking, or looking at Dick.

The two hadn't really spoken most of the day, Dick mostly trapped in his bitter thoughts. Raven could tell by his distant look on his face that he really wasn't willing to share those quarrels. So she just let him sulk. To be honest, she was fine with the silence, even if it was a little awkward. She just put her iPod on shuffle, letting the obscure sounds of Die Laughing and Bella Morte guide her, driving east until she couldn't go on.

The Jeep rolled on to a wide road with no street lights that sort of resembled something from the Hills Have Eyes. Dick looked at her a little confused, not really sure where they were going.

In the distance they could see the outskirts of a small town, the horizon holding something of dim decay. An old truck-stop stood not far from a sleazy looking motel, nearly falling to pieces. Its crumbling foundation giving crude shelter to dazed vagrants and hookers. Across the street from the two poorly kept structures were a cheap dive-bar and an old 24 hour diner. Dick looked on as they pulled into the motel and park in front of the main office, his muse caught by the ambiguous setting.

"Raven, what are you doing?" Dick finally asked.

Raven turned off the car, letting the engine fall silent, "Getting a room for the night, I can hardly see straight."

Dick frowned at her tiredly, "It's fine, I can drive."

Raven cracked a condescending smile and opened the car door, "No, you've been awake all day. Plus, I really don't feel like sleeping hunched over in the passenger seat."

She undid her seat belt and stepped out of the Jeep, slamming the door within the same swift movement. Dick placed his hand on his temple and rubbed it tiredly. Raven was right, he wasn't in any real condition to drive. His mind was far too cluttered to think of anything clearly, and he'd spent all day perpetually dwelling in negative thoughts.

Moments later, Raven returned with a room key and slipped back into the driver's seat. She started the car, the engine once again coming to life. She threw the old Jeep in reverse and headed to the opposite end of the building, parking in front of a scuffed hunter green door that read #33 on it.

"This is us," she drawled, turning the engine off once more.

Dick didn't say anything, he just begrudgingly opened the door and stepped out. Raven followed, and opened up the cargo hatch to retrieve a few bags. Dick grabbed one for himself and closed the heavy hatch, checking to make sure it was locked. He followed Raven to the door where she turned the key and unlocked it. They were quickly greeted by the scent of burnt ash and stale nicotine that hung in air from years of smoked cigarettes. Once inside, Raven flipped on the light to reveal the less than stunning motel room, the decor looking as though it belonged in 1970 something.

"Well I suppose it could be worse," Raven said, hesitantly entering the dingy room.

"Yeah," Dick sighed, "we could have a blacklight," and followed her in.

"Wanna make a bet the bathroom has a red light, cause that would be really classy."

Dick laughed a little as he replied, "You do realize those are for keeping the room warm, right?"

"Really?"

Dick nodded at the fact he'd actually caught Raven having a naïve moment, something of a rare sight. She blushed and placed her bag down on the bed, feeling a little foolish for taking Gar's word for it.

"How do you even know that?"

Raven noticed Dick's eyes flutter at the question as he replied, "Cause I used to think the same thing."

They both laughed, lightening the mood, feeling a little less embarrassed.

"Well," Raven began, "I am a little relieved there no ceiling mirrors. I was little worried there."

A look of false disappointment filled the hero's face, "Aw really? The experience wouldn't be complete without it."

He chuckled as Raven tossed a pillow at him and ducked, trying to miss it.

"Well, judging by the questions I was asked by "the manager" and the cash only policy. I'm pretty sure he thought I was here on business," she added wittily, "I really threw him for a loop when I asked for two beds."

"How kinky of you," Dick drawled, but wasn't really shocked.

"Yeah, you just looked so shocked," Raven cued and unzipped her one of her bags. "Well I'm gonna take a shower, you have fun fiddling with basic cable."

She tossed the remote to Dick who caught it with a weary look.

"Even that's too swanky for this place—hell—I'll be really be impressed if the TV works!"

Raven raised a brow at his cynical tone, "You're starting to sound like me Boy Blun—I mean Dick… Sorry."

Dick looked down, feeling guilty for his earlier outburst. He never meant to snap at her. And in truth, he actually liked when she used that term of endearment, but it was just something he didn't—couldn't—take at the time.

Raven picked up her clothes and a small bag of shower supplies, awkwardly walking to the bathroom. As she flicked on the light she heard Dick call out to her.

"Raven… I'm sorry."

She turned back toward him, leaning her hand on the scratched doorknob, "I know." She smiled lightly and closed the door, running water following only moments later.

Dick tiredly sank down on one of the beds, taking a moment to look around at the scruffy room. The TV looked ridiculously old, having knobs and an old antenna.

'I haven't seen one of these since I can't even remember…' Dick thought ironically.

Beneath his feet rested an old rust colored shag carpet, covered with stains and torn looking threads that frayed at the seams. Even the bedding looked old, as it was covered in an old floral print that was faded from being washed over the years (or they were just really dirty—most likely the latter). Dick let his head fall back and rolled his eyes as they noticed the sight of the popcorn ceiling and sighed, "This place can't get any shittier."

Oh, but it will!

Dick grabbed one of his bags, unzipping it with an absent mind. He reached inside and began looking for something.

"Shit," he scoffed, as he clumsily riffled through the bag, and realized he must have left the item in the car.

He looked over to the bedside table where Raven placed the keys and leaned over, taking them in his grasp, along with the room key. He rose to his feet and motioned to the door, the Jeep only about 10 feet away. He pressed the button on the key chain, hearing the faint sound of the door unlock. Quickly, he looked through the window where he found it sitting patiently in the center console, waiting to be discovered.

"Fucking phone."

Dick opened the door with annoyance and a little relief, but as he leaned in to retrieve it, a commotion caught his attention. He looked over his shoulder as the shrill sound of a woman shouting sang tragically through the parking lot.

"I told you already, I want you to stay the hell away from me, Ronny!" he heard the woman yell from the other side of the lot.

"After everything I've done for you! You ungrateful little bitch!"

"That doesn't sound good," Dick muttered, closing the door and took off toward the confrontation.

He could see in the distance a tall, stout man, wearing a worn out flannel and faded old jeans. A bottle blonde woman stood not far from him, her eye makeup running down her face as she'd clearly been crying. She threw her hands up and screamed at the man that "she was fucking done," then turned from him in an attempt to walk away.

However, the man called Ronny, didn't seem to take her request lightly (or even at all). He quickly reached out, grabbing her forcibly by the arm, and spun her around like a rag doll.

"You listen to me when I talk to you, cunt!"

The woman replied to his derogatory comment by spitting in his face, a bold move which earned her a back hand, sending her to the concrete.

The man was just about to give her a kick to the ribs when he heard the young hero call out, "Don't you dare touch her again!" Dick warned, now only a few yards away.

"Fuck off! This don't concern you, punk!"

Ronny turned back around and grabbed the woman by the hair, a fearful whine freeing itself from her throat. Dick quickly threw a right hook to the man's jaw, causing him to stumble, letting the woman go.

"I said don't touch her," Dick huffed, ready to defend her further.

The man looked up at him clearly annoyed, anger boiling in his eyes, "You're gonna pay for that, you little shit."

"Am I? Cause if that's the case, you better hit me with all you got," Dick replied, ready to put Ronny down like a dog.

Ronny quickly produced a knife from his back pocket, Dick not even flinching from its presence.

"What? You can't fight me like a real man?" Dick asked, taking a shot at his opponent's inflated manhood.

The man snarled and charged him, but it had little effect. Dick quickly caught the man by the arm, shoving a knee into his gut and throwing an elbow to his ribs. He threw off Ronny's balance by kicking the back of one of his knees, then used his right arms as leverage to force him down to the pavement. And before the man knew it, Dick had him in a choke hold, his own knife pressed against his throat.

"Not so fun being afraid for your life now, is it?" Dick growled, gripping the man's fist tight. "If I were anyone else, you'd be dead. And considering that only your prints are on the knife, your death would be ruled a suicide, and I'd never even be charged. So what's really stopping me from killing you?"

Dick pushed the man's hand closer to his coarse skin, feeling him struggle to get away, uttering a "please—no".

"Now this is what you're going to do," Dick said still forcing the blade to the Ronny's neck, "you're gonna get in your car, and you're gonna leave—what's your name?"

The woman, who was also frightened, looked up and nervously replied, "Um… Cyn—Cyndi."

"Cyndi, right. You're gonna leave Cyndi alone, and if I as much hear that you even looked at her. I'm gonna come back here, and I'm gonna find you, and when I do… I'm gonna kill you. Got it, Ronny?"

The man nodded pathetically, a frightened whimper falling from his throat.

"I can't fucking hear you, Ronny!"

"Ya… I—I got… it—" Ronny heaved.

"Good," Dick scoffed "and one more thing."

Dick quickly bashed the man's hand into a nearby beam, causing him to cry out in pain and drop the knife.

"I don't think you should be allowed to have sharp objects, so I'm gonna keep this. Now get the fuck out of my sight," the young hero growled, throwing the bludgeoned man toward the parking lot.

Ronny scrambled clumsily to his feet, Dick not taking his eyes off him as he miserably made his way to his aged Chevy Impala in terror, and drove away.

Dick turned back toward the woman named Cyndi and offered her a hand up, "Are you okay?"

The woman pulled herself up without Dick's help, the look on her face slowly changing to frustration and panic. She didn't say anything as she got up and turned to her motel door, Dick immediately becoming concerned.

"I'm gonna take that as a no?"

The woman looked out at him, her hands hard at work placing miscellaneous things into a bag she'd plucked off the floor.

"You have no idea what you've done, kid." She replied, picking up her purse and hastily lit a cigarette. "That guy you just stained the parking lot with, he runs the crank and pussy in this town—he's got friends—mean friends. The kind that won't think twice about getting their hands bloody… Especially to teach a punk like you a lesson," she added pointing at Dick, cigarette in hand.

"Is that supposed to scare me?"

"It should!" Cyndi snapped, "I'm terrified! That's why I'm taking my shit, and getting outa here before he comes back. You should do the same."

Dick furrowed his brow and looked at the woman a little unfazed by the statement, "Trust me, I've dealt with much worse."

"Yeah well, I've been dealing with guys like Ronny my entire life, and I probably will until the next Ronny kills me."

Dick looked away from her as her words hit him with a sobering reality that was only solidified by the sight of how easily Cyndi could pack up her life. He looked down at her things as she threw them into her bag without a second thought, something he'd seen so many times before.

"Listen kid, I appreciate what you did for me. I know too many faces would've just turned the other way, but in my world that's what you do to survive—that's what I'm doing now." She closed her bag and threw it over her shoulder, "You wouldn't happen to have an extra 20 bucks for a bus ticket, would ya?"

Dick pulled out his wallet, unable to takes his eyes off the disheveled blonde, her black eye makeup smeared under her eyes. The mark of a broken girl.

He pulled out a 50 and handed it to her, "Get as far away from her as you can."

She muttered a "thanks" and pushed passed him. Her smudged eyes filled with a smoldering jaded look that could only come from a lifetime of scorn and hurt. This made Dick think of who he used to be, and how many times he'd seen that look, and on how many faces. That cold stare, serrated and sharp, boring into an ocean of real life horrors.

Once Cyndi was gone he went back to his room, taking the knife with him. He looked down at it, unsure of what to really do with it. He decided to place it in the Jeep and keep it out of Raven's sight. He opened the driver's side door and leaned over, putting the weapon in the glove box.

Once he had that all squared away, he entered the room where he found Raven blotting her hair with a towel.

"Where'd you go?" she asked, looking up at him curiously.

He reached in his pocket and produced the phone in his hand. She nodded as he sat down on the opposite bed across from her. She looked at him a moment, as though she knew that there was more, but she didn't seem to care about it.

"You wanna talk about earlier?"

Dick looked over at her with discomfort, not really sure what to say, "There's not much to talk about."

He noticed her shrug with question as she replied, "If it's nothing, then why has it been bothering you all day?"

'Damn her…' he thought, her empathic abilities clearly sniffing out his true feelings. Dick let his head fall back, he hated how well she knew him sometimes.

"Because it's really over now—she said it's over."

Raven watched as his gaze fell to the floor, trying to hide his weaker feelings.

"It's real now?"

He only nodded, his eyes still pinned to the ground.

"I'm sorry."

He looked up at her with an ironic smile," You shouldn't be, I deserved it."

"Dick, everyone makes mistakes," Raven reasoned.

"Yeah well, my mistakes have been hurting a lot of people lately."

Raven let her gaze fall from him as though she couldn't deny the truth, "Mistakes often do that."

It hurt him to hear that, but he couldn't deny her honesty. At least with Raven, he knew there wasn't any judgment.

"Yeah, I mean… I know it's for the best. We've clearly run our course, but… she said we have nothing left," Dick rambled in a rueful tone.

"What did she mean by that?"

"That she isn't sure if we can remain friends."

Raven noticed a painful look fill his face, "Maybe she just needs time to herself—maybe she also needs to figure out who she is without you?"

"You're probably right," Dick shrugged, "But that's not how I took it. I snapped, and I said some really hurtful shit. Maybe she's right… maybe we really aren't friends?"

"You guys are friends," Raven replied, "you two are just hurting right now. I know neither one of you sees it, but you're both going through the same thing. For years you two have shared an identity, and now, you have to find out who you are without the other."

Dick reached in his pocket and took out the ring that no longer bared itself on Kory's left finger. There was something about it now that seemed less vibrant, less beautiful. To him, the diamond had grown listless and the platinum dull as the very bond that ring represented was tarnished and empty.

He glanced up and noticed Raven looking over at him as though she too could see the faint decay the ring now held.

"I know that," Dick sighed in defeat, "and that's why what I said is unforgivable."

Raven stood up and sat beside him on the bed, "She'll forgive you, and you should forgive you too."

"She shouldn't have to, and as for me—I don't deserve it."

Raven placed her chin on his shoulder, looking up at him with empathy sensing he meant more than he let on, "Sometimes the hardest forgiveness to achieve is the kind you can only give yourself."

He looked over at her a little teary eyed, but couldn't bring himself to cry. His pride would not allow it.

"It's okay to forgive yourself, Richard."

"Even if I could forgive myself, it can never change what I've done, who I've hurt. Who I killed."

"I had a feeling we were talking about more than you and Kory," Raven mused. She paused and took a breath, trying to poise herself enough to speak again and continued. "I know that at your very core, you think what you did was wrong and that you should be punished for it, but… you did what needed be done. If you hadn't, you'd be dead."

"I know," Dick said, choking on the heavy lump in his this throat, "but that's part of who I am now and I can't change that, just like I can't change everything that's happened because of it."

Raven glanced down, unsure if she should speak, but did it anyway, "You need to stop letting your failures defy you and start trying to become something more than an ex-sidekick, former leader, ex-boyfriend and above all—the man who killed Johnny Rancid—you're better than all that."

Dick looked over to her with a rough look of question, "Am I?"

"Yes," Raven said astringently, "You are. Now start acting like it."

She got up and moved back to her bed and pulled the dingy blankets back, "I know you think you can't overcome these parts of you, but they're only as powerful as you allow them to be. Don't let them become you, Richard."

Dick stared at her a moment and nodded, knowing how deep that statement ran. There were so many ghosts hindering his consciousness—he didn't need another. But that's the thing about ghosts, they don't rest easy, and if anything, they'll always know how to rob us of sleep.


 

The next morning came slowly as Dick could hardly sleep, the sun rising in its rich reds and coppers. Raven, for the most part, slept with little hindrance. She looked peaceful as the sun crept gracefully through the window, passed the grungy curtain.

In his absence of sleep, Dick stood watch most of the night, keeping in mind what the nomadic blonde said. Dick wasn't really worried or afraid, but he didn't doubt that Ronny may try something, especially if he had friends.

"What are you doing," he heard Raven yawn as she pulled herself out of bed.

"Nothing, just watching the sun come up."

"You didn't sleep much?"

He looked back at her, not having to verbally answer.

Raven shrugged and stood up, "Well, we'll just have to get you some coffee, a lot of coffee."

Dick smiled at her as she grabbed her shower bag, "Yeah I think I'm getting used to this not sleeping thing."

"That's reassuring," she laughed dryly.

"But yeah, wanna get ready and we'll head out?"

"Sure," Raven replied, also picking up a change of clothes.

Before long the two were ready and checked out of the seedy motel. Raven noticed Dick was in brighter spirts, seeming a little more at ease with the events that had taken place. She found the change a little refreshing, thinking it might make for a more interesting road trip.

Before leaving town, the two stopped for breakfast at the diner across the street, unsure whether they'd live to regret it or not. The diner itself was a bit of a hole, and was clearly built sometime in the 60's (and was obviously never redecorated since). The two birds sat down at a small booth when a thin waitress named Millie came over and filled their cups with coffee.

"I'll give you guys a few minutes," she said politely then took to her next table.

The two birds looked down at their menus, unsure really where to begin.

"What are you thinking?" Dick asked as Raven peered at the menu a little hesitant.

"I think I might get food poisoning." She looked up him and smiled dryly," What about you?"

"I think I'm just gonna get bacon and eggs."

"Original."

Dick let out a laugh, but quickly stopped when he noticed a group of men making their way to the diner.

"Shit," he huffed, looking out at them as they approached.

Raven immediately noticed the look on his face and became a little worried, "You know them?"

"One of them."

"So that's who you kicked the shit out of last night?" Raven said looking over at Ronny, who bared a black eye and a broken hand for his troubles.

"How did you—never mind, of course you know."

Raven rolled her eyes and shook her head, "Well let's go deal with your new friend before he and his— merry band of assholes—deal with our car. I don't wanna get stuck in this shithole."

"Raven, I got this—"

"No," Raven corrected, "we got this."

He watched her get up and head toward the door, quickly pulling himself up to go after her.

"This is gonna be interesting," he sighed watching as Raven pushed open door and stepped out into the sunlight.

"Hello boys, I hear you have a score to settle in the sandbox?"

The group of men looked at her a little crudely as they weren't really intelligent enough to quite grasp what she was saying.

Dick quickly ran up behind her, a bruised Ronny glaring at him with what looked like intent to kill.

"Oh so this is your bitch?" Ronny said, pointing to Raven with a baseball bat.

Raven let out a little grunt of amusement, feeling too superior to be insulted, "Yeah, if anything, he's my bitch."

"That's real nice, Rae." Dick said, looking at her with annoyance.

"What? I'm setting a precedent."

"Well can you set one that doesn't make me look like your bitch?" Dick drawled, his manhood a bit bruised.

"Okay cupcake," Raven patronized, "now what the fuck do you inbreeders want?"

Ronny and his gang of degenerate rednecks looked over at her, less than impressed with her tone.

"You're that much of a pussy that you're just gonna let your girl fight your battle for ya?" Ronny called over at Dick.

"Well she's more of a man than you are," he replied crossing his arms, "Plus, she can be pretty terrifying."

"Yeah," Raven added, "and what I'm about to do to you is pretty fucking terrifying. So if you don't wanna get your ass kicked by a girl, I suggest you leave—now."

"For sucha small girl that's a lota big talk," said one of the rednecks.

"And it's something you're not capable of," Dick mocked with a sly smirk.

Ronny raised high his baseball bat with his only good hand and took a swing at Dick, who of course, dodged it with ease. Pushing himself to the ground, Dick knocked Ronny's feet out from under him, sending him to the dirt, landing on his broken hand. The man cried out as two of his friends charged Dick and the other one Raven. She quickly blocked the man's blow and threw her elbow into his collarbone, breaking it quickly. In pain, the man dropped the lead pipe he attempted to bludgeon Raven with, it falling to the stone-dust with a metallic cry. She held him there in her sight a moment, flashing him a glimpse of something wicked in her stare. He shrieked and pulled back, cradling his broken bone as he ran from her with his tail between his legs.

While this was occurring Dick found himself dodging blows from his two opponents. He recognized their attack method as it was simple and poorly conceived, their objective, one of a prison mentality. One man came at Dick with his fist balled, ready to strike, while the other held a large hunting knife. Dick managed to avoid the blow aimed at his jaw, using the man's force against him. As he was doing this the other slashed his blade, just grazing Dick's flesh. He could feel the echo on his skin, its sting burning on his upper arm. The man tried to slash at him again, but before he could finish his cowardly maneuver, Dick snapped.

Dick caught the man by the arm and drove his fist so hard into his jaw that the sound of it breaking could be heard clearly. The blow was so debilitating that he fell to ground like a dead tree crashing in the forest. The other man got up, this time wearing a pair of brass knuckles. He swung at Dick, but missed just barely. Dick pushed himself back as the man threw another swing his way which he caught, but was followed by another. Dick blocked it and threw the man into a nearby car, holding the redneck's hands behind his back. But Dick hadn't noticed that Ronny had taken to his feet and readied himself to take a swing at the ex-Titan's head.

The man began to swing, Dick looking back just as the blow was set in motion. But just as Ronny's bat was about to collide with the young hero's head, Dick turned the tables. He quickly spun himself around, taking the other man with him. A loud crack could be heard as the bat collided with the man's skull, completely knocking him out. Dick fought the urge to flinch at the painful sound, letting the man fall to ground.

Ronny looked a little dismayed that he'd just bashed his own friend's head in, but thought little of backing down. If anything, the switch only fueled his fury as he got ready to charge his adversary. But before he could follow through with the attack, he was hit in the head with a led pipe wielded by Raven.

A painful look filled Ronny's face as he lost consciousness and dropped to the dirt, the splitting of his skull a little sickening. The shock hit Dick a little violently for a moment, the reality of the situation bringing him to an unpleasant place. Part of him seemed shaken by it, but another part of him wanted nothing more than to take the pipe and bury it in back of Ronny's skull. Not just to make him pay for every wrong he'd ever done, or for all the Cyndis he'd pimped out or beaten. Part of him just wanted to feed that hunger that burned for the simple freedom to destroy something. To let go of his rage.

"Let's get the hell out of here!" he heard Raven order from a distant place.

He snapped back to reality, the bloody feeling still calling to him. Raven promptly grabbed his wrist and pulled him in the direction of the car. He quickly picked up the pace behind her, reaching the Jeep within moments.

Minutes later they were out of there and back on the highway, punching the gas, demanding the engine put as many miles between them and chaos as possible.

"Dick, I think you can slow down now?" Raven finally said, realizing how fast they were going.

He couldn't hear her, his thoughts screaming at him, making him blind. He just wanted to keep going, to get as far away as possible.

"Richard—Stop!"

Dick looked down at the speedometer, realizing they were pushing nearly 100. He took his foot off the gas and just let the car coast down the long stretch of pavement. There was an emptiness in his mind. A coldness that seemed haunting and misplaced. He wasn't really sure what to think of it, or the unsavory feelings it bred. It was like a missed logic, a feral instinct he couldn't quite place. It was something he'd felt before, but never with such intensity. It frightened him.

From the corner of his eye, he noticed Raven looking at him, a hazy look on her face. Her eyes fell on the stain, pooling beneath his sleeve.

"You're bleeding," she muttered, raising her hand to the wound.

Dick looked down, recalling that he'd been cut in the scuffle. The deep red grew beneath the pale gray of his sleeve, its warmth eerie as pain began to beat in his flesh.

Raven told him to pull over which Dick did with a somber defeat. Once parked, Raven requested that Dick remove his hooded sweatshirt so that she could take a better look. Dick nodded and slowly began to take off the garment. She noticed him fighting the urge to react to the pain that radiated from the wound, his jaw tightening with each subtle movement.

Once the sweater was discarded, blood ran freely from the gash that ran along the bottom of his deltoid at a slight diagonal. It was deeper than a simple scratch and just under three inches long. Blood clung to the affected area, smearing Dick's skin with its ruddy mess. Raven lifted her hand to the red gash, placing it over the blood and the gore with little than a second thought. Her hand became illuminated in her dark energy and Dick could slowly feel himself beginning to heal. With every moment the pain began to drift away, and the dripping blood began to cease.

Raven looked up at him with a crude look on her face, "Well, that was an experience?"

Dick let out a little grunt and raised his brow, "Yeah… that was um… different."

"We've never really fought civilians before," Raven said looking down at the progress, "but it's not like they were innocent people."

Dick shrugged, feeling a little bad for the men, but having a hard time really regretting his actions which is what bothered him the most.

"Yeah they weren't exactly good people. Thanks for having my back, Rae."

"Like I wouldn't?" she smiled at him and looked up. "Y'know, we make a pretty good team."

She removed her hand from his arm to reveal only a dull scratch where the wound once rested. He noticed the blood resting on her hand, its vivid color bright on her white skin.

"Yeah, that's what I was afraid of."


 

A few days had passed since the incident that booth Dick and Raven tried to forget about. For the most part they had both shaken the fight off, Dick doing all he could to see the world with blinders on. In a sense, he had to try and put his hero mentality behind him. Or at least set it aside long enough so that he didn't find himself in the middle of another standoff.

He was also aware he couldn't hide behind his mask anymore, which made the consequences of his actions more of a reality. Still, this didn't stop him from doing little things to help others, like paying for a homeless girl's dinner, or helping an old woman change a tire.

Raven could see in his eyes how much he really missed helping people, it was such a deep part of who he was. But now, he had to learn to help himself, even if he didn't want to.

The two aimlessly waited at an old rest stop, not really doing much of anything except making small talk.

"So when did he say he'd meet us?" Raven asked popping a grape in her mouth.

"About now, but knowing him, he'll be late," Dick shrugged.

"Yeah he's always had interesting timing?" Raven replied, looking over at Dick.

His eyes were distant and over drawn to something far beyond her line of sight. She'd seen this look on him before as he'd been wearing it frequently for the last few months. An empty feeling grew in the pit of her stomach, it always did when he looked like that. The void look mirroring that empty space. She often wondered if it would ever be filled, or at least become somewhat whole. Unlike his physical wounds, this was something that she couldn't heal, and it pained her that she couldn't.

"So you said something the other day, and I'm not really sure what you meant by it?" the dark haired girl grimaced with wonder.

Dick looked over at her, the void look still pressed in his eyes, "What did I say?"

Raven paused, letting her lips part as she gathered her thoughts, their hindrance still something of doubt.

"I said "we make a good team" and you said "that's what I was afraid of." What did you mean by that?"

Dick's eyes suddenly held a more vivid emotion, filling them with worry. His gaze traveled down to her hand, the one that was days ago bathed in his blood.

"I didn't mean anything by it," he replied in a dull tone, but there was something there.

"No. You said it because it meant something to you. You're not that shallow."

Dick looked up at her, but remained silent, too many words clawing at his lips, leaving him speechless.

"Are you afraid that I'm gonna get hurt? Or maybe you feel guilty that I'm here with you?"

Dick took a long look at her, his stoic eyes filled with a painful grey stare, "I'm always afraid you're gonna get hurt, Rae. That's nothing new. As for guilt, I know you're here because you wanna be. So I guess at this point… I'm just afraid I'm gonna be the person who ru—Fuck!" Dick shouted as a loud horn blared out of nowhere.

The two startled Titans both looked up to see that a black Ford Explorer had pulled up behind them.

"Shit, they're here," Dick huffed, opening the car door.

The two birds got out as the doors of the old Explorer flew open, revealing two familiar faces.

"Y'know, if you two are gonna get through this, you gotta be a little less oblivious," the shaggy blonde said with a hint of condescendence.

"Yeah, we're aware of that, X." Dick said, opening the cargo hatch of the jeep.

Raven looked over and noticed the tall, thin boy who she could just barely recognize.

"Hey Roy," she said with an uncomfortable smile, "How've you been?"

"Better," the young archer said, "you really think you being here's a good idea?"

Raven stopped in her tracks, slightly taken off guard by Roy's comment.

"This whole thing's not a good idea," she replied as Roy met her in the middle, "but someone has to keep an eye on the Boy Blunder so…"

"Jason and I can do that."

"Jason's not even on our team yet. And if I recall, you're the seed that sewed this little bad idea. So forgive me if I'm not exactly trusting."

"I forgot how forthright you can be, Rae." Roy replied with resentment on his tongue.

She shrugged coldly, leaving him with no pity in her movement. She turned from him and picked up her bag from the trunk.

"Rae," she heard Roy say, "I wasn't trying to patronize you, I just don't wanna see you get hurt… I know Dick doesn't wanna see you get hurt…"

Raven turned to him and shook her head tiredly, "Just stop there, Roy." she commanded. "I don't need this from you. I'm already getting enough of it from Richard. So unless you can undo everything you've done, I suggest you stop lecturing me on what's in my best interest."

Dick and X looked over at the exchange as Raven had clearly heard enough out of Roy. She nonchalantly pushed past the sandy redhead, annoyed that he even tried and sell her such nonsense.

Dick moved toward Roy and took out his wallet as he passed Raven, who he knew she was a little ruffled from the conversation. She shot him a passing glance, but said nothing as she did.

"Well aren't you looking mighty cheerful today, Sunshine." X cued sarcastically.

"Oh yeah, I'm just fucking peachy," Raven replied, ironically rolling her eyes.

The two continued their sarcastic banter, lightly taking shots at each other's egos.

Dick shook his head in annoyance and looked at Roy blankly.

"So you know what to do?" he asked, pulling something thin out of his wallet.

"Yeah, I'll meet you guys in Gotham in 3 days," Roy replied, a firm look in his eyes.

"Good, leave a paper trail," Dick said handing Roy his credit card, "But be mindful of cameras, don't let anyone see your face—be a ghost."

"I think I can handle that."

Dick nodded and handed Roy the keys to his car then shook the young archer's hand.

"Oh, and one more thing," Dick added, "Please do your best to not—"

"Shoot up, I know." Roy finished dismissively. "Have a little faith in me."

Dick let his brow fall as his eyes grazed the ground, "I do have faith in you, Roy." He looked up to how hardened his friend's face was, how much it had aged, "you're the one who doesn't."

Roy looked away from him, remorseful. It was hard to hear and the truth hurt more than anyone could ever know, but he wasn't sure if he could face it.

The two men only looked at each other saying nothing. Dick always trusted Roy and he valued him as a friend and a team member, but now, he had to keep him at arm's length. Roy had burned nearly every bridge he'd built, and lost the trust he fought so hard to gain. The only thing Dick could do was hope that Roy woke up before there was truly nothing left. That he'd just find another mountain to climb.

"Hey Chuckles, you done being all sentimental and shit? I got shit to do that doesn't involve me being here," Dick heard Red X call from the driver's side window.

"Good luck," Roy said, feeling a little guilt swell in his throat.

"You and I know luck has nothing to do with it."

Dick turned from the archer and walked toward the vehicle behind him. He met Raven's eyes as he did so, the two birds exchanging a similar look. Dick soon took a seat in the back of the SUV, Raven sitting up front out of spite for the young thief. She turned and faced her friend, who she could see was a little torn over Roy's current state.

"You good?" she asked softly, knowing the answer she'd get would only be a cover.

"Yeah, he's gotta make his own decision."

"Do you think he'll make the right one?" Raven asked creasing her brow.

"Do any of us really "

X let his blue eyes peer up through the mirror as he couldn't help but hear the bleak conversation.

"You sure you wanna do this, Chuckles?"

Dick looked up to the refection of his eyes peering back with a rue, waiting for his answer.

"Yeah," Dick replied, "if this is what it's gonna take, then this is what I have to do."

The thief's eyes fell from the mirror as his hand hesitantly turned the key. The engine awoke and began to calmly growl.

"That's what we all say, but we never know until it's too late that we don't really mean it."

Raven looked back at Dick, who returned a heavy, bleak look, "What's that supposed to mean?"

The thief shrugged as he turned the wheel and glanced though the mirror once more, "It means, you'll know when it's too late."

"Too late for what?"

X turned his head and looked back at the young hero whose brow was knit with question, "You really don't get it, do you?"

The young thief laughed a little amused as he looked at the inquiry painted on the ex-Titan's face.

"Well you're gonna find out soon enough, Chuckles."

 

Chapter Text

 “Do you know how a falcon is trained, my dear? Her eyes are sewn shut. Blinded temporarily, she suffers the whims of her God patiently, until her will is submerged and she learns to serve.” —Vicente Price The Masquerade of the Red Death (1964)

The drive from Ohio took most of the day and was completed in a little over 8 hours. It was around 4pm when the three arrived in Gotham, the city streets filled with their usual chaos and swarms. The traffic was heavy and it took an extra hour just to reach the motel where Dick and Raven would be staying.

Dick watched as the city went by in lost reels of old memories, the years passing him by. The smell of the city air seeped in through the cracked windows, filled with exhaust and the stink of the warm pavement. The music of the city sang high with cacophonous sound of scattered voices and the hum of automobiles, clashing together in a symphony of white noise. It was so different than Jump. It had so much history and prestige attached to it, Gotham truly was a city steeped power, but it also has its darkness.

Dick noticed the glint in Raven’s eyes as she peered up in awe at monstrous buildings that had stood for decades. She’d never been to Gotham before, there was never any need for her to go. But now as she looked on at its vintage aesthetic, Dick could see her captivation at the cityscape, its dark character alluring to her smoky exterior.

“So this where you grew up,” she said softly.

“Yeah, for a while at least. Closest thing I ever came to a hometown.

Dick looked over to his right where he noticed a tall structure, proudly standing off in the distance, its legacy high in the lowering sun.

‘Wayne Enterprises…’

His eyes laid firmly on the building as it stood watch over the city like some sort of mighty guardian. Raven looked back at him through the mirror, noticing the faraway look caught in his gaze. She followed his line of sight to the towering building, realizing what it meant to him. She remained silent however, not wanting to dig deep into his already gaping wound.

With time, the beauty and power of the city began to vanish. The powerful structures and artful stone work, being slowly replaced by smaller, less cared for monuments. The people began to look less and less put together, and more misplaced and forgotten. Cars lost their shine, and in its place wore dirt and rust. The grandeur that Gotham possessed eventually fell from existence, and the melancholy that fed off those who couldn’t obtain such a thing became its keeper.

This was the rougher part of town, the part that people went out of their way to avoid. The part that people didn’t care about. It was the city’s dirty secret, where the poor, the sick, and the unwanted dwelled. The East End was the part of Gotham where people went to be forgotten.

Dick had told Raven about this part of the city, but seeing it left a far deeper impression on her.

Red X eventually pulled into a motel parking lot, its seedy exterior reeking of countless misdeeds and cruelties. He reached into the center console of the car and from it, removed a room key.

“Here,” he said tiredly, “you’re in 101. Get some sleep, I’ll be back here to get you at 12. The plan moves forward from there.”

Dick took the key and looked down at it indecisively, “Is there anything we should be aware of before tonight?”

“Only that it’s not too late,” X sighed tiredly.

“I know,” Dick replied ruefully, “But that doesn’t change what I have to do.”

“I’ll be sure to chisel that on your tombstone,” X replied with stale cynicism.

“Make sure you add, this coming from a stubborn prick,” Raven added, swinging her door open.

“You know, Sunshine, for all of our differences over the years, I’m really starting to like you.”

“The feeling’s not mutual,” she shot back, getting ready to close the door.

“Not yet.”

The door slammed with a roll of the dark girl’s eye. Her ex-leader taking in the sound with a little humor cracking in his throat. The thief looked over at him, a content look fresh on the hero’s face.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing,” Dick said opening his door, “it’s just funny whenever Rae reads someone to filth.”

Red X smiled and freed a subtle laugh, “You should know, Chuckles. You’re usually on the other end of it.”

Dick stepped out of the car and looked back at the smug blonde thief, “Yeah, but she actually likes me,” the young hero added slamming the door.

Dick looked up to see a ruffled expression on the boy’s face and an astringent finger presented in his direction.

“Oh that’s really nice, X,” he grumbled, knowing that the boy couldn’t really hear him.

He turned to Raven, who seemed amused by the childish gesture as she waited under the feeble motel overhang. Dick shook his head at her and motioned in her direction.

“So did you two figure out who’s the bigger man?” Raven asked as he approached.

Dick rolled his eyes at her, and her colorful remark. “You are,” he replied, sardonically passing her.

She laughed and followed behind him as he unlocked the weary door and opened it. The room itself wasn’t very clean and was even worse than the one they’d stayed in out west. This one reeked of cigarette smoke, to the point that of it provoking the eyes to water, the carpet scared with all sorts of questionable stains.

“Well I’m confident a murder took place here,” Raven said, looking at the dirt and neglect.

“One? Try multiple murders,” Dick said placing his bag down. “This place has always been a beacon for the unspeakable.”

“Which I’m guessing is why Red X put us here?”

“That would be correct. No one sees anything here, it’s a good place to disappear.”

Raven reluctantly placed her bag down on the bed, looking up at the smoke stained ceiling and discolored wallpaper. “So do you wanna go over the plan?”

Dick peered up at her as he opened his bag, her eyes spilling with worry. “It’s simple; we go in, we rough up Joker, we get what Jason wants, and we leave.” He took out a few thing, including bag filled containing sealed bottles. “You’re still good with not using you’re powers, right? If the League finds out about this, I don’t know what they’ll do.”

Raven rolled her eyes and stepped forward, letting her finger blindly tap along the end table. “Probably hit us with their moral high horse, like Polonius and his rules to live by.” Dick smiled at cynicism as she continued, “But yes; no powers, no toys, nothing that could lead anyone back use, I got it—but what if it’s not that easy?”

“It will be,” Dick reassured, taking out the old gloves Bruce had given him, “it has to be.”

Raven looked away for a moment, biting her lip, but just couldn’t keep her tongue pinned, “We don’t even know what it is Jason wants?”

“We will. It’s probably money, or something Joker got his hands on before he could.”

She sat down on the bed a little uncomfortable, the lines growing deeper in her face. “Has it ever crossed your mind that maybe Jason…” she paused and bit her lip again, too uncertain to finish her sentence.

“Maybe what?”

“Nothing, just forget it.”

Dick could see by her drifting eyes that he couldn’t, and neither could she. “No, what were you going to say?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

It does if you were going to say it.” He held the gloves in his hand, his grip on them firm as he looked down at her discomfort. “Just say it, I won’t be mad.”

Raven looked up at him again, this time her eyes cloudy and bleak. She knew he’d take issue with her words and he should, but her concerns were still valid.

“What if this is just Jason’s way of getting you out of the way?”

Dick’s eyes fell on her with a look that reaffirmed her statement, like the thought had crossed his mind a time or two.

“I know that’s a possibility,” he replied mournfully, “but this is how we prove he can trust us.”

“But what if we’re wrong? What if this is some sort of trap?

“Then we know we can’t trust him.”

Dick looked down at the black leather gloves still tight in his hand. He recalled the last time he ever placed his trust in Jason, the odd parallel leaving him bitter with irony. It had been years; Jason was still very much a child then. That was his excuse—then. He didn’t know better, but what was his excuse now—being the product of an unfortunate miracle?

Dick tried to push the unpleasant memory away, though its unsavory nature left a foul taste in mouth. Still, as much as it lingered, he couldn’t let it get the better of him. Not tonight—and not—with the Joker.

 


 

Hours had passed, leaving the two some time to prepare and get some well needed rest (not that Dick slept). He thought about what Raven said, though part of him wanted to believe that Jason would never be so vindictive. But as Bruce (so honestly) pointed out, “death changes people,” and not for the better.

By now the two birds had begun to go over some last minute details, which included a backup plan and an “insurance policy.” Dick always had a contingency plan, this time would be no different, especially if Jason’s loyalty lied elsewhere.

“So you have a contingency plan?” Raven asked leaning over to lace up her boots.

“Actually, I have two,” Dick replied, glancing in her direction, “one to prevent us from dying, and the other’s in place if we die anyway.”

Raven laughed, “So what’s gonna happen if we bite it?”

Dick smiled and looked down as he pondered whether to wear the gloves or not. “I gave Roy a file that has everything on it about Slade, Red X, the letter from Jason, and the lab results from the krokodil. I told him if anything happens to us, to give it to Bruce. He’ll send it via mail.”

“That’s smart, I guess,” Raven replied, pulling her long, bottle-black, hair into a loose braid.

“He’s gonna send it tomorrow morning if he doesn’t hear form me by then.”

His eyes still remained on the worn gloves, his hands still hesitant to pull them on. Part of him couldn’t bear to don them, especially after everything he’d done, and had not done. But there was a part of him that wanted to wear them in spite, to insult every expectation Dick was ever saddled with. To diminish the standard he just couldn’t reach. But there was one more part, and that was the part that wanted to live up to those expectations, the part that felt he should.

His eyes remained upon them with division. All three prerogatives fighting to prevail in what the gloves would, or would not represent. Yet somehow, when he looked at them, he only saw that little boy wearing his father’s gloves. Dick was hit with a faint sense of pride, coupled with an everlasting defeat he had not yet overcome. A confliction of his ego, and his heart.

“So do you really think Jason might betray you?” Raven asked, pulling his cumbersome focus from his hands.

“I honestly don’t know,” he said, “I think it all depends on whether he thinks there’s something to gain by getting rid of me.”

“Is there?”

Dick paused as his eyes drifted to Raven. She’d just finishing braiding her hair, her back turned to him as she peered through the mirror. He noticed something black peeking out from under the strap of her black tank top. He could only see half of the shaded image, and recalled the outstretched wings of a raven perched on her shoulder blade. She turned to him with concern as his face held inquiry. As far as he knew, he’d done nothing to Jason personally, or intentionally, but he also knew that in Jason’s eyes, pictures never quite looked the same. And as far as Dick and Jason’s relationship was concerned, it was very complicated—on both their ends.

“Only Jason can really answer that.”

Dick paused again, and took out two masks similar to his Nightwing cover, but these not quite as deliberate.

“Here,” he said handing one to Raven. “So on one figures out who we are.”

She took it, noticing his gloves still in hand. Normally, she would have thought nothing of them, but the fact he seemed to hold them with hostility was hard to ignore.

“You gonna wear those?”

Dick looked down at them painfully, his grip bitter as the leather rested tight beneath his fist. “I don’t know yet?”


 

The car ride was mostly quiet with only the soft roll of the engine humming reliably beneath the hood. Dick still held the gloves in disquisition, their dispute evocative and hard to ignore. The car soon came to a stop in an old alleyway, its darkness leaving them covered and hard to spot. Red X turned to face Dick with a small bag and a file in his hand, his mask keeping his face tucked away.

“This is where you’ll find the Joker. I’ve been casing the place. There are usually only about five people in the building at this time, including Joker and Quinn. The others are known as Tiny, Stitches and Hugo.”

“I remember Hugo,” Dick said as X flipped open the file, categorizing each painted face.

“Yeah, he hasn’t changed much,” Red X replied, pointing to the next photo, “As you can see, Tiny’s not so tiny. He’s pretty strong, so don’t let him hit you. He’s not that smart though, so you can use that to your advantage. Stitches, however, is kinda creepy. I think he might even be a serial killer? He’s got a thing for knives, that’s basically his niche. So watch out for that. He’s also not as stupid as he looks, there’s a reason Joker keeps him around. As for Joker and Quinn, they’re just as crazy as ever. However, Harley has changed up her look so she’s a litter edgier now… What?”

“Are you even taking this seriously?” Raven scolded, giving X a look to match.

“Yes, but I’m Irish. So naturally I deal shitty situations with humor. You understand, right Chuckles?”

“You wouldn’t know Irish humor if bit you in ass, X,” Dick snarled and took the file from X. “So what are we looking for? Did you even find out? Or were you too busy turning this situation into a joke?”

“Yeah,” X sighed and continued reluctantly. “Apparently Joker likes to take trophies off his kills. Jason wants you to get his.”

Dick stopped reading for a moment and held his breath, a little unsettled with the request, “What is it?”

“He doesn’t know, on account of… well you know.” Red X could feel the tension in the car grow as each mind grew vivid with their own morbid perception. So, he changed the subject, “So what are you gonna do to take everyone out?”

Dick looked up from the file after skimming through the information, “Chloroform.”

“Stupid question, but did—”

“I made it,” Dick replied cutting X off. “I bought the chemicals from different stores, in cash, in different states.”

“That’s pretty clever.”

“It’s actually not,” Dick replied not even looking up, “it just everything I was taught applied backwards.”

X shook his head a little off put, but tried not take the comment personally. He knew that the young hero was probably just trying to center himself and “get in the zone.” However, he questioned whether the attitude was a result of what he was about to do, as opposed to, what he’d normally do.

“It’s still not too late.”

“You keep saying that,” Dick replied arduously, handing X back the file.

“Cause it’s not.”

Dick looked over at X, the humor in his voice no longer present as his tone grew lower.

“That doesn’t matter, you know that,” the hero replied, noticing X pull something out of small bag.

“Here,” X said attempting to hand Dick a gun, “Jason told me to give this to you. Y’know, just in case.”

“I’m not gonna need that,” the ex-Titan refused, shoving the weapon away.

“You don’t need to use it, but you should have it as a backup. Especially if you’re going in, no toys, no powers.”

Dick shook his head, and opened the door, then stepped out of the vehicle, Raven beginning to follow behind. X quickly reached out, taking hold of her arm, her head shooting in his direction as he spoke.

“It’s not too late for you either, Raven.”

She looked back at him, her eyes becoming a little cloudy, “I know…”

Red X could see the storm taking form in the violet pools as they stared back at him over the miles between them. “Then why are you following him?”

“Because it’s my choice to.”

She pulled her arm free and stepped out of the car, placing her mask over her eyes. X opened his door, and pushed himself out of the driver’s seat before the pair could take off into the darkness.

“You know these streets, right Chuckles?”

“Yeah,” Dick replied throwing a black bag over his shoulder.

“Good, call me once you leave the location and I’ll meet up with you guys by the old steel yard.”

“You sure that’s a good idea?” Dick quarried with hesitance.

“Yeah,” X replied, “No one sees shit at the steel yard. Plus you two won’t be there long enough for anyone to even notice you.”

The young hero nodded in understanding, knowing that the thief was right. However, part of his accuracy came from the fact that not many people came back from a visit to the steel yard, especially after dark. Dick almost being one of them.

“Oh, and one more thing,” X called as the two turned to make their way to the Joker’s hideout. They turned to face the masked thief, staring back at them blindly. “Be careful, and don’t do anything stupid.”

The two birds looked at each other oddly, as though shocked to hear actual concern coming from the thief’s mouth.

“I didn’t think you cared,” Dick replied.

“I don’t,” X shrugged, “but I have a reputation to uphold, and I’ll damned if a couple of capes, who think they’re big and bad, ruin it.”

“Well we can’t have that now, can we?” Dick replied while Raven rolled her eyes at the selfish response. “Thanks, X.”

The thief shrugged and began to turn away.

“Oh and, X?” He turned around and face the two birds as Dick continued, “Is there anything else I should know—anything else Jason wants?”

The thief’s eyes drifted to the ground as he reflected on the words he was about to speak, “Yeah. Jason wanted me to tell you to… make the clown a punchline.”


 

There was an echo of chaos ringing through the old stone walls. A cacophonous blend of laughter and shouting, raging over an old recording of “With Every Passing Day” as it played on a loop in the background. A tall blonde dressed in black and red patterns sang along flamboyantly, every so often twirling in her torn stockings. She continued as the yelling ensued between two clowns, fighting over something that to most, would have been trivial. The scratched loop of the song continued. The blonde looking off to the corner where the object of her affections sat hunched, giving him a small, but menacing appearance. He’d been spending most of his nights plotting and strategizing how he’d best his opponent and bring the city to its knees once more. It was actually kind of ironic, how someone so chaotic could be so methodic, so cunning. Every detail being thought through properly, and each contingency being carefully considered with just a hint of madness.

The bickering was beginning to wear thin on her as she cared little for her fellow clowns. All she really wanted was love and approval of one, but his attention was always best kept by that of a legend. Still, she hoped that maybe he’d, for once, find her more inviting than another night of planning. He did need her after all, didn’t he? Why else would he keep her around?

‘But then again, he keeps the rest of these oafs around?’ She thought bitterly, her painted face showing the taste of her disgust.

She flinched as the song skipped on the old record player, but harshly started up again.

“Maybe someday I’ll get my happy ending,” she whispered, the lyrics rolling off the aged vinyl.

Her eyes caught another glimpse of the man still leaning over his plans, his shoulders bound by the purple fabric of his tailcoat. She began to walk toward him in time with the music, her feet feeling light beneath her. She began to hum the melody, knowing how fond her “Puddin’” was of Alexander Faris’s work. Why else would he play it on a loop?

She drew closer to his thin frame, the arches of his shoulders only rounded by the cut of his fine coat. She reached out, allowing her hands to enter her line of sight. They gently wrapped themselves around the sharp curves of his shoulders, detecting the bony ridges beneath.

“Hey there, Mista J,” she cooed in his ear, letting her chest fall on the hunch of his back. “You wanna dance with me?”

She could feel a deep huff of breath as it was pushed from his lungs in discord, his muscles growing tense.

“I don’t have time for dancing, Harley,” the clown growled. “Do we have to have this discussion every night?”

A delicate pout took form on Harley’s face while disappointment filled her voice, “But y’work every night, Puddin’. Can’t y’for once just take a night off? Y’know, kick y’shoes off, stop hitt’n the grind—”

“Shut up, Harley!” the angry clown shouted, taking the back of his hand to the young woman’s face.

The sound of his knuckles hitting her white painted flesh, cracked loudly, commanding everyone’s attention. The other three clowns looked away from their disagreement, and to the sudden, but not unlikely, commotion. Harley fell to the stone floor and looked up to the man who was less of a lover and more of an affliction.

“How many times do I have to tell you, Harley?”

“But Puddin’—” she squealed meekly in recoil.

The Joker looked up and noticed the three faces, their paint fading and cracked like decay. “What are you three insolent knuckle-draggers looking at?! Go make yourselves useful, and get out of my sight. Am I the only one with any work ethic around here?!”

He took Harley by the hair, pulling her limp frame off the floor like a rag doll and threw her into the wall. The other three left just as her face collided with crumbling brick. She could feel the chill of the stone press against her cheek, pain filling both flesh and bone. He snapped her around quickly, a light rush of fear running through her veins.

“I’m sorry, Mista J,” she whined as he slammed her back into the wall.

He took paused, as though he were perplexed by the apology, or maybe her audacity to ask for forgiveness.

“You’re sorry?” he wailed, his fingernails digging into her arms. “Sorry doesn’t even begin to cover your lack of discipline, and how little weight you pull! And believe me, there is a lot of dead weight around here!”

He administered another sharp slap to her face, causing her to cry out. He wrapped his thin cold fingers around her mouth like a vice, holding her face in place as he leaned in closely. She could feel the heat rolling off his breath, the scent of stale coffee filling her nose. Looking up, she found his green eyes filled with their haunting and burdensome madness, but also her static reflection, focusing in on her. She tried to mumble her reasoning and apology, but his grip tightened, his free hand lifting a knife.

“You look sad, Harley. Maybe I should carve you up a smile, hum?” He pressed the knife to her cheek, feeling her flinch at the cold blade. “Oh, you would like that now, wouldn’t you, my dear?”

He released her mouth just enough so that she could finally respond. “No Mista J,” she hesitated, the knife threating to sever her skin.

“Oh, but I think you would look so pretty with a crimson smile, it would be something to absolutely die for.”

A genuine panic filled her blue eyes as she stared into the pale, manic face of a madman. His demented smile once again empty and void of feeling for humanity and anything touched by it.

“Please don’t, Puddin’. I already wear enough red. You wouldn’t want me to look all gaudy now, would ya, Mista J?”

“Harley?”

“Yes Mista J?”

“I’m kidding.”

The Joker began to cackle wickedly, Harley looking back at him less confident then she normally would, but slowly began to join him and giggled. The Joker wrapped his thin arm around the pretty clown as they shared a good, hardy laugh at Harley’s expense.

“But interrupt Daddy again, and I’ll cut out your tongue,” his voice immediately dropped from his light, quirky tone, to something deep and sinister.

Harley could hear the threat graveled deep in his throat and ceased her laughter, replacing it with a small squeal.

“Now why don’t you go be a good little Kitty, and go make sure the rest of the litter is behaving themselves—won’t you, Harley?”

Harley nodded, knowing the request was more of a demand, but spoken in a softer manner, “Yes Mista J.”

Good girl,” he replied with his wide grin. “See, you’re not nearly as daft as you can come off.”

Her brow knit in disappointment for his comment, but words like that were nothing new to her ears, especially coming from his lips. She walked away with a wounded look accosting her lonely face, and opened the heavy door, exiting into the long hallway.

The Joker promptly turned, being rid of her, and made his way back to the desk, tucked deep in his dark corner.

“Finally, some peace and quiet,” he thought, taking the needle off the old record for a moment. “Well, as close to quiet as it gets with the voices…”

He laughed, giggling to himself creepily. His eyes filled with the splendor of his madness—his delightful burdened, but slowly dwindled down to nothing.

“It’s a little too quiet.”

The mad clown set his sights on the door he’d watched Harley exit from, his face filled with a gaping suspicion. As though he were driven by some manic instinct no sane person could ever understand. He pushed the door open and entered the dark hallway, the only light coming from the red emergency exit light shining overhead.

“We really ought to have these lights fixed. I’m sure I can make room in the budget if I cut Harley’s pay,” The Joker said colorfully, looking down the dark hall. “But, I do find the dark quite soothing, you never know what’s awaiting you in the shadows.”

His words filled with a dark delight, and erupted into a soft echo that carried like a threat through the dust and decay.

He stepped forward, holding the knife casually. His footsteps echoed off the cement floor, carrying a sound that seemed to be filled with how little he cared.

The Joker paused suddenly, his thin form draped in the dark cover of the musty hallway. He peered to the corner, where a figure lay hidden just within its darkness. A wicked smile flashed chipped teeth, crooked and discolored. A wild look, infesting the green character of his eyes.

“I know you’re here,” he said in a slick, but vile tone. “Come out, come out,” he moved closer to the figure, “wherever you are.” He was close now, and could just make out the hooded figure standing right in front of him, the knife gleaming in his hand. “Or I’ll stab you in the heart!”

He suddenly plunged the knife onto the shadow, the thrill of bloodletting untamed in his eyes, but this was short lived, and replaced quickly by inquiry.

“What?” he questioned, the figure now gone, “Were the hell did you go?”

He didn’t notice the other shadow slip out of the darkness.

A dark hand quickly wrapped around his face, pressing a sweet, but sickeningly scented rag over his mouth and nose. The Joker immediately recognized the smell as chloroform, and burst into action before the chemical could take its full effect.

In a woozy daze, he shot his elbow out, hitting his assailant in the ribs. The grip of the figure’s hand was loosened as he threw him back and heard him hit the wall. He turned quickly to face who’d attacked him, but was unable to see his face. The tainted rag had fallen to the floor, his eyes catching it only a few feet away.

“Trying to put me down, are we?” Joker growled, approaching his assailant and raising the knife, high over his head. “Let me show you how it’s really done, kid.”

The Joker lurched forward, ready to delve the knife deep into the stranger’s flesh in vengeance. The hooded figure’s eye shot up from their downcast view, and up to the Joker’s crazed expression. In defense, the hoodman swung into action, catching the mad clown’s knife wielding hand. He shot his free fist in Joker’s jaw and made a cross, knocking his feet from beneath him.

The Joker dropped the weapon and fell to one knee, taking a hit to his rigid back. It looked like, for a moment, he was actually done, but taking down the Clown Prince of Crime just isn’t that easy. Joker ripped the flower from his lapel and jammed the needling through the dark pair of leather gloves, piercing the delicate flesh below. The hoodman cried out, and unwillingly freed the rabid clown.

The Joker shot up and threw his fist across the man’s face and caught him by the throat. But before he could strangle the life out of the masked assailant, he was once again greeted by that sickening smell. This time however, the hand that wrapped around his face was smaller, and not nearly as strong. Leading him to the conclusion that this new hand belonged to a woman. Still, he could feel this person was putting everything they had into keeping him still.

The Joker shot himself back into the wall, in an attempt to knock this new assailant free. He could feel her body being crushed between him and the stone, a loud crash echoing behind her. He pulled himself forward, the girl immediately falling to the floor unable to hold her grip.

The young man winced at the sound, but quickly freed himself from the Joker’s deadly clutches. And delivered a swift kick to the man’s gut and crashing the sharp tip of his elbow into his collar bone. He watched as the Joker bit down in pain, but refused to give in. He looked down at the young woman, who was only now beginning to pull herself up. He couldn’t reach the rag, though he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to smother Joker with it long enough for it to take effect. If he was going to take Joker down, he was gonna have to it the old fashion way—Batman’s way.

He glanced down at his gloved hands, the black leather taking their form as he balled them into fists.

‘If this is what it takes, then this is what it takes…’

He lunged at the Joker, giving him a powerful blow to the jaw that dazed the wicked man, and hit him with another. Blood spat from the clown’s mouth as he staggered on his uncoordinated feet. He was met by another blow from his masked assailant, this time hitting the wall from the force behind it. Joker’s skull smacked into the thick brick, a harsh sound following the collision.

However, the clown didn’t want to stay down, like there was something so primal driving him. The young man could feel his frustration boil, unable to understand why the madman remained standing. He readied himself for one final hit, promising himself that this one would put him down for good. But before he could make good on his promise, he saw her once again grab the Joker, forcing the tainted rag to his face. He watched as Joker looked up at him, clawing and fighting the urge to drift off, until his will was submerged, and his eyes grew dim.

She waited a few more second, making sure he was truly out cold, then released him as they both fell to the floor.

“That was way too fucking hard,” she huffed, pulling off her hood for air.

“Jesus Christ, Rae, are you okay?” the masked man said kneeling down, placing his hand on the back of her head.

“I’m fine, Grayson,” she sighed, “just have a splitting headache, is all.”

Dick removed his hand, but noticed something dark and sticky on his glove, “You’re bleeding.”

“No shit,” Raven said, the pain ripping through her scalp, “I’m fine though, I’m already starting to heal.”

He looked back at her questionably as though he didn’t believe her in the slightest.

“Really, I’m fine,” she knew he was worried, but they didn’t have time for that. “What about you, Boy Blunder? You good?”

He looked down at his gloved hands, as if he thought they might have the answers, “Yeah, I’m fine. I’ve definitely been hit a lot harder.”

Dick helped Raven up to her feet, a slight look of pain gripping her features.

“Well, we better get to it; something tells me the clown isn’t gonna say down long.”

“You’re probably right?” Dick replied. “Let’s get to work.”


 

Everything had gone dark. That was the last thing he could recall as he began to stir from his dreamless sleep. His head ached wildly, a dull throb echoing in his mind. He slowly tried to open his heavy eyes, but found everything foggy and out of focus. He couldn’t hear Harley calling out to him, which struck him as odd. However, there were two foreign voices, distant and faint, like they were but miles away.

“He’s waking up,” he heard the female say urgently, her texture low and raspy as it sang, unlike his little clown’s, hers shrill and high.

He could hear footsteps approaching, most likely a man’s, judging by how much weight he put in his firm steps. In both curiosity, and necessity, Joker lifted his head, letting it fall back a moment in fatigue. His jaw fell slack, taking in a deep, much needed, breath.

“I’m not sure he’s all there?” said who he assumed was the young man he’d sparred with earlier. He looked down at the Joker, whose head still remained reclined, “Let’s give him a few more minutes and then—”

“And then you’ll what?” The clown began to cackle and rolled his head upright, “Kill me? Cause that’s the only way you’re leaving this place, I promise you that.”

Dick looked over at Raven, knowing that if the Joker had his way, he’d make good on his promise.

“You have something I want and we’re not leaving here until we get it.”

The Clown Prince looked at the masked man and raised a crooked eyebrow, “I can assure you that the only thing I have to offer you is a box, in which, you’ll be buried.” he let out a sinister, yet coy chuckle, “But who am I to ruin the fun, hum? I am more than happy to play this little game with you, especially when the stakes are so high.”

“This isn’t a game,” Raven said, stepping toward him.

“Tell that to the hungry cat, my dear,” the Joker replied. “But maybe you don’t have the scrap it takes to play? But no matter; you will when I’m done with you.”

Both Raven and Dick looked at one another, wearily, knowing that at heart, his words were more than madness. In Joker’s mind, he was always the one dealing the cards.

“So who the hell are two anyway?”

“A friend of a friend,” Dick replied coldly.

“And who might this friend be?”

“The kind that wants you dead.”

“That’s a very long list, my boy. You may want to be more specific.”

“I know,” Dick said, stepping close enough to look him in the eye, “I’m on that list.”

The Joker’s face lit up with a smile as he hissed with laughter, “Then let the games begin!”

Dick peered back at the crooked man, the look in his eyes glowing with wicked madness, like a sickness that could never be cured. The grin on his face was wide—gleaming, but strangely broken all the same. The Joker wouldn’t be easy to break as he’d been broken a long time ago. An unfixable mirror image of the man he once possibly was. However, Dick found the thought odd—the Joker actually once being human.

Still, he had to find a weak spot, an Achelle’s Heel that could topple his ego and his legend. But what did the Joker really have to lose? Or better yet, what did he have to gain?

Dick turned from the glaring man, feeling his piercing stare, lancing right through him, testing his metal. He looked over to Raven, who’d watched the interaction unfold before her, letting her prodigious intuition guide her perception. Dick approached her, taking her by the arm and turning her from the clown.

“So what do you think?”

“I think he’s testing you,” she replied coarsely.

“Yeah, I got that, but what do you think we should do?”

“That all depends; do you want an answer, or do you him to pay.” Dick turned his head away from her uncomfortably, but she continued regardless. “Richard, don’t act like I don’t know, he’s the one who shot you… He’s the one that made Bruce—”

Doubt me—yeah… Or at least he’s part of it,” Dick concluded with haste, a fire burning at the tip of his tongue. But there was so much more to that story, so much he honestly wanted tried to forget. “But that’s not what I came here to do.”

Raven let out a rough breath, the heat of his repressed anger, beating in her chest, “I know, but that’s what you want now, whether you want to admit it or not.”

“There’s so much more to it than that,” Dick said letting his arms fall from his chest, “he’s hurt so many people, and what he did to Jason…” He paused with an abruptness, and steadied himself. “It’s all so unforgivable.”

“Listen, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t exact some of that revenge, but you also need to remember why you came here in the first place.”

“You’re right,” Dick began softly, getting a hold of himself. “You’re always right—”

“You know, it’s rude for the host to ignore his guests and have a private conversation with them still present at the table,” Joker mocked properly. “What awful manners, you must have been raised in a barn!”

“More like a belfry,“ Dick said patronizingly and rolled his eyes. Then returned to his private conversation. “So what do you think we should do, Rae?”

She peered over at the Joker with an astringent look and glanced back at Dick, “We ignore him,” she said evenly, “he doesn’t like being dismissed, it’s his only weakness. In the meantime, let’s pay extra special attention to someone with a much bigger weakness.”

“Harley.”

“Yep, she might talk if we play our cards right.”

The two turned back toward the Joker whose eyes lit up as they motioned toward him and grinned ear to ear.

“I hope you enjoyed your little chat. Now back to the… matter,” he paused a moment as both hooded figures completely passed by him, “at… hand...? Wait! Where the hell do you two thing you’re going?!”

Dick and Raven didn’t respond, they’d didn’t even look back at the clown as he whined. Dick opened a door, where several strange looking clown characters awaited, bound and gagged. He looked down where he saw their target sitting, trying to loosen her duct tape bounds. Dick reached down and grabbed her arm in a forceful fashion. He pulled her to her feet without a second thought and ripped the tape from her mouth—which he’d quickly regret.

“You son of a bitch! You betta not hurt my Puddin’!” She shouted bitterly in the young hero’s face. She looked over to see her “Puddin’” glaring back at her, her heart plummeting from her chest. “Mista J!”

“What on Earth do you want with Harley?

Neither replied, Dick just held on to the hysterical woman while she struggled, and threw about her obsolete threats.

“Why I outta—”

“Outta what, Harley?” Raven said rolling a chair up behind her and forcing her down.

Harley only stared up at Dick, her face beating with a scolding and fiery look—smoldering. Dick felt little from the glare, he was too wrapped up in accomplishing the mission. And the fact he didn’t hate Harley, nearly as much as Joker, actually made focusing much easier. He leaned in, meeting her eyes through his mask. Her eye makeup was running down her face, mixing with the lily-white cast on her skin. She didn’t seem intimidated, but he could tell by the look Raven shot him that could change.

“Listen Harley, I don’t wanna hurt you, or Joker,” that was a lie, “I just want one thing. Can you tell me where I can find it?”

“Don’t you dare, Harley!” The Joker growled, shooting his head as far in her direction as possible.

Her breath grew tight, and the scolding look broke for a minute; she was afraid of losing the Joker’s trust.

“I ain’t got nothing to say to you! I don’t care whatcha do t’me!”

Dick looked at Raven, who was now finished binding the pretty clown to her chair. She rose from the stone floor and shook her head, stepping in front of Dick. She gave him one sorry look, then turned to Harley and balled her fist. Before Dick realized it, Raven smacked Harley across the face so hard, the sound actually startled him. Harley let out a cry as her head shot to the left from the force of the blow. Raven quickly grabbed her by the jaw, and forced the blonde to look at her, her nails actually digging into Harley’s skin.

“Listen bitch, your “Puddin’” doesn’t give a damn about what happens to you. If I killed you, he’d be okay with that, as long as you keep your mouth shut. Doesn’t that bother you, even just a little?”

Dick could see Harley’s eyes wince at the accusation, their pain reminding him of Cyndi and how many times she’d been on the receiving end of her lover’s fist. Raven got ready to strike the girl again, but this time, Dick couldn’t let her.

He caught Raven by the wrist, the girl’s head shooting back him in confusion. “Don’t,” he whispered, unable to see the sight again.

Raven’s face fell when she saw the pain that dwelled within his stormy blue eyes, and a little shame grew in hers.

A sudden cackling began to stir from behind them, growing with a wicked charm and amusement.

“I knew you didn’t have what it takes to play this game!” Joker hissed. “You’re too damn weak!

The Joker continued to laughed, bound and taped as though he weren’t even fazed by any of it. Raven could see Dick’s face grow darker, even through his mask. He turned from her and slowly approached the insane man, who still laughed like the hyena he embodied—like a wild animal. Dick stood just behind him with a blank expression, Joker not even acknowledging him. Dick looked over at a nearby table, and noticed a thin, aluminum pipe. He picked it up, it wasn’t every heavy and wouldn’t cause a lot of damage, but it would hurt like hell. And that’s exactly what Dick wanted.

“Hahaha—Ahhhh!” the Joker cried out, as the pipe hit him across the back of the head, pain throbbing against his skull.

Dick grabbed him by the back of his florescent hair, and forced his head back, to look down into the eyes of a madman (shock actually present for a change).

“You know what’s really weak, Joker?” Dick said calmly. “Using your girlfriend as a pawn, and as a punching bag. You treat her like you treat a punchline.”

The man furrowed his brow as he stared up at the young man, whose metal he questioned. Maybe he did indeed, “have the scrap?”

Dick let go of the man’s green mane, and looked back at Raven, who he could tell was a little off put by the sight, but pushed it away.

“You’re gonna pay for that,” the man growled, his voice swallowing the agony.

“Shut up!” Dick commanded, “If anyone around here is gonna pay, it’s you, Joker. You’ve taken a lot from too many people, and I think it’s time that someone finally collected that debt.”

The Joker only gave Dick a sinister half smile, as though for a moment, the crazed man actually believed him. “Coming for the souls of the wicked, are we?” He glanced over at Raven a moment, his voice almost charming, “How righteous of him, he thinks he’s the cure?”

“Didn’t I tell you to shut up,” Dick growled, trying to limit Joker’s control, when a thought crossed his mind. “Here’s an idea,” Dick said passively, and looked at Raven, “why don’t I take Harley and have a little chat, in private?”

“She won’t talk,” Joker drawled, still fighting the pain that ached in his head, “And if she does, then—Ahhh!” the Joker cried as Dick struck him across the jaw, Harley crying out to him.

“Then nothing,” Dick replied darkly, patting the clown’s cheek with a smug hand, leaving him practically speechless from the pain.

Dick walked over to Raven and Harley, Raven keeping her arms crossed, “You good with Joker?” he asked, Raven nodding sternly in acceptance, “Okay, call me if you need anything.”

“I’m sure we’ll be fine,” Raven said, walking to the Joker, “wont we, Mista J?” She looked at Harley, and placed her hand on his bony shoulder, gripping it tight.

Harley immediately began to protest, shouting things like, “get your filthy mitts off my Puddin’!” and, “I swear, you’re as good as dead! You hear me, you floozy!”

Raven only looked back as Dick rolled his eyes and began carting the clown girl off to another room, not far from where he stood. Raven watched, not really amused or impressed by the threats, as she had far better taste in men (or at least she’d like to think she did). She pulled up a chair, and placed it right in front of the bound Clown Prince, taking a seat across from him.

“So that’s your girlfriend?”

The Joker let his eyes peer up at her, as she glared back him coolly, and shrugged, “She crazy about me.”

“That’s a good word for it.”


 

Dick closed the door and turned to Harley who stared back at him threateningly.

“I don’t care what cha do t’me, I’m not gonna talk!” she spat as Dick leaned against the door.

He expected that kind of response, and wasn’t fazed by it one bit. “I’m not gonna do anything to you,” Dick replied.

She stopped her flailing a moment, and cocked her quirky head to the side, raising one eyebrow, “Y’not?”

“No.”

“Then why’d y’bring me back here? Isn’t this the part where y’do some unspeakable thing t’me?” She was genuinely confused.

Dick shook his head and began to walk toward her. “That’s not really my style, and I have a feeling you’ve seen more than your fair share of unspeakable things?”

“What’d y’want?” The pretty clown asked her masked captor.

“I just want you to tell me where Joker keeps his trophies, that’s all.”

“That’s not gonna happen, hot stuff,” she quipped, “I’m not gonna do that to my Puddin’.”

Dick wasn’t shocked by her response, in fact, he expected it. “Harley, can I ask you something?”

The blonde shrugged with little resistance, she had feeling he’d ask anyway.

“How can you be so loyal to someone that shows you so little compassion?”

Her head perked up, she’d never truly been asked that question before. Harley looked over at the masked man, his voice sounding almost saddened by her ordeal, like he truly felt for her.

Harley attempted to answer question, but found it difficult to convey. “I don’t know, I guess cause I love him?”

“How can you?”

The blonde sighed with frustration, annoyed that she had to explain herself, especially because she didn’t have a good answer. “That’s none of y’business, Bub.”

“It’s a simple question,” Dick replied, “maybe it’s just not a simple answer?”

“Noth’n’s ever simple—love isn’t simple!” she spat.

She was right, love wasn’t simple. He knew all too well what a complex emotion it was, how deep it could go, and how much it hurt. And even after 26 years—he still didn’t quite know what love meant.

“Believe me, I know love his complicated—l’ve lived it. But Joker shows you no gratitude, and he has no problem punishing you for his shortcomings. He doesn’t feel anything but madness. Why willingly put yourself through all that for such little reward?”

He could see Harley becoming agitated by his words, the words speaking such raw truths, she couldn’t quite defend them. So she said the only thing she truly believed, “Cause I need him, okay!”

While this was taking place, Raven and Joker continued their own poignant conversation.

“So you’re not even just a little bit afraid of me?” Joker asked a disinterested Raven.

“No.”

“And why is that?” he replied curiously, almost delighted.

She shrugged looking down, then peered up from her minimal distraction and said, “Because my dad’s the devil,” cracking a cynical grin, one the Joker could appreciate.

He laughed satirically, a little venom spilling from his vocal cords, “Aren’t all fathers, really?” He noticed her glance down, a slight raise of the brow as she did so. “So what did your father do to you?”

“It’s not what he did, it’s who he is, actually” she replied statically.

“Aw, can’t live up to Daddy’s expectations, can we?”

Raven leaned forward and smiled smugly, “More like I don’t want to live up to them. He doesn’t like that.”

“Then what does your Daddy like?”

Raven pulled back, a little sickened by the man’s implication, but knew he was only trying to get to her. He could see it on her face, faintly—the disgust. She may not have liked, or even felt any love for her father, but the thought of such vile accusations still angered her.

“So since we’re on the subject,” Raven said, crossing her arms, “what did your “Daddy” do to you?”

He giggled, the lines in his face growing deep from amusement, “What didn’t my father do, is the better question, my dear. Hell! Ask me that question, it’s a much shorter list!”

“You hate your father too.”

Hate is a very strong word,” the Joker reasoned, a glint of superiority filling the hue of his eyes, “I prefer to say that I—strongly dislike the manthat’s why I killed him, of course.”

Raven let her eyes fall from his gaze, a feeling of dark hatred and pure insanity running cold through her blood.

“And what about you, my dear? You ever think of killing your father?”

She made the mistake of glancing up at him, but replied anyway, “No.”

“Well now, we both know that’s a lie!” he sang in a joyous tone. “I can practically smell the hatred on you, the distaste for your own blood—it’s written all over your face!”

The words hit her hard, like a bullet in the heart. The memory of Slade delivering a similarly, sinister speech. She bit her tongue, nearly drawing the metallic taste of blood, but she knew her burden flashed in her eyes. That need she couldn’t help but feel, but she couldn’t let it free, not now.

“What’s the matter, darling? Lost your bark?” the Joker teased. “Or did your Daddy teach you not to bite?”

“No, actually, he’d be really proud of me if I ripped your throat out.” Her face was flat, completely even, but that flame still burned in her eyes—that darkness.

Joker grinned, he was really in her head now. “Then why don’t you? Why not be Daddy’s little girl?”

“Because “Daddy’s little girl” is not who I am,” Raven insisted.

“No, I think it’s exactly who you are.”


 

You need him?” Dick questioned, continuing his conversation with Harley.

Again he wasn’t shocked by this answer. He just couldn’t bring himself to understand how someone as strong as Harley (someone who was actually quite intelligent) could come to the conclusion that she needed someone so toxic? Joker’s hold on her was one of a serpent’s, tightening every time Harley tried to pull away, suffocating her will. But Dick wondered if this misplaced loyalty could be used to his advantage.

“What about being used and beaten do you need?”

Harley’s brow furrowed defensively, her blue eyes filled with a steely color of bitterness, “It’s not like that.”

“Enlighten me then?”

“Y’won’t understand,” she replied with a pout and an eye roll.

“I’ll try.”

Harley looked up at the young man, his stance dismissive and light, something she was never really accustomed to. She didn’t owe this person an answer, yet for some reason, she felt like she did. Or at least try to.

“I can’t put it into words. I guess it’s a fascination, almost? Like if I look hard enough, I’ll find the answer, but the riddle’s constantly chang’n. But if I had to explain it, I guess. I’d say that when it comes to Mista J, that I’m the only person who’s gotten close enough to see him for what he truly is at heart—a horrible thing—but he’s my horrible thing. I’m the closest thing he’ll ever know to love, the closest he’ll ever come to actually caring for someone! And, I guess that makes me feel special. Say whatcha want about the Joker, and think what you will. But you’ll never know what that means to be me! Because in this huge world of belligerent fuckery—I never belonged! I know y’can’t understand that. All y’see when y’look at me is a victim, everyone does. My Puddin’s the only one who don’t.”

The notion hit the hero harder than she meant it to, and she wasn’t wrong. Dick always saw Harley as a victim of the Joker’s “charms” (if you will) but he never really thought about how much she resented that pity.

“So what are y’gonna do?” She asked looking up at him, less threatening now.

“I won’t do anything, just tell me where the joker keeps his trophies.”

“I’m not gonna tell ya—I can’t… I won’t.”

Dick looked down at her pitifully, not even realizing what an unwanted charity it was. “Has it ever occurred to you that maybe the Joker needs you more than you need him?”

She looked up at him with painful eyes, the black and red makeup, leaving a lovely mess upon her delicate face, “He does, and that’s why I’m not spill’n. I’m all my Puddin’s got.”

Dick shook his head in disapproval for her plight. Though, he could now understand (at least to some degree) that Harley’s loyalty came from a place of love (though mad). However, he still had a mission to complete.

He took the back of the chair, and pulled her along as he opened the door.

“Where we go’n?”

“To settle a score.”

Chapter Text

 "And when I die, I expect to find Him laughing." --Depeche Mode

The masked heroes ran through the fleeting shadows of grey and black darkness. The clouds the color of charcoal over-head, the sharp rain falling relentlessly down upon them. The glare of the street lights reflected harshly off the damp pavement, yet there was little light to guide them. Dick looked back at Raven to make sure she was still behind him, the sound of her footsteps eaten by the heavy collision of rain on stone. She was there, only a few feet behind, her stride not nearly the length of his. He reached out his hand, calling back for her to take it. She could hardly hear him over the flooding downpour, but reached for him anyway.

Their hands locked, their grip tight despite the raw chill of the relentless rain. They weren't far from the steel yard, it was only a minute away, they just had to keep running. They had to make it. He looked back again, this time looking for a shadow in the rain.

'Please don't come, Bruce…'

A faint laugh could be heard in the distance, its wicked texture howling, even over the percussion of rain fall.

'I can't let him find us, we're dead if he does!'

One Hour Prior…

Dick entered the room with Harley trailing behind, bound and taped. He found Raven standing over the Joker, a look of resentment steeping in her vibrant eyes.

'Good thing I got here when I did,' he thought, knowing he'd seen that look before and what came along with it.

"Y'better not'a touched my Puddin, y'bimbo!"

Raven took her eyes off the Clown Prince of Crime and set her sight on the woman who fawned over him. "By touch do you mean, this?" She struck the man across the face as though she were hitting her own father, the sound sharp and echoed off the brick walls.

Harley howled in discontent, threatening to beat Raven senseless, which of course, Raven couldn't have cared less about.

"Your daddy would be proud, my dear," Joker mumbled, his jaw sore, but his ego delighted.

"My Daddy's currently burning in Hell. When you get there, tell him I said hello," Raven said, walking over to Dick, who seemed a little disturbed by her tone, Harley still carrying on about how she'd exact her revenge.

"That's the spirit!" Joker exclaimed, "So how'd you kids do? Were there sparks? Cause your little friend and I really hit it off!"

Dick looked over at Raven again as she slowly pulled herself back together from her momentary slip.

"I'm fine," she mouthed, slowly finding her center.

His eyes fell on Harley, who gazed up at him, almost ashamed she'd shared so much.

"Yeah," Dick finally replied, "and I learned something too."

"And what might that be?" Joker's eyes filled with sinister wonder, their green color full of wickedness.

"That if I'm gonna get what I came for, then I'm gonna have to do this."

Suddenly, the Joker found himself on the receiving end of Dick's fist, hitting him with a painful shock. Before Joker could even react, Dick hit him again even harder, blood spraying from the fiend's mouth. Harley cried out for Dick to stop as Raven shrugged numbly, not really feeling charitable.

"Puddin!" she cried.

Dick looked over at her and slugged the mad clown again, "You want me to stop?"

She nodded, "Yes! Get your hands off him, you son of a bitch!"

"Well Harley," Dick reasoned, "the only way I'm gonna stop is if you tell me what I wanna know!"

"Go t'Hell!"

"Okay fine, but I'm sending your "Puddin" there first!"

He struck the man even harder, so hard, even Raven flinched.

"Stop!" Harley cried.

"Only when you start talking!" Dick growled and continued to pummel the Joker with his own two fists.

"Don't… don't tell him anything… Harley," the Joker managed to mumble, spiting blood at his captor.

Blood sprayed directly on Dick's face, fueling his anger more than he wanted to give into. He wiped the blood from his exposed cheek and looked at the dark liquid numbly, the blood shining on his glove as he delivered another punch. This one nearly rendering Joker unconscious.

Dick looked to the left and something caught his eye—it was a crowbar. With a relentless anger, he ferociously picked up the metal bar, and held it in a moment of anguish. With the crowbar tight in his grasp, he approached Harley, who was now struggling to free herself from her bounds. Black tears ran down her face as she pleaded and screamed tedious threats at the top of her lungs.

Dick reached out and rolled her chair forward to fill the space beneath them, looking down at her dismay. "If you don't tell me where Joker keeps his trophies, I'm going to bury this crowbar in his skull. Now do you want that?"

"No!"

"Then tell me!"

"No—I can't!"

Dick exhaled roughly through his nose, the scent of frustration thick on his breath. He promptly withdrew from Harley as she cried, "No! Don't—you'll kill him!" and, "Please! I'll do anything—I just can't tell you that!"

Dick didn't bother to look back, he just kept on, the sluggish Joker hunched over in his sights. The clown was in a daze as he'd taken several sever blows to the head. Dick grabbed the man by the jaw, he may have been barely conscious, but that glint of madness was still there, glowing viscous in his eyes.

"What about you?" Dick asked. "Harley isn't gonna save your life, what are you gonna do about that?"

The Joker didn't reply, he just let out a small hiss of laughter, as much as he could possibly muster.

"What's so funny, Clown?"

The Joker managed to glare in the ex-Titan's direction, his signature grin stretching wide across his sinister face. "You," he replied. "It turns out, you had the scrap after all—hahaha—you're no better than me!"

Dick released the man's face, the Joker still laughing with a surprising amount of resilience—mocking him. For a moment Dick was horrified, and wanted to stop, wanted to go no further than he had, but then he'd be no closer to Slade.

'Slade…'

A remorseless anger filled his eyes, and his grip on the crowbar grew tight, his knuckles white beneath his gloves. He raised it up above his head, ready to bring the fire of Hell down upon the clown, just as he deserved.

"Ready to be the punchline?" Dick whispered.

"Aren't we all?"

Dick began to set his swing in motion as Harley and Raven looked on in horror. Raven could feel the fire burning beneath Dick's skin, and how personal this moment had become for him, but she couldn't bear to let him go through with it—let him go that far. The bar began to come down, the force of the blow growing with every inch it fell. She had to stop him. She reached out her hand, her power forming at the edge of her fingertips, but before she could intervene, someone else did.

"The furnace room!" Harley cried.

Dick immediately stopped, just coming short of striking the Joker's thick skull. He looked over to Harley, but stopped as he clocked eyes with Raven, her hand outstretched in a way that he'd seen many times before.

'Oh God,' he thought, a hint of shame trickling down his face.

He could tell she didn't want him to see her like that—with that look. The one she only wore when she saw that side of him, when he'd let his inner darkness bleed out and into his better judgment. The look itself was not of fear, as much, as it was of realization. The solidification that Richard Grayson could actually be that cruel, that he himself had the capacity to lose himself and become a horrible thing. However, what always bothered him about this look was that she could see him that way. That she could just stand there and not be sickened by it, that she wasn't bothered enough to look away.

Dick could never figure out if it was because she was confident that he'd come to his senses and recoil from that part of him. Or that she herself understood the burden of getting lost amongst the anger and turmoil. Either way, it pained him that she'd witnessed it; she was really the only Titan who had. The others knew he had a temper and that he was not above acting upon it in the proper moment, but she was only one who knew how far he was capable of going if he let himself. How deep his temper really ran. How much anger was actually locked within him.

He could see in her eyes that she was sorry, but even more so that she forgave him for it. He let his arms fall, the crowbar tumbling to the floor with a loud metallic crash. The darkness had once again receded into the pit of his heart, its fire unlit, and the will to burn momentarily extinguished. He could practically feel the relief wash over her, like a gambler who'd just bet on the longshot pony and won. Her victory confirming her longstanding opinion of him, but for a moment, she thought she'd bet wrong.

He finally found the strength to take his eyes off of her and settled them on Harley, who seemed too caught up in the fact she'd almost lost her "Puddin." He realized at that moment, Joker had almost won, and if it weren't for the lovesick clown, and Raven, he'd be covered in the feral man's brain matter. Dick would be no better than the man who stood over Jason and beat him within an inch of his life, and then, unmercifully took it without a second thought. Dick was nearly the punchline.

"This is a game," Dick finally muttered.

The Joker looked up, not even fazed by the near loss of his life, "And it's not over yet," the Joker said cruelly, "You may have won this round, but I'll have the last laugh, I assure you."

"Not if I refuse to play."

"That's not your choice," Joker insisted.

"It is," said grasping to what was left of his autonomy.

"Not when you play the game against someone who's perfected the art of corruption." A wicked smile out stretched, revealing the Joker's crooked and yellowing teeth as they gleamed with cunning and primacy. "Some men are in the business of power, others, the business of fortune, but me—I'm in the business of corruption. And I intend to watch the world burn one man at a time."

"You're a sick man, Joker… but I'm not playing," Dick replied grimly, his face stone. "It's not worth what I have to lose."

"It's far too late for that! As long as you continue to breathe, you'll play. And as long as you play, I will be waiting for that very moment, that very irony that will be the undoing of your pretty, little, plastic, world. And I will pull that string until every thread is unraveled."

"That's fine Joker, play your game. But just know you have no idea who you're playing against," the ex-Titan warned. "To everyone else, you might be the hand that ends their game, but to me, the Joker, is just one card in my deck."

Dick stepped to the back of the man and opened his hand, placing his thumb and index finger just below Joker's ears, behind the jawline, and squeezed. He held the grip only a few seconds, the Joker tense for a brief moment, until falling uncurious. His head fell limp, and the young hero freed the clown from the knock-out grip. It was a skill Bruce had taught him years ago, but he'd only used it a few times. One, because it was a hard maneuver to pull off on a moving target, and two, because it was extremely dangerous if done improperly. However, in his cynicism, Dick felt the technique charitable.

With the Joker out cold, Dick walked away from the horrid clown and turned to Harley again. "The furnace room?"

She refused to respond and turned her head away from him like a child in time out, a full pout, hand in hand with a low scowl on her face.

"I'll take that as a yes."

He took off down the hall and Raven followed behind him, not wanting to stay with the volatile couple. Not to mention, the tension in the room was nearly enough to suffocate her as it wrapped around her throat like the crazed hands of Othello. She caught up to Dick in the hall, he too, trying to distance himself from that red grip.

"Hey wait up," Raven called to him.

He glanced back at her, but refused to keep her in his sight, he just couldn't.

"They really shouldn't be left alone," Dick said, opening a heavy door that led to the dark basement that housed the furnace.

"I know, but I think its best we just get the—whatever the hell—trophy, Joker took from Jason, and get the fuck out of here ASP."

Dick was inclined to agree, they needed to leave, and never look back, plus Joker was out for the time being. Dick nodded, but still didn't look in her direction, keeping his eyes forward and down the dark stairway. He took out a small flashlight and turned on the switch. A thin beam of light arose from the thick shadows and down the old rotting steps.

"Come on," he said blankly and descended the stairs, each board crying beneath his steps.

Once at the bottom, Raven found and old dusty light switch and flicked it on. Very little light came from it, the old fluorescents flickering in hesitation to live more than a few moments at a time. It had been at least two decades since the lights had seen any maintenance, and even, the fact they functioned was something of a miracle. Still, their dim shine was better than nothing, as listless as it was. The two looked around a moment, their eyes beginning to discover what felt like a hoarding nightmare. Piles of old newspapers and clippings rose from the ground like skyscrapers, mountains of junk tight at their sides, pouring out among the mayhem. Boxes piled on top of each other stood tall, threatening to lay siege to anyone who dared even touch them.

"What the fuck?" Dick sighed in frustration, looking at the sheer chaos of it all.

"Uh, it's like an episode of Hoarders: Buried Alive," Raven grumbled, "All that's missing are the 47 cats... Eh—What's that smell?"

"It's Joker, I'm sure there's something dead down here."

Raven looked over in Dick's direction, "Well let's try not to find it, okay?"

"It's more likely to find us," Dick replied and somehow found the effort to smile cynically.

"Wipe that smile off your face, Boy Blunder," Raven threatened sarcastically, "or you'll be the dead thing lost down here. Now where do we start?"

Dick looked at the piles and assortments of things, trying to think what mad logic would achieve such a thing. He noticed a large work shelf, left over from the 1900's, when the factory was functional. The shelf seemed house many random objects, in no particular order, except for one thing—everything on it had to do with Batman.

"There," Dick said, pointing to it with his flashlight.

The two birds immediately began to rummage through the old things, some familiar, some not. There was an old dental style syringe that still had an injectable fluid in it, a lock of red hair, Dick assumed must have belonged to Barbara, and a piece of yellow and black material he regretfully recognized.

"It's gotta be here?" Dick said, looking at the old remnants of past battles, both won and lost.

He continued to look through the keepsakes, sickened by the idea that someone kept dusty piece of his and his family's lives'. Among the broken and forgotten relics, Dick found an old cowl of Bruce's, torn and scarred by time. He took it in his hands and gazed upon its tarnished face.

"This is creepy," Raven said, taking something in her hands. She looked at Dick, slightly troubled at the sight of him holding the cowl, mournfully.

He peered up at her, her eyes soft as they seemed captivated by the curious sight. He noticed the object in her hands and a very different expression filled his once somber face.

"Put that down."

Raven looked down at the crowbar, covered with time, rust, and old stains that appeared to be blood, long dried. It was then she realized what it was, or least what Dick thought it was. Without even a second thought, Raven dropped the bar with haste and disgust, her hands feeling filthy from the contact.

The metal bar fell upon the shelf with a loud, metallic wail, dust rising into air from its long, dreamless sleep.

"Is that what we came for?" she asked shaken, trying to tame every urge to abandon this charge.

"I don't know," Dick replied, looking over every last forgotten detail, and repressed memory. Yes, all these things pointed to a milestone in the endless battle waged between the Joker and the Batman, yet not one of those things represented a death. "All of this is from an event, there's nothing from a life taken."

"But the crowb—"

"He didn't kill him with it," Dick said regretfully, "if Joker was gonna keep something, it would more personal. He would have taken something from him."

"Something he took away?"

Dick nodded and looked around again. There had to be something more definitive. Just then, he spotted a small, antique hope chest, off in the corner of the old shelf. He noticed the wooden box was of fine quality, and that it was, by far, not as dusty as everything else, and even looked like it may have been cared for. Dick took a hesitant breath and opened the latch, surprised it was not bound by a lock and key. He lifted the lid and allowed the glare of his flashlight to reveal the untold secrets within. The light reflected off an old police chief badge, beside it, an old batman logo from a cheap costume.

Dick hesitantly began to ruffle through the grim objects, part of him hoping he wouldn't find anything, when he did. His heart stopped at the sight of the object, its haunting presence directly looking back at him. He reached out for it, his hand aching as it trembled with grief, the sight pulling old ghost from the depths his past. He lifted it out of the box, Raven flitching at the very sight of it.

"Is that…" Raven began, but found her tongue bound by a weakened thought.

"Yes," Dick said, looking at the sad reminder of what could have become of him, "It's a Robin mask… It's Jason's Robin Mask."

Raven's brows knit, her heart feeling the guilt and the anguish that beat within his. "Let's get the hell out of here," she said, grabbing Dick's wrist.

"Not yet," he replied refusing to budge.

She turned back to him with question as Dick looked down at the sickly treasured part of his life, like an old friend screaming to be set free.

"We have to take care of this."

Raven scanned the room a moment, trying to find a solution when something hit her, "This is the furnace from right?"

"Yeah," Dick replied.

"Perfect."

Dick looked back at her and cocked his head to the side in inquiry, "Raven, what are you thinking?"

Raven began picking up old newspapers and pieces of cardboard as she replied, "I'm gonna start a fire in this old furnace and then we're gonna burn as much of everything as we can."

Dick raised a brow at the idea, realizing that if they only burned the things related to Batman that it would obviously narrow down the suspect pool. Not to mention, conceal the Robin mask being gone.

"Raven, you're a genius."

"Yeah, I'm amazing, Boy Blunder, now go find me something to light this thing up."

Before long, Raven had the furnace ablaze after Dick stumbled upon an old lighter buried beneath the dust. To his relief, the old thing still worked, and before he knew it, the two began burning anything they could fit into the furnace. However, the birds had to move quickly and Dick scrambling to pick up as much as he could. Raven on the other hand, tried to burn whatever she could at random, doing her best to create a level of chaos that could not be decoded. Dick was nearly finished throwing the things he felt mattered into the fire, as Raven threw one last, small box into the flames. She peered over to see Dick, holding both the dusty remnants of the cowl, and the torn fabric of his old cape. His eyes' gaze was distant, lost somewhere in the past, his hands holding everything that was, and was no more.

"It's okay to let go, Richard."

He looked up at her from the cold floor where he knelt, and sighed a moment, "I know."

His eyes then fell to the objects in his hands, the heat of the fire dancing across his face. He sometimes thought about who he'd be if he never left Gotham, or what his life would be like if he'd never been a Titan. He wondered if he'd ever become Nightwing, or if Jason would have ever become Robin—would Dick have actually been the one who died?

With that perverse thought, he looked to the flames and threw his past, present, and future into the igneous inferno. He watched a moment while the cowl became engulfed, and was quickly devoured by the greedy flames. The piece if his cape nearly vanished on impact, burning up into nothing before even one, single, breath.

Dick bowed his head a moment and closed the steel door to the furnace. He turned and got up, taking a moment to finally notice how disheveled his surroundings had become.

"Damn Rae, Joker's gonna be pissed when he sees this," Dick said a little child-like.

Raven cracked a precocious smile as she shrugged, "He's the one who's always spouting off about being an Agent of Chaos. I thought it was only appropriate."

Dick smiled at the irony and began to make his way to the stairs, "Let's get the hell out of here before the Agent of Chaos breaks loose."

Dick turned the corner of the stairway and looked up to the top, he stopped, his eyes growing wide with shock.

"Good idea! But you're a little late to the party, kiddo," said the Joker, his voice falling to a sinisterly low register.

"Oh God."

"I'm flattered, but God's not listening," Joker growled and pulled out an old 50 caliber Colt.

Dick's eyes locked on the Joker's as he stared down the barrel, Joker's ghoulish finger pulled the trigger. Dick wasted no time, he flew to the right towards Raven and dodged the shot, but another followed soon behind it. Raven grabbed Dick by the arm and guide him behind an old piece of equipment for cover, a stray bullet, hitting one of the fluorescent lights overhead.

"We have to get out of here," Dick said over the sound of shattering glass, Joker's footsteps pounding down the aged stairs.

"We need a Nightwing grade plan, Boy Blunder" Raven replied, "you know, the kind that involves cunning, and skill, with just a hint of dumb luck."

"I do not rely on dumb lucked," Dick whispered defensively as a bullet rushed passed his head barely missing him. "Okay, maybe dumb luck has a little to do with it."

Raven shot him a smug look and crossed her arms, "What's the plan, Boy Blunder?"

"Can you get behind Joker without him seeing you?"

"Does a Beast Boy shit in the woods?"

"Can you be less sarcastic?"

"No."

"Just do it before we die," Dick said with resenting smile.

"I assume you want me to go on the offense when I get there?"

"Only if it's safe."

"Oh, I'll make it safe, keep him distracted," Raven added, moving her hand, causing the lights to fall dark.

Just then Raven vanished into a dark shadow, leaving Dick by his lonesome. He could hear the Joker's footsteps growing closer, and thought quick about what he'd do if he found himself face to face with the feral clown.

"So we're playing hide and seek are we?" The Joker called, ceasing fire, "Ollie Ollie oxen free!"

Dick knew the Joker wasn't far and would stumble upon him in just a matter of moments.

"Come on kid, I'm not so bad, I'll make it quick!.. If you're lucky that is." He followed his statement with a low giggle as Dick prepared to defend himself in hand to hand, hoping he wouldn't be shot dead first.

'Come on, Rae, where are you?'

The Joker was only a few steps away, his shadow growing beside Dick only inches from him.

'If I die at the hands of the Joker, Bruce is gonna be so piss—'

"Game's over, Joker."

'Raven?'

Before Dick knew it, he saw the Joker be thrown all the away into the brick wall ahead, A loud scream as he went.

'So much for keep it low key,' Dick thought with a (very relieved) eye roll.

"Come on," Raven urged grabbing Dick by the wrist and pulling him from the darkness.

The birds bound up the stair and into the hallway, its dark red glare, feeling even less welcoming than before, hosting various uncovered threats.

"Which way is out," Raven said, still running for her life.

"There's an emergency exit at the end of the hall, we just have to get th—"

Before Dick could finish speaking, Joker's strongest, yet dumbest goon, plowed right through the stone wall.

"Shit," Dick scoffed, tuning the other way with Raven right by his side, the two unfortunately being greeted by the knife wielding Stitches.

"Which one you want?" Raven asked, throwing herself into fight mod.

"Well both options leave something to be desired—"

"Pick one!"

"Stiches! I'll take Stitches," Dick spat as the blade of a knife came hurling towards him and he blocked it.

"Just don't die on me, got it?" Raven replied, charging toward the enormous, Tiny.

"I'll do my best," Dick growled, dodging a blade and catching the creepy clown's arm.

Meanwhile, Raven was using her ability of flight to throw, the living mountain known as Tiny, off. She could tell that man was genuinely confused as she evaded his attacks, moving far too quickly for him to grasp what she was actually doing. Dick was able to relieve Stitches of one of his sharp weapons, but found the man didn't really travel light. He pulled out a dagger and tried to bury it in the hero's side, but to no avail, being caught and receiving a foot to the jaw. Dick then turned and finished his adversary with a roundhouse kick to the head and retreated to aid Raven.

"I think we need a detour," Dick huffed, pulling her just out of harm's way.

The two birds flew down the hall, leaping over an unconscious Stitches. They could hear the heavy footsteps of Tiny behind them, but with great size comes little speed.

"In here," Dick said and opened a door, leading them back to the room here they'd left Joker and Harley.

"Where's Harley?" Raven asked noticing the young woman no longer tied to her chair.

"I'm right here," they heard from behind them and turned.

Harley sat with her knees to her chest, sporting a new black eye and a busted lip, momentarily unable to smile her way through a heartfelt lie.

Raven quickly readied herself to fight, but Dick signaled her to stand-down, "He's your horrible thing, right?"

She just looked away in anguish, her broken heart burning in her eyes, its mark clear on her beaten face.

"We can help you, Harley," Dick said, though he knew the offer would never be taken.

"Thanks doll, but I can't do that," she looked up at the two masked hero's dressed all in black. "Take that hallway. It'll lead ya't an old exit, I'll buy y'five minutes."

Dick and Raven both looked at each other puzzled by the blonde's odd moment of kindness.

"Thanks..?" Dick said skeptically, unsure if the charity was really genuine.

"Yeah yeah, don't say I never did nothin' for ya," Harley shrugged, numbly taking her revenge out on the Joker for using her for batting practice.

Raven and Dick ran towards the doorway, Harley recommend, Dick looking back to see her get up. She picked up a gun and fired it in their direction both ducking as each round sounded off. They readied themselves to react, until they realized Harley was putting on the performance of her life.

"You son of Bitch! Ahh!" she scream throwing herself over a table, "You just wait till my Puddin get his hands on ya!.. Pst—get the hell outta here," she whispered then continued to slap herself across the face, making a huge fuss over literally nothing. "I'm gonna kill that bitch for touchin' my Puddin!"

Dick quickly opened the door, looking back once more to see Harley throw herself to the ground like a beaten animal. It was a cured sight, something he couldn't bring himself to understand, and maybe that was the problem?

Just as Dick and Raven took off out the door, the Joker entered, rage pouring down his face as he threw a fit over Tiny and Stitches' lack of "professionalism."

"Imbeciles! I'm surrounded by imbeciles!" he roared as he stormed into the room where he found Harley laid out like an overused throw rug. "Harley! What the hell happened?"

"I'm sorry Mista J, I tried, but they ambushed me—I swear! That bitch tried to kill me!" she cried, breaking into tears, milking every minute of her ruse. "Oh I was so scared, Puddin!"

She wrapped herself around the Joker's boney leg, like a manipulative cat. The Joker looking down at her in utter confusion.

"Oh shut up, Harley!" the clown scowled, kicking her off, "Which way did they go?"

"Wow Mista J, I nearly died tryin' to avenge ya, thanks for the concern." She crossed her arms angrily and pouted, her theatrics not buying her the sympathy she strived for.

"Harley!" Joker growled, gritting his teeth at her with a look that could have killed if such a thing were possible.

"Eek! That way, Puddin," she squealed, pointing him in the direction and watched him bound out the door, his two goons falling behind until everyone was gone. "Hum," she smirked, "Margot Robbie, eat y'heart out."

Raven and Dick ran out of the exit door, into the rain, taking off down the dark alley.

"Which way?" Raven called over the shearing sound as the alley split in two opposite directions.

Dick took her by the arm and pulled her down the proper path. Normally, Dick would have taken to the rooftops, but without a proper grappling hook and with the heaviness of the rainfall, he knew they'd never make it that far. He thought about asking Raven to, literally, work her magic, but feared it would get them spotted for sure, not to mention the threat of cameras. However, despite everything, the steel yard wasn't far, and in all honesty, it really was faster by foot, especially in the rain.

The two picked up their pace, hearing the loud slam of a heavy door echo down the alley behind them.

'Shit…'

A loud cackling ensued, screeching high over the rain like a battle cry, "Nothing like a friendly chase to liven things up!"

"Come on, Rae, we're almost there…" Dick huffed, but then heard gunfire up ahead.

The two stopped dead in their tracks as they realized salvation was further than they'd thought.

'The roof it is…'

"Raven teleport to the roof."

"But what about you?" Raven ask as the cold rain ran down her face and clung to her loose pieces of hair.

"I'll be fine just go," Dick assured.

"Dick, I'm not leavin—"

"I'll be fine, Rae. Now go!" he ordered, his eyes glowing with the same determination that made him a leader.

Raven reluctantly nodded, and slipped into the shadows where she quickly vanished, leaving her ex-leader alone in the alley. Dick had to act fast as he knew the Joker would find him at any moment. He looked up, and noticed a steel ladder that hung a few feet over his head, and his mind and body quickly organized a strategy. He took a few steps back to gain a running start, then leapt up to the first bar with ease. He climbed up the latter where an old fire escape waited, unused for years. It was more than an arm's reach away, but with a swift jump, Dick caught the base of it with one hand after the other. He hung there for a second, taking a deep breath then began to swing until he gained enough momentum to hurl himself up backwards to his feet. His landing was a little rough, but he made it.

"That's what I get for skipping my workouts," he mumbled to himself and let his eye travel to the alley below.

Dick stopped dead as he saw the Joker finally make it around the corner and froze in the shadows. In Joker's hands, he held a new, larger revolver. His eyes were fixed on the end of the alleyway, his feet, bound in pointed leather, ran hurriedly for the light at the end of the tunnel. Dick watched him closely, not even daring to move. Once Joker reached the end of the alley, he looked to his right and pointed the gun a moment, ready to shoot, but stopped in recoil.

"Hugo!" Joker spat. "What the hell is this?" he continued, displeased.

Dick couldn't see the odd man, but could just make out his voice over the plummeting rain, "I got um, boss!" the dim man replied with a colorful glee.

The Joker face-palmed painfully, and dragged his hand down his wet face in a clear illustration of contemp. "Hugo, you idiot! This isn't them! These are just two street rats!"

"I'm sorry, boss," the slow man drawled in apology, his pride now just as bruised as Harley's face.

"No, don't be sorry that you killed them, be sorry that you didn't killed the right people!" The clown prince threw his hands up and flailed them in a show of theatrics.

"Um… I don't think I understand the difference, boss?"

"There is no difference!" Joker shouted at the confused man. "Just keep looking! I want those two as dead as Liza Minnelli's career!"

"Oh, but I really like Liza, boss."

"Shut up, Hugo!"

The two men went off in opposite directions, leaving Dick with the opportunity to climb up to the roof, using the rusty fire escape. Once he reached the ledge, he pulled himself up from the slick stone with Raven's help, and the two tried to devise a plan.

"Okay Boy Wonder, how do we getting out of this?"

Dick looked over at her with a derogatory look, "Don't call me that, Rae. Not right now."

"Sorry," Raven said not really wanting to argue, "but we need to get the hell out of here before Joker catches up to us."

"I know," Dick replied, looking around for the answer to the quarrel in front of him. "Come on, this way."

Dick ran to the other side of the roof and asked Raven to create a cover for them to hold off the rain while he called Red X.

"Where the hell are you two?" his voice answered, clearly worried.

"We kinda caught a bit of a snag," Dick replied and continued, "Joker got loose and is currently hunting us down."

"Fucking seriously?" the thief exclaimed, "That's not a snag, that's a fucking catastrophe, Chuckles— Jesus Christ!"

"So much for trying not to panic," Dick grumbled, "But yeah seriously, we gotta get out of here, Joker's on a tear."

"I can only imagine, where the fuck are you?"

"On the roof, I can see the steel yard from here," Dick replied over the rain.

"Okay, I'm gonna create a diversion, you guys stay out of sight and get here as fast as you can."

"Okay we wil—oh shit," Dick scoffed, looking back at the grizzly eyes of the knife happy, Stitches.

"They're up here!" Stiches called, then shot toward the two birds who both readied themselves in fighting stance. He swung a blade in Raven's direction, but she blocked it, using the shield she'd created. The man looked back at her perplexed, then put two and two together. However, before he could say anything, Dick struck the man across the face, Stitches flailing his knife in his direction.

It was at that moment that Raven threw all caution to the wind and gripped the man with her dark energy, then threw him onto an old brick chimney. The force of the impact seemed to rendered him unconscious and the two quickly made their escape without looking back.

They climbed down the opposite wall, the rain still coming down hard from the black sky as they made their way down the steel ladder. The air was so cold, their hands had grown numb as they gripped each chilled bar on the way down. Once they were in the opposing alley, relief was short lived. Stiches may have been out of the way, but the large shadow of a man with a frail hooked nose, appeared at the other end.

They took off again, this time making it out of the alley, but they knew the Joker wasn't far behind, and neither were his cohorts. They ran passed Hugo, who, luckily, was out of ammo, and trapped behind a chain-link fence, he didn't have the strength to climb. Still, this didn't stop Hugo from sounding off about the sighting.

"They're over here, boss!"

Which brings us to the present moment. Dick picked up his pace beneath the blackened sky and reached for Raven, who was now struggling to keep up. They were nearly there, they just needed to get a little further, Dick could just see the SUV.

'Almost home free—what?'

A shadowy figure shot out in front of them then took shelter in the street light. Dick and Raven stopped dead, as though the man were a blockade, his knives glimmering in the lamp light.

"Stitches…" Dick whispered, nearly out of breath.

His snickering smile grew wide, the laughter of the Joker wailing high in the distance behind them. Stitches stared back at them, his focus nowhere else. But something caught both Dick and Raven's eye in the view behind the blade wielding clown.

"I can't wait to skin your bitch a…" Stitches trailed off, a strange sound erupting behind him and engulfed his victims in blinding light, "…live?"

He turned to find himself eye to eye with a pair of high beams and the growl of an engine with no intention of stopping. His eyes grew wide with shock, shining in the headlights, and within moments, the vehicle plowed over him to the shock of both Raven and Dick. The screams of anger and terror could be heard from both Hugo and even the Joker (though it was clear Joker saw this incident as more of an inconvenience). The vehicle pulled up beside the two birds as the window rolled down to reveal a familiar, grim mask.

"Get in," Red X ordered, the two heroes pretty shaken by what had occurred before them.

There was a moment of hesitation as morality seemed caught between two very different ends. Gunfire erupted from behind them, causing them to jump, but the shot missed any intended target.

"Now!" The thief exclaimed, urging the two forward.

They both jumped into the back, Red X peeling away before the car door could even closed, and pushed the pedal to the floor, setting his sights on the Joker. Joker fired off one more round, hitting the passenger side of the windshield, the bullet lodging itself in the back seat, barely grazing Raven's shoulder as ducked down. The Joker pulled the trigger once more, but to his dismay the gun jammed. He tried squeezing it a few times, with just a hint of desperation, but gave up and stared into the full glare of the headlights, like he were playing some sick game of chicken. The fuming clown locked eyes on the deadly driver, like he could not see his face beyond the blinding light. But still, his eyes held that gleam, the reluctance to fear even death.

X was moments away from hitting him and using his blood to stain the pavement, but he didn't seem to care. He just kept driving. Dick looked up to see the looked in Joker's eyes—void, yet fulfilled, like he'd won, but how? It would be any moment now, when metal collided with bone, and bone pierced flesh, and flesh bled life.

'Any moment now…' Dick thought, lost in the anticipation of the end of the joke—the punchline. But then he saw her.

Harley darted into the glare, fear and desperation fueling her harrowing speed. The Joker may not have cared if he died, but Harley did, and she'd see to it he didn't. At the very last second, she pushed the Clown Prince out of the way, sending them both, tumbling to the ground as X sped passed them in a white spray of rain. Dick peered up through the back window, peaking over the seat, witnessing the Joker erupt with anger for the gesture—she'd ruined it—she'd ruined the joke.

Harley had barely lifted herself from the deep puddle the two had landed in, when Joker whipped her across the face with his brittle hand. Dick shuddered at the scene, filthy water splashing up as her head flew to the side like a bad kitty.

He noticed X glance back to catch the sight, and for a moment, he too felt for the woman, but there was nothing either one of them could do for her.

"You hit that guy?" Raven finally said, catching her ragged breath.

X looked down at her through the rear view, his mind drifting from Harley and the distancing ordeal, "Yeah, and I'd do it again if I had to."

Raven's brow furrowed, though if it were not for the desperate act, there was a good chance she and Dick would be dead, laying in a pool of their own blood.

"You have anything to say about it, Chuckles?"

Dick looked to the mirror as Red X peered back at him from the driver's seat, "No."

He heard the young thief sigh as he pulled onto the main road and pulled off his mask, signaling they were finally safe. He held a tired look on his face as though it were actually filled with worry and now began to carrying a minimal relief.

"Did you guys find anything?"

"Yes," Dick replied heavily, "we found exactly what we were looking for and then some."

Deep creases appeared on X's face as he grimaced through the mirror, "What was it?"

"Red Hood's mask… from when he was Robin."

Red X didn't really say anything for a moment, trapped in disbelief, "I'll let the Hood know."

"I can tell him myself, tonight," the ex-Titan said with an adamant tone.

"Tonight's not good," the thief replied sternly, "I'll talk to him tomorrow and we'll set up the meet."

"I'm tired of this middle man bullshit, X!" Dick spat unpleased, "I've done everything he's asked, and I haven't spoken to him—directly—once! I held up my end of the bargain, I'm meeting with him, tonight!"

The look on X's face fell weary, possessing a more mature appearance. "It's not my call—"

"Make it your call," Dick threatened and held up the gun X had offered him earlier.

Red X turned his head in disbelief as the ex-Titan stood firm on his demand, Raven completely holding her breath in shock.

"You won't use that thing," the thief countered, trying to call the hero's bluff.

"Really?" Dick questioned with a raised brow, "cause I've done a lot of things, I thought I'd never do tonight."

Raven leaned back and crossed her arms, still shell-shocked after everything she'd endured. She looked up at Red X, who glanced back at her, hoping she could talk her friend down, but to his surprise, she didn't intervene, she only glanced away.

"Take me to Red Hood, X. He owes me this, especially after tonight."

The thief sighed and shook his head wearily, "Put the gun down before you do something stupid, Chuckles. I'll take you to him. But just know, I have no say in what happens to you."

"What'd you mean, happens to him?" Raven asked, finally waking up.

"The Hood's leader of The Outlaws, if Jason feels threatened, he may act, and if he does, there's nothing I can do to protect you."

"You're an Outlaw?" Dick asked perplexed.

"Yeah," X replied and turned down an old street, "Top tear and everything, have been for a few years now."

"But you live in Jump?" Raven asked. "The Outlaws are a Gotham based criminal syndicate."

"I split my time, I go where the work takes me. The Outlaws do a lot of out of town business with protection runs, I make sure they get done right and pick up some side work as it comes," X reasoned as he gripped the stirring wheel. "But even with my rank, Chuckles, if something goes down… I can't protect you. If the Hood wants you taken out, someone—maybe even him—will put you down. But it's your choice, Chuckles. Just say the word, and I'll start planning your funeral"

Dick looked at Raven and then back to Red X. "I know it's my choice, and I choose to talk to Jason, now stop trying to scare me."

Red smiled tiredly and shook his head. "Jesus Christ kid, you're a fucking idiot," X chuckled and continued, "Truth is, you have no idea what you're getting yourself into, and if Red Hood doesn't kill you, someone else from our world will. It's just a matter of time—for all of us."

Dick could feel the weight of his voice plummeting, like any hope it'd been tethered to was seamlessly cut. He could also feel Raven grow rigid with worry, her concerns rising off her like a muddled fog. Her reason for even being there was simple—protect her friend—but what if she couldn't do that?

For a moment, Dick thought about turning back, but to what? He didn't have a team anymore, he didn't have a life to go back to. And how could he, after everything he'd given up, after he'd practically spit in the face of everything he was ever taught? How could he go back to all of that after tonight?

"Just take me where I need to go, I accept whatever comes along with it."

He could feel two sets of eyes resting upon him wearily, asking many question, but dared not speak them. Dick could see X's blue gaze through the mirror, staring back at him with a little resentment. Like he wanted to know why Dick was so willing to lose everything, but in the same train of thought, understood his reasons perfectly. He just didn't know how long it would take before the hero realized the cold truth…

"No one comes back from this life, Chuckles" X said, hoping his final warning would reach the ex-Titan. "Our world takes a part of you, you can never get back, and by the time you realize it, it's already too late, it's gone."

"I can live with that," Dick said in a firm tone, though the sound reflected brittle thoughts, like he wasn't quite grasping the warning for what it was.

He could feel Raven fighting the urge to speak up, and bit her tongue in protest. Part of him wanted her to speak up, but part of him didn't. Still, he wondered why she refused to, and part of him thought that maybe it was because she, too, understood everything that he'd lost.

"It's your funeral, Chuckles," X replied disembodied, "I hope your death isn't as slow as mine."

 

Chapter Text

"This look of thine will hurl my soul from heaven." (William Shakespeare, "Othello")

The drive didn't take long, about 20 minutes or so, but the tension in the car was nearly exhausting. Raven hadn't said a word, her face blank and adrift, but the emotions she was unwillingly projecting were fragrant and slightly overwhelming. She was doing everything she could to keep herself together, but she was only one more broken brick away from crumbling. Dick found the feeling more than troublesome, but couldn't find the means to be sick about it—he was already sick with something else.

They were in a different part of Gotham now, a safer part, though its safety was determined by who you were and who you knew.

They were far away from the privileged, and even further away from the blind who'd never dare venture outside their shiny confines. They were in Outlaw Territory, and not even Batman could challenge that. This section of Gotham had always been under the control of a crime-lord, and Jason was just one of many to rule it.

During Dick's run as Robin, Falcone "The Roman" wore the crown, until he was murdered by Two-Face. After that, the city fell into a bit of turmoil, as its underworld strived to regain leadership. Two-Face initially took over control, briefly, but his leadership was challenged by many, including an Irish crime family and The Roman's only son, Mario Falcone. These depositions brought on many days of bloodshed. It was only before Dick finally left Gotham that Dent was arrested and thrown in Arkham to rot for what was supposed to be a lifetime. Falcone's son was only able to reclaim some of his father's power and territory. But not long after that, Mario, Son of the Roman, was murdered and replaced with a new power, Cosa Nostra. However, the Sicilian crime syndicate's stay in power didn't last very long. An internal power struggle between the Families within the organization ended with the murder of its leader, Franco Bertinelli. And before the Cosa Nostra could regain its order, their crown was taken by Black Mask—and now—that crown belonged to the Red Hood.

Dick recalled Bruce telling him of a time when this part of town was filled with old Irish bars and small Italian restaurants. It was a place of small means, but its character was strong and filled with honest people, looking for something of permanence. But that was all eventually lost. Soon, people had to pay for their safety or risk losing everything. But those people they paid to protect them, only used that power to strike fear and further their tyranny. Soon, the Irish bars where run by Irish gangs, and the Italian restaurants were just fronts for Italian crime families like the Maronis, Falcones and the Bertinellis. It got so bad, even the police and politicians began to develop a taste for blood-money, and that was about when Gotham reached its tipping point.

Bruce always believed it was that very tipping point that sealed the fate of his parents, who fought hard to balance the scales, even though they were far from the losing end. They believed in what Gotham stood for, they believed in those small shops and old Irish bars, and wanted to revive those lost opportunities. But it seemed someone else wanted those things to remain perished.

X finally came to a stop and flicked on his turn signal in front of an old bar that was built in the late 1800's. Dick remembered the old building, and recalled it once being called Hogan's. Only now it seemed to be known as the Wolf's Head.

"What a garish name for a bar," Dick mumbled, Raven not even looking up at the sign.

Red X glanced back at him and shrugged, "Yeah well, you may wanna tell that to the owner yourself, cause we're here, Chuckles."

Dick's eyes immediately lit up with his previous frustration and Raven finally looked up from her dismay. Red X turned down an old alleyway beside the building, but before he could finishing pulling the car around to the back, Dick jumped out and headed for the door.

"What the hell, Chuckles?" X spat, throwing the car in park as Raven jumped out after him.

"Dick wait!" she cried, a desperate fragility to her brittle voice. However, he didn't turn around, he just kept on. "Dick stop! You don't know what you're doing!"

She reached out and took his wrist in her small hand, and he shot around to face her. "I do know what I'm doing!" he spat and pulled himself free. "This is between me and Jason, Rae!"

He turned and moved quickly around the corner, Raven still following behind, now flanked by X. They followed him to the front door, where Dick entered the wolf's den. People looked up at him with unfriendly faces, knowing he clearly didn't belong. They were a bit of a mixed pack, mostly young and slightly misplaced, but they all had one thing in common—they knew they belonged there.

"Can I help y'boy'o?" Dick heard a glicky voice asked, the accent bringing back a few old memories from a time when he'd heard words spoken from such a rich place.

He turned and noticed two young women looking at him from behind the bar, an edgy looking blonde and a pretty Asian girl with a fringy haircut.

"Where's Jason?" he replied, addressing the blonde.

She looked over to the Asian girl and shrugged, walking away.

"He ain't here right now, darl'n" the Asian girl replied, throwing Dick off a bit as he wasn't expecting her to be Irish.

"No. I know he's here," Dick spat, the girl growing upset with his tone.

"It's okay, Clancy. He's with me—he knows Jason," X interjected, finally catching up.

She looked back at them with a hardened brow and parted her lip, perplexed, "He's in a Chapel, X, y'know that."

X nodded, his face tired. "Yeah, it's okay, he can wait."

"No, I can't."

"Dick, it's okay," Raven added, trying to calm him.

"No—it's not, where is he!?"

Some of the bar-goers began to rise from their chairs, displeased with the manner in which this outsider was conducting himself.

"He's downstairs but—" X began, until Dick took off again, "you can't go down there! Clanc?" X exclaimed, taking off after him, followed by Raven.

"I'm on it," Clancy replied and picked up the old hardwire phone. "The resta y'stay put! This is a family matt'r."

Dick made his way into the back behind the old grey curtain, as X and Raven both tried to catch up to him, reasoning the whole way. This however, did little as he whipped open a door and found the stairs to the cellar below.

"Come on Chuckles, don't. You have no idea who's down there waiting for you."

Dick only looked back at Red X blankly, a silent fuck you, like he had nothing to lose, and in a way he didn't, not in that moment.

"Dick, come on," X pleaded, for once addressing him by his name.

Dick glared back at him as if it were a dare and headed down the stairs swiftly, bounding down them with little effort. Once he reached the bottom, he found a handful of young men, jumping up as if they were welcoming him into Hell.

"Guys don't hurt him," Red X called, "that's an order!"

"Well he's not getting to the Hood, that's for damn sure," said a thin, peculiar looking young man with sloppy hair.

"You wanna make a bet?" Dick dared, dismissing the mere child's threat.

The insulted boy began to step forward as Dick glared back at him, like a dog ready to fight for new territory.

"Stand-down, Mutt!" X ordered, "No one is going anywhere until—what the fuck, Chuckles?!"

Apparently, while Red X was in the middle of his commands, Dick took it upon himself to walk right past the young man X referred to as Mutt. Mutt (of course) found this action demeaning and grabbed Dick by the shoulder in an attempted to stop him, but received a hasty punch to the jaw for his troubles.

X muttered several obscenities out loud, knowing the scene was about to turn into a fucking free-for-all. However, Dick didn't seem fazed by any of it, and with very little effort, took out all 5 men standing guard. All while Red X and even Raven looked on in shock.

"Wow, Chuckles is pissed," X mused blankly in astonishment.

"Yeah, but I'm afraid of what he might do if he gets his hands on Jason," Raven replied, making her way down the last few steps.

"Good point."

Meanwhile, as this was taking place just outside, Jason and the Top Tier of Outlaws were dealing with other matters.

"So what are you hoping to gain by sending this kid on a suicide mission," Jinx asked her relaxed leader.

"Honestly, not much," Jason replied taking a drag of his cigarette, "I don't think he has it in him to get very far." He shrugged leaning back in his chair, his red helmet sitting just at his side.

"Then why go through with this at all?" An older man asked, sitting to Jason's left.

"Well if anything, it'll show just how much—if any—loyalty he has. I mean, who knows? I could be wrong and the Joker actually gets torn down a few pegs. God knows that in itself in is a win." Jason let out a silvery laugh as he smirked at the thought, amused with the idea.

"Does anybody else hear that?" asked a girl with unnatural red hair and ghostly white skin.

The room remained silent for a moment, until finally Jinx replied, "It sounds like a fight?"

Jason tapped his fingers on the table in curiosity, "It does. Eddie, go see what the hell going on out there."

The young man nodded and rose from the table, morphing into a red beast as he approached the oak door.

"I swear, if Mutt and Schizo are fighting over who's dick is bigger again, I'm gonna fucking lose my—what the fuck?!" Jason shouted as the door flew open, slamming Eddie hard against his forehead, the red devil boy, falling to the floor.

Everyone in the room shot up from their chairs in surprise and aimed a weapon or fist in the intruder's direction. Ready to send him to hell if they had to, until Jason shouted for them to stand-down.

"Whoa, everybody fucking cool it!" He held out his hand, slightly in shock at the sight of who the culprit was. "Grayson, what the hell?"

Dick stood there, ready to defend himself to get to Jason if he had to, Raven standing nervously behind him.

"You fucking know him?" Jinx hissed, her face stricken with lines of discontent.

"Red Hood, what's going on?" the older gentlemen added.

Everyone in the room looked back at Jason and away from Dick, who still stood at odds with their opposition.

"Well," Jason began a little awkwardly, "this is the guy I sent after Joker."

Dick stared back at Jason, who seemed to be underplaying his presence. "I'm also his older brother."

"Who has impeccable timing…" Jason added as the looks on everyone's faces took on a—what the fuck—twist.

"You sent your own brother after the Joker?" Jinx laughed, "that's really twisted JT, even for you."

"Shut the fuck up, Jinx," Jason ordered. "Where the hell is Red X?"

"I'm right here," X replied, walking over the leftover shambles of the Second Tier.

"What is he doing here?" Jason questioned in annoyance, acting as though his older brother's presence was nothing more than an inconvenience to his younger ego (and it kind of was).

"He's right here, why don't you ask him yourself?"

"Yeah," Dick drawled," why don't you?"

Jason furrowed his brow, distaste for both their conjectures'. "Because I asked you, Lieutenant."

Red X rolled his eyes, as he was quickly reminded of his rank and obligations. "He wanted to talk to you."

"And it couldn't wait till tomorrow?"

"No," Dick replied, annoyed that Jason was dismissing him, clearly little had changed.

"I was talking to my lieutenant—"

"Well talk to me!" Dick demanded, cutting Jason off.

Jason once again looked at X expecting an answer, but only got the following instead, "You know what, it's been a long night and I'm done. I am done playing the middle man for you two. This—whatever the hell you two have against each other—you need to work it out on your own. I'm done." Red X then turned with his conclusion and began to walk away, the tension in the room growing even thicker.

"I'm not done talking to you, X," Jason called as if he were an angry father, Dick slightly enjoying the irony of it.

"I am."

"X, get the fuck back here!"

The only response Jason received was a single middle finger, raised high in the air, a symbol of the boy's weary discontent. Jason looked back at Dick and noticed just beyond him the five bodies slowly starting to stir.

"Did you take out my whole Second Tier?"

Dick looked back at Jason and raised his a brow, his arms crossed firmly with a shrug, "Wasn't much to take out."

"Uh," Dick heard a young woman sigh, her outfit somewhat of a Riddler rip-off.

"Enigma, relax," Jason ordered, trying not lose his cool. "God, I really gotta tighten up the ranks around here," Jason scoffed, realizing Dick Grayson was far better trained than any of his second ranks and probably most of his Top members. "So what exactly do you want, Grayson?"

"I got what you wanted," Dick replied, his words falling from a bitter tongue.

"And what would that be?"

"This," Dick growled and threw the old Robin mask at the anti-hero.

It hit Jason's chest and practically fell into his hands like a long lost friend. He looked down and immediately his eye's filled with revelation. His mind quickly stirred and his body froze, the vicious laughter of the man who'd beaten him nearly to death, replaying like a memory rooted in sorrow. Every voice in the room fell silent as he peered back up, Dick now locked in his sights. He placed down the mask in front of him, pulling himself back together in time to silence that retched laughter.

"I didn't think you'd actually find it," Jason finally replied, unable to hold back all of his shock.

"Why's that?" Dick asked. "Did you think I wasn't capable of making the Joker a punchline?"

"No," Jason said, a slight laugh becoming present. He walked around from the head of the table and stood in front of the ex-Titan, crossing his arms as he shrugged, "I just didn't think there'd be anything to find."

Dick's eyes widened as his face plummeted in question, but before he could respond to this disturbing revelation, X made another appearance.

"Oh and by the way," Red X said, popping around the corner, "I forgot to mention—I killed Stitches tonight. So the body count is even. You're fucking welcome."

"Body count?" Dick queried, slightly confused.

"Yeah," Jason replied, "Joker killed my Second in Command. I wanted to even the score."

Dick eyes lit with more anger, "So you sent me after him?"

"Yeah," Jason shrugged like it wasn't anything to be worried about.

Suddenly, something snapped in Dick's mind and whatever bounds were left on his darkest of tempers, came undone.

"You son of a bitch!" Dick shouted, no longer able to control his anger and struck the Outlaw hard across the face, knocking him to the ground.

Dick could hear Raven call his name as she tried to hold him back. Every person in the room getting ready to strike the young hero down before he could continue his assault. But before any such thing could happen, Jason made his orders very clear once more.

"Fuck!" he huffed, quickly recovering from the blow. "Leave him be, everyone! I admit—I kinda deserved that. Christ Dick, you didn't hold back, huh?" Jason got up, wiping the blood from his the corner of his mouth and chuckled at the sight. "Everyone out. Me and my big brother have some sibling shit to work out."

"You sure, kid?" the older man asked, still holding his gun.

"Yeah, Hogan, I got this."

Jinx began ushering everyone out and helped the shapeshifter known as Eddie to his feet. Meanwhile, Raven clung to Dick's side, unwilling to follow for fear of where the situation might lead.

"You too, sweetheart," Jason said, noticing the unmoved girl.

She looked back at Dick as the room was pretty much empty, Jinx waiting to close the door.

"It'll be okay, Rae. I promise," Dick assured, realizing her hand was in his.

He could see she was finally there, that last brick had crumbled and tears had begun to stream down her face. The sight broke his heart, and pulled him back into the light as he placed his hand to the back of her head, offering comfort.

"It's gonna be fine, just hanging in there for me, okay?" He kissed her forehead and she nodded wearily, then turned to the door, her hand having a hard time letting go of his.

Once she was gone, Jinx looked over at Jason, getting the approval to close the door.

"We're good here, Jinx. But make sure the girl's okay."

She nodded and slowly closed the door, leaving the hero and the outlaw to their feud. Jason walked back to the head of the table and sat down, lighting another cigarette as he moved.

"I thought you liked beautiful redheads, not pretty porcelain dolls?" Jason said, motioning for Dick to take a seat.

"What?" Dick mumbled, not really understanding the statement or its significance.

"Your girl."

"Raven?"

"Yeah, she's not really your type. I thought you were with Princess Starry Eyes or whatever her name is?"

"Starfire," Dick replied, still not understanding why Jason was bring up his love life, "and no. That ended… recently."

"Well don't you move on fast," Jason laughed and took a drag of his cigarette.

Dick looked back at him then realized what he was implying. "Oh no, Raven and I… aren't like that," he reassured and laughed a little at the notion.

"So she's not your girl?"

"No she's not my girl… not like that."

"Oh," Jason said not entirely buying it, "why the hell not?"

Dick looked up at Jason with annoyance for the subject as he asked, "What does my relationship with Raven have to do with anything, Jason?"

The Outlaw freed a puff of smoke from his lungs and ashed his cigarette. "Nothing, I'm just making small talk. That's what people do, Dick. You don't have to be so defensive, you sound like Bruce when you are."

"Why the fuck did I even come here?" Dick asked himself out loud, shaking his head with a cynical smile.

"I don't know, Dick. Why did you?" The outlaw had a stern look as he tapped more cigarette ash into the tray.

"Because I thought you could help me," Dick sighed, disgusted with the idea, "but you just used me… to settle a score."

Betrayal dripped from his words as Dick began to rise from his chair. But before he could fully make it to his feet, Jason urged him to remain.

"Dick wait, don't go, not yet."

Dick looked back at the young man he remembered as a child, seeing him from a much simpler time, before their relationship had grown so toxic. Dick sat back down, but crossed his arms, his defenses set.

"I'm sorry, okay?" Jason said, "I wasn't trying to use you, I was just testing you, is all."

"Testing me?" Dick hissed. "What's the difference, Jason?"

Jason looked away, realizing that Dick had a point, but defended his reasons, "I had to make sure that your loyalty was with me and not the League. Plus, Joker had it coming. Two birds, one stone."

"My loyalty is with no one. I'm here because my loyalty is to the public and I have good reason to believe that the public is in serious danger."

Jason could hear the anger erupting in his voice, both out of hurt and pride. He could hear how played the hero felt, but this didn't stop Jason from being—well—Jason.

"And you thought I could help?" Jason let out an entertained laugh and leaned back. "Jesus Christ, I never thought I'd see the day you—of all people—would ask me for help. You kill me, Grayson."

"I'm glad you're finding this funny, cause no one else seems to give a shit. So yeah, J, here's your fucking moment—"

"Don't call me Jay!" the Outlaw demanded, losing his patience rather quickly.

Dick looked back a little disturbed, but the sudden mood swing didn't last long as Jason shook it right off.

"Sorry," Jason sighed coarsely, "I just don't like to be called that."

Dick nodded grimly, making the connection. Harley's shrill voice filling his head with another colorful pet name.

Meanwhile, just outside the door, the rest of the Outlaws waited and aided the ones who'd served as Dick's punching bags.

"Christ, that guy's got some nerve and why does he get to walk into Chapel? I thought it was Top Tier members only?" Mutt whined, holding a cold beer to his head (as there weren't enough ice packs).

"Well sometimes things don't work out the why they're supposed to, Mutt," Jinx replied as she walked up to Raven and pulled out a flask. "You look like you could use this," she said, offering it to the dark haired girl.

"I'm good, thanks," Raven replied as she sat against the wall, holding her knees to her chest.

Jinx shrugged and sat down across from her, intrigued by the young woman's presence. "What'd that guy say your name was?"

"He called her Rae," Eddie said, his beastly appearance now nothing but a memory.

Raven's head perked up, but she tried to keep the concern free from her face.

"What's that short for?" Jinx asked, looking over at her, taking a sip from her flask.

Raven didn't answer right away, noticing the look in Jinx's eye. "Rachel," she finally said, Jinx still fixated on her.

"Rachel?" the pink haired girl said skeptically. "You know… Rach, you look awfully familiar. Do I know you from somewhere?"

"No."

"Really?" Jinx questioned. "Cause I think we've met?"

Raven bit her lip a little uncomfortably, unsure whether or not Jinx knew her true identity. "I just have one of those faces, I guess."

"No, you don't," her voice was low now, her words filled with doubt. "Where you from?"

"Jinx, leave her alone," X snapped with frustration as he sat on the old cellar steps.

Raven looked up at him as did Jinx and the others. The rest of the Outlaws didn't seem to challenge the order, but Jinx didn't seem as fazed by it at all.

"I'm just trying to see if I can trust her, X," Jinx replied passively. "It's part of my job to."

He looked down at her, quickly glancing at Raven, "I trust her, Jinx. That should be enough for you."

Jinx nodded, but it seemed the discussion wasn't quite over yet, "Okay, that's fair, but what about you, Rae? Do you trust Red X?"

Raven flinched at the question a moment and peered up at the young thief who looked down at her just as surprised.

"I'll take that as a no," Jinx coed, leaning back in her chair, her fellow Outlaws looking on.

"She shouldn't have to," X added in a graveled tone, "how could she? I'm not a hero, and I'm not a good man. I'm a criminal and a murderer. She watched me kill a man tonight. I can't ask her to trust me and if anything, she shouldn't."

The weight of his words fell over Raven with a grim and sorrowing truth. She didn't trust him, but she wanted to, though she didn't really know why.

Jinx looked away from her blonde counterpart, and crossed her arms. "You're right, she shouldn't trust us. But… if you're planning on sticking around, little girl, you better learn fast."


"So explain to me why you thought I could help and not Bruce?" Jason asked, flicking the ash off his cigarette again.

Dick glanced upward and shook his head just slightly, "Because the League won't touch this, in fact, I've been given strict orders to not even pursue this lead."

"Are you saying you're here against League orders?"

"Yeah, they'd crucify me if they knew I was even here, especially about this."

A mischievous smirk grew on the Outlaws face, his eyes glowing with a moment of satisfaction, "This just got very interesting." He took a long drag into his lungs, exhaling as he spoke, "So what is this lead the Justice League is all hot and bothered about?"

Dick rolled his eyes at Jason's tone, feeling the anti-hero was enjoying the irony far too much.

"It's Slade," Dick said, watching Jason's face fall a bit as though the amusement had become too morbid. "Apparently, Roy has reason to believe he's working on producing his own form of Krokodil and put it on the market. I was hoping maybe you'd have some insight?"

Jason took one last puff and put out his cigarette in the ashtray beside him. "Well as someone who actually has a hand in the drug trade, I can tell you that idea is stupid. I mean if you wanna make any money you have to care about your product. That's what people pay for and they'll pay for quality. If you're selling them shit, they'll figure it out and go somewhere else. I personally don't allow pushers in Gotham to buy low quality shit, it kills people quicker. I also strongly encourage dealers not to rip people off, if they pay for quality that's what they get. Because at the end of the day, there is no money in cheap drugs."

"Roy gave me a sample, Jason," Dick said, realizing that the outlaw found the theory preposterous.

"Roy's a junkie and you can never trust a junkie. Trust me, I'm the one selling him the high."

Anger filled Dick's face as he looked back at the Outlaw's cold expression. "You're his dealer?"

"Well no, I don't do the foot, but who do you think runs the H trade in this town? It's certainly not Black Mask now, is it?"

"How can do that to your friend?" Dick spat angrily.

"Roy's not my friend, he's your friend. At most it's guilt by association."

"You might as well be putting the needle in his arm yourself," Dick huffed to the Outlaw's horror.

"Fuck you, Grayson! You think because you play hero that you have any right to judge me? I'm not the one who gave—and or—sold Roy that first hit, so fuck off! What happens to Roy is his own doing—no one else's. He needs to learn to accept that, and if he won't, then you should."

Jason indignantly lit another cigarette, clearly fuming as though he were an 11 years-old boy, while a 15 year-old Dick, lectured him as if he were his father. "But you didn't learn that 10 years ago, so why would you learn that now?"

"Well there's a lot you haven't learned in 10 years too J—" Dick paused a moment, having to stop himself from using the initial, "Son."

"Good catch," Jason quipped bitterly and flicked the cherry off his cigarette. "So Roy gave you a sample? Let me guess, it was some shit made in a kitchen with cleaning products and cold pills, right?"

"No actually, it was made with codeine and morphine—oh, and it was in a powder form too," Dick replied dully.

"Powder?" Jason said with a peculiar look, "are you sure it was krokodil?"

"Yeah, I tested it myself," the ex-Titan replied, "it was nearly in perfect alignment with the chemical makeup of desomorphine, except it was still pretty toxic. However, it would probably take longer to break down body tissue. The bigger question is; how many people are gonna get hooked on it in the meantime? Better yet; how many people will have to die until you care?"

"I care, Dick," Jason replied with resentment, "but I'm having trouble understanding why someone with any integrity would knowingly sell that shit?"

"Who said Slade has any integrity?"

"I just did."

Dick looked back at Jason as though he were joking, but it was clear by his voice that he wasn't.

"Why would you say that?"

"Because I buy my hardware from him," Jason said a matter-of-factly.

Dick's face once again sunk with disappointment as he growled, "Why?"

"Because Dick, Slade has integrity. He cares a lot about the business he does," Jason replied, defending his pervious statement. "Yes, he's out for number one, but he also knows that if he wants to make money, people have to be happy. Same goes for the drugs he sells."

"Let me guess, you buy all your shit from him too?"

"No, I don't," the outlaw huffed defensively. "I don't get my shit from anyone. I just run the territories, divvy out who gets what, manage who's allowed to sell what and where in this town, provide protection, and take my cut of all the profits in the form of taxes. Pretty simple."

Dick looked back at him and rolled his eyes, feeling the dig. "So your hands never actually touch the dirty money, smart."

"Thanks, turns out being a career criminal is something I'm really quite good at, looks like I'm more like my old man after all." Jason drawled. "So let me ask you this, Grayson. What do you think Slade's plans are for the krokodil?"

"Why do you care?" Dick asked numbly, feeling a little patronized.

"Because you do. And if you care, there's obviously some reason to."

Dick looked across the table at the young Outlaw, hostility, no longer pulling voice strings.

"I have sources that say Slade owns or is involved with a pharmaceutical company. I don't know which one. But if that's the case, it's possible that Slade could make a large profit off treating people with krokodil addiction. He's probably already making a lot of money off heroin, and every other drug out there with a price tag on it."

"That's actually kinda brilliant," Jason replied with a little envy, "and completely horrifying."

Dick nodded, seeing that even someone as ambiguous as Jason Todd found the idea more than disturbing.

"So you gonna tell me Slade has too much integrity for that?"

"No," Jason shrugged, "that's actually quite accurate to his character."

"How so, because it's completely evil?"

"No, because it's very Slade to have his cake and eat too." Jason took a long drag then peered at his cigarette as he spoke, "Slade's the kinda of person who, once he has his hooks in you, you never get out alive, if at all. So yeah, that theory makes perfect sense, but can you prove it?"

"Not yet," Dick replied.

"I take it that's why the League won't touch this?"

Dick only nodded with defeat upon his brow as Jason continued.

"Yep that's the League alright. They don't get their hands dirty unless they have proof, it's noble but also petty. I'm a little shocked Bruce isn't looking into it though? He's not above this sorta thing."

"Yeah well he told me he did and he didn't find anything," Dick mumbled wearily.

"Did he though?"

Dick raised an eyebrow and tilted his head in question, "If Bruce said he looked into it, then he looked into it?"

"I meant, did he actually come up empty handed?"

"Are you saying Bruce lied to me, Jason?" Dick snarled in defense. "Because I'm not gonna let you turn me against him."

"Don't act like he's never lied to you before, Grayson. Especially if he thinks he's protecting you. You of all people should know better."

Dick frowned at the statement as it was filled with truth and numerous examples of it. It turns out Bruce also wasn't above lying.

"I'm not saying he did it to hurt you, but it's not like him to walk away from anything so easily," Jason added.

Jason was right, it wasn't that easy for Bruce to walk away from anything, something Dick was also quite guilty of.

"So where is this sample?"

"I gave it to Roy, for backup, in case you had me killed."

"I would have done the same thing," Jason quipped, "except for giving a junkie a drug more powerful then heroin. That wasn't very bright."

"I trust Roy," Dick replied annoyed with Jason's tone.

"Like you trusted me?"

"That's different, Jason. You were a kid, you didn't know any better," the former Titan defended.

"Yet you still blame me for what happened."

Dick looked away from him as the old memory cut through reality and unearthed what had transpired between them over a decade ago.

"That wasn't your fault," Dick finally said, bitterness still trapped in his throat.

"You don't believe that."

Jason stood up and finally approached Dick, though the tension and buried anger still hung in the air like death.

"You don't have a plan do you?"

"No, for once I don't," the young hero replied ruefully.

Jason laughed a little and crossed his arms as he looked down at his adoptive elder brother. "Maybe you have changed," he chuckled and took on last drag. "I'm down an Enforcer."

Dick glared up at him, puzzled at the subject. "What does that have to do with me?"

"Well you don't have a plan and I don't have an enforcer."

Dick's brow knit as he hardly believed the question he was about to ask, "You want me to work for you?"

The two men looked at each other as if they weren't sure the other had heard them correctly.

"Well sorta," Jason finally said nonchalantly, "you'll have to prove you're a team player, and you'll have to follow my rules."

"And what might those be?"

"Well for starters," Jason began stubbing out his second cigarette, "you'll have to follow the pecking order and respect the rest of the team, you'll also have to acknowledge that I'm your leader, and I expect your loyalty."

Dick winced at the idea of following Jason's lead as he was impulsive and stubborn, often subbing brains for bullets.

"It's just an offer, you don't have to take it," Jason reassured, with what Dick thought may have been a little disappointment.

Dick looked up at him again, but this time with a little more confidence. "If I take your offer, then what are you gonna offer me?"

Jason laughed a little shocked, unable to shake how much he sounded like Bruce. "My respect, and more importantly, my help."

Dick furrowed his brow in question as Jason continued, "You're out of your league down here, this isn't your world—it's mine. You know that, that's why you came here, isn't it?"

The former Boy Wonder shuddered at the truth. It wasn't his world, it wasn't even close, but to Jason, this horrible, dubious, and most ruthless place, was home. And if anyone could help him navigate through it, it was the Red Hood.

"Why do you want me as your enforcer?"

"Because you're strong, calculated, and you were trained by the best. Why wouldn't I want you on my team?" the anti-hero replied, setting aside his more malicious feelings.

"You're not threatened by me being here?" Dick questioned, recalling a time where Jason saw Dick as a threat.

"No, as a matter of fact, I see it as good business opportunity. I could use someone like you."

That was a lie, at least the part about being threatened, but Jason did mean what he said about an opportunity. When else would he get the chance to tarnish Dick Grayson's reputation and spite the Bat all at the same time?

"What would I have to do?"


Raven continued to wait with the rest of the Top and Second tier Outlaws (as they were called), quiet worry still deep in her eyes. Jinx, by now, had let Raven be, though she could tell Jinx hadn't lost interest in her. Still, she'd looked on at everyone, trying to put names to faces. She already knew the devil boy's name was Eddie (or at least that was what someone had referred to him as) and she already knew Jinx.

She looked over at Red X, who still sat on the steps, only slightly brooding. She slowly began to make her way to him, being careful not to rouse any suspicion as she went.

Once she reached the steps, she politely ask if she could sit, to which the thief replied, "I don't know, Sunshine, can you?" not even looking down at her.

Raven rolled her eyes, feeling a bit foolish and began to walk off. X however, glanced down at her from the corner of his eye, and quickly regretted taking his anger out on her so sharply.

"Wait," he called, just before she'd walked off the last step, "That was really douchy of me."

She turned to face him and shrugged, "Surprisingly, that's not the douchiest thing you've ever said to me."

The thief cracked a coy smile, "Well somebody around here has to play the arbitrary tool every now and then," X playfully added. "Sit down, Sunshine."

She took a seat beside him and gave him a small smile. He looked over at her, her hair still damp as were her clothes. He'd noticed by now that she'd shed her hoodie as it no longer offered the comfort of warmth. He followed her line of sight to the door she so eagerly wanted to open, the look on her face still dripping with distress.

"It's gonna be okay, don't worry," Red X said in an attempt to settle her mind.

Raven looked over at him, tension forming in her brow. "Do you really think they're okay in there?"

"Yeah, I'm sure they're fine," he replied, truly meaning it. "We would know by now if they weren't?"

She nodded bravely, trying hard to keep up her shattering front. "Hey, can I ask you something?"

"Shoot."

"How long have you known Jason for?"

X shrugged, a blank expression falling over his face as his mind tried to sum up the time. "I'd say about 5 years or so."

"That's a lot longer than I thought," Raven mused with a little surprise.

"Yeah, I did a few jobs for the League of Shadows and Jason was kinda Talia's pet at the time. I was sent on a few missions with him, that's how I learned I could trust him."

Raven glanced away, a crude look on her face.

"Everything alright, Sunshine?"

"Yeah," she mumbled nervously, "it's just odd to hear someone say they trust Jason Todd."

"Why?" X replied, a little new to the notion.

"That came out wrong," the sorceress stumbled. "What I mean was…"

"You don't trust him," X said, finishing her sentence.

An awkward look of embarrassment took over her face as she wanted to word it more delicately. "Well sort of. You see, I never met Jason, but I know of him, and I know that he and Dick have a difficult history together. I'm just afraid that history is gonna," she paused a moment, her fears festering just at the tip of her tongue, "get them killed…"

She instantly rued those final words that fell from her lips. Her eyes landing on the blonde thief who seemed less uncomfortable than her.

"I get it, don't worry. Trust isn't something that comes easy, especially around here." Red X glanced down at his hands, the tools of his trade, the tasks they'd committed, forever staining them. "But you don't have to worry. Jason's not a bad guy, he's got a heart in there—somewhere. And if he has your loyalty, he'll go to Hell and back for you."

"You make him sound like some outlaw saint."

"Because he is," Red X replied with a laugh, "at least in the same way that every saint's a sinner. That's sorta how it works on this side of Heaven."

Raven, smiled ironically at the notion and nodded, seeing that the young man wasn't as heartless as she initially thought, finding this less guarded version more inviting.

"Thank you, by the way."

X looked over at the sorceress and raised his brow in question, "For what?"

"For not being a douche." She smiled at him fondly, still a little weak from the events of the night. "So what about you? How'd you end up on this side of Heaven?"

"Really shitty parents," X nodded sardonically.

"How shitty?" Raven replied knowing a thing or two about really shitty parents.

"My dad, he tried to kill me, and thought that he had, so my mom buried me to cover it up."

Raven didn't say anything for a moment as her face plummeted, her jaw nearly hitting the floor at the horrible tale.

"I'm kidding," X reassured, letting Raven exhale from the discomfort she was momentarily stricken with. "But, as parents, they did really suck. My dad was a really bad guy, and my mom was always covering for him— though she was no angel herself. But together, they would have burnt down the world if they thought they could make a buck."

"That truly sounds like a living Hell," Raven mused, feeling sorry for the boy.

"It was, and they burned me pretty bad too. So bad, I'm still trying put out the—"

Before X could finish, the door finally opened, causing everyone to rise to their feet, especially Raven. Jason stepped out side by side with Dick, everyone waiting eagerly to hear what had transpired. Dick looked over at Raven as she stood by Red X, who looked on curiously.

"Alright everyone, I want you to meet my newest Enforcer. I trust that you will respect him just as you would any other member of this team," Jason said, breaking the silence.

"Enforcer?" A bald man questioned, the number 14 branded in ink on his neck. "Does that mean this guy just became Top Tier?"

Jason looked over at X and Jinx, who both had questioning looks on their faces, as did everyone else.

"Yeah, Schizo. Grayson here is now Top Tier and you should be happy he is," Jason defended. "I know that some of you may find it unfair, but as far as I'm concerned, this is the right call. These last few weeks have been hard. We've lost some good people, and we're down three members. We need the muscle."

"I'm sorry," Mutt interrupted (clearly just as upset as the man known as Schizo) "I get we need the manpower, but why bump this guy up above resta us?"

"Because the rest of you just aren't ready, not even those of you have been here from the beginning," Jason replied as some nodded in understanding. However, there were still those that weren't sold. "I'm sorry, but I'm not gonna send you guys out there to get killed if I can help it."

Raven looked over at Dick, worry painted on her pretty face, 'I really don't like the sound of that.'

"Also, with Brick gone, we've been down a Beta and I've decide who my new second in command will be," Jason finally added, "X."

Everyone looked over in the thief's direction, an uneasy expression on his young looking face. "Thanks JT… I'm honored."

Raven couldn't help but notice the lack of excitement tethered to his words, the acceptance coming off dull and unfelt.

Jason nodded and looked over at Jinx, "And that leaves you, Jinx. How do you feel about being my new Lieutenant?"

"Does it pay more?" she shrugged nonchalantly.

Jason only smiling with a, "No."

"That's cause you're a cheap asshole," Jinx mused crossing her arms, "But if it will help the team then—hell—I'll take it."

Raven could tell Jinx meant it, that she appreciated the promotion and took it to heart. A very different feeling then she got from Red X.

"Good," Jason concluded with an amused smile.

"So then who's the new Sargent gonna be?" the painted redhead asked from the corner.

"I haven't figured that out yet, Duela," Jason shrugged, "But we'll talk about it tomorrow. So—if anyone has any objections or concerns—we'll go over them then. In the meantime, everyone go home, and stay vigilant. I don't want any repeats of… well you all know."

Raven continued to stare at her former leader, still not liking the sound of the issue at hand.

"X, what's he's talking about?"

The thief peered over at her, a heavy expression pulling him down. But before he could reply to her question, he was addressed once more.

"X will take you two party crashers back to the motel. We'll put you two up in more permanent digs tomorrow. Come on, I'll walk you guys out. I still have a few more things to discuss with you, Grayson."

Dick nodded, and looked over at Raven, who he could see was a little distraught, "Can you give me a minute, Jason? I just have to—"

"Talk to your girl?" Jason interrupted, "Yeah, go ahead. I'll meet you two upstairs."

Dick nodded again and watched Jason walk off, signaling for Red X to follow. Raven glanced at the Outlaw as he walked past, trying to pull any emotional clarity from him, but the room was too crowded, and frankly, she was just too tired. She heard Dick call her name as he began to approach her, snapping her out of her daze. She turned her head in his direction and wasted no time meeting him half way.

"You okay," he asked, noticing her worry and fear.

"I just wasn't sure what to expect," Raven replied. "What was Jason talking about; do you even know?"

"I do," Dick replied "I'll tell you about it when we get back to the motel, okay?"

Raven only nodded, still unconfident in the situation, but convinced herself that her former leader would never steer her wrong. Which seemed to be the only thing she had left to hold on to. Dick felt her softly take his hand, her grip fragile and aching. He tighten his hand around hers, trying to give her the notion that she would be safe as long as they had each other, and that's what he truly believed.

"I'm not gonna let anything happen to you, Rae. I promise," Dick whispered as they began to walk up the stairs.

She stopped and looked up at him, her eyes heavy and her face troubled. "I'm not worried about me, Richard. I'm worried about you."

He took her face in his hands and tilted her gaze to meet his. "Don't worry, Rae. I got this—we got this," he urged.

Raven gave him a soft smile and nodded, Dick returning her smile with reassurance. He took her hand again and led her up the stairs where Jason waited at the bar, talking to the woman Red X referred to as Clancy. The head Outlaw looked over at them, as did Clancy. She turned away and began to talk to the older man called Hogan—a tall, stout man, with neatly groomed facial hair.

Dick noticed the questioning looks falling in his direction, some more obvious than others. Jinx really didn't seem to care much, almost brushing their presence off as if they were nothing. Whereas Mutt and Schizo's glares' remained cold and unwelcoming, not that Dick really cared. He was more concerned with other things and what he'd have to do in the coming days.

Jason rose from the bar he was leaning over and tilted his head for the two birds to follow him outside. Dick followed, tugging Raven along with him, noticing Jinx giving her a passive, yet chilly look. He also noticed Raven's reaction to it, and for a moment, he actually thought she may have been intimidated.

Once they made their way through the doorway out of the sea of crude looks, Dick noticed the rain had finally ceased. He glanced up to see the sky starting to open, revealing the bright glow of the hollow moon overhead. Jason stood on the sidewalk, waiting for the door to close, his arms crossed firmly.

"You good?" he asked, addressing his adoptive brother.

Dick looked over at Raven and nodded slowly, still hesitant however, "Yeah."

"You don't sound completely sold," Jason mused and looked over at Raven, "What about you, sweetheart?"

Raven glanced over at her former leader, taken off guard by the Outlaw's question. "I trust Richard's judgment," she said in a low, off-kilter voice.

"You don't trust mine though," Jason shrugged.

Raven's eyes widened a bit, but she kept herself as together as possible, "Well I don't know you."

"No," Jason replied, "you only know of me."

Raven glanced down at the concrete below her feet, the shine of the street lights giving it an elegant glow. She wrapped her free arm around herself, the damp air, leaving her skin raw.

"You're cold," Jason noticed, and began to walk toward her.

He began to take off his coat, Dick looking on with a critical eye. Once in front of Raven, Jason began placing the brown leather jacket over her pale, shivering shoulders. Raven wasn't really sure how to react, and lightly flinched as the leather draped over her, her face looking indifferent for the moment. She could feel Dick's protective nature bleeding from his stare, but he said nothing, and only watched as Jason completed an actual act of kindness.

"I know you don't trust me and that's fine," Jason began, taking a lock of her hair in is fingers, "but from this point, I'm not gonna give you a reason not to."

He turned to Dick whose eyes followed him, watching Jason step toward him. He reached out his hand to the ex-Titan's, Raven watching from Dick's side.

"Do we have a deal, Grayson?"

Dick glanced over at Raven, a little jealous at the sight of her in Jason's coat. He could tell by her eyes that she was apprehensive, but that she truly did trust his judgment. And if that was the way it had to be, then she could live with that.

"We have a deal," Dick replied, trying to pull every ounce of confidence into his voice.

Jason took Dick's hand in a firm hand shake, solidifying their deal. Dick tried to remain certain in his decision, but found it difficult given his history with Jason. For a moment his eyes drifted from the Outlaw and off to the space behind him, where he noticed three odd, but familiar figures.

The three homeless men were in the middle of some (unconventional) late night stroll, singing a strange tree-part harmony he didn't recognize. But he had to admit, they sounded pretty damn good for three, unrefined vagrants as they sang:

"Stone cold broke in the middle of the winter, oh like a poor man's, son.
Stone cold broke in the middle of the winter, oh like a poor man's, son.

My father—is a hard earned worker; my mother, has a heart of—gold.
I was—never much younger, but I feel, twice as old."

They continued as they passed, the Scotsman looking back at Dick and giving him a sly wink, his mischievous manner, leaving him to wonder, "Who are They?"

"I'll be damned if I know," Jason said pulling Dick's attention away from the peculiar trio, but not without giving them a slight nod of approval. "But I have feeling this little deal we have is gonna be fun."

Dick raised his brow ironically, unsure about how much fun the experience would truly be. But before he could respond to Jason's comment, Raven responded for him.

"I'm sure it's gonna be a fucking blast," she drawled, Dick actually relieved at the emergence of her sarcasm.

Jason only laughed, a hearty smile actually present on his face. "I can tell I'm gonna like you, Rae. You, for once, have good taste, Grayson."

Dick smiled and shook his head, not really paying any attention. His eyes had again diverted on the homeless men as they continued to stumble in song down the sidewalk, their voices carrying like ghosts in the fog:

"I feel—a cold wind blowing
Dark clouds form on the western—sky.
I've got—a feeling like knowing that everyone here—will someday die.

Stone cold broke in the middle of the winter, oh like a poor man's son.
Stone cold broke in the middle of the winter, oh like a poor man's son."

 

Chapter Text

 "Thank You for the memory, and that lasing first impression.

Thank you for the steel, that cuts, to the bone." --The Mission

The light was dim in the hotel room, a sallow man trying nervously to watch whatever dribble he could find on basic cable. However, he looked on at the grainy picture and found little comfort in the old I Love Lucy rerun. He took a deep breath and gathered the remote in his hand, changing the channel bitterly. He flipped through a few channels, passing by news stations and low budget talk shows that spoke of baseless politics and blasphemy.

“Oh my God,” he mumbled in a ragged breath, his irritability getting the better of him. But he made a promise, and he intended to keep it. “Come on, Roy. You can’t—you meant it this time,” he muttered to himself once more.

He’d begun to feel sick, his stomach beginning to writhe in pain. In the back of his mind, Roy knew this promise too well—a promise he knew he couldn’t keep. A promise that laughed at him from that pit of despair, that pit that could never be filled.

He sat up and began thinking of the possible ways he could score. All he’d have to do was put on his coat and go to a bar, but would he make it that far? He’d also have to find an open ATM as he didn’t have any cash on him.

“Fuck,” Roy scoffed, becoming desperate, wondering why he didn’t bring anything with him.

He lifted himself off the bed and opened his duffle bag, hoping to find anything that could get him through the night. And at this point, he’d take anything. With some luck, he found an old syringe, one he must have forgotten about, resting in the side pocket of his bag.

Roy looked at it with hatred, but it wasn’t enough to stop the rush of relief he felt over the small prize—he’d just won half the battle. But what good was the syringe without product? He’d finished looking through the duffle as it was dry of anything that could ease his distress. His head began to ache and thinking was becoming something foreign to him. He looked over and saw the packet Dick had given him—it was the contingency plan. Everything had been placed in a thick manila envelope which he was to deliver to Bruce if anything were to happen to the former Titan.  

Roy took the item in his hands and examined the envelope. It had only been sealed with its bronze clasp; he opened it and removed the contents. Everything was neat and in prefect order, just what he would expect from his old friend. At the very beginning there was a letter, written by hand in what appeared to be Dick’s hand writing.

Dear Bruce,

If you are reading this, then as you already know, I’m dead… sorry. You’re probably asking yourself how something like this could have happened and well… the answer is, I didn’t listen. I know you ordered me not to go after Slade, and I understand your reasons for instructing me not to do so. But now, it’s time for you to understand my reasons.

I can’t just turn my back on this missions, especially if Slade’s involved. I know all to well what it means if he is. Slade is to me what Joker is to you—and we both know  that the Joker will always be the Devil in the Batman’s belfry.

I know you see this, and that’s why you ordered that I stay away. But you also taught me to stand up for what I believe in, and to never turn away from those who need me. And, well, there are people out there that need me right now, and if I die trying to help them, then I’m okay with that. (Even if you’re not.) But I’m not okay living my life knowing that I could have done something, but instead, kept my head down, because it was in my best interest to do so.  You should understand that. better an anyone.

Again Bruce, I’m sorry. I know you’re probably cursing my name about now, screaming about how foolish I am, and blaming yourself to no end, but you shouldn’t. Maybe I failed, but maybe I was supposed to?

This is everything I’ve found, there isn’t a lot to go on, but it’s better than nothing. I’ve also written down a few theories; you can take from them what you want. You were always the better detective, I learned a lot from you. I know you won’t fail.

Tell Alfred I’m sorry too. I just want you both to know that after losing my family, I couldn’t have asked for a better one. I know you’ll hate this, but well—I love you guys.

Please take care of yourself, Bruce, and hopefully you can find it within yourself to accept that my death was of my own doing—you never pushed me toward it.

Sincerely, Your son —Dick

Roy placed down the letter, feeling a hint of jealously towards it as it reminded him of his relationship with his own adoptive father—Oliver Queen. He remembered a time when he and Oliver were close, when Oliver could rely on Roy’s trust and loyalty. But now, all Oliver saw when he looked at Roy was a failure, and he made no secret of it.

His sickness began to take hold of him again and he clutched his stomach in agony. In doing so, he saw the envelope fall to the floor, but he thought little of it. Suddenly, he heard his phone ring, the sound of a digital chime singing poorly from the nightstand. He pulled himself up and crawled toward it, taking it in his grasp.

“Roy, you there?” he heard Dick say over the poor reception.

“Yeah, how’d it go?”

“Um, we’re alive. So I guess everything is fine. You okay?” Dick asked, hearing the distress in the archer’s voice.

“I’m fine, Dick. I’m just tired, is all.” He was lying, but he didn’t want the hero to know he was withdrawing. He didn’t want him to know that he’d probably break his promise.

Dick furrowed his brow with worry, but there was little he could do. “When will you be back in Gotham?”

Roy took a deep breath, trying to bury the pain. “Tomorrow night, I think. If not, the next morning.”

“Okay, Dick replied, “I’ll met up with you then.”

“Alright man. I’ll talk to you soon…”

“And Roy,” the archer heard before he could hang up, “hang in there.”

“I’ll try.”

Roy closed the phone and fell down on the bed, the static voices from the television nearly deafening to him. He stared at the wall with listless eyes, worn and tired from the life he’d been living. In his hand still lay his cell phone, a sudden urge aching at his fingertips. He rolled onto his back and flipped the phone open, thinking of a kinder time from his past, when things meant something. His eyes fixated on the screen and he lifted his hands toward the lit buttons. He didn’t have her number in his contacts anymore, but that didn’t matter, he knew her number by heart.

He took a deep breath, wondering if she’d answer, or if those digits even still belonged to her.

“Hello?” a tired voice said from the other end, dripping of sleep and memories—such a soft sound.

Roy smiled nostalgically, as if for a moment he felt human again. “Hey Donna.”

“Roy?” Donna queried, trying to shake off her sleepy daze. “It’s late, is everything alright?”

He bit his lip, feeling the genuine worry in her voice, a hint of guilt pulling at his heart strings. “I just miss you.”

Donna didn’t say anything for a minute, but he could tell by the rise and fall of her breath that she ached. “Roy, you’re scaring me. Are you sure you’re okay?”

His brow creased at her distressed tone, pulling him back into a darker—inhuman place. “I’m sorry Donna, I shouldn’t have called you.”

“Roy, wait. Just talk to me,” Donna pleaded to no avail.

“Night Donna—I’m sorry,” the archer concluded and hung up the phone.

He quickly turned it off, knowing that the Amazon would most certainly attempt to call back. This didn’t help his guilt, however, and if anything, it only made him feel worse.

“What the fuck was I thinking?” he scoffed, bringing his hand to his forehead.

Roy finally managed to get up, and gathered all the files and notes Dick had given him. He noticed the envelope on the floor again, just sitting absentmindedly by the bed. He reached down for it and picked it up by the bottom corner, when something fell out.

He paused, peering down at the very small bag that now lay on the floor below him. The contents were familiar to is eye and if he didn’t know any better, he would have taken it as a sign from God himself. He picked up the krokodil hesitantly, afraid of the temptation that burned at his fingertips. He grazed his thumb over it questionably. It was ironic in a way; this was what he wanted—a quick fix—but was he really willing to sink that low? How much did he really have to lose? What else could he possibly give away?

He put the drug down on the nightstand and placed the papers back in the envelope with every intention of adding the krokodil.

“Shit,” he huffed, picking it up once more.

As much as he wanted to put it back, he’d know it was there, and in his fevered mind, that was reason enough. Roy quickly went into the bathroom and stood over the toilet, ready to drop the bag and flush it for good. That was the only way, the only way to ensure he didn’t shoot it up his arm, the only way to keep his promise. Dick would understand. Yes! Flushing it was the only way, but what about the sick feeling?

He let out a painful sigh, he could feel the nausea coming and the cold, itchy feeling that would soon follow. He slowly closed his hand in defeat, enclosing the substance with bitterness. He hated himself once more. Just another broken promise he knew he couldn’t keep, and once again—he’d be the one to pay for it.


 

Dick sat down on the unmade bed behind her, her image just ahead in the smoky mirror as she carefully applied her mascara. He watched for a moment in fascination, each stroke careful and precise. He took a moment to wonder why she even bothered as she didn’t look much different without it. But he had to admit, when her eyes were made up and her lashes were painted, they looked even more mysterious and alluring.

“You done staring, Boy Blunder,” Raven finally said, absent of any emotion.

She hardly looked back at him, her focus still placed on her mundane task.

Dick felt a little embarrassed that she caught him gawking, he of all people should be above that. Or at least that’s what he told himself. However, he was—at the end of the day—a man.

“Sorry Rae,” he muttered awkwardly and glanced down, “I thought you’d just wanna talk about everything that went down last night?”

She peered back at him and paused, her memories flooding with pieces of chaos and her actions, of which she was not fond. However, she quickly pushed them aside, as though she were in her own mind, taking the high road.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” she said dismissively, “last night was an emotional time for the both of us, what happened is understandable.”

Dick gave her a crude look, unsure how she could be so cold about it—how she could just pick up and move on? It was something she’d always done, she never dwelled in the emotional mire of anything. She just pulled herself up, and kept on going. It was a trait that indeed had its benefits, but he also felt that it was, in all fairness, her greatest weakness. She spent so much time trying to keep her emotions from getting the better of her that she never really thought about how things affected her. He knew she’d come a long way—she really had—but now, more than ever, he felt she’d turn to that. That ability to shut off Raven, and become that unmovable thing, just like his mother.

“Raven, you don’t have to do this with me, you don’t have to be brave.

Her eyes fell down just slightly, Dick hardly noticing. “I’m not being brave, Dick. I’m moving forward, you should too.”

“How can you say that, Rae?” Dick snapped. “I saw the look on your face last night. I could see it in your eyes, you were so close to breaking.

“Yeah well, I put myself back together—it’s what I do,” she spat, glaring though the mirror. “It’s all I can do.”

She could see her ex-leader’s distaste for her tone and the resentment for her stance.

“Really, Rea?” Dick questioned. “We tell each other everything, and after one night you’re just gonna talk to me like I don’t know anything about you? That’s not fair, and that’s not how this works.”

She finally turned to him, placing her forearm across the back of the chair. “Okay, you wanna talk, let’s talk about you becoming Jason’s Enforcer. What the hell is that?”

“It’s what I had to do, Rae. You should get that.”

“I do, but what is it that an Enforcer does again? Cause uh… I forget,” the sorceress said mockingly.

Dick scowled at her difficult nature. “Why won’t you just talk to me? Why does this have to be a fight?”

“Because Richard, talking is not what I do best, you know that.”

His lip curled at her irony, and his eyes smoldered at her point of view. “That’s not true Raven, you talk to me. You tell me everything.

“Not everything.” She meant for it to come out spiteful, but it didn’t. The sound was thin and brittle as it left her full lips—it was shameful.

She finally got up as Dick looked back at her a little off put, but his worry is what kept him paused.

“I’ve told you before, there are just some things you’re better off not knowing about me, Grayson. And everything—and I mean, everything—that happened last night is the same kinda shit you shouldn’t know… the same kind of shit that’s a part of that.”

“I get that Rae, I do, but… I don’t want you to think that you can’t tell me those things,” he said taking a few steps closer to her, “because you can, Raven.”

He took her hand in his and brought it up to his chest, like he had nearly a decade ago. That memory played a moment in Raven’s head as she recalled how afraid she was. Not even so much of her father, but of herself. She also feared what her friends would think of her—what Dick would think of her. In full honestly, that’s what Raven feared the most—herself—and how the people she loved perceived her. She could care less about everything else, but for people she genuinely loved, their opinions were everything, especially Richard Grayson’s.

“I have no right to judge you, Raven,” Dick said softly, “especially after last night.”

“You did what you had to,” Raven said, giving him a weak smile, not quite ready to submit, but accepting the offer. “But I’m still trying to process everything and I’m not quite ready to spill my guts over this yet, okay?”

He nodded and let her hand go as Raven turned to finish packing her things, carefully placing them into her dark leather bag. She went about it with much more care than Cyndi had, Raven’s life having more value and even more of a personal attachment. Raven cared about who she let into her life, it was a privilege to be a part of it, but for Cyndi, life wasn’t like that. In her world, privilege was a word of empty promises and forgotten happiness; in her world, she was torn down to nothing, just so she could be built up to nothing.

“Does any of this bother you?” Raven asked, cinching her bag closed and glancing up through the mirror again.

Dick looked back at her, unsure of what to say, “Are you asking me if I feel guilty about Joker and that psycho?

“No,” Raven said, turning to face him, “I’m talking about what Jason told you, about this turf war he’s dragged you into.”

Her face fell from him at the thought, her view of the conflict still blurry and lost in the smoke of the night before.

“It’s simple, Rae. I help Jason rebuild his team and expand his territory, he helps me get to Slade.”

“I get that,” Raven replied wearily, “but I’m worried that you’re gonna get caught in the crossfire, Dick. I mean, you said at least three of Jason’s crew died last month. So there’s a good chance something like that could happen again, especially on this side of Hell.”

Dick knew she was right, there was a good chance he too could end up six feet deep by day’s end, especially in Jason’s world. But this was also Slade’s world, and if he was gonna hunt a giant man, than he’d have to live in the world of giant men.

“Sometimes you gotta go to Hell to find a Devil, Rae.”

“Don’t give me that the philosophical bullshit, Grayson,” she said with a cynical eye roll, “and don’t you go trying to tell me about devils and Hell while you’re at it, either.”

She walked passed him and placed her bag on the opposite bed, which remained neat and untouched. She felt foolish for the fact that she and Dick blindly went along with Jason’s request, all in an attempt to earn his trust, but never once did they think about making him earn theirs.

Dick could see she was troubled, it was written all over her face. She knew she couldn’t change his mind and she didn’t expect to. But she wanted him to consider, among everything and nothing, that there was something to be lost, and if he lost it, who would he be?

A knock suddenly wrapped at the door, breaking the silent conversation between them. Raven turned, checking the peephole before answering and opened the door to reveal an unmasked Red X.

“Morn’n Sunshine,” he cooed as he walk through the door, “Chuckles,” he added before taking a seat on the torn arm chair. He could feel the tension between them and noticed the state of the room as he said chipperly, “Am I… interrupting something?”

The two birds looked at each other, but said nothing and shrugged.

The thief leaned forward with a friendly look on his face and colorfully added, “I don’t know what happened between you two and frankly, I really don’t care. But keep it between you two. People’s lives are at stake, and I don’t wanna see you or anyone get clipped because of some stupid little lovers’ quarrel.”

There was a slight pause as the end of his rant, but it was short-lived.

“Fuck you,” Raven spat, taking her bags and abruptly storming out of the motel room.

Both Dick and X watched her go, the two young men not really sure what to say or do.

“What’s her problem; I was being sarcastic,” the thief defended.

“You’re an asshole,” Dick replied, gathering the last of his things.

X scoffed and rose from his chair, “What the fuck did I do?”

“You didn’t do anything. She’s pissed, and you’re not helping by being a cynical prick.”

The young hero then walked by the Outlaw, leaving him to the empty room. X stood there a moment, a little humor cast on his boyish face. He shrugged at the irony before him and turned to exit, leaving behind the untold story.

Once he caught up to Raven and Dick, he found them both loading up the back of the old Chevy Trailblazer as the Explorer was being repaired.

“Raven, I’m sorry,” the thief said causally, “I wasn’t trying to be a dick, I was just trying to make a point.”

Raven looked over at him as did her ex-leader and said, “Well congratulations, you made it.”

She slammed the hatch closed and got into the car. X looked over at Dick, who found her frustration with the charming blond very amusing, and did little to ease the tension.

“Take my advice X; quit while you’re ahead.”

Red X tilted his head and cracked a sarcastic grin then turned for the driver’s seat.

“Don’t say I didn’t worn ya.”


 

They arrived at the bar in less than an hour; this time, Dick less overzealous to charge in head first. X informed the two that Jason was going to put them up in an apartment, but for the time being they would stay at the Wolf’s Head. Mentioning something about there being a few smaller apartments on the upper floors.

X also mentioned that there was going to be another meeting, but this one was going to be a “family meeting” which meant that every member in every tier need to be involved. He added that these meetings hardly ever took place and only did when something really big, or really bad, was about to go down. X also said that Raven was invited to sit in, though she herself was not a full or even a partial member, then went into the details of the pecking order.

“So at the very top we have an Alfa (Red Hood) and below that we have Beta—yours truly. Jason calls the shots, I just back him up and lead in his absence. After that we have a Lieutenant which is now being held by Jinx. She’s the third highest rank and in charge of the field missions, below her is Sergeant or Sergeants. Sergeants are mostly in charge of training and keeping the second tier in line. After that we have Enforcers, that’s you, Duala, Eddie, and Enigma. Your job is keeping the foot soldiers in line and making sure that those who don’t pay, do.”

“And how is that done?” Raven asked, interrupting X’s little monologue.

The thief glanced back at her through the rear view mirror, the sun reflecting off his black sunglasses. “How do you think it’s done, Sunshine?” he replied darkly. “But, if you do your job right, you won’t have to do much—everyone’ll pay.

“So with violence,” Raven concluded, her voice holding no shock.

“It’s the only method that works, especially with people who’d sell their mother’s pussy for a hit or profit.” And he had a point.

“That’s disgusting,” Raven grunted, arms crossed, brow furrowed.

“That’s the truth,” X retorted without a second thought. “People like that are only out for themselves. And junkies, they’re only part of the problem. The other half are scum, peddling whatever vice or service they can sell, and trust me, they don’t give a shit who gets hurt. All that matters is that their pockets are full by the end of the day. The dealers—drug lords—they know that junkies have nothing left to lose—nothing left to preserve, and they know they’ll borrow, steal, and cheat till the high finally kills them… and they make sure they bleed them dry before that happens.”

Dick could see Raven scowling form the back seat, her bitterness from earlier biting at her moral code. He too, felt himself conflicted, but it had more to do with Roy and how he fit into the equations X painted.

X could see the look on Dick’s face. He knew the hero was well aware of these details and didn’t need them spelled out for him. He also knew that Dick had no problem punishing people who genuinely deserved a harsh reminder that they were not above humanity. But he also knew that at heart, Dick may not have had the stomach—or more importantly, the heart—to be as heartless as his new job description required.

 “But that’s basically the pecking order of the Top Tier. The Second Tier basically consists of Foot Soldiers and Straight Earners. Foot Soldiers do mostly the leg work like making collections and acting as extra muscle on runs—the low level stuff. Straight Earners work within the organization and the businesses we own, like Clancy and Trilby. They take care of the bar and launder the money in its sales which is overseen by Hogan, who takes care of the finances and the books. No financial move is made without his two cents.”

“What about Mutt and Schizo?” Dick asked, recalling the two young men.

“They’re just Foot Soldiers, and you don’t take any shit from them—ever. Those two are Second Tier because they belong there. They may be loyal and hardworking, but they don’t have the brains or the brawn to make it up to the Top.”

“Not to sound like an ass, but are any of them?”

Dick looked over at X, who paused a moment before answering.

“No. The only one that had a shot was Scarlet, but well… she’s not here anymore,” X replied ruefully.

“Who was she?” Dick asked, recalling Jason bringing up her name.

“She was kinda what Jason was to Talia,” X recalled with a little dilution. “He trained her, gave her a place to stay—he took care of her when she didn’t know how. He gave her a chance because no one else would, and she was really grateful for that.”

X paused, looking back in the mirror as if it held some familiar memory.

“What happened to her?”

“All she ever wanted was for Jason to be proud of her. She was always trying to prove herself to him. She wanted him to see she was ready… But at the end of the day, she just wasn’t.”

“That sounds really familiar,” Dick said, recalling his days as Robin.

They finally pulled up to the bar and turned down the alley beside the building, leading them to a reasonably sized lot. Toward the back of the building was a line of different vehicles, about 6 in total. The area was kept pretty neat and seemed to serve as a place of both business and recreation. Red X parked the old Chevy beside a black shipping van and silenced the engine.

“You two ready?”

Dick only nodded as he exited the SUV, while Raven didn’t say much of anything. They followed X as he took them through the back entrance which led to a small, dark hallway and a storage area. They followed him down the hall, its old wood moaning as each footstep fell upon it. They walked passed the cellar door and X opened the curtain to reveal the whole bar filled with faces from the night before.

“Well look who finally showed up,” Clancy said in her rich accent. “Can I get’y anything, Bourbon, scotch, whisky—”

“Cool it Clanc, it’s not even noon yet,” Jason laughed, cutting her off.

Clancy was very hospitable and really took to making others feel welcome in her presence, which was why she fit her role of barmaid so well.

“Ah Jason, an early day calls for an early start.”

“Said the Irish girl to the Outlaw King,” X added, taking a seat at the bar, “I’ll take a beer Clanc.”

“Com’n right up, X,” she replied cheerfully and went off to pull him a bottle.

“Lush asshole,” Jason drawled and looked over at everyone. “Well, since everyone’s here, we might as well get this shit show started,” Jason added and motioned Raven and Dick to take a seat at a small table.

They both looked around as daggered eyes stared back at them. They didn’t belong, yet there they were, sitting among the wolves and hoods, those exiled from the inner workings of society, now banished to its fringe. Jason looked back at Dick, the Outlaw King noticing the ex-Titan’s apprehension, and began to speak.

“Alright, so as of last night, we have gained at least one new member. Now I know his membership is a little… well… unorthodox, but given the recent playing field, I think my decision is warranted. I know some of you don’t see it that way. So for those of you who take issue with this recent decision the floor is open. Feel free to voice your concerns.”

Jason looked on at the room with inquisitive eyes, waiting to see who would be the first to speak up. A long moment went by, Jason’s question only met with silence.

“Seriously,” he huffed, “None of you have the balls to say how you really feel?”

Awkward glances were exchanged, and finally the young skinhead named Schizo stood up. For a moment he looked down at his heavy boots, his old jeans hanging over them with torn cuffs, his hands slipping into his worn pockets.

“I know he’s your brother, but still… I don’t understand why this—why he gets bumped up to Top Tier? Me and Mutt’ve been here for over a year and a half—we’re still only Second Tier. I know we’re not ready—I get that—maybe we never will be. But I’m find’n it real disrespectful that I had to work my way up from the bottom and have dedicated my life to this crew, but this asshole… he just gets to jump the line?”

Jason looked down a moment as he could feel the betrayal in the man’s sentiment, and he didn’t disagree. He watched as Schizo sat down, his jaw tight and his eye gleaming with bitterness.

The sight was a little hard on Jason as he took a rough breath and spoke, “How many of you agree with Schizo—at least he had the guts to be honest. This is a place of truth, we have no secrets. Now how many of you think this arrangement is unfair?”

Raven and Dick looked around as every single hand in the room raised itself, including X’s. Jason too, lifted his hand, leaving Raven and Dick confused about what to think.

“You’re all right, it’s not fair,” Jason finally said. “You have all given me your time and loyalty to be here, and you have all made numerous sacrifices for this family. But this life—this life of guns and bullets—it isn’t fair. If it was—every person that we’ve lost would be here right now. And if they were here, then Dick wouldn’t need to be. In the last month and a half alone, we have lost Brick, Natasha, and Scarlet, and honestly… I can’t stand to lose any more of you. And that’s not business, that’s me putting your lives first. So if being unfair and bringing in someone from outside the organization keeps even one of you alive—then I’m willing to be unfair. But, I’m gonna leave it up to you all; let’s bring it to a vote. All opposed to Dick becoming an Outlaw… raise your hand.”

Jason watched as Mutt and Schizo reluctantly raised their hands, even after Jason’s very heartfelt speech. A few other people raised theirs’s as well, but not nearly as many, and not one Top Tier member lifted theirs.

Jason counted five hands in total then asked for all in favor. The remaining hands all rose, most of which belonging to Top Tier members.

“Then the decision stands,” Jason ruled. However there didn’t seem to be much excitement as Dick’s acceptance came from a place of desperation, not approval. 

“Now, as for the Joker,” Jason continued. “Last night we hit the Clown where it hurts. He’s down a man and he has a whole new set of set problems to deal with, specifically the Lords. They not be Joker’s greatest threat, but they’ll keep him busy and bloody, and that works for me… for the time being.”

 “What if he figures out who hit him?” Duala asked from her end of the bar, where she sat beside Enigma.

“That’s why I sent Dick,” Jason replied. “Joker doesn’t know he’s with us, and knowing Dick, he probably kept his identity a better kept secret than what Bruce Wayne does in his spare time.”

There was a light giggle among a very few, both Dick and Raven looking at one another warily.

“I know he can never truly pay for everything he’s done,” Jason continued, “at least not in this life. But, in the meantime, I’ll take it.”

 

A look of grim satisfaction took over the Outlaw’s face, his expression stony and cold.

“Now for our next order of business,” Jason said gravely in his commanding tone, “we need to expand our territory.”

For a moment no one said anything, eyes only wandering from their leader to catch the gaze of another.

“Gotham’s only going to get us so far, we need to make a power play. We need everyone to know we’re more than just another gang in Gotham.”

“What’d you have in mind?” Enigma asked, letting her fingers trace the rim of a half empty glass.

Jason glanced over at X and Jinx, then stared right at Dick as he said, “Jump City.”

Dick’s face fell gravely, his eyes lit with a dim fire of inquiry. Raven could feel the harsh sting of turmoil as the blade delved deep into his heart, her distress tangling with his.

“The playing field in Jump has made a huge shift. With Rancid and Snowflame out, Slade’s gonna have to make a play to keep Jump under his hand, but I want it under mine.”

“Do you really think that’s a good idea?” Raven interrupted, not even a little fear in her voice. “Do you really think you can take on Slade?”

Jason looked back at her, a raised a brow at her boldness. “Well, sitting around and doing shit won’t get us anywhere.”

Raven crossed her arms and straightened her back. “Yeah, but going up against Slade might get you dead and buried.”

Jason laughed at Raven’s brash tone, almost amused with how blunt she was willing to be with him.

“I’m glad you think death is funny, Jason,” Raven said, rolling her eyes. “I thought if anyone would understand the actual depth of permanence, it would be you.” 

Jason stopped laughing for a moment as Dick’s head shot in Raven’s direction. A mix of dirty and amused looks followed. However, others didn’t possess the wit necessary to understand that insult.

“Someone should teach shithead over here how’t keep his bitch’s mouth shut,” Schizo scoffed in Dick’s direction.

“Excuse me?” Raven interjected before Dick could even give a reply of his own.

“Oh shit,” Dick muttered.

“I’m just say’n there are far better things you could do with that pretty mouth’a yours,” Schizo replied, rudely.

Raven’s jaw dropped as her eyes narrowed in on his crude ignorance. “Okay, douchebag.”

“Here we go,” Dick drawled, knowing exactly the kind of lashing Schizo’s comments had earned him.

“First off,” Raven began lividly, “I’m no one’s bitch. Secondly, I’m twice the man you are, so you may wanna rethink that little fantasy about me blowing you.”

The sound of shock and laughter snickered uncomfortably through the bar, the giggle leaving Schizo on the defense.

“Well I guess this little honey has dick now, dontcha, baby?”

“And it’s bigger than yours,” Raven retorted to his disgusting remark, “but I’m guessing that’s not much of a feat, considering you lack formability… A word which, by the way, is bigger than your whole vocabulary.”

“Well she’s a keeper,” Jason said with amazement.

“She’s relentless,” Dick replied, wearily.

The Outlaw shrugged. “Hey that’s not a bad thing, I like a woman who’s not afraid to cross swords.

Dick sighed, “More like cut it clean off.”

X chuckled as he placed down his beer, watching as Raven single handedly dismantled the vulgar boy. “Sunshine’s gonna fit in real well around here.”

“Yeah Grayson, your girl’s really skilled in the art of verbal castration—it’s very amusing.”

“Yeah, she’s got a sharp tongue on her,” Dick drawled sarcastically as Raven had clearly marginalized the skinhead’s manhood.

Some giggles still fluttered as Schizo had nothing witty to comeback with and Jason finally decided to move on.

“So to address your concerns, Rae.” Jason began, getting back on topic. “I’m know Slade is a force to be reckoned with, but I plan on playing my cards right. Plus, there’s nothing to gain if you’re not willing to accept a little risk.

“And what cards would those be?” Dick asked, his words flat and stable.

A smug smile grew on the Outlaw’s face as he leaned against the bar. “Well, to start, I have a source.” He crossed his arms, holding his stance firm and continued, “I also have X and Jinx, they know Jump just as well as you two. So I think that makes for a good strategic move. Plus, Jump isn’t under the watchful eye of Nightwing anymore, so it’s free for the taking.

Dick frowned at the mention of his heroic namesake, Jason actually using his absence to his advantage. “The Titans are still there.”

“I’m not worried about the Titans,” Jason replied gravely, lighting his cigarette. They’re down two members, and something tells me, they’re gonna be easy to deal with.”

Dick could tell Raven was only an inch away from showing Jason how easy she was to deal with, but Dick quickly intervened.

“I’m just saying, maybe you shouldn’t underestimate them… or Slade for that matter. People may surprise you.”

“People are people,” Jason said with little feeling, “no one surprises me.”

For a minute, nothing was said, as Jason’s jaded words hung in the atmosphere with the thick scent off bad blood.

“So, we all clear on everything?” The Outlaw asked before dismissing the room.

Everyone nodded and shrugged, accepting the information given to them. Some seemed a little weary as others didn’t seem fazed by any of it. Dick looked over at Jason as he began to approach him, followed by Red X, who held a strange look of doubt on his boyish face.

“So Grayson, we’re going on a run tonight,” Jason said in a low voice so he wouldn’t be heard, “I want you to come along,”

“What kind of run?” Dick replied, glancing over at Raven.

“Protection,” Jason shrugged, “a shipment needs to make it to Blüdhaven—intact.”

Dick nodded in understanding as Raven gave him and an approving glance. “Who we providing protection for?”

Dick noticed the thief’s eyes fall to the floor as his Outlaw leader replied, “The reason you even came here—Slade.”

Both Dick and Raven looked at each other, Dick’s face falling to a grim place, Raven’s not much different.  

“Will he be there?” Dick asked urgently.

“No,” Jason said unfazed, “but I could use the man power, plus it pays well. You’ll also get some insight on how Slade operates. You in?”

Dick glanced down in thought, his mind wandering to the place where caution didn’t lie. “Okay, I’m in.”


 

He’d awoken that morning cold and foggy. He was hungry, but he didn’t really care. He took what little he had and put on his coat, then checked out of the motel. At this point it was just easier to feel nothing, and just let the numbness fill his veins and black out his heart. He just let that chill cut him straight to the bone.

He’d been driving for a few hours on a northbound highway, part of him tempted to keep driving and just go as far as Raven’s old Jeep would take him. However, in the end, he wouldn’t; he had to see it through to the end—wherever that may take him.

He looked on at the long stretch of road ahead of him, each mile going on like a year. His mind wandered, sauntering down the past road that he traveled to get there. There were so many things that had brought him to that present moment. So many things he’d change if he could, so many things he wanted back, things he’d lost long before he’d ever stuck a needle in his arm.  But still, as he rolled on, watching the pavement pass by, he thought of one day, one day he always looked back on. The day he finally gave up, the day everything changed…

2014

The young archer stood there, grave and stony looks peering back at him, the coldest coming from the man who’d trained him—the man who taught him how to be a hero.

“Are you sure you are up for this, Roy?” asked the Bat, his stoic expression clear, even through his cowl.

“I am—yes,” Roy replied, the older archer’s face growing more displeased.

“Then I guess we proceed with the mission,” said Bruce, “Diana and I will brief you, then we’ll begin making arrangements.”

It was at that moment Oliver got up, saying nothing as he left the room. He could hardly look at Roy, passing him with a cold, unforgiving air. Bruce, of course, took notice, though he was certain everyone had, but said nothing—for the time.

It was shortly after this that Bruce sat down with Roy, who was, by this time, going by the title of Red Arrow. Bruce went over nearly every detail, most of which, Roy was already aware of. He explained that he would be infiltrating an arms dealing syndicate that worked closely with the Mexican Drug Cartel. The mission didn’t have a set extraction date and would progress for as long as needed to collect the necessary information. Roy was to report to Martian Manhunter, who would use his shape shifting abilities to disguise himself with as many identities as needed. They would have a code phrase, something only the two of them would know. Manhunter would then take the information back to the Watchtower for further investigation, and to be cataloged in the League’s database. The mission, as a whole, would be overseen by Batman, who’d be keeping tabs on communications; not a move would be made without his order.

This mission was big, and the League had a lot riding on it and its success, which left Bruce with one very important question.

“Do you understand everything I have just told you, Roy?”

He nodded, his face unmoved. “Yes, I do.”

“Then you understand that it isn’t too late to say no?”

Roy glanced down, relieving the Bat from any eye contact and nodded again, his words finding no voice.

Bruce tightened his lower lip a moment, something Dick would have read as recoil. “I know you feel as though you have something to prove—that this is the only way you can gain the respect of your peers, but it isn’t.” Bruce paused as he noticed Roy glance up at him.

“I’m not doing this for respect, Bruce. I’m doing it because there’s no other way. I’m the only one who’s willing to go—the only one with nothing to lose.”

Bruce placed the folder down and crossed his arms. “You say that, but I’m sure your friends would say differently.”

“They probably would,” Roy shrugged, “but all that matters right now is what I have to say, and I say, I’m going through with the mission.”

Bruce exhaled, and for a moment, might have shown just a hint of regret, but breathed not a word of it. “Alright then.”

Later that day, Roy had finished a psych evaluation with Martian Manhunter. Normally, this evaluation would have been conducted by Black Canary, but given her current status as Oliver Queen’s live-in girlfriend, the League felt her opinion would be biased.  And to Oliver’s greatest discontent, Roy was deemed mentally fit for duty.

Roy was then to report to Bruce again and would go over the details of his new identity, which he’d later be schooled on. Roy was informed that the Bat was running a bit late, and had hit a snag while hacking into a record database. This gave Oliver just enough time to show up.

Roy immediately felt uneasy when he noticed him walk through the door, and pondered whether or not he should speak. Oliver looked over at him, his eyes reeking of contempt. Roy thought about getting up and leaving, but he knew he’d have to hear the archer out eventually, and this time, he was tired of running.

“So you passed your psych eval.”

Roy nodded, but kept mum, hoping maybe Oliver would keep his lament simple.

“I’m not gonna lie, I was hoping you wouldn’t.”

Roy finally looked over him—the man who’d raised him since he was 10 years old, the man he nearly hated now. “Really Ollie?” Roy snapped in embitterment. “I’m trying to do something good, to help the League, to help those who can’t help themselves. I’m doing everything you taught me, yet you sit here and belittle me like a child.”

“I’m not belittling you, Roy,” Oliver asserted, “I’m telling you I don’t think you’re ready.”

“Well the rest of the League thinks I am.”

The rest of the League doesn’t wanna see their own protégé’s go—they don’t care that you’re doing this for wrong reasons,” Oliver insisted, pointing his index finger toward the table. A gesture Roy had become all too familiar with.

“And what reasons might those be?”

“You’re running away, Roy!” Oliver exclaimed. “You’re running from Donna—you’re running from the Titans—you’re running away from all of your problems! And most of all—you are running away from me.

“You call it running, I call it moving forward,” Roy droned coldly. “I don’t have a team anymore, and I don’t have anyone who’s gonna miss me at night. I don’t even have a family—not anymore.”

“You have me, Roy”

“Only when it’s convenient for you, Ollie.”

Just then Bruce entered the room, or at least Roy and Oliver noticed he’d entered. The two both looked over at him as he stood there silently, not saying a word. He glanced back at them individually, making it clear that he’d heard at least part of their argument.

“Roy,” Bruce finally said, “why don’t you give Oliver and me a minute to talk?”

Roy looked at Bruce, then over at his fellow archer, a grave expression written in every line of his face. “Gladly,” he scoffed.

Both men watched as the young man stormed out of the room, Bruce waiting until he was far out of earshot. Once he was convinced Roy could no longer hear them, he finally spoke.

“You’re having a hard time with this.”

Oliver crossed his arms and looked away. “How much did you hear?”

“Enough.”

“So what,” Oliver asked in a sour tone, “you gonna tell me I need to get over it?”

“No,” Bruce replied and sat down across from him, “I’m going to suggest that you stop telling Roy how to live his life.”

“That’s rich coming from you, Bruce,” Oliver laughed cynically.

Bruce scowled at the chuckle, its texture quite venomous. “What I do is different.”

“You’re seriously not gonna tell me how to parent?”

“Someone should.”

Oliver frowned. “You act high and mighty all you want, Bruce, but don’t pretend that we all don’t know the truth.

“Truth about what?” Bruce asked daringly, in a tone most men would have shied from.

“That Dick ran away from you.”

“He didn’t run, he needed space—I let him have it.”

Oliver grimaced smugly. “Because you wouldn’t let him live his own life! Hell—he lives on the other side of the fucking country and you’re still smothering him with your two cents! He still can’t get away from you.”

“It’s called guidance, Ollie,” Bruce growled. “Why don’t you try taking it sometime?”

“Like you ever take any!”

Bruce scowled, but then flashed a condescending grin. “Why don’t you spend less time worrying about me and my ward, and worry about yourself and yours?” His grin dissolved, and his tone grew more earnest. “I know I made mistakes with Dick, and I probably still will, but everything I say and do is for his best interest.”

“What do you think I’m doing, Bruce!” the archer hissed, but was quickly cut off.

“I see what you’re doing, Oliver—I really do! But you also have to understand that you can’t just decide to be Roy’s father one day, then tell him he needs to figure it out for himself in the same breath.”

“What’s that’s supposed to mean, Bruce?”

“It means if you want Roy to listen to you, then you have to give up the fair-weather parenting, Ollie.”

“Fuck you, Bruce,” Oliver snapped wildly. “You’re a fucking hypocrite, you know that?”

“I’m only telling you the truth.”

The archer’s face took on a furious look. “Well you can take your truth and shove it up your ass!”

“Will do, Ollie,” Bruce drawled without missing a beat, “but next time you try and criticize Roy for running away, you may wanna ask yourself who he picked that up from?”

Oliver fumed, but was left speechless. The only words he could find were meekly built of four letters, leading him to look foolish, and he angrily took his leave.

Bruce composed himself a moment before retrieving Roy, feeling a little wounded by everything the archer had said. Deep down, Bruce knew what he said was true—everything he did was for the best. But he also knew Oliver wasn’t wrong—Dick did run away—as far as he could, and that still wasn’t far enough.

Still, Bruce buried his hurt, buried it deep with the rue and the thistle of days long past. With a deep breath he rose from the chair he was seated in, and gathered the folder back in his weathered hands. He couldn’t be burdened with what he could not change—he already had too many burdens to bear.

Within a week’s time, he sent Roy off on his mission, and Roy would never comeback… at least not the same.

Chapter Text

 "A little more than kin, and less than kind."

Bruce walked the aging hallway of a building he didn't often enter, as he had little to do with this share of Wayne Enterprises. However, today, he needed a favor. He stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for the very top floor, many things keeping his mind veering as he ascended. He peered down at his phone, a story about how one of Joker's men had been found dead by the steel yard—struck by a car—was lit up on the screen. The story went on to mention two local gang members were also found dead at the scene, but would not release their identities.

"Joker, what have you done now?" Bruce groaned.

He heard the elevator door slide open and looked up to find a tall brunette standing at its mouth, her once pretty face showing its age from years of chain smoking.

"Aw, Bruce," she said stepping into the elevator, "I wasn't expecting you."

"Well, I was in the area, Adeline. I thought I'd come and say—"

"Don't feed me that cordial bullshit, Bruce," Adeline droned the moment the door closed, "what do you really want?"

Bruce knit his brow a moment in discord, but quickly pulled himself back together. She was always the coarse one, shockingly. "There's a property of Wayne Enterprises that I want to demo and convert into a children's center for at risk youth… and I need your vote to make it happen."

"What property are you referring to?" the brunette replied, eyes straight forward.

"The old opera house in the East End."

Her lips parted as she looked in his direction. "The one your parents were—"

"Yes…" Bruce nodded ruefully, cutting her off before he could relive that moment.

"That's what I thought." The door opened and the brunette stepped out followed by Bruce. "I can see why the board is not willing to support you on this—where's Lucius stand?"

"He's for it," Bruce replied as they approached her office, "he understands the need for a center in that part of the city. It's an investment in the future of Gotham."

Adeline unlocked the door to her office and turned back to Bruce. "Yes, let's care for and nurture the future generations of gangsters and thugs—hell—why don't we just arm them too?"

She entered the cold office as Bruce reluctantly followed.

"That's not very fair of you, Adeline" he said sternly. "These kids need something like this—something to keep them off the streets, keep them from being recruited in the first place."

Adeline opened a box and pulled out a cigarette, popping it in her mouth. "Mind if I smoke?" She began to lift her lighter, the wee flame flickering in her hand.

"And if I say yes?"

She looked back at the billionaire and took the cigarette from her lips, tossing the lighter on the desk with a little theatrics. She was more than annoyed.

"Bruce, darling. If we open a youth center in one of the worst parts of town then the drug dealers, pimps, and gang recruiters will be right at our doorstep. It would practically be chumming the waters." She flicked her cigarette in her fingers, and approached the playboy. "Listen, I know you want to make this city a better place, despite the bullshit front you wear."

Bruce shook his head and walked to the window. "I forget how forthright you could be, Addy."

She laughed a bit and sat down on her desk. "And I forget how much of a bleeding heart you actually are. Where's the rest of the board fall on this?"

"They'll support it if we put it in Gotham Heights."

Her brow raised with no surprise, only amusement. "Yeah cause over-privileged brats need a break from their tart nannies, right? Gotta love old white money." She watched as Bruce let out an amused laugh at her colorful language. "Listen, if it means that much to you, Bruce. I'll vote for it, and I'll convince a few board members who owe me a favor to do so as well. But I'll need a favor too."

"And what would that be?"

Adeline got up and approached Bruce at the window. "The clinic I'm trying to start in Jump City, the board's been trying to shut it down—something about budget cuts. Apparently free medical aid isn't exactly profitable."

"Gotta love old white money."

"We're the worst," she smiled crassly. "Point is, if I don't get enough members to back this project then the board will kill it. I've put a lot of time and money into this, Bruce, I need this. Just like you need closure."

"This isn't about closure, Addy. It's abo—"

"That's biggest crock of shit to come out of your mouth since your parents died, Bruce." Adeline spat, cutting him off. "You wanna turn that bad memory into something good so that you can forget what happened."

"I'll never forget what happened to them, Addy." Bruce reassured, his face wearing a bit of insult.

"I know you won't, but that doesn't mean you won't try, dear." Adeline stepped back to her desk and picked up her cigarette. "So do we have a deal?"

"We do," Bruce replied. He walked past her desk, noticing a picture of a blonde boy with golden curls and big green eyes. "How's Joey? I haven't seen him in years."

"That's because you don't keep family close, Bruce."

Bruce began to defend himself, but couldn't really find an argument to stand on when it came to his blood relatives. "I've noticed you don't have any pictures of Grant. Is that you trying to forget?"

Adeline finally lit her cigarette and took a long drag then spoke on tail of her smoke. "Yes, but like you said… I'll never forget."


 

Raven and Dick both sat in the small apartment on the second floor of the Wolf's Head. The room in total was only about 300 square feet, give or take. The space looked a bit more than lived in, as it was clear many people had spent a night or two there, maybe more?

"It could be worse," Dick mused, pulling his shirt over the bulletproof vest he'd been given and looked over at Raven who seemed a little underwhelmed.

She looked over at him, not even cracking a smile. "I just found a dead mouse under the sink, and it smells like somebody's jock in here."

Dick got up and took a candid look for himself and found the small rodent nearly beheaded by the trap that had snapped its tiny neck.

"That's unpleasant," he noted, "but at least there's no cockroaches."

"That's because they have higher standards."

The door suddenly swung open to reveal Duela, who didn't seem plagued by the thought of privacy.

"Hey," the pale red-head said causally, "you guys comfortable?" She herself, seemed a little uneasy, as though she were unsure of how to approach them.

"We're fine, Duela?" Dick said before Raven could utter a word, uncertain whether he was pronouncing the girl's name correctly.

She smiled and nodded. "Yep, Duela Dent—no relation to Harvey."

Dick smiled and laughed lightly. "So you only have one face?"

"Yeah," Duela smiled boldly, "but I do have on hell of a bad side." The girl giggled a little oddly at the joke, Dick uncomfortably laughing along with her.

Raven, however, just rolled her eyes as she looked down again at the severed mouse. "If only I could trade places."

"What's that?" Duela asked looking over at Raven.

Raven glanced up from the expired rodent and over at the painted red-head. "Oh, I was just talking to the dead mouse, poor little bastard."

A crude look of confusion took over the girl's features, Dick looking back at Raven with a "really" expression.

"Um… JT wants you two downstairs, he's gonna go over the details of the run."

"Okay, we'll be right down," Dick replied pleasantly.

Duela nodded with a subtle awkwardness, and began to turn away, but stopped. "Um… can I ask you a question?"

"Sure."

"Are you two really serious about being here?" Her voice was soft, but filled with validity, a protective nature just under the surface.

"Yeah," Dick replied, less than convincingly, "…why?"

"Well… if I'm supposed to trust you, than I have to believe that you have the team's best interest at heart."

"Do you trust us?" Dick asked ruefully.

"No," Duela replied, Dick's eyes falling from hers to the floor.

"That's fair," he muttered, knowing that in hindsight, he couldn't really ask her, or any of the Outlaws, to trust him. "Trust is something that has to be earned."

She nodded again, this time with more conviction.

"I promise you, I'm gonna earn that trust."

"I believe you," Duela said softly, and smiled, "that you'll try."

She turned and walked out the door, leaving Raven and Dick to themselves. Dick turned to Raven, whose eyes were still cast downward, her fingers taping the sink as she moved toward him.

"Can I ask you something, Grayson?" she said coldly.

"You're gonna ask anyway," Dick replied, feeling the ominous weight of her words before they could even take breath.

"Do you really think you can sell these people the concept that you care?" She glanced up at him with her dark eyes, her thick lashes pressed against her brow.

"I do care, Rae," the hero insisted, but doubt clung to his gaze.

Raven cupped her hand around the bed post and turned her body to him. "I know you do, because you care about people and their well-being, but you also care about what you think is right, you care about your moral code."

"What are you saying?"

"I'm saying that if we are gonna fit in around here, we're gonna have to act like we belong. We're gonna have to act as if right doesn't matter… Can you do that?"

Dick's eyes fell from her, and he leaned back against the foot board. "Can you?"

"I don't know?" Raven let out a deep breath and walked back to the bathroom again.

Dick sauntered behind her, unsure of where he stood on everything. "What's your take on all this, and be honest."

Raven glanced back at him from over her shoulder, her face looking a bit misplaced. "Honestly, I really don't know. What I do know is that some days you're the trap, and other days, you're the mouse," Raven replied, picking up the trap, the mouse still dangling from it. Dick watched as she passed it to him, her face plagued with disgust and a little sympathy. "If I were you, I'd be the trap."

She handed him the bloody contraption and Dick reluctantly accepted it as he grimaced, "What am I supposed to do with this?"

Raven let out a throaty laugh and shook her head. "What else do you do with a dead mouse—flush it."

He sat there for a moment, awkwardly holding the trap like it were the bubonic plague. He finally pushed himself toward the toilet and with revulsion, pulled back the wire to release the gored creature. It hit the water with a pitiful splash and lifelessly floated for a moment, ripples echoing from its lifeless mass, the world ignorant to its passing.

Dick place his fingers on the handle, getting ready to send the expired rodent to its watery burial. "Let's just hope I don't end up like the mouse."


 

Once the two got downstairs, Jason gave a brief description about the run, and what it would entail. It was a simple protection run, its starting point being Gotham, and would end in Blüdhaven. The cargo they'd be protecting would be that of cocaine, which had been melted down and somehow sprayed on cabinet doors, as though it were a coat of polyurethane. Dick looked over at Raven with surprise, a little impressed at just how clever Slade was, the realization a bit chilling. Normally with the cargo so ingeniously hidden, Slade wouldn't even bother with protection, but given the recent gang activity in both Gotham and Blüdhaven, he didn't feel like taking the chance.

Dick also learned who he'd be going on the run with aside from X and Jason. He'd also be joined by Duela and Mutt. The collection run would be made by Hogan, Enigma and Schizo, who would be meeting someone known as Wintergreen in an old pub near the East End. Apparently, Jinx would be sitting this one out, as someone had to hold down the fort in case anything were to go down. Eddie would also be joining her.

Red Hood finally dismissed everyone and ordered those on their mission to follow him. However, before they left, he pulled Jinx aside to have a word with her.

"Hey, I need you to do me a favor," Jason said and glanced over at Raven.

"Does this favor have anything to do with a little black bird that might have flown our way?" Jinx asked, noticing Jason's eye line.

"So you already know?"

"How can I not? I can practically smell the brimstone on her," Jinx grimaced, "What'd you want me to do?"

"I know her loyalty lies with Grayson, but I want you to see just how deep that loyalty lies."

Jinx glanced over at Raven then back at Jason, a shrewd look on her face. "You want me to see if we can trust her?"

"Yeah."

"Okay, but what about Grayson? Don't you trust him?"

"Not quite, but that's my problem."

"And she's mine."

"Good, keep it that way," Jason nodded. "You teach her how to play in this sandbox."

As this exchange was taking place, Dick noticed Jinx glance over at Raven and Jason began to move toward them.

"Why's she looking at you like that?"

Raven peered over in Jinx's direction, distaste clear in her eyes. "Because she knows I'm lying to her."

"What did you lie about?" Dick asked in a low voice.

"Who I am?"

"Does she know?"

"I can't tell," Raven replied, keeping her tone even as Jinx approached, alongside Jason.

"You ready to do this, Grayson?" the Outlaw addressed, leaving the ex-Titan feeling a little displaced.

"Yeah," Dick replied in a vaguely brittle tone, his confidence shaken. "You gonna be good here, Rae?"

"She'll be fine," Jason reassured before Raven could speak for herself, "Jinx said she'd show her the ropes."

"The ropes of what? Making poor life choices?" Raven scoffed with little care.

"Ha," Jinx giggled causally, "you'd be surprised what you can learn from a girl like me, Rae"

Jinx crossed her arms and smiled back at Raven as the two stood across from each other in a silent standoff. Both Dick and Jason looking on at them for a minute, waiting to see who might strike first.

"Maybe I should stay here and sit this one out—" Dick began, but was cut off.

"No, I'm good here, Dick. You go. I'm gonna learn to tie ropes."

Dick looked back at her for a moment, unmoved. Her stance stiff and rigid as her back stood high like an impregnable wall. In the back of his mind, he knew she'd be fine, that no one could move or topple her. But he could tell the same of Jinx, that they both had something that was worth protecting, and they wouldn't fall to anyone.

"You heard your girl, Dick," Jason shrugged, ignoring the scene before him, "let's go. We gotta get this shit done. And Jinx, play nice."

Jinx didn't even bother to look at her leader, she just kept her eyes fixed on the young sorceress. "I always do, JT."

Jason motioned for Dick to follow him which he reluctantly did, looking back like a lost child as he went.

The two women still stood across from each other, staring the other down as though squaring off for territory. Until, finally, Raven spoke.

"So I guess those ropes won't tie themselves?"

"Oh honey, you got a lot to learn," Jinx replied tiredly. "Take a seat, Raven."


 

It wasn't a far ride to make the trip over to the meet Wintergreen and his men in the less lavish part of town. Hogan entered the bar with Enigma and Schizo, giving the bartender a nod as he made his way to a table in the far back corner. Schizo sat down at the bar to keep an eye on the door, Enigma followed the older gentleman to the far back table where they both sat across from the grey-haired man.

The man looked up from his fine Bourbon, placing the glass down and greet the two Outlaws. "Aw, Hogan my good man!" Wintergreen said reaching his hand out across the table.

"Wintergreen," Hogan replied accepting the hand shake, "you're just as ugly as I remember," he laughed.

"Not as ugly as you!" the Brit added as Hogan took a seat. "And who is this lovely young lady?"

Enigma smiled uncomfortably as she also took her place next to Hogan. "Enigma," she mumbled, reaching out her hand.

"The pleasure is mine, my dear," he sang in is rich accent. He took a drag off his cigar, savoring the husky smoke before exhaling. "Well I suppose we should get down to business," Wintergreen added as the smoke finally left his lips. He picked up a black bag and placed it on the table. "It's all here, you can count it if you want."

Hogan smiled as the bartender delivered his scotch. "I trust you, but I know the Hood would prefer it be counted."

"Of course," the Brit nodded.

Hogan motioned for Enigma to take the bag and count the money. She got up and reached for aged leather duffle, taking it in her gloved hand. But before she could pull the bag away, she felt a large hand wrap around her thin wrist. She looked up with a cold gleam in her eye to see a coy smile on the Brit's face. He pulled her forward as though trying to get a closer look, causing Hogan to begin to lurch forward. Wintergreen held up his hand, insuring he meant no harm, hardly taking his eyes off girl.

"You have very lovely eyes, my dear. What color would you say they are?"

The copper red-head let a crass smile grow sarcastically over her face. "Green."

She pulled her wrist free, taking the bag with her and headed to the bathroom, leaving the two men to their liquor and cigars.

"Well that little fit's a looker," Wintergreen said taking another puff off his cigar.

Hogan took a quick swig of his scotch and replied, "I wouldn't fall too hard if I were you,

"What, she's not into older men?"

"No," Hogan shrugged, "she's into girls."

Meanwhile as the two men discussed the young woman's romantic preferences and descended into tall tales of lost loves and ex-wives, Enigma entered the ladies room. Upon her entrance, she noticed a young blonde, vainly fixing her makeup in the mirror. The blonde looked over, taking her eyes off her glossed lips to notice the odd girl glaring at her.

"Get out," the mysterious girl said, making the blonde look at her crudely.

"Um…. you don't like… own the bathroom?" the blonds hissed with a pink pout.

Enigma placed the bag down and approached the girl, her stare never leaving the cute blonde. "Like neither do you. Now get like the fuck out."

The blonde put her lip gloss back in her purse with a huff and pushed passed Enigma, slamming her hand against the door with some serious attitude.

"Bitch," the blonde spat stepping out.

"Yeah go blow some frat boy," Enigma drawled with an eye roll and locked the door before the blonde could push it open.

Still, she could hear the girl yell through the door, calling her colorfully rude names as Enigma checked each stall to ensure they were empty. She picked up the bag and placed it on the counter and began counting the money, her new friend still carrying on outside the door for several minutes. Until she heard her scream bloody murder.

"What the fuck?" She squealed, hearing a series of loud gunshots come from the bar.


 

They'd arrived at the location of the shipment, a formidable 18-wheeler waiting patiently at the edge of town. They pulled up in a Ford Expedition, following Jason and the thundering sound of his Harley. Looking on, a young woman with long white hair stood by the truck, guarding the cargo, her face hidden away by a gold and black mask that looked eerily familiar.

"Who's she?" Dick asked as they parked the car.

X silenced the engine and opened the door. "Why don't you come find out, Chuckles?"

A crude look took over Dick's face and he exited the vehicle. Jason dismounted his bike and removed his signature red helmet. He spotted the girl, and shot her a smirk, lighting a cigarette as he causally approached her.

"You're late, Red," she said in a low husky voice, walking to meet him half way.

"Hey, I'm a busy guy, I got a lot of shit to do," Jason replied in a calm, but crass tone.

He flicked the ash off his cigarette and placed it back to his lips where it hung leisurely for a moment.

"Yeah well my time matters too, y'know?" she replied, looking up at him and snatched the cigarette from his mouth. "I don't like waiting on you." She took the foul coffin nail to her lips and inhaled the fine smoke, blowing it back in his face, almost playfully. "Got it?"

"I'll make it up to you, I always do," Jason said, wearing a sly grin as he spoke.

A smoky smile stretched across the girl's face, the light scent of cigarette ash on her breath. "Well feel free to tell that to my dad, sparky. I'm sure he'd love to hear all about it."

Jason laughed as Dick watched from the side of the SUV, a scrutinizing cast on his brow.

"I'll tell your dad anything you want if it makes you happy, princess."

"Well isn't that sweet," she cued patronizingly, walking passed him, taking the cigarette with her.

Jason turned and took her by the arm, bringing her to an abrupt halt. She looked back at him with inquiry just at her lips, but said nothing.

"Hey, we good?" Jason asked, the sound of vulnerability actually present in his words.

"Yeah," she replied softy, though Dick wasn't really sure why, "for now." She smiled smugly and turned to face the rest of the lot, immediately noticing Dick. "Who's the new kid?"

Jason stepped beside her, taking the cigarette from her hand and watched Dick glance away. "A friend, he's helping me out since I'm short on man power. Your dad wouldn't know anything about that, would he?" He took a drag and handed it back to her, not missing a beat.

"Not that I know of, but I'll look into it—you trust this kid?"

"Would he be here if I didn't?"

"I'd prefer not to answer that." She turned and began to walk away. "Your men up to date with the run?"

"Yeah."

"Ok, let's move."

"Will do, just give me sec, 'kay darl'n?"

Dick couldn't help but grimace at that statement and came to an odd conclusion.

Jason approached him and the others and asked X, Mutt and Duala to give them a minute. The three nodded and stepped away, leaving the bothers to talk.

"You good with this?" Jason asked with a nod.

"Yeah," Dick reassured and looked over at the white-haired girl now propped upon her motorcycle. "What's the deal with her?"

Jason glanced back and nodded at her, who coyly smiled back at the sight. "That's Rose, on the street she goes by Ravager."

"She seems interesting."

"Oh you don't even wanna know, Grayson."

"You're totally sleeping with her, aren't you?"

Jason turned his head abruptly as though caught off guard by the statement. "Uh… I don't kiss tell," he replied trying to shrug off the subject.

Dick looked at him crudely, a look Jason recognized from when he was a boy. Dick knew he was full of shit.

"Is it really that obvious?" Jason finally queried.

"Dude, I've seen politicians with more subtlety," Dick replied, arms crossed, "the cigarette's a nice touch by the way, totally gives it away."

"Shit," Jason scoffed. "Maybe I should be less candid."

"Maybe just a skosh. So who's her dad?" Dick finally asked, curious about that portion of the conversation.

Jason rolled his eyes, knowing the look that would soon devour Dick's face at the drop of a name. "Let's just say, you wouldn't approve."


 

Schizo waited by the bar, keeping watch for anything that seemed odd. He looked over to the table where Hogan and Wintergreen still sat, waiting for Enigma to return with the official count. He could hear the door open behind him and began to turn his attention to the entrance.

"Oh shit!" someone yelled as Schizo was now staring down the barrel of a loaded gun.

He reached for his weapon, but the gun fired, the bullet hitting him like fire piercing his shoulder. He fell to the floor as pain crippled him with an abrupt weight, chaos breaking loose around him.

Both Hogan and Wintergreen pulled out their weapons and began to fire as did the bartender, who produced a double-barreled shotgun. The husky man cocked the gun and fired, hitting one of the gunmen in the chest. The other gunman growled in anger and shot twice at the bartender, who quickly ducked behind the bar.

The gunman looked down to find Schizo held up under a stool, holding his bleeding shoulder in pain. The shooter pointed his gun, and readied himself to fire on the young man as though he were putting a dying animal out of its misery. Just as he was about to fire, Enigma flew from around the corner and put two bullets right through the shooters head before he could even fire once at her.

He fell to the floor with a heavy thud, both Hogan and Wintergreen, pulling themselves from the shambles of the floor.

"Pretty and deadly, I think I'm in love," Wintergreen purred through his graveled voice and shaken nerves.

The unruffled red-head turned to him unamused. "Don't fall too hard or I'll have to put you down too." She turned to Hogan, but stopped as he saw Schizo stumble out from under the bar. "Shit."

The bartender finally popped up and the few bar goers slowly came out of hiding.

"I'm fine," Schizo huffed, blood spilling from him like ripe fruit.

"Hogan, we have to get him out of here, now!"

The bartender quickly retrieved a small first aid kit and brought it around the bar. "You all need to get gone, the cops will be here any second."

"Hogan!"

The older man mutter a few curse words and took out his old pre-pay, dialing it within moments. "Hey, X. We've just been hit at Finnegan's—Schizo's shot, it's bad. We have to—X? X what's happening? X!?"

Enigma and Wintergreen both looked at the old man with allure and alarm.

"What?" Enigma finally asked.

"I think we're under attack?"


 

Raven looked back at Jinx a little dumbfounded though it came from a more cynical place. Deep down, she knew Jinx could see right through her facade, but to hear her speak it, was a little unnerving.

"So you do know who I am."

Jinx cracked a coy smile and turned to the bar to catch Clancy's attention. "Hey Clanc, can we please get a couple of drinks? And make it something light, it's gonna be a long night."

Clancy nodded with a light smile. "Two Whiskies in a Bog com'n right up, love."

Jinx uttered a thank you and turned her attention back to Raven, who seemed a little puzzled.

"Are you threatened by that?" Raven asked.

"Not at all," Jinx giggled, "if I was, then we'd be fighting, not sharing a drink." Jinx paused as Clancy placed down two small glasses filled with a translucent red liquid, saying nothing. Jinx took a quick sip of the concoction and gave Clancy an approving nod. "But tell me something," she asked placing down her drink, "what's a girl like you, doing in a city like Gotham?" she took another sip and looked back at Raven contentiously. "Running with wolves and hoods isn't exactly your scene. I mean, I know you have a bit of a reputation for being a bad bitch, but… despite what the Justice League might think, you and I know—you're not really that bad."

Raven looked down at her drink, trying to think of what to say, unsure how much of the truth she could thrust Jinx with. But she was right, Raven really wasn't that bad.

"I'm here because of Dick."

Jinx laughed and sipped her drink again. "No shit. It's clear the way you pine over Bird Boy that you'd follow him out of hell if you had to." She giggled a moment, realizing the birds had actually lived that Greek tragedy. She'd always felt the two were somehow hopelessly bound to each other, through thick and thin, only they didn't know it. "But at the same time, you and I both know you're not just some stupid girl blindly following a man—no questions asked. No, for you, there would have to be something more, there'd have to be a reason to believe in whatever he's doing."

"Then you should know I can't tell you that."

Jinx placed her drink down and leaned forward, taking a piece of Raven's long onyx hair in her fingers. "Listen Rae, I really don't care. But whatever you two are doing, it better not fall back on this team or anyone close to it."

Raven wanted to look away from the young witch, but knew if she did, she would take it as a sign of weakness. And even worse—disrespect.

"What happens if it does?"

Jinx twirled the lock of black hair, binding her fingers within her shadowy roots and pulled it without a second thought. "Anything happens to Jason, or anyone for that matter, I will end you and your little boyfriend too, got it?"

"Got it," Raven said trying hold back her discomfort when Jinx finally released her, "and he's not my boyfriend."

Jinx laughed and picked up her glass. "Whatever you and Bird Boy do on your own time is your business. I'm just here to make sure that business doesn't land on this team."

"Funny, I seem to remember having a similar conversation with you," Raven added, placing her finger on the rim of the glass.

"Yeah, you did. I was actually kinda afraid of you back then."

"But what, now you have the upper hand?"

"No, sweetheart," Jinx coed, "you're just on my side of the tracks now, and that means you need me for this to work."

Just as the words left Jinx's mouth, Enigma came running in from the back, distress on her face. The two women stood as Jinx muttered a faint curse and asked what was wrong.

Enigma gasped for breath as tears ran down her face, smearing her makeup. "Schiz—Schizo's been shot—it's bad!"

"How bad?" Jinx snapped, moving toward the stock area of the bar. "Oh shit." She scoffed, taking in the scene of her teammate bleeding on the floor and fighting for his life. She turned and shouted for Clancy and Trilby, who were already scurrying over. "Hogan, Eddie! Get him upstairs, Enigma get the med bag, Clancy, Trilby—you help prepare the room," Jinx ordered without missing a beat and turned to Raven. "You're a healer, right?"

Raven hesitated a second, trying to find the right words.

"Right?" Jinx hissed.

"Y—yes."

"Good," she replied, her brow creased, "cause you're up, and if you want this to work, then he better not die."


 

The trees went by like ghosts lost within years, as the small caravan charged down the road. Jason led the pack on his Harley, its fierce growl fading into the clear night. The silver-haired Ravager rode at his side, beneath the deep blue painting of night. Behind them was the 18-wheeler, carrying the cargo which they were entrusted with, followed only by the black Ford Expedition.

"You look bored," Red X said, peering over from the driver's seat.

Dick glanced from the road and shook off the stale expression. "Well I was expecting something a little more painstaking."

The thief laughed, a cocky smirk just under his mask. "Yeah protection runs are usually like this, sorry it's not exciting enough for you."

Dick smiled and shrugged. "It's alright, I've had enough excitement over these last few days. I'll take boring."

"Hey man, can I ask you a question?" Mutt mumbled from the back seat.

Dick looked back at him a little shocked by his calm tone. "Sure, I guess?"

Mutt glanced at X and knew the man was giving him a stern look beneath that grim mask, but persisted, "Where'd you learn to fight like that?"

Dick let a little relief fill his face as the question wasn't combative. "I learned from an old friend, mostly. Picked up a thing or two from a few others along the way. Why you wanna know?"

Mutt shrugged and peered away from the hero, who sat in the passenger seat. "Well, JT said you're his brother, and JT's a street kid. It's clear by the way you fight you're no street kid."

Dick looked over at X not really sure what to say, so he just went with the truth (or as much truth as he could spare). "Jason wasn't always a street kid, there was a time when he had people who cared about him—still do."

"Then why he act like no one gives a shit?"

"Cause Jason was a street kid, and once the world's chewed you up like that, it's hard to see the good in it. You're always afraid you'll end up alone—you always feel alone."

"You sound like you know, man," Mutt said as his brown eyes softened on his peculiar young face.

Dick noticed X looked over at him again, and could feel that he too, could identify with his words. But before Dick could answer, X's burner rang and he quickly answered it.

"Hey…" A few moments went by as Dick and Mutt remained quiet, Dick beginning to look out the window. "Shit—are we whole?...Is he okay?"

Dick could tell by his panicked tone, that the one sided conversation was headed in an ominous direction. But before he could turn his attention to the concerns X voiced, he noticed something in the rear view mirror. Headlights beginning to grow closer to them, picking up speed by the second. Dick turned his head, signaling Mutt to check behind him as well. X too, peered through the rearview as he listened to Hogan's harrowing tale, but as soon as all three took their eyes off the road ahead of them, Dick noticed something dart out in front of the car.

"X!"

X looked forward, and to his alarm, found a young woman trying frantically to flag them down in the road. "Shit!"

The thief quickly slammed on the brakes, turning the wheel hard to avoid hitting the girl, white in the headlight. The vehicle veered to the right, the screech of the tires, crying as they just missed the young woman.

"Fuck," X scoffed catching his breath. He looked back to see that Mutt had hit his head on the window and was nodding out of conciseness. "Shit! Dick I need you to go check on the girl, bring the gun Jason gave you—I have a bad feeling."

By now the girl was on her knees, crying, clearly in shock.

Dick nodded as X began looking for his pre-pay which had fallen to the floor during the near collision.

Dick took the ghost gun Jason had given him out of the glove box and pushed it in the back of his waist-band. He pulled up his hood, trying to keep his face hidden, though he wondered if the sight of him in all black would alarm the young woman.

He opened the door and stepped out, calling out to the girl, "Hey, you okay?"

She didn't say anything, just kept sobbing with her head draped pitifully to the ground, her arms like pillars, moments away from crumbling.

Dick began to approach her and looked back at X, who was now digging around for Mutt's burner. Dick finally reached the young woman, her long, dark hair keeping her ghostly face covered. But before he could kneel down to comfort her, or ask her what she was doing out on that stretch of nowhere, he heard the rough rev of multiple motorcycle engines and the loud sound of a collision just behind him.

He turned to find that Expedition had been rear ended with both Mutt and X inside while two short bikes sped by, firing a few rounds in his direction, he leapt backward and covered the girl, trying to shield her from the spray of bullets as they sped by. The two fell to the pavement, the flying metal miraculously missing them. Dick looked up to see the short bikes slip away into the darkness, obviously going after Jason and the shipment. However, just as Dick tried to pull himself up, he felt something press against his chest.

"Shit."

"Get up," the girl demanded as he looked down to find her face cold and stone-like, "I said get up, pretty boy!" she growled again, pushing the gun deeper into his chest.

"Okay, no need to get all trigger happy, sweetheart," Dick said a little sarcastically, "I'm getting up."

"Well get up faster, and put your hands where I can see them," she demanded through her teeth, the gun still on him, "and DON'T call me sweetheart. Got it?"

"Yeah, got it," Dick said in a numb tone.

"Turn around, and put your hands behind your head."

"Anything you say, princess," Dick replied, turning away from her, more sarcasm rolling off his tongue.

"I said don't call me that!"

"You said not to call you sweetheart, you didn't say princess was off the table. You're gonna have to be more specific," Dick shrugged, patronizing the girl, hoping this trigger could be used to rouse her weak points.

"Shut up! Or I'm gonna blow your fucking head off!"

Dick smirked a bit wickedly, and just said the first dirty thing at the tip of his tongue, "What's that about blowing me?"

He knew he was going to hell for that one, but felt due to his current situation, that it was warranted. He could also see that this show of marginalized sexism was clearly a thorn digging into the girl's side, so—why not be a total dick?

He could practically hear the young gunman (woman) growling at him, her disdain for him biting at the trigger, but she just couldn't quite bring herself to pull it. But still, with the gun to his head, Dick helplessly watching as two large men with automatic hand guns, hurried their way to the SUV to retrieve X and Mutt at gun point. The woman, however, had finally taken the bait Dick had set out for her and pulled the trigger of his gun.

*Snap

"What?" she questioned, realizing the gun was empty.

And before she could react, Dick grabbed her wrist with one hand, and, with his other, gripped the back of her head and slammed it onto the hood of the Expedition.

"Night, princess," he muttered (much like a dick) and quickly pulled a full clip out of his coat, slipping it into the mock 45 with such speed, the two men couldn't even set eyes on him.

"Don't move shitheads," Dick demanded, "This gun wasn't loaded a second ago, but I promise you, it is very loaded now."

The two paused a moment a little scared after witnessing how fast this young man's reflexes were, and just as they were about to act, they heard a mechanical voice.

"You better listen to him, assholes," X said, holding a gun to one of tallest man's head.

"Yeah man," Mutt added, now armed with an M16 and leaning out the back window.

Dick smiled smugly, like he'd just won some meaningless prize. "Drop the guns boys, your little stunt's over."


 

Up ahead, Jason and Duela were holding off their own battle as the short bikes had caught up them. Jason and Rose fired a few rounds at both bikes as they began to gain on them, dodging the bullets with plenty of ease. Rose noticed one of the bikes falling back a bit, and that it held a passenger aboard.

"Shit," she scoffed to herself, and tried to signal Jason, who was occupied with the bike coming up behind him.

Meanwhile, Duela was ready to guard the driver with her life while also keeping an eye on both Rose and Jason. Rose signaled for her to keep Jason covered as she pulled back, knowing she'd have to do some serious damage control. Jason noticed her falling behind, but knew she probably had a good reason for doing so. However, before he knew it, the short bike was at his side.

The rider held out his gun to fire at him, but Jason quickly slammed on his brakes coming to a near halt, leaving the around to fly into nothing. The gunman turned to find Jason firing more rounds at him when his gun jammed.

"Oh that's a bitch," Jason huffed, turning the throttle and taking off to avoid the hit he was about to take.

The other short bike was now out of view behind the 18-wheeler, so close, it was practically kissing the tail-gate. The passenger stood up and took a moment to balance before shooting a hook-line into the back of the truck and riding the line so that they were now hanging off the trailer. The rider climbed up the sturdy cable, pulling their way to the top. Once there, this unwanted guest looked around and took out a device, then started programing it. That is, until they heard a voice call from over their shoulder.

"Hey shithead, I don't do hitchhikers." Rose said, standing on the trailer, her helmet off, gripped it firmly in her hand.

The Rider turned, saying nothing and fired, just as Rose pulled out a menacing sword from the sheath on her back. With sharp precision, she guided the weapon, as though it were only an extension of her body, and deflected the bullets with cat-like reflexes. Using these sleek reflexes, Rose hurled her helmet at the mysterious rider, knocking the gun from her hand and charged her. The two collided, the rider catching the blade of the sword in her hand, and before Rose's very eyes, the blade turned to water from the very touch.

"Oh fuck?" Rose scoffed with humility, but jammed her lonely hilt into the rider's ribs. "Luckily, I can still cut you in half with my bear hands—Shimmer."

The woman chuckled and pulled off her helmet, revealing her shit eating grin. "Not before I cut you first—bitch."

The loathing between them caught fire and the two began their assault in hand to hand combat. All while Jason and Duela fought to keep the other short bike at bay.

Duela fired a few rounds at the rider's back tire, but couldn't quite catch the edge of the rubber. By now, both Jason and the unknown assailant had resorted to using knives, trying to cut each other to bits as they'd both run out of bullets. Jason caught a slice on his shoulder as he tried to bury his blade into the bike's rear tire. However, this crude form of hand to hand was getting Jason nowhere, and if he was going to get out of this assault alive, then he'd have to channel his inner Bruce.

An idea, potentially fruitful, bloomed in Jason's mind. Determined, he hit the throttle hard, taking off in front of the short bike. He could hear the motor of the bike rev for more acceleration, and he smiled beneath his helmet. Duela looked on as her leader took off on his Harley, wondering why he was trying to out run the faster bike, but realized, this, wasn't about speed.

The two bikes speed around the corner, the short bike now neck even with him. Jason took this corner exceptionally tight, forcing him to slow down to little more than a halt. The rider turned to look back at him a moment, confused as to why he'd stopped, but before he could slow down.

*Crash.

The bike slammed into a colossal pothole gauged into the road, causing the rider to lose control over the motorcycle, the force of the bike propelling it forward. The rider and bike came crashing down to the road below, his body grinding into the coarse pavement.

"Oh, that's gotta hurt," Jason grimaced, wincing at the sight of the accident.

He pulled himself from his momentary stupor, and turned his Harley around, punching it in hopes of making it back to aid Rose and Duela. However, unbeknownst to him, Rose had everything under control. Or at least as under control as this situation could warrant.

Rose took a nice hit to the jaw and nearly took another, but caught Shimmer's fist and plunged her knee into her gut, then hit her in the back of the neck. Shimmer fell to the steel below her, the water under her hands still somewhat there. She took a deep breath and concentrated, managing to conjure enough strength to turn the substance into glass. She took her newly formed shard in her gloved hand and jammed its sharp edge into Rose's thigh. The girl cried out, letting Shimmer's arm go and fell back.

Shimmer stood up, getting ready to bring the fires of hell upon her young advisory. Rose had to act quick reached for a small knife she kept at her side. But apparently, Rose wouldn't need to apply that much effort.

The trucked turned the corner, the driver and Duela taking in the sight of the motor cycle accident before them. The driver slammed on the brakes, throwing off Shimmer's balance, giving Rose enough time to plunge the small knife into her side. The meta-human fell from the truck and crashed to the pavement, her body rolling away lifeless and limp as her flesh was torn up by the road.

The truck came to a jolted and stressful stop, just missing the wreck in the other lane. Jason quickly ran to the cab, but noticed that Rose was nowhere to be found, and feared the worse.

"Duela where's Rose!?"

"Up here!" Rose called in an exhausted voice.

Jason could see her peaking up from the top of the trailer and sprinted over to meet her, "Shit, I thought—"

"Oh please. It's gonna take a lot more than a bitch like Shimmer to take me out," Rose sighed, brushing off the scuffle as if it were nothing.

Jason smiled at the crass nature of her statement and aided her as she climbed off the trailer. "Jesus Christ," he muttered, "you're bleeding."

"Yeah, it comes with the territory. I'll be fine though. Stupid bitch couldn't hit an artery if it were an unattended 711."

"I think she's gonna live, Boss," Duela sang as Jason's phone rang.

"Shit, Grayson where are you three?"

"We got hit. I'm assuming you did too?" Dick replied looking down at the two wrangled gunman and unconscious woman.

"Yeah, you guys whole?"

Dick looked back at X and Mutt as they finished wrapping duct tape around the second man's extremities.

"Mostly, I think Mutt may have lost a few brain cells, but I have a feeling he won't miss them."

"That's probably true," Jason laughed lightly. "Wait there, I'll be there in a minute—figure this shit out."

"Got it." Dick closed the phone and turned to relay the message.

"Red Hood's on his way."

"Damn, Chuckles. You really K. this bitch," X said, getting ready to bind her limbs tighter. "And here I thought you didn't hit girls."

"Yeah well when the girl is about to pump a round of lead into my skull, I'm not so chivalrous."

X laughed, "Same here. Now, help me get her taped up—wow that sounded bad, didn't it?"

"A little," Dick droned, hearing the sound of a motorcycle engine coming from around the corner.

"Wow JT's already here," Mutt mused and looked out to the road.

Dick looked over and noticed the shape of the headlight and said with urgency, "That's not the sound of a Harley."

X's peered up at him and with worry in his voice said, "Shit, it's not."

Gunfire once again filled the night, silencing the crickets, the second short bike barreling full speed down the road.

"Get down," X ordered as the three scurried behind the car for cover.

X and Mutt began shooting at the gunman, Dick still too hesitant to pull the leery trigger. The gunman however, was not so modest, and shot one of the bound men.

"Shit! He's not here of us, he's here to make sure no one rats," Dick observed. "We have to stop him!"

X fired off a few rounds, watching the rider disappear into the wood line for cover, "He's not leaving till he's dead!"

The gunfire ceased a moment, the three looking to each other, waiting for X's lead, when they heard Jason's bike roaring off in the distance.

Dick shot up trying to warn Jason of the danger, but gunfire still ranged free. Jason stopped and began firing his own, now replenished, weapon in the direction of the wood-line. Meanwhile Dick took the opportunity to try and retrieve the second bound gunman before he could be picked off himself. As the hero was doing so, he heard Jason grunt as he caught the edge of a bullet in his upper arm.

"Jason!" Dick called and turned from his target.

Jason looked over at Dick when he heard more gunfire, however this came from directly behind the oblivious hero, approximately five shots. Dick grunted in agony as each round found its way to his back, leaving him to fall to the ground in writhing pain.

"Shit!" Jason cried.

In shock he discovered where the fire had come from and saw her, the girl Dick had previously knocked unconscious. She took off for the tree like a bat out of hell, shooting the last gunman as she hustled away, disappearing into the woods.

Both Jason and X ran for Dick, who still lay on the ground unmoved for a moment, Jason shooting into the tree line as X pulled Dick behind the SUV.

"Jesus Christ, Chuckles—you okay?"

"Dick let out a rough groan and nodded. "Yeah—I'm good… sorta." He tried straightening his back as Jason met them behind the Expedition. "The vest took most of it." Dick finally said catching his breath. "Still fucking hurts though."

"Jesus, Grayson." Jason sighed looking down at him.

The hum of the short bike revved up once more and the bike shot out from the dirt path, the girl now on the back of it. Jason and X fired at the two, but couldn't get a clear enough shot and the two flew quickly down the road.

"Should we go after them?" Mutt asked, practically ready to run down the lamp-less road.

Jason took off his helmet and ran his fingers through thick black hair. "No, we're not gonna catch them. Plus, we got four dead bodies currently acting as speed bumps."

"We should probably take care of that." X added, carelessly with a nod.

"Four?" Dick huffed, pulling himself up straight, his face wincing from the pain.

"You're lucky it wasn't five, Grayson," Jason spat, and lit a cigarette. "So what the hell happened?"

X pulled off his mask and ran his weary hand down face, letting his fingers contour his mouth with a long look. "I got a call from Hogan—they got ambushed; Schizo was hurt—bad."

Jason's face sunk with shock. "He gonna be okay?"

"I don't know man. I didn't get that far. We got hit halfway through the call."

"Shit!" Jason pulled out his phone, dialing a number off the top of his head.

The four men sat beneath the heavy cover of night, bleeding, tired, and vulnerable, something none of them were fond of showing. Dick wasn't quite sure what to feel, his heart caught somewhere between regret and validity. He pondered about how something so simple could cause the death of so many people, and that he (of all people) would take part in it. Still, there was a part of him that justified the ordeal as something of a necessary evil, and that without it, he couldn't achieve the prerogative he'd set out to. He just hoped when he achieved it, that he could see it truly as necessary.


 

Jinx was scrambling to gather all the medical supplies the bar had on hand, grabbing everything from gloves to pain killers. With haste, she brought the supplies up to the room where Schizo lay bleeding and set the bag next to Raven. She took a pair of gloves in her hands and pulled them on, telling Jinx to do the same. Just as this was happening, Clancy entered the room with more medical supplies and a bottle of whisky.

"These are for you," she said colorfully, "and this is for you, darl'n—drink up," Clancy added, putting the bottle to Schizo's lips, making him take a generous swig. Once he was done, the Irish girl took the bottle from the skinhead and held it out to Raven, who was filling a syringe with a local anesthetic. "You need a swig too, sweetheart?"

"I'm good," Raven said dryly, "but feel free to save me a few shots for later."

"Why? What happens later?" Schizo asked, taking the bottle from Clancy and practically poured it down his throat."

"Well, I'm gonna need to get drunk later—that's what's gonna happen." Raven leaned over and pointed the syringe near the bullet wound and noticed the skinhead get squeamish. "What's wrong?"

The skinhead looked up at her and grimaced, "I just really hate needles."

Raven laughed and looked at Jinx, who was also finding it hard to keep down her giggles.

"Seriously? You just got shot and there's a 40% chance you're gonna die tonight, but you're ready to piss yourself over a little needle?"

"Hey it's a real thing!" the skinhead defended, ego bruised.

"I'm sure it is."

Raven plunged the syringe into Schizo's wounded flesh, a small yelp escaping his throat. Just as this was taking place, a small beeping could be heard. Jinx reached into her pocket and pulled out a Hello Kitty pre-pay and flipped it open.

"Hey."

"Hey Jinx, what's the status?"

"Well, Schizo is more afraid of needles then he is of dying," Jinx replied, eyes rolling.

Jason smiled weakly at her tone. "Sounds like him… he gonna make it?"

She glanced back at the dark sorceress who peered up slightly. "Raven's on it, he'll be fine. What's the damage on your end?"

"We're whole," Jason grimaced, looking back at everyone, "but we have some collateral damage to take care of."

"Does that collateral damage involve corps disposal?"

"Yeah… and we're gonna need a mechanic."

"I'll call Wally," Jinx sighed, she hated bringing him into these matters.

"That would be great, tell him we need a tow. Oh—and Jinx?" Jason added before he hung up. "Tell Raven I said thanks."

"I will, keep me posted."

"Okay, you do the same."

She closed the phone and slipped it back in her pocket. Raven peered in her direction, a quizzical look on her face. Jinx caught the slight look of alarm and quickly tried to place it to bed.

"He's fine, Raven." Jinx pursed her lips and pulled a second phone, placing it to her ear.

It rang twice, then a cheery voice picked up. "Hey babe, how's it shaking?"

Jinx couldn't help but smile at the tone, his quirky words somehow appealing to her. "It's um… interesting," she sighed, trying to keep her voice calm. "I kinda need a favor."

"If it involves seeing you naked, I'm in!"

She laughed and shook her tired head. "Not that kinda of favor, Wally."

"Then what kind we talking?"

Jinx glanced back at Raven and turned toward the doorway to exit. "The kind I can't tell you a lot about, but I need you regardless." She closed the door behind her and slid down the wall her legs nearly too heavy to carry her.

"So the kind that involves work?"

"Yeah."

"I thought we didn't talk about work," Wally mused from his end.

Jinx glanced down, letting her finger's wrap themselves in the small tear of her fishnets. "I know, but it's really important. Plus you get to see your old buddy, Nightwing, if it's any consolation."

"What does Dick have to do with this? Are you cheating on me with another cape," Wally Joked grabbing his coat.

"It's a long story, but he and your old girlfriend are in town."

"Girlfriend?" Wally paused as he reached the hallway outside their apartment.

"Raven." Jinx rolled her eyes as the name slipped off her tongue with playful disdain.

"Oh Raven!" Wally chuckled fondly. "She was never my girlfriend, we just—"

"Yeah, Wally—I know. You don't have to mention it, again."

"Hey, you're the one hanging around frigg'n Nightwing. If anyone should be shitting their pants, it's me."

"Oh please, I want none of that train wreck, plus devastatingly attractive men with daddy issues aren't really my thing."

"No, you like goofy gingers with Attention Deficit Disorder."

"What can I say, I'm a girl with refined taste."

They two shared a small chuckle, forgetting the ambiguity at hand.

"So what's this favor you need," Wally asked pulling himself into the cab of his beat up Jeep Comanche.

Jinx glanced up from her stockings, her fingers becoming entwined. "Soooo the guys were doing a job and they umm… hit a deer… they need a tow."

"A deer—got it."

"And Wally…"

"Yeah Babe?"

"I'm really sorry."

Wally looked down a moment and his tone soften. "It's Okay Jinx… I know this isn't forever."

She paused a minute, saying nothing.

"Well," Wally said, finally filling the void, "I'm gonna go pick up the trailer, where am I supposed to go pick the guys up?"

"They're on 513 going toward Blüdhaven, I'll let him know you're on your way."

"Okay Babe, love you."

"I love you too."

She hung up the phone and sat on the floor, a deep breath falling from her thin lips. She pulled her fingers under her eyes, smearing her running eyeliner, leaving her with a look that reminded one of a pretty raccoon. She pulled herself to her feet once again, it was just another day in her line of work and she was no stranger to dire situations, and this one, was no different—or was it?

Chapter Text

 "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." -William Shakespeare

The four young men (and Duela) waited on the side of the road after somehow guiding the demolished Ford off the lonely stretch of pavement. Jason had patched up Rose's leg wound before she recruited the truck driver to help her dispose of the "collateral damage."

However, the scruffy man protested, stating that corpse disposal was not a part of the deal.

"Really," the white haired girl spat as she limped, "you're being paid a generous mortgage payment to smuggle cocaine across state lines, but you're above driving a couple dead bodies to the edge of a river bank?"

The man only looked toward Jason, who couldn't help but chuckle behind his red helmet. "Girl's got a point. You're not exactly the picture of morality, man."

"Not to mention, a cop could come along at any given moment, and you standing here, talking to us, makes you an Accomplice to Murder," X added ambiguously.

"And currently, you're Aiding & Abetting," Rose said dryly, plucking a cigarette out of Jason's hand. "So if you don't want any of that to blow back on you—not to mention the wrath of my father - you'll open up that Goddamn trailer and help us make these bodies disappear. Got it?"

And that's when the driver submitted to Rose's quest.

"God, she loves playing that Daddy Card," Jason said, recalling the earlier argument.

"Ah," Dick mused, "your girl has an Ophelia Complex too?"

Jason laughed a little and scratch his chin with his thumb nail. "Yeah, that's actually quite accurate. Aren't you clever…"

Dick shook his head modestly and took notice of the lustrous moon again. "No, Raven's the clever one."

"Hmm, she also has serious a case of the Daddy Issues, as I understand?"

"Her Daddy Issues are epic," Dick laughed, but awkwardly tried to cease the humor.

"She sounds complicated."

"She is, complexity is kinda her virtue, but her complications make her stronger," Dick concluded, knowing Raven would kill him for even breathing a word of her convolutions.

Jason's face grew flat, and stern, recalling Raven's earlier battle. "I don't doubt that girl doesn't need her dad to take care of her shit."

"God, no," Dick sighed. "She doesn't need any man to take care of her shit." He chuckled as he stared down the road. "What about Rose, she looks like she can handle herself?"

Jason took another long drag and exhaled roughly. "She's plenty capable, but her dad is the devil on her shoulder, if you know what I mean?"

Dick looked down, understanding the feeling for more reason than one. "I can see that."

"I think any son of Bruce Wayne can." Jason noticed headlights shining as they broke in the horizon and threw his cigarette in the dirt. "I think our tow's here."

The lights grew with more intensity as they drove down the blackened pavement, their glare offering a strange salvation as the shadow of a large ramp truck took shape in the distance. Within moments the strong smell of freshly burnt diesel filled the night air, its heavy engine growling as it drank.

"You girls look like you need a ride," said a charming, yet goofy red-head Dick immediately recognized.

"Wally?"

"Hey, Dick! So you really are working for Jason—huh? And here I thought Jinx was just making shit up again."

An odd look fell over the hero's face at the sight of his old friend, Wally West, as he leaned out the driver's side window carelessly.

"So Jinx said something about you guys hitting a deer?"

"Yeah," Jason shrugged as though it were the truth.

Wally nodded and jumped out of the rather high cab and down to dirt below. He chuckled a little as he looked over at Dick again and shook his head with a wondrous expression.

"What?" Dick muttered as he and Wally followed Jason over to the pitifully looking SUV.

"Noth'n, just never thought I'd see the day, is all."

Wally had a familiar shit-eating grin on his face that he wore often, always expressing a childish humor and amusement. Fine wrinkles would always form in the outer corners of his green eyes as they lit up with curiosity, and his mouth would smile mischievously like an adolescent's.

However, before Dick could defend his situation to his old friend, and beg him to keep his smiling mouth shut, Wally's shit-eating grin fell to a gasp.

"What the fuck?" he uttered in shock. "That must have been a really—big—deer?"

The four young men all grimaced awkwardly at Wally's animated reaction.

"Well, it was more like a couple of deer," X corrected, his voice vague and diluted.

Dick just rolled his eyes as Wally began to look over the damage with a crass expression.

"These deer wouldn't happen to have been touting 9mils, would they?"

"They may have had Glocks," Jason shrugged as though it were mundane. "It's possible the deer were also Italian, maybe Russian."

"Well I guess you can't trust those damn deer then?"

Jason laughed at Wally's quick wit. It seemed that even when ignoring basic facts of the law, Wally could still crack a smile.

"So Wal, what we looking at in damages?"

"Well," the speedster began with a questionable look, "as you can obviously see, you need a new windshield. Y'know since you won't spring for deer-proof glass."

"Hey, I'm not fucking Batman, I'm on a budget."

"Yeah you'll drop 30 grand on guns, but won't fork over the cash for the lifesaving glass, you cheap son of a—"

"Hey Wally, less overanalyzing my finances, more figuring out how to fix the damn car," Jason drawled and pointed to the shot up Ford.

"Whatever, just try'n to save you some money, but no, blame the mechanic—"

"Wally!" Both Dick and Jason yelled in unison.

"Okay!" Wally spat, putting his hands up sarcastically. "As I was saying, before being so rudely interrupted, just the glass and the tires are gonna bring you far over a grand. You'll definitely need a new radiator and a lot of body work, so you're looking at like 18—1900—plus new windows, new paint, and mirrors… I guess what I'm trying to say is—she's completely shot to hell… pun intended."

"I can see that?" Jason drawled condescendingly. "Thank you so much for pointing that out."

"Honestly, with all the work you're gonna have to put into it—this shit-box his probably worth more in scrap metal."

"Shit," Jason mumbled, "what are our options?"

"Well, I can see what I can do with the paper work, deer are known for totaling cars. But that would be—"

"Insurance fraud?" Dick interrupted, finishing Wally's thought.

"Yeah… that's exactly what I was gonna say. Thanks Dick, you're a pal," Wally patronized with a sly smile.

"So what's the second option," X asked tiredly.

"Well, there's a place over in Blüdhaven that specializes in car parts. They'll take anything—" Wally said and looked back at the current condition of the car, "—no questions asked."

"Yeah that's probably the best course of action, but how about you take a better look at it tomorrow and we'll make our decision then?"

"Sounds like a plan," Wally replied and shook Jason's hand. "Now let's get this heap on the ramp before the cops show up. Something tells me they aren't gonna buy that you hit a deer."


 

She stumbled into the room, not even stopping to hold the door open for the young man behind her as she entered their dark apartment. He flicked on the light, looking at his fiancé questionably as she pulled a duffle out from beneath their bed. She quickly began moving through the small apartment, grabbing clothing and pictures at frantic will.

"Babe, what are you doing?" he asked, finally.

"Packing—what's it look like?" She pulled open a vent, and began removing a few stacks of cash from its depths, throwing it inside the bag. "We're not sticking around to see what Santo's gonna do."

He closed the door and sauntered to their bed, falling to it wearily. "Helena, stop. Running's just gonna make shit worse… you know that."

She turned to him as he sat there, silently pleading with her to take a breath. She was so cynical. Nearly so much so that she left little room for hope sometimes. He often wondered how she wasn't a nihilist.

"Well what are we supposed to do then? Tell Santo that we got our shit wrecked?" She spat with a frown.

"So we fucked up, it happens."

"No Michael, you fucked up," the Sicilian girl corrected. "I just helped convince that son of a bitch that you wouldn't. Now we're both as good as dead!"

She gripped that bag, its mouth agape as if crying to be fed.

He looked back at her and frowned. "Your dad's not gonna clip his own kid."

"Shows how much you know." She threw the bag at the young man and stormed into the kitchen to pour herself a drink. She slammed down a wine glass, its delicate cling echoing brightly as she popped open a cheap merlot. "Plus I've only really been his daughter a few years now, it's not like the man raised me... I mean he can hardly look at me."

"I know, but that doesn't mean he's not gonna hear us out."

She took a sip of her wine, its taste thin and weakened, reminding her of a time in her life when the wine was much richer. "I wish my uncle were here. God, I miss him."

Michael got up, leaving the bag on the bed and approached his fiancé at the counter. "Listen babe, I know this didn't go down the way we hoped, but your dad's gotta understand that we're not the big guys anymore, and it might take a few hits before we sink the giant."

"And what if he doesn't understand? What if he thinks we could'a done better?"

"Well we didn't—I'll own that."

"Owning it could get you killed," she frowned.

"It won't."

She placed her lips to the glass and swore in Italian. This made him laugh a little, it always did. He always wondered how she could get so much satisfaction out of such lyrical and delicate obscenities. He'd always felt that Italian was far too romantic a language to harbor profanity. That's what English was for.

"Well fuck is right, but we'll get through this, we always do."

She turned to him, holding her wine at her clavicle. "Can't we just leave, run off somewhere, and get married?"

He smiled at her, the romantic notion tempting. "Then Santo would really cut off my fuck'n balls."

Her eyes fell from him and toward the five dollar wine, cradled in a stolen Olive Garden glass. The mighty really had fallen.

"We'll get married soon, I promise," he reassured, lifting her chin. "But I can't do that till I can take care of you."

"I don't need you to take care of me, Mikey."

"Seriously? Look around you, this apartment is in the shitteist part of town, we live hand to mouth and your drinking boxed wine out of a 2-dollar glass we stole from fuck'n Olive Garden! You grew up in a powerful family, in a beautiful home. A woman like you should be treated like a damn princess, not forced to sip tasteless wine in shithole like this."

He turned around and sat himself at the table, looking down at the scratched surface while the florescent light flicked to remind him of his place. Helena placed down her glass, looking over at her lover, his wounded pride gaping before her. It reminded her of her uncle Franco, who'd raised her. He'd always put his family first, every move, every decision, revolved around his children and wife. He'd die before he lost his ability to put food on the table, and in the end, that was what happened.

She placed a hand on his shoulder, his face buried in his hands. He was worried, she knew he was, but for her, he'd wear that straight face and tell her it was alright, even if it wasn't. And she loved him for that.

"Mikey, it's gonna be okay, we'll figure it out," she cooed, placing herself in his lap.

"I just wanna give you the world, I want you to be proud of me."

"I am, Mikey," she smiled weakly, "I wouldn't be here if I weren't."

She rested her forehead on his, the two sharing a tired smile. Neither one of them may have had all the answers, but that didn't matter in that moment. They had each other and that was what would get them through the night… and maybe tomorrow.


 

After about 15 minutes of Wally's antics, and a—large—team effort, the group was able to get the SUV on the ramp and securely tie it down, along with the 80's style Crown Vic they'd been hit by. Wally, knowing that the vehicles would raise some rather unwanted questions, made sure to cover them, and was now double checking the restraints. As he was doing so, Dick approached him, a burning question on the scorching tip of his tongue. However, before he could even breathe a word of this inquiry, Wally spoke for him.

"Hey Wally, what are you doing here?"

Dick paused, his mouth still open as he hadn't even finished inhaling. "Wait—what?"

"That's exactly what you were about to say, right?"

Wally glanced over to the hero, whose face fell awkwardly at the statement. "So I'm that predictable, huh?"

Wally smirked and gave his friend a weary shrug. "No, I was just gonna ask you the same thing. Though I think I have an idea of the kinda of answer I'm about to get."

"So I am that predictable." Dick leaned back on the ramp and freed a tired breath from his lungs, his shoulders falling from the weight.

"Honestly, I thought you were very predictable, "Wally began, "but in truth, I would have never believed this if I hadn't seen for myself." Wally took a seat across from Dick on a nearby rock and crossed his arms. "Barry told me what happened with the League. I'm sorry they did that to you. And, I'm sorry you had to go through that with Rancid."

Dick looked off and stiffened his jaw bitterly as though he could actually taste Wally's sincerity. The moon still hung above, though now she had lowered, moving closer to the threatening hour of dawn, forfeiting her watch. Wally really did understand the weight of the world and the part that everyone played in it, it was why he gave up being a hero.

"So why'd Barry tell you?" Dick finally asked through his indignity.

"Because I think he thought it would give me a reason to put on my colors and start running again. But honestly, it just made me wanna run further away."

Dick shook his head in both humor and irony. "Sometimes I wonder if that's what I do best."

He sighed as the red-head shrugged carelessly in his dirty mechanic's uniform.

"You and me both. I'm just not ready to give up my life and walk away from everything that's important to me—not anymore."

"Is that why you're here?"

Wally smiled and bit his upper lip a moment as though he were actually biting into the irony itself. "Yes and no. I'm not here to piss off the League. I'm just here because Jinx asked me to be."

"So you are still with her…"

"Yeah," Wally replied a little defensively, "I mean… she may not be on the straight and narrow, but she's not the horrible person people make her out to be—"

"I get it. You love her," Dick said, recalling a time when Wally had made it his mission to convert Jinx to the side of good. However, that conversion was very brief, and it crushed Wally to lose her. But that still wasn't the end of their little love affair. Wally could only keep free of that girl for so long—she was his curse. "You could never shake that girl."

"I never wanted to," Wally laughed bitterly. "I know everyone looks at her as the girl that took me away from my obligations, but what it really came down to was living in a world with her, versus, living in a world she could never be a part of. And to be honest, I never wanted to be a part of our world. I just wanted to be a normal guy, live a normal life, and dream of a bigger one. But I got my bigger dream and I grew to resent it. Jinx was my way out."

Dick looked down. He remembered how hard it was for Wally to even be with Jinx (even when she was briefly a Titan). No one trusted her, especially not the League. Jinx reminded him a lot of how Raven used to be, always alone, feeling lost and out of place, always trying to prove she wasn't that bad.

Dick was one of those people who questioned her, but not because he was trying to prove her intentions were cruel, but because he wanted to protect his friends—his family. He wanted to protect Wally. But in the end, it seemed the only thing Wally needed protection from, was the world he'd grown to resent.

The League gave Wally a choice; he could either stay clear of Jinx, or he could give up his mantle. I think we all know by now what life Wally chose.

"I guess the League couldn't look passed their ideology to see that."

"See what?" Wally asked looking up at the other ex-Titan.

"That all you needed was an excuse."

"I didn't need an excuse, Dick," Wally corrected. "I needed to see that it just wasn't right for me anymore. I needed to know who I was outside of Kid Flash and outside the League and the legend I was overshadowed by. I wasn't sure if that was really who I wanted to become."

"I know that now."

Dick glanced over at Wally, a look of familiar dejection upon his weathered front. One that only Wally and a few others could recognize. It was a look he'd seen upon his own face as it reflected back on him with scorn and rejection. For a time, Wally thought of it as not being good enough or not making the cut, but in time, he began to see it for what it was—truth.

"At least they gave you a choice," Dick added and glanced at the sky again.

"Hmm," Wally huffed with aversion, "they didn't give me a choice, they acted like they did."

Dick smiled with bitterness as the thought came to full fruition. The League didn't give choices, they gave ultimatums that had hard consequences if they were not met. For Dick, it was unforeseen punishment, and for Wally it was exile. Only in Wally's case, that was what he really wanted, and in the end, the League over played their hand and actually lost.

Part of Dick wished he could have played his hand better, that he too could have made them regret putting him in such a quandary. But as far as he saw it, the only hand they gave him would have buried him. And in the end, he'd be the one with no real card to play. He'd just be the fool.

Just then, Jason came around the corner, followed by X, Duala, and Mutt, who still touted his not so loaded M16.

"Ready to head back?"

The two ex-Titans looked back at Jason and nodded, Wally stepping forward to head to the truck. Dick followed, but was stopped by Jason before he could reach the truck bed.

"You good?" Jason asked, noticing the hero was still aching from the gunfire he'd taken.

Dick glanced away, unsure of what to really say. He wasn't good with anything he'd been doing lately, but in truth, tonight was just another indiscretion among many. What could he say to that?

"I don't know."

Jason crossed his arms, his expression not surprised, but he clearly wanted something less ambiguous.

"I get that, this is the deep end for you, but it's part of the territory, Grayson. If you stay, you're gonna have to learn to get right with it."

"I know," Dick grimaced, his words painful and empty, "but getting right with it is gonna take time."

"In this world, time is something you may not have a lot of. You may want to think about that next time you're faced with pulling the trigger."

"Yeah, cause God knows I don't have enough to keep me awake at night."


 

Raven had just finished pulling the slug out of Schizo's shoulder and was getting ready to heal his gaping wound. Clancy had left the room as Jinx had directed, leaving her and Raven alone. The sorceress removed her stained gloves, slick with blood, and cast them aside. She allowed her thin fingers to softly gliding over the bloody flesh, her hands igniting with an energy of pitch-black.

Jinx noticed her hands trembled slightly as they reached out to touch Schizo's gored shoulder. "Something wrong?"

Raven peered up at the pink-haired girl, her cat-like eyes nearly driving their way into her Raven's soul. She always hated that. "No."

"You just seem a little hesitant, is all?" Jinx replied, pink eyes still locked in stare.

Raven placed her hand on the skin-head's shoulder and glanced down. "Yeah well, this kind of magic isn't exactly… impersonal."

"You can feel the pain?"

"Yeah," Raven mumbled as her eyes fluttered down, "both physical and emotional. That's my gift."

"That sucks."

"Just one of the many perks of being an empath."

Jinx could practically taste the irony in her words, the venom and loathing for her curse. She knew that feeling all too well. "Well if it puts such a hindrance on you, then why do you do it?"

Raven looked up at Jinx with a pondering glance, her hands still encased in her black healing energy.

"Well, what kind of person would I be if just I let him die?" Raven bit down on her lip, trying to not show the pain that burned in her. A foreign sense of inner loathing also leeching off her heart.

Jinx could see this, but only because, she too, knew the toll sorcery could place upon its caster. How it could slowly eat away at their faith, fortune, body, and more likely, soul.

Jinx rolled her pink eyes sardonically. "Who would have thought the daughter of Trigon the Terrible could have such a sense of duty?"

Raven let free a soft, but smug smile. "Yeah, I'm such a saint," the dark witch quipped, removing her hands from the man's wound, which was now shallow and only a brief reminder of death. "I was taught it doesn't matter how horrible someone is, as a healer, it's my obligation to help them to best the of my ability."

"I didn't realize healers had to take the Hippocratic Oath," Jinx joked. "But seriously, it sounds a little burdensome."

"It can be," Raven mumbled with a little resentment. "But like I said, it's my gift… and as long as it's my gift, it's also my burden."

"At least your gift can help people," Jinx sighed, releasing some unhinged bitterness.

Raven stared at her a moment before picking up a bottle of antiseptic and fresh gauze pads. "Sometimes we just have to make the most of what we're given."

Jinx sat down on the bed and shrugged. 'You're not wrong, but when you grow up being told that nothing good can ever come of you and your "gift" a part of you will always believe that."

"Is that what happened to you?"

"Oh, now you want my sob story?" Jinx sighed sarcastically. "You never wanted to hear it when I was trying to play nice."

"I didn't trust you then."

"And you trust me now?"

Raven didn't say anything for a minute, she just finished cleaning the shallow bullet hole left in Schizo's flesh.

"If it makes you feel any better, I don't really trust you either," Jinx finally said alleviating the silence.

"Yeah, I got that." Raven placed down the gauze and began dressing the wound. "Listen Jinx, I know we don't trust each other, and I'm not saying that we ever will, but… I don't know how this is supposed to work if we don't?"

Jinx glanced at the wall a long moment and pursed her lips in thought, then turned to Raven and said, "I don't know how this works either. But… for now, just keep the skin-head breathing, beyond that, I don't know how this works."


 

It was late (or early depending on your definition of the hour). It was around 2 am by the time Jason and his team got back to the bar. Wally had driven X, Dick, and Mutt back to the Wolf's Head, the ride being quite cramped and uncomfortable. Mutt passed the time by telling some unconventional stories, one in particular that involved "saving his balls." Which, of course, was received with mixed reviews.

"That seems really uncomfortable," Wally mused, he had, of course, been egging on the subject the whole way home, finding it all to amusing.

"Yeah, that's why I don't do it anymore," Mutt replied nonchalantly.

"I've only known you 24 hours, and the only thing I really know about you is that you got razor burn on your nuts," Dick said, aimlessly staring in disbelief as X shook his head.

"I still think it's kinda gay."

"It's not gay, X. Plenty of straight guys shave their shit," Mutt defended. "It no different than trimming."

"Dude there's a big difference between trimming the hedges and mowing the lawn."

"Haha," Wally laughed as he parked the car and opened his door, "If I shaved my nuts, Jinx would probably go the full mile and just cut them off, save me the trouble." As Wally said this, Jason pulled beside him and removed his helmet.

"Why would you shave your nuts in the first place?" Jason asked, not understanding the context.

"Don't ask me, man, ask Mutt. He's the one who got curious," Wally playfully defended.

Jason looked at Mutt, who shrugged crudely, not really sure what to say to his leader, and embarrassed that Duela was present. But before the young man could defend his manscaping experiences, Jason stopped him.

"Y'know what, I don't wanna know."

Jason dismounted his Harley as everyone stumbled inside, Duela giggling as she removed her helmet.

"Y'know Mutt, I, on the other hand, would love to hear all about it," she said with a dubious wink, making Mutt smile nervously.

Once in the bar, the men were greeted by Clancy, Jinx, and Hogan, who were going over the events of the night.

"Ah boys," Clancy said warmly, "I hear y'had an exciting night?"

"Not as exciting as Schizo's. The skinhead gonna make?" Jason asked, taking off his gloves as Clancy poured him a whisky.

"He's gonna be fine," Jinx smiled as she spotted Wally, her kitten eyes lighting up as he locked in her sights.

Wally returned the warm look and approached her with a longing that never seemed to burn out. The redhead wrapped his arms around her waist and Jinx let her arms fall around his neck.

"I missed you," she cooed and placed a gentle kiss on his lips, standing up on her tiptoes.

"Of course you did."

Jinx rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Yeah you're lucky I love your goofy ass. Now take me home before I come to my senses."

"Yes ma'am," Wally replied with a nod and added, "I just gotta drop off the scrap metal back at the shop, then I'll get you home to bed."

"I might not be in the mood by then, Red," Jinx retorted, patting his chest. "I'll meet you in the truck."

"Kay, Babe," Wally called as he watched her walk away and bid everyone goodnight then caught up to Jinx and asked faintly, "So what would'y think if I shaved my balls?"

"Wally, you have the Irish curse, mowing down the pumpkin patch isn't gonna help."

Clancy shared an awkward glance with Dick and Jason, who cracked shallow smile.

"That's unfortunate," X muttered sipping his beer.

The four shared short, tired laugh, somehow finding the fragile plea for humor.

"Well I'm kicked to shit," Jason drawled as he knocked back his whisky. "I'm turning in for the night. Everyone good?"

"Aye, you head up, darl'n. I think everyone's good here. I'll take care of Mr. Grayson if he needs anything," Clancy replied richly.

Jason nodded and smiled tiredly, bidding everyone goodnight in a mottled tone. He gave Dick a long look, but said nothing as the hero stood with his arms crossed and his manner closed off. However, the two said nothing with the exchange, and Jason disappeared through the curtain.

Once the Hood was gone, Dick's eyes moved to the bar where X had seated himself with a bottle of beer he was practically halfway through.

"Long day," Dick said and walked toward him.

X, nodded as he took down a swig. "Yeah, you were there for it."

"It wasn't a question," the hero shrugged as he noticed Raven was nowhere to be found. "Hey Clanc, where's Rae?"

Clancy placed down a mug on a tray as she replied, "Oh she's upstairs, she's just finishing up with Dana."

"Who's Dana?" Dick asked as X began to chuckle. "What?"

The thief took another sip if his beer and pointed to him. "Someone who with a name almost as shitty as yours, Chuckles."

Clancy leaned over on the bar and shook her head disapprovingly. "He's referring to Schizo, love. His given name is Dana and he's every insecure about it."

"Cause it's awful," X added.

"At least the boy has a name, unlike you, mister I don't want the world know'n who I am." Clancy mocked and poured some hot water into the mug. "And by the way, my grandfather's name was Dana, I think it's lovely."

"Okay Clanc, I'm sorry. I didn't know," X chuckled, trying to put out the fire he'd lit.

"You're lucky you got a face like that, love. Otherwise you wouldn't want to know what you'd find in your pint."

The smile on X's face faded as the boy lifted his bottle and inspected his beer like a child.

Dick laughed as he did so, then caught Clancy's attention as she watched in a twisted amusement.

"So you said Raven's was upstairs?"

"Aye. With all the acting the maggot, I forgot I was fix'n the poor dear a cuppa tea."

"Wow," Dick laughed nostalgically, "I haven't heard anyone say that in a very long time."

"Say what boyo?"

"Acting the Maggot," Dick uttered with disbelief. "My dad was from Belfast so he um—"

"He talked like an Irish git?

"Well sorta, I wouldn't say my father was a git."

"I was just joke'n, boyo. I would never talk ill of anyone's dad, except maybe my friend Shelby's. Aw, now that man was a real Eejit."

"What's an Eejit?" X asked perplexed.

Clancy only shook her head disapprovingly at the thief and finished fixing Raven her tea as Dick offered to bring it up.

"Thanks Clancy, have a goodnight."

"Aw you're welcome, love. Just holler if y'need anything. I'll be babysitting this lil' pisser al'night." She said pointing to X.

Dick laughed at X's despair, though X didn't really seem all that offended by her comment, and with that, the hero headed up the stairs. He was tired, both physically and emotionally, but even though what had transpired was something of a criminal nature, Dick found some strange freedom in it, and that was what really frightened him.

He recalled something Slade had said to him years ago when he'd forced a young Robin into being his apprentice. Slade had made it a point to bring to light something the sinister man had found interesting, and that was the fact that Dick found operating outside the law exciting. Dick hated that Slade could think such a thing, and accused him of actually enjoying such malicious behavior. At least that's what Dick liked to tell himself. However, the truth was, deep down, he did enjoy running off the path. He may not have run into the woods for long, but part of him actually felt right at home there. Part of him wanted that freedom. Only for Dick there was no freedom, his actions weren't conducted by choice, and even if they were, he couldn't betray himself like that. So why was he doing it now?

He walked up the aged flight of steps and made his way along the dim light of the hallway. The floor boards groaned under each step, the old wood scratched by the years that rolled over it. The cup was warm in his hand as he pulled open the apartment door with the other, the cry of the hinges making a bright sound as they sang. This place was so different and so far from home—so far from the Tower, but there was something about its character he found endearing—well sort of.

As the door swung open, he noticed Raven sitting in a chair across from the bed, her posture leaning forward and her hands clasped in front of her lips, delicately biting the tip of her thumb. Her eyes were instilled in deep thought, pondering far beyond the cheaply paneled walls around her. Her gaze immediately shot in his direction, their violet glow muted in their exhaustion.

"Hey, I brought your tea," Dick greeted, offering a smile as he closed the door.

Raven uttered a "thank you" and took the cup, stealing a sip before she spoke, "You look like you're in pain?"

"I'm fine."

Dick leaned against the foot of the bed, trying to the swallow the agony that raged with every subtle breath taken. She could tell he was lying, he could see it in those weary eyes that studied him, she knew him too well. She placed her cup down and sat up straight, the only thing that was missing were the words that usually came with this posture.

"You have two cracked ribs," Raven finally drawled. "You should really let me help you."

Dick crossed his arms, his eyes taking in her worn exterior. "You've already put enough stress on yourself, Rae. I can't ask any more of you."

"You haven't asked anything of me," she replied, her voice hollow and raspy, "I did what I had to… now… I have to help you."

"You don't, Raven."

"I want to."

"I don't want you to. You need to take care of you."

Dick pointed to Raven's chest, causing her to look down and notice that her grey tank top was stained with blood.

"Shit," she muttered and rose from her chair, removing the solid shirt without even a second thought. She turned to the bathroom and threw the garment in the trash despairingly. "I'm gonna shower and try to wash the last few days off me. When I'm done, I'm gonna fix your ribs, whether you want me to or not. Got it, Grayson?"

"Yes mother," he said a little begrudgingly, but cracked a smile.

She smiled before closing the door. "Your mother would agree with me."

"About what?"

"That you're a pain in the ass."

Raven closed the door with a grin before Dick could retort, not that he was lucid enough to come up with anything even remotely clever. Once the door was closed he rose from the foot of the bed and began removing his shirt, his ribs protesting in pain. He pulled off his black sweater, letting it fall to the floor. This feeling wasn't anything new, but he'd never been hit with that many rounds at once before. Normally, he'd have one or two knock the wind out of him, but 5 shots to the back left him feeling fragile and broken. Even breathing was torture, every broken blood vessel and cracked bone screaming in reproach.

Standing was also something he didn't quite have the will for, and he let his body slowly bring itself to the bed below him, laying on his stomach. His body was tired, but his mind was still racing, tangled with opposition. There were many things that just didn't sit right with him, and yet, he let those things guide him. But in the end, he had to ask himself, was it worth it?

The thought left him with a sour look, but his will to care further was loosened by the heaviness of his eye lids. He let them close a minute—a peaceful minute. This was something he had not tasted in quite some time. His mind being too full and too overpowered by the scent of failure, and the taste of loss—reality. Every night a feeling hung in his stomach, a sick feeling that turned and beat like a dark pit of nothing, yet it was so full of sadness and fear. But now, there was just nothing, as judgment wasn't yet coming for him, and here, no one could judge. And for this, he was able to find sleep.


 

Jason entered his apartment and flicked the light on, the dim glare filling the room with reflections of shadows, something he didn't mind. He removed his coat tiredly, aimlessly placing it on the couch as he walked by. He made his way to the counter, his fatigued body finding it hard not to occasionally stumble along the way. He peered down once he reached it and picked up a lighter that sat patiently on the laminate. Taking the item in his grasp, he lit his cigarette and inhaled the foul smoke. He freed the bitter fog from his lungs slowly, then inhaled again, taking into account his surroundings. Looking down at the lighter again, he realized something was off and reached in his pocket to pull out his lighter.

He glared at it for a moment, and rolled his as he called, "I know you're here, you can stop hiding now."

"Uh you're no fun, JT," he heard her sigh as she sauntered out of the bedroom.

She was already wearing his shirt, the one she liked best, its black material hanging off her endearingly, contrasting with her wintery hair.

"Comfortable?" Jason asked and plopped down on his beat leather couch.

She smiled as she slipped down next to him and placed her chilled legs over his. He let his free hand travel along her thigh, noticing the crude stich job she'd given herself.

"You should've waited for me to do that for you," he said looking at the gash and the threads that held her flesh together.

"I'll heal just fine, you know I will."

She let her hands run through his hair a moment, a smoky smell on her breath as she took the cigarette from Jason's lips and kissed him. After a moment she pulled away, and took a long drag, blowing the smoke into the air.

"I can take care of myself."

She took another drag before handing it back to him. He accepted it with his thumb and index finger, smoking it for a brief moment. He looked over at her, her need for independence and self-fulfillment clear in the smirk on her face.

"I know, but that doesn't mean I can't do nice things for you. Y'know, if it makes you happy…"

He passed her the cigarette as she smiled, taking a quick drag and kissing him again. Jason let his hand travel to her back and pulled her a little closer. They could both feel the heat growing between them, but before things could really go any further, Jason found himself asking her a question.

"Not to kill the mood, but how'd the talk with your dad go?"

Rose took another puff, annoyed with the question. "Then stop killing it."

She leaned into him again, but was met with frustration.

"Yeah, well there'll be no mood if he kills me..." Jason sang playfully taking the cigarette from her and tapped it on the ash tray.

"Like I'd let that happen," she droned, sounding sure of herself. "But yeah I told him the shipment was safe, and that it got completed. I said you took care of it."

"What he say?"

"Good." Rose laced her fingers around the nape of Jason's neck with a longing, and leaned her forehead on his, a flirtatious look in her eye. "So that means you have to deal with me."

She leaned in to kiss him again, but stopped as she heard Jason say, "In that case, I'd rather deal with your dad."

"Okay, have fun discovering what prison's like."

Jason let a laugh free as his lips grew into a smile and pulled Rose to him once more. She let her arms wrap around him, and her legs followed suit, embracing his waist. He picked her up and placed her on her back, carefully, and laid his body on top of hers. He tucked a few stray stands of silver behind her ear and looked down at her. There was just something about her he found great comfort in, though he wasn't really sure what. But part of him thought that their connection lied in the fact that they both lost something that made them whole. That maybe their connection filled that emptiness they shared. Either way, when he was with her, he felt human.

"You know I'd never let anything happen to you, right?"

Rose looked up at Jason and let her fingertips drift down his neck. "I like to think you'd try."

He hated when she answered like that, when she didn't believe that he could protect her from the one person she need to be protected from—her father.

"I just wish you'd think more of me."

Rose sighed and looked away in frustration. "So much for that…"

She pushed him off her his chest and sat up, but before she could stand, he caught her by the wrist.

"Y'know, you could just humor me."

Rose shrugged and turned her head to him. "That would be cruel of me, we both live in reality. The fact we're even doing this is dangerous—I mean, you remind me of that all the time."

"Yeah, because it is," Jason asserted, his face holding an earnest expression. "But it's cause I'm not afraid of your dad."

"You should be."

Rose got up and opened the fridge, retrieving a beer. She leaned on the counter, opened the bottle and took a long swig.

"But I'm not," Jason replied, meeting her at the counter and placed his on each side of her.

She took another sip of the dark brew, pressing her lips together as the crisp taste lingered on them. "That's cause you're kind of a psycho."

Jason smiled at her coyly and took the beer from her hand. "So are you."

He stole a quick kiss and knocked back the beer before placing it down on the counter beside her.

"No shit," she huffed, but smiled back at him, knowing he meant no harm by it. "Plus I kinda have to be to be hooking up with you."

Her eyes fell from him, and her expression followed. They were both out of their minds.

"Do you really think we're a bad idea?" Rose finally said, looking up at Jason with her brooding, pale eyes.

A more realistic look suppressed Jason's smile, and a heaviness pulled at his heart. "Yeah, I know we're a bad idea," Jason said pushing her hair off her face again, "but my whole life is a bad idea, so I'm okay with us being a bad idea."

Rose couldn't help but smile at the sentimental lament and somehow let her hands fall on Jason's chest. But Jason could see she still wasn't sold on the "bad idea."

"But?"

"But," Rose sighed, "what if this bad idea turns out to be the one that gets you killed."

Her eyes fluttered with confliction as Jason raised his stable hands, holding her face in reassurance.

"I'm not afraid to die, Rose," he said looking down at her and leaned in.

She pushed him away, nearly insulted. Angry that he actually thought those words could bring her anything of comfort. But then again, she was talking to Jason Todd.

"You're the missing the point," she spat and picked the beer, taking a ravenous sip, then downed another. He just didn't get that she didn't want to live in a world without him, or worse; a world where he died because of her.

"No I get it," Jason said, daring to approach her again, "but what I meant to say was that I care about you more than anything… And I'd lay down my life that."

'Damn you, Todd,' she silently scoffed, glaring at him. The words leaving her inner romantic practically eating out of the palm of his hand. She'd never felt that for anyone before, never mind having someone feel that way for her.

She let Jason pulled her into another embrace, hating how easily he could win her over. She was, begrudgingly, in love.

"Y'know there's an irony in there somewhere," Rose said, breaking the kiss for a moment.

Jason lightly laughed in her ear, she'd couldn't just let the moment happen. "There's actually a few."

She rolled her eyes, finally submitting to his charms and threw her arm around his neck. "Well then you better get me to bed before irony kills your chances of getting laid."

He laughed at her tiredly, she could be so crude when she wanted to be. And sadly enough, that was very tame for her. "Only if you say so."


 

Raven stepped out of the bathroom and flipped off the light, her black hair clinging to her white skin in its damp state. She looked over and noticed Dick lying on the bed, half undressed and his shoes still on. She sighed and shook her head, this sight being nothing out of the ordinary. Raven could recall many times where she'd found him passed out on his bed, only half out of his uniform. This only beaten by the rare (but personal favorite) occasions, when he wouldn't even make into bed and she'd find him on the floor, only a few feet away from his bed.

A cynical smirk cracked on her face as she approached him in the dim lamp light. However, such a smirk didn't last long as she caught sight of the various bruises that plagued his back in black of blue.

"Christ, Grayson," she groaned painfully, noticing the point of impact pictured morbidly on his skin.

She knelt down on the bed beside him, unsure how he could keep such a straight face through such agony. She wasn't even sure how he could breathe. But this was Richard Grayson she was talking about, and if there was one thing Dick could do, it was take a punch (a very hard, sometimes even bone shattering, punch).

"Like hell I'm not gonna fix your broken ribs," she growled, though she knew he couldn't hear her.

She softly placed her hands down on his back, letting them travel as she located the first broken bone. Having located which ribs were fractured and which ones were severely bruised, she took a deep breath and focused as much energy as she could, directing it into the affected bones and flesh. She could immediately feel the burning in her own ribs, as though it were her own frame that was cracked. A slight moan left her throat, her current state was making it more difficult to expel the sensation. However, she bit down and swallowed the pain, continuing to heal him until there was nothing more than minor bruises.

Once she was finished, she let her hands fall heavy on the bed below her. Her head hanging limp as she caught her breath, some pain still boiling in her rib cage. She inhaled deeply and forced the pain out, the affliction not wanting to go willingly. It had been days since she'd last meditated or taken any real time to aide herself—this leaving her mind rusty and unfocused.

"First thing tomorrow," she muttered and noticed Dick's boots again.

She shook her head and began pulling them off, tossing them to the floor without any thought.

"I'm never gonna understand how you can just give up halfway through getting undressed," she said, still aware he couldn't hear her. "You could have at least taken your shoes off."

She chuckled a little, a cynical humor filling her tired head. Raven pulled herself beneath the covers and reached over to shut off the light beside the bed. Once the light in the room died, she slid down to the old mattress (which she didn't want to admit was actually pretty comfortable). She closed her eyes, the weight of her lids leaving her relieved that they no longer remained open, or focused.

A deep breath filled her lungs as she tried to ignore the stale, musty scent of the unkempt room. For a moment everything was still, the world began to fall away from her consciousness… until she felt her new bedmate stir beside her.

This was odd for Raven, as she didn't share her bed often. But what really threw her was the fact that in that moment, Dick shifted and wrapped his arm around her.

Raven's eyes shot open, the relaxed look her face once held only moments ago, gone, and her body growing tense.

"Oh, somebody has a death wish," she said wide eyed, feeling her ex-leader's body lean against hers.

She lay there a moment unsure of what to do, or if she should really do anything? It's not like she'd never shared a bed with him (or any of her friends for that matter) but the amount of physical contact was minimal. This however, was more than minimal for her, this felt intimate.

Raven turned her head and peered back at him, hardly able to make out his features in the dark. She could tell he was out cold, that he was not even aware of the predicament she was in. Raven bit her lip in conflict. Dick hadn't slept that soundly in weeks, she didn't want to ruin that for him.

"You're lucky you're not Beast Boy, Grayson," Raven drawled with an eye roll, "Uh like you can even hear me. Why am I even talking to you?"

She took another breath and sighed, trying to find the peace to close her eyes and find sleep again. She could feel his breath lightly passing, by her hair, the rhythm of his chest rise and falling against her back. She wasn't used to this, and part of her wasn't sure if she should pull away, but another part felt at home with it.

There was certainly a loneliness to sleeping alone, to reach out and feel how cold one's bed could be without another. But at the same time, there was a fine line, and the fact Raven was allowing herself to even think like that was something she quarreled with. But for now, it couldn't hurt much, and if nothing else, it was only for one night.


 

The sleek car pulled into the bay, its black exterior not even scuffed from the night's activities. It came to a stop and the engine was put to swift rest. A tall figure exited the car, wearing the crown of his mantle high. He closed the door and stepped toward a large computer, pulling the cowl from his face, a colorful accent resonating from behind him.

"Aw Master Bruce, this arrived for you today." Alfred handed him a piece of paper, a formal document. "Your request to speak at Mr. Zucco's parole hearing has been granted."

Bruce inspected the document, Alfred's words in fact true.

"You seem a bit troubled, sir?" Alfred said noticing a weary look linger on his master's face.

"It's nothing, Alfred," Bruce insisted and placed the letter down. "Just let them know that I accept."

"I will sir," the butler replied and took the document once more.

He noticed the Dark Knight's demeanor was shrill and more closed off than usual. He glanced upon the letter again and a thought came to mind.

"You know sir, lying to him won't fix anything. It has already been nearly two decades, it has not changed anything."

Bruce turned to him with a dark look, his brow heavy as it shadowed his eyes with a darkness only a father could have.

"As far as Dick knows Zucco is dead, and as long as he's dead to Richard, that's all I care about."

He turned away again, years of guilt still heavy on his broadened shoulders. It was nothing he was proud of, but if it gave a young boy comfort all those years ago, he'd do it all again. Lord knew comfort was something Bruce never got, he didn't want that for Dick. He just wanted him to have what he couldn't.

"I know why you feel that way, Master Bruce, but if he ever found out, I don't know if he could ever forgive you."

Bruce leaned on the wide board before him, his head no longer high in the face of his own human nature. Alfred was right, Dick would probably never speak to him again, if he found out. But he wouldn't, not it f Bruce had anything to say about it.

"Thank You for the concern, Alfred. I know you mean well," Bruce finally said stoically. "But you also know me well enough to know that I've made up my mind. So please, mail the letter, and never breathe a word of this to Dick. Understand?"

Bruce peered over at Alfred to see him nod, though disapproval was written in every line on his face. The brit gave him an unenthusiastic sigh and walked off thinking quietly to himself, Lord help me if the boy finds out! The man scoffed and exited the cave, the light of the den much warmer than the dim chill from below. He looked upon the paper once more, the name Anthony Joseph Zucco staring him in the face. A name that once soiled the face of every newspaper. The name of a liar, a thief, and above all—a murderer.

"I wish you really were dead," Alfred spat forgetting himself. "How someone as vile as you is permitted to draw breath upon the earth while others lay beneath the soil to rot is just beyond me."

He threw the letter down upon the table and reached for a decanter of brandy. Alfred really wasn't one to indulge, but given the hour and the present situation, he thought an ounce or two of brandy wouldn't hurt. He took a seat in the large leather arm chair, sipping the dark liquor, its rich scent lifting from the glass as he drank. The manor was quiet, it always was. So quiet it was hunting, something the man often mourned over while caring for it. He knew every inch of that place, every board, every bolt.

He took another sip, trying to dull the ache, he missed those long past days when the manor was warmer. When it held the actual purpose of being a home. His eyes drifted up over the fireplace, that grand portrait looking down on him, one Thomas Wayne standing proudly over his beautiful family. Now that was a man who had a lot to be proud of, he was also a man with a lot to lose. It pained Alfred to think of what he'd say to him now—to his beloved son. The one who'd become only a perversion of the man he hoped he would become.

Alfred always wanted Bruce to grow to be like his father, and in a way he had, only more damaged. Even after so many years, those wounds had never healed. He glanced at the paper again, and noticed another name, Richard Jonathan Grayson. There were parts of that boy that were some much his mentor, and there were parts that must have simply come from his father, maybe even both.

"God only knows which one you take after," Alfred said taking one last sip. "I only hope you acquired the Master's better points."

He winced and placed the glass on the table, taking one last look at the portrait, that look of pride like a ghost. "If only you were here now, who would he be," Alfred asked himself, "who might we all be?

Chapter Text

 "This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood; the words expressly are "a pound of flesh." The Merchant Of Venice Act 4, scene 1

Water fell over him in hot streams, running across deep faded scars, each one tethered to a story from a different time and place. His fresh cuts stung, the heat of the water seeping into the pierced flesh that hadn’t quite healed yet. He realized the time, placing his hand on the dial, turning it till water ceased. He ran his hand over his forehead, brushing damp strands of dark hair from his face and green eyes. With the other, he pushed back the curtain, the bathroom filled with a thick rising steam that clung to the cool surface of the tile and glass.

“Hey, coffee’s done!” he heard Rose call from behind the door.

“Kay, be out right out!”

He pulled the towel off the bar and blotted his face and neck, then wrapped it around his waist. He opened the door, greeted by the cold air of the drafty apartment. He spotted her white hair first, the untamed locks cascading around her thin, but well-formed shoulders. She looked over at him and smiled softly, taking a mug in her hands and bringing it to him.

“Here, black, no sugar—just how you like it,” Rose said handing him the cup.

Jason took it with and smirked at the sight. “Thanks, that was awfully domestic of you. You feeling okay?”

He reached out his hand, placing it on her forehead as though she were running a fever.

She laughed and swatted his hand away playfully. “You make it sound like putting a K-cup in a Keurig machine is a difficult task.”

“Well for someone who could fuck up a bowl of cereal—” Jason laughed, but stopped as Rose punched his arm, not even realizing her own strength.

“That was one time, douchebag,” she giggled, “and I was really drunk.”

Jason placed his cup down and tried pulling Rose closer as she playfully tried to fight back. He finally got his arms around her and leaned in to kiss her, Rose still coyly trying to resist.

“You’re cute when you’re annoyed,” Jason teased, trying to persuade her.

“And you’re cute when you don’t get what you want.”

“Is this cause I insulted your cooking or lack thereof?

“Asshole.”

“Sounds like me.”

Jason pressed his lips to hers for a moment, which did not last long. The sound of a generic ringtone echoing through the thick of the air.

“Shit, that’s me,” Rose said picking up her phone from the counter where it instantly called. “Dear old dad,” she sighed, looking at the burner a moment. Her hands not really willing to answer.

“You gonna get that?” Jason asked noticing her resistance.

She looked up at him and bit her lip. “It can wait a few minutes. I’m sure he just wants to know how last night’s detour went.”

Jason nodded and took a sip of his coffee then took her hand in his. “If you were in trouble, or you thought that Slade was gonna do anything, you’d tell me, right?”

Rose smiled, feeling the genuine protectiveness in Jason voice, nodded. “Yeah.”

“I really hope you mean that.”

“Me too.” She smiled and ran her thumb over his knuckles, the two both sort of questioning her sincerity.

Her loyalty to father was something she was always teetering on.

“I gotta go,” Rose said, giving the Outlaw a kiss and grabbed her coat.

He lit a cigarette and took a drag as he followed her to the window, smoke billowing from his questioning lips. “You know you can use the front door, right?”

Rose turned and walked back toward him as he met her halfway. “And invoke the wrath of the pink-eyed rattle snake first thing in the morning? I’ll take my chances with the fire escape, thank you.”

“Just say’n.”

“I know,” Rose said and swiftly plucked the cigarette from his mouth before planting one more kiss him.

She pulled away, placing the cigarette between her lips and climbed out the cracked window frame. Before taking off, she looked back at Jason one last time and removed the still burning coffin nail from her mouth with a playful puff of smoke.

“Oh and thanks for the light, JT.”

Jason smirked as he watched her slip out of view, the scent of ash lingering like the warmth of breath on the word of a memory. He placed his hands on the window sill and took a deep breath before closing the glass pane and sighed. He permitted himself one last look as she continued to make her way down the old metal later.

“Yep, I’m doomed.”


 

The brunette inhaled the smoke from her cigarette, the burn filling her throat and delving deep into her lungs. She held it a moment then blew the smoke into the air where it billowed above her head in curls. She looked across the table, one ice blue eye staring back at her, leaving her with a dark memory.

“Must you do that, Adeline?” her husband asked gruffly.

She raised a brow and took another drag, he hated when she smoked at the table. His dear Addie never cared before, why start now?

“So my cousin paid me a visit yesterday,” she said.

Slade’s lone eye lit with curiosity, and his lips moved quizzically. “Why would he do that?”

“He needs my support; I told him I’d trade. He backs up my plans for the clinic and I back him up on his youth center.”

“A youth center?” Slade questioned. “Why would he need you to back that?”

“Because,” Adeline began, still puffing on her cigarette, “he wants to build it on top of that tragic old opera house.”

“Not the one where his parents were killed?” her husband mused astringently.

“That would be the one,” she droned ironically glancing at her tea. “I can’t say I blame him for it though. He must hate having to look at that place every time he ventures into that part of town. It must be quite the slap in the face?”

She sighed and tapped her cigarette on the side of her ashtray and took a sip of her tea. She could see the alarm and anxiety boiling to the surface of her husband’s aging face, his posture becoming unbearably tense. It wasn’t very often that she saw him like that, but when she did, it reminded her that he was indeedhuman.

“Addie,” he finally scoffed, “how can you back him on this? If they start digging that place up, Wayne will have reason to dig deeper. And we can’t have that! Not now!”

Adeline kept her face cool and collected, she wasn’t about to let her baser instincts get the better of her. She was shocked her husband’s had.

“It will be fine, Slade. The Red Hood owes you a favor as of last night.” She laughed and shook her head. “It seems, for once, one of your little mishaps may actually right the course.” He glared at her bitterly, resentment lit in his cold eye. “I’m sure he and his little band of misfits will be more than willing to go clean up the mess that’s waiting down there in that God forsaken pit. Plus, that little bastard of yours is more than likely catting around with that hood rat, so you can use that as leverage.”

“Don’t talk about her like that, Addie.”

“Don’t Addie me,” she snapped. “I had one rule and that was what happens on missions stayed on missions. They do not show up on my God damn doorstep 14 years later and bite me in the ass!”

“That wasn’t my fault, her mother thought she was in trouble and she was!”

“Yes, so you fixed that by taking in your illegitimate teenage daughter and turning her into a little psychopath like yourself.” She laughed cynically, her faced filled with loathing. “You always wanted a sidekick.”

Belittling her husband was something she’d taken a liking to; she was the only person who could get away with it. 

“But that’s all beside the point,” she continued. “You told me to move forward, so that’s what I did. You go be a man and keep up your end of the deal; go take care of the battlefield like you said you would. Now if you will excuse me, I have to go blackmail half the board at Wayne Enterprises.”

Adeline began to walk passed him, but Slade stood up and reach out to stop her, hoping for one the last word.

“This conversation isn’t over!”

She turned to him, a perplexed and sarcastic look on her aged face. “If you want my attention, Slade, do not talk to me as though you were addressing one of your little indiscretions. I’m not your mistress and I’m not your whore daughter, I’m your wife.”

“And I’m your husband, Adeline. You want me to start talking to you like my wife, start acting like it,” he demanded.

“I have helped you build and bury more secrets than I ever cared to know. Only a wife would do that. I even helped you bury our son! Then you have the nerve to replace him with that filthy slut’s daughter!”

“I never tried to replace Grant!”

“Call it what you want,” she growled in low disdain, “but all you have ever done since we put him in the ground is try to forget him!”

“Is that all can you see, Addie? After everything you and I have been through? After everything we’ve built together?”

“No, actually,” she replied in a calmer tone. “When I look at you, I see only one thing—I am, and will always be—one hell of a shot.”

She couldn’t help but smirk crudely. Her husband’s lone eye lit with rage, his white brows met with fury and loathing for her words. For the fact that she could never forgive him for any one of his failures. Though in truth, he too knew there were many sins he could never forgive himself for. But still, he had no words for her. There was nothing he could say to defend those past transgression and old bones that lay buried in his consciousness, or what was left of it anyway.

Adeline showed him no remorse or pity as she walked passed him, making her way to the hallway. She the man to his ruin as she entered the foyer; greeted by a very unwelcomed sight.

“Adeline.” Rose said, addressing the woman with little feeling.

The brunette didn’t say anything and put her nose up at the white haired girl. She hated how much she looked like him; she really was her father’s daughter. Adeline approached her where she sat, catching the sight of her $2 coffee cup on the table beside her. She moved toward her like a lioness, picking up the scent of a wounded gazelle.

“That table you have your cheap Styrofoam on is an expensive family heirloom, use a coaster.” Adeline picked up the cup and placed it on a piece of fine tile, created for such a task. “I mean for God sake, Rose. You act like you were brought up in a brothel— oh that’s right. Turns out even my coasters are worth more than you.”

Adeline smiled with superiority, taking in the sting of the girl’s fractured ego.

“You’re such a fucking bitch,” Rose spat. “You think you’re so much better than me because of who my mother was.”

Your mother earned her living on her back, you would have ended up the same way, but no, she brought you here and made you my husband’s problem, which in turn, makes you my problem. Now you remember your place and pay me a little goddamn respect. I’d hate to see something happen to one of those pretty blue eyes of yours.”

A sudden look of fear peaked on Rose’s face. She had no doubt that Adeline would make good on that promise if given the motive and opportunity. The Teflon brunette gave her one last lipstick smile before leaving the room, clearly pleased with her method of intimidation.

The woman then too her leave, Rose watching her go as she stood there, unable to voice her protests. It didn’t matter who or what she was, Adeline had and would always look at Rose as a second class family member, not even good enough to have her image captured or presented on a wall. God forbid that anyone of good standing ever know of her existence.

After a few moments of wallowing in the fearful loathing, a tall British man approached her.

“Well Rose, my girl, looks like you’re still on the lady’s shit-list,” he said with a pretentious laugh, though Rose knew it really only came off that way as result of his accent.

“I live on that shit-list, Willy.”

“That makes two of us, my dear,” Wintergreen replied with a smirk and placed a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Come, your father wishes to see you now.”


 

Raven entered the room where Schizo had spent the night, hoping to check his vitals and place a clean dressing on his wound. She stepped in a little awkwardly as the young man looked in her direction, unsure whether to fear her or not.

“Hey,” she said, shutting the door. “I hope I’m not intruding, but I have to change that dressing. Wouldn’t want you to die of infection and all.”

The skinhead nodded, and Raven opened a bag of first aid supplies, placing it beside the bed. She pulled on some fresh gloves and removed the soiled dressing, examining the wound thoroughly. 

“Am I gonna make it, Doc?” Schizo asked.

Raven nodded and gave him a slight smile. “Yeah you’ll be fine. By the way, I’m not a doctor.”

“You saved my life and you didn’t have to,” he replied, humbled, “that makes you a doctor in my book.”

“Well I appreciate that, but it was really nothing,” she said cleaning the small gash. “These bandages need to be changed daily. You also need keep taking your antibiotics, one every morning and night to prevent infection, un—”

“I’m sorry,” he interrupted, taking the empath off guard.

She looked over at him, perplexed. “…For what?”

“Calling you a bitch and all that other shit,” he said with shame in his eyes. “I’m just not really good with… people.”

“Neither am I.” She placed some fresh gauze pad over his shoulder and continued, “I said some pretty awful things too.”

“Yeah, because I was being a shithead.”

“It’s fine. Apology accepted.”

“I kinda get the feeling you don’t forgive easy,” Schizo said, “so why you be’n so nice to me? I don’t even deserve it…”

Raven looked over at his tattoo, the number 14 staring back her from his neck.

“Your ink, it stands for 14 words?”

“Yeah,” he said glancing down, taking no pride in the brand, “but you don’t strike me as the kinda person who tolerates that kinda shit, so what?”

“So I get the feeling that those 14 words aren’t who you are anymore?”

Schizo looked down again, this time at his hands, as though he were judging them for past actions they’d committed, stained with the sins and crimes they’d never be eradicated of.

“Yeah, I um… spent a lot of time hating others, but at heart, I really just hated myself. I think I was just trying forget that.”

“You still hate yourself, don’t you?” He nodded as Raven finished taping the bandage, struck with the inner turmoil. “I know a thing or two about hating yourself,” she continued, pulling off her soiled gloves and moved her hair to the side, revealing the tattoo on her shoulder.  “I got this because I wanted to remind myself that I was my own person. I put it on my back to remind myself that all that shit was behind me.”

“Well aren’t you clever,” the skinhead laughed.

“Well I’m not that clever, I got the idea from Sons of Anarchy,” Raven admitted with a laugh. “The point is we can’t change what we’ve done, but we can change who we are. We get to decide who we become.”

“I know, but sometimes the things we do, make us who we are, or least make us question it, but thanks for try’n, Doc.”

“You’re uh… welcome,” she sighed, “but if nothing else, trying to be a better person, makes the world a better place. It hurts it less too.”

He shrugged. “I keep telling myself that—the hurt part. Not sure if it’s kicked in yet. But once again, sorry for yesterday.”

“Don’t worry about it, you weren’t wrong,” Raven replied, walking to the door and turned, “I am a bitch.”

She smiled at the skinhead again, who chuckled at her crassness. “A funny one, that’s for damn sure.”

“Damn straight,” she smirked and closed the door behind her.

She turned to find that Dick had been waiting for her in the hall, his arms crossed as he leaned against the wall.

“Offering the little Nazi some peace of mind?” he asked sarcastically.

She smiled and shook her head at the comment. “Yeah, I kinda got the feeling that his brand of hate came from a place of personal turmoil.”

“Were you right?”

“Yeah, he’s got a different set of words guiding him now,” she replied with a soft smile. “He wants to be someone different.”

“Isn’t that what we all want?” Dick drawled, walking Raven down the hall.

“Well, self-acceptance is a virtue and not a very pleasant one.”

“No virtue is pleasant, Rae,” Dick corrected. “If it was, we’d all be above human nature.”

“That’s sadly the most profound thing you have ever said, Grayson,” she said evenly. “I’m really starting to worry about you.”

“Get in line.”


 

Rose took a seat at the table, her father folding his paper with calloused hands, then placing it aside. After what happened with Adeline, she craved for her vice, but resisted as she knew her father wouldn’t stand for her smoking at the table. He hated that she did it at all. He peered over at her with his solitary eye, the eye that looked so much like her own. Her stomach turned, but only because of Adeline’s earlier threat. She’d already made good on that promise once, and with someone she’d claimed to have loved.

“So how did last night’s little errand go?” Slade asked taking a sip of his coffee.

Rose pulled her attention back to him and replied in a removed tone, “Other than the little side show, peachy.”

“Did you do as I asked with the collateral damage?”

“Yeah,” she sighed, “I threw them in the river once we got to Blüdhaven. It’ll look like they’re just the result of residual gang violence from that shithole.”

“Good, and you tagged them?”

“Yeah, cops’ll think the Lords clipped ’em, just like you wanted.”

“Good, we can’t have any of this coming back to haunt us now, can we?” her father said evenly, raising his cup. “Speaking of which, I need you to talk to the Hood for me.”

Rose’s head perked up. “What about?”

“My lovely wife has made it imperative that one of our old dumping grounds be torn up, and well, there’s a lot of collateral damage to found.” Other than annoyance he seemed unaffected, sipping his coffee with little feeling. “And since The Red Hood is still permitted to breathe, I thought you could persuade him to help.”

Rose let her brow crease at the tone her father was now addressing her with. To him, everyone was expendable.

“Y’know, if you just ask, he’ll do it, right? You don’t have to threaten him. He knows his place.”

He glanced over at her again, his lone eye strongly expressive. “You say that, Rose, but I have dealt with plenty of Red Hoods in my time. After a while, they all get ambitious, that is why you need to remind them where their place is.”

“So what, you’re afraid of him?”

Slade chuckled, his temples creasing with amusement. “No. Not in the slightest. But that doesn’t mean I underestimate him either. That boy has potential, and I’m not about to let that potential grow to kill me.”

She grimaced. “He won’t.”

“You seem awfully offended,” Slade surmised, “anything you wish to tell me?”

“No,” Rose replied, her voice thick with disdain

Her father said nothing for minute as he took in the sight of her posture and the look on her face.

“If you even think for a moment, that I’m stupid enough not know that you’re sharing a bed with that hood rat, then you are sadly mistaken.”

Rose looked over at her father as her heart sank, fear clear in her pretty blue eyes.

“Daddy—I—”

Slade raised his hand, signaling her to remain silent. “Don’t, you absolutely reek of that boy,” he said callously. “And frankly, I don’t care what, or, in this case, who, you do, as long as it doesn’t interfere in your work. As for the matter of lying to me—”

“I didn’t lie!”

“Shut your mouth, Rose!” Slade demanded, slamming his hand on the table, his blue eye lit with fire. The tactic worked, causing Rose to begrudgingly capitulate to the venomous request. “As for you lying to me, it’s adorable that you thought Adeline or I wouldn’t figure it out.”

Rose crossed her arms, her eyes darting around the room with embarrassment. “What are you gonna do to me?”

She looked up at her father a moment, his stone face looking back on her with an unspoken judgment.

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?” she queried, her brows risen skeptically.

“Yes, nothing. Like I said, I don’t care who you dirty your reputation with.” He reached out and lifted his coffee, placing it to his stoic lips. “But if you don’t want anything to happen to your little secret, then you better convince him to do everything single last thing I say, or else, the next body you dump in the river will be his. We clear?”

She nodded, holding back tears, trying to look strong and unmoved, the way she always wanted him to see her.

“Good. Now get out of my sight. Wintergreen will fill you in on what need to be done,” he said coldly.

She nodded and stood up to leave, humiliation nearly beating out of her chest.

 “And Rose,” he added before she could leave, “I want this done yesterday. Make sure your little boyfriend knows that.”


 

“Mother of Christ,” Clancy drawled. “Why do I put up with the lota’y?”

“Cause you love us,” X replied as the Irish girl poured coffee into his mug. “Plus you can’t go back home, so you’re kinda stuck with us, but that’s a story for another time.”

“Don’t remind me, boyo.”

Jinx sat down at the bar as Clancy passed her a cup of coffee, her face still wearing a vial of fatigue from the night prior.

 “Where’s Jason? He’s usually here by now.”

Just as the words left her lips, Jason walked through the doorway.

“Ah, ask and you shall receive,” X muttered, “and look who’s not far behind.”

Jason turned to see Raven and Dick stroll out behind him, the two making a slightly awkward entrance.

“Morn’n,” Clancy greeted, “take a seat darl’ns. Can I fetch’y some coffee or tea? Also, I got muffins baking in the back if you hungry—”

“Cool it Clanc,” Jason said, “let ’em sit down first.”

He let out a breath and took a seat next to Jinx as Clancy poured him his morning coffee.

“Oh sorry,” the Irish girl said. “I get overly excited is all.”

“It’s okay,” Dick replied and sat down at the end of the bar. “And thanks for everything.”

Clancy smiled and set a mug down in front of him. “Aye, you’re welcome Mr. Grayson. You just earned yourself an extra muffin.”

She turned happily and walked out back to put on water for tea and check on her baking, leaving the birds to their own conversation.

“See what happens when you’re polite, Rae? I get an extra muffin,” Dick chuckled.

However, Raven couldn’t have cared less.

“Or she just wants to fuck you.”

X spit his coffee back into his mug, stunned by her comment, but began giggling like a small boy only moments later. He wiped his face while Jinx smirked at the other end of the bar, both of them clearly amused with her crassness at such a young hour.

“God, I love her,” Jason said and took a sip of coffee. “You really know how make Dick look like an asshole.” He smiled at Dick mockingly. God, he enjoyed Raven’s little rolodex of hate.

“Yeah, it’s not hard,” she added dryly, leaving Dick to glare at her helplessly. “So, um, no offence but… after last night I was kind of expecting something more…. I don’t know—badass… not freshly baked muffins—which is adorable, by the way.”

“Oh don’t worry cupcake, it’s coming,” Jinx sighed not looking up from her paper, “but my badass doesn’t start till at least 10am.” She glanced down and checked her watch. “It’s currently 8:05… we got time.”

“Yeah,” X added, “relax, have a muffin.”

“But don’t get too comfortable though,” Jason warned blankly, “we got shit to do and we still have to figure out who wants me dead.”

“Everyone,” X replied with a grin.

Jason winced sardonically. “Wiseass.”

“Well I can’t let Sunshine have all the fun.”

He smiled at her, exchanging a subtle glance. Raven however replied with a glare, daring him to even attempt to look at her that way again.

Jinx shook her head and rolled her eyes at their childishness, sometimes she felt a little too much like their mother. “So I talked to Wally this morning, he said that the Expedition should be sold for parts, gave me the address for the place in Blüdhaven he suggested.”

“What about the other Ford?”

“He said, it’s a piece of shit, but he’s gonna look at it.”

He smiled at her tone, practically able to hear the speedster speak those words himself. “Yeah, cause Chevy would have held up much better under heavy gunfire? That little ginger’s an asshole.”

“Yeah I know, I live with him,” Jinx replied, “but he’s cute so I’ll keep him.”

Raven rolled her eyes at the sickeningly sweet comment, Dick giggling at how impervious she was to cute.

Clancy finally came out and placed a fresh cup of tea in front of Raven who thanked her, but was not rewarded with extra baked goods.

“See, I thanked her and I didn’t get an extra muffin.”

“That cause you’re not very charming,” Dick replied taking a sip of his coffee picked up a muffin.

“No. It means that she wants you to—”

“Don’t even finish that sentence,” Dick said appalled, cutting her off before she could embarrass him further.

“Then you better split that extra muffin with me.”

“Jesus Christ,” Jason sighed, annoyed. “You two are making me sick.”

“Yeah you guys are put me in a diabetic coma if you keep that shit up,” X added and took a bite of his muffin.

Raven glared at them, her brow knit. “What?”

Jinx glanced up at her, realizing the demon girl wasn’t catching on. “What they’re trying to say is, you two, are cute together.” She got up and moved to the back of the bar.

The birds looked at each other a little awkwardly as though the thought were some foreign concept.

“We’re just friends,” Raven defended before Jinx could walk away, “we’re not cute.

Jinx shook her head and giggled at Raven’s oblivious nature. “Yeah, that’s why you’re jealous over another woman’s muffin, right?”

The sorceress’s mouth fell agape, her violet eyes for once filled with shocked humility. But before Raven could defend herself, Duela entered the scene with both Eddie and Enigma, following behind. The trio seemed a little off put with something, all three wearing a misplaced look on their face.

“You’re gonna be pissed, JT,” Duela said taking a seat at a table.

Jason stood up, his face falling from humor to annoyance as though he were asking himself, what the fuck now?

“So you know your policy on what gets wheeled and dealed around where and when?” The vibrant redhead asked, plucking a muffin from the tray.

“Yeah?” His brows grew together and his voice filled with disdain, knowing he’d be less than thrilled with the story he was about hear.

“Well Eddie got a call last night from our boy in blue, saying they busted a few girls last night.”

“What were they selling?”

“Crystal, a bump, and some pussy,” Duela replied reaching for an extra muffin, “all on your block—aw Clancy what the hell?” She spat as her hand was swatted away from tray.

“Great,” Jason drawled. “So they were breaking all the cardinal rules in one hit.” He paused, clearly ruffled at the information, frustration building in his eyes. “Any idea who they’re working for?”

“Most of the girls wouldn’t talk, but apparently one of them said she worked for you.”

“That little bitch’s got a death wish,” Jinx groaned not even looking up from her coffee.

Jason crossed his arm with a scowl, clearly displeased with this information, “Did we get the girl’s name?”

“Yeah,” Duela replied and pulled out a piece of paper, “Her real name is Mia Dearden, she goes by Honey on the streets. Go figure, right?” She paused, waiting for anyone to laugh, but was left with nothing more than an eye roll. “Okay then. She’s a runaway from Cali, has some class D and C misdemeanors under her belt, but prostitution’s not one of ’em.”

“She actually told a cop all of that?”

“Oh god no!” Duela laughed. “They went through her purse.”

“Who needs civil rights,” Raven shrugged, looking over at Dick who watched the exchange from the bar.

“She lost her civil rights the second she started peddling pussy in our territory,” Enigma replied. “She should pay for that.”

“Hey, before we start doling out punishments maybe you should consider that she’s probably just doing what her pimp told her to do,” Dick replied. “She’s probably scared to shit right now, worried about who’s gonna beat her to death first—Red Hood or her pimp.”

Jason looked over at him as he looked up from the paper he’d taken from Duela and realized Mia’s age. “Yeah, I don’t beat up little girls, Dick.”

He handed the hero the sheet of paper which revealed Mia was only 16 years old. Dick grimaced and looked up at Jason, who seemed upset with that idea that some underage girl was being pimped out on his very block at all. Better yet using his name. Dick’s eyes fell on her picture, a pretty blond who barely looked like a teenager in the photo. Even so, Dick noticed the expression cast in the girl’s eyes, which expressed that of an old woman’s heart. A look that was cold and read of lost innocence. Those eyes had seen far too much for a girl her age. 

Dick looked up as Jason who seemed to notice the same thing and handed back the paper.

“Little girl or not, we have to find her,” Jinx said walking to the table.

“And do what?” Dick asked with urgency.

“Invite her over for tea,” Jinx patronized and rolled her eyes, “we find out who she’s really working for, and then we show that scumbag what happens when you try and sell little girls on our streets.”

“Or in this town,” Jason added darkly, slamming the paper down. “We gotta find her, before her pimp does.”

Jason ordered Hogan to make copies of the intel and began doling out orders.

“Okay, Duela, Eddie, Enigma; you three go see if you can find any more information on our new vendor. Jinx, X and Dick, you three come with me. We’re gonna go find the underage streetwalker.”

Dick looked over at Raven a little worried, unsure what to expect from this little outing. Jason ordered everyone to get their “shit” and be ready to go in 5 minutes. The group dispersed, going about their rituals. Dick looked on at them feeling out of place, his confidence in the situation dwindling.

“You got a problem, Grayson?” Jason asked astringently.

Dick crossed his arms and straightened his back. “Only if we end up hurting this girl.”

Jason placed his hand on his chin in frustration and his tone followed. “The goal isn’t to hurt her, it’s to get information.”

“And what’s gonna happen to her after we get the information, Jason?”

“You really think that little of me, don’t you?” he scowled pulling on his gloves.

Dick didn’t respond for a moment, a little dumbfounded at the statement and Jason’s insult. It wasn’t that he expected Jason to be cruel out of spite, but more of his reputation. Or at least that was all people talked about. It was his own personal stereotype. It was what people saw when they looked at him, and more importantly, what he want people to see. He wanted people to fear him, and he wanted them know what he’d do if they crossed him. Just like Bruce.

Before Dick could bring himself to speak, Jason spoke for him.

“Well if you’re not too high and mighty, we’re leaving. You in?”

Dick didn’t say anything, he just knit his brow, and nodded, confirming he’d be tagging along, though he was reluctant to.

“Good. Raven, can you please keep an eye on the skinhead?”

Raven nodded in agreement, though part of her wanted so badly to join Dick and assure he and Jason didn’t accidently (or purposely) kill each other.

Jason uttered a thank you and told Dick to meet him and others out back, then left before they could argue any further.

Dick turned to Raven, her eyes tangled with worry and her face dripping in unmoved concern.

“You gonna be okay here?”

Raven nodded, her jaw falling slack as she took in a breath. “Yeah, I’m worried about you though?”

Dick took her face in his hands and met her eyes, still plagued by upset. “I’ll be fine, Rae.”

“What do you think’s gonna happen to that girl?”

Dick took deep breath, trying to overcome his own worry. “I don’t know, but I honestly think Jason doesn’t wanna hurt her.”

“He doesn’t, but what if she tries to hurt you?”

“I don’t know, she’s just a kid…”

“And that’s why I’m worried.”


 

The three Outlaws waited on a rooftop, all three looking at Dick, who clearly didn’t fit in. It was kind of ironic though; Dick had, at one point, prior to current events, worked with each individual.  He’d teamed up with Red X to take down Slade, he served (for a short time) as Jinx’s leader during her brief stint as a Titan, and when it came to Jason, Dick was whoever he had to be for the little boy he was put in charge of.

However, now, he appeared to them as something small, something that didn’t quite fit and they couldn’t look past it. Dick resented this feeling, but he knew it was warranted and if he were to outgrow such a thing, he’d have to forget what made him a Titan in the first place. Though part of him wondered if he were already doing that.

“So who’s this informant we’re waiting for?” Dick finally asked, bored with watching Jason smoke his second cigarette.

“You’ll find out soon enough,” Jason replied, “I don’t wanna ruin the surprise.”

Dick rolled his eyes with a small laugh as he replied, “I don’t know, this is Gotham. The fact that you pay off a few cops doesn’t shock me.”

“Oh you just wait,” Jinx added looking down at the info of the young blonde.

Before another word could be said, they heard the door open behind them. Dick turned, unsure of who’d he see in the doorway, and to his surprise, he actually was shocked.

“Montoya?” Dick blurred, forgetting himself.

“Grayson?” the young detective said. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Wait you two know each other?” X asked from behind his mask.

“Yeah,” Jason snickered from under his helmet, “Dick used to date the police commissioners daughter back when Montoya was a rookie.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah,” Dick sighed with annoyance, “I know a lot of the law enforcement in this town… or at least I thought I did.”

Montoya grimaced at the statement, annoyed the young man would even say such a thing. “Well things change, kid. We all do what we have to, especially in this town. You should know. Speaking of change; does Gordon know you’re in town?”

“No.”

“You may wanna keep it that way.”

The words took the young hero by surprise, unsure why Montoya would say something like that. But before Dick could inquire upon her advice further, Jason pushed to the next subject.

“What’s the news on our little friend?”

Montoya’s eyes fell from Dick and to the Red Hood. “Probably skulking her way back to the pig who’s tricking her out.”

“And do we know who that is?”

“No. I’ve been asking around a little, but no one seems to know anything other than the few girls they’ve seen working your territory.”

Jason frowned. “Exactly where did you pick her up?”

“Three blocks down from your bar. She was right under your nose working the corner of Wolfman and Perez.”

“Shit,” he scoffed under his breath. He looked back at Jinx and Red X, an unsavory thought crossing his mind. “Montoya, I need you to do some digging.”

“Okay, what about?”

“Last night we did a run and we got ambushed. I’m not completely sure, but I don’t think they were after the shipment. I think they were after me.”

“You think someone’s look’n to push you out?”

“Yeah, or take me out.”

Dick winced at the statement, the words not sitting right with him, mostly because he thought they were true. He looked over to at the three other Outlaws, who seemed to not be as surprised by the revelation.

“Okay, I’ll see if I can pick up any intel, in the meantime, try to be safe. Oh And Grayson,” she added glancing at him coldly, “your little secret’s safe with me.”

Dick smiled at her sarcastically, not really taking comfort in the idea of her knowing who he was currently running with. But somehow, even though her newfound coldness, she was still the Montoya he remembered.

Jason pulled out small roll of cash and shook her hand, the rolled tucked in his palm. She took it in the firm hand shake and placed in her pocket, out of sight. She looked back at the group one more, then turned to leave.

Once the detective left, Jinx and X began to move forward, leaving Dick and Jason behind a moment. Dick crossed his arms and walked toward the anti-hero, knowing the young man was experiencing a little unrest.

“You really think someone out there is trying to kill you?”

Jason glanced over at him, his face emotionless as he said, “There’s always someone out there trying to kill me.”

Dick shrugged, somehow not surprised. “So then why do you seem so shaken by this one?”

“Because at some point, one of them will probably succeed.”

Dick furrowed his brow as reality hit him right in the chest. Jason meant what he said, and he knew that the life he chose would eventually be the end of him. And once again, he would be nothing.

“Now come on. We got a hooker to find.”


 

The grungy looking boy moved down the sidewalk, keeping an eye out for a pretty blonde whose picture he held in his hand. He looked down at it, wondering what kind of tragedy a face like hers told, her blue eyes sorrowing as they looked back at him. Eddie was a bit of a sucker for girls like that, girls he wanted to help. He wasn’t really sure why, but he liked to think it was because he liked to give them the benefit of the doubt. That they, too, were inherently good.

He heard his pre-pay ring as he reached the end of the sidewalk. He stopped at the edge and flipped the phone open, placing it to his ear.

“Yeah?”

“Eddie, we got a possible location on our girl. Montoya said she busted her at the corner of Wolfman and Perez,” Jason said over the sloppy connection.

“I’m only a few blocks down from there. Where are you guys?”

“We’re headed there now, but keep your eyes peeled. Odds are she’s probably gonna try make some quick cash before heading back to her pimp.”

“Rather show up late than empty handed?”

“Maybe, we’ll have to see. Get the other two redheads on it.”

“Got it JT.”

Eddie closed the phone and looked across street to flag down a pale girl with short red hair. She noticed him and stayed put as he jogged across the street to meet her.

“You find anything?” Duela asked as he reached the sidewalk.

Eddie shook his head, a few strands of his chin length hair getting caught in the wind. “No, but Jason called, he wants us to check out Wolfman and Perez. Apparently that’s where she was working.”

“You really think she’s dumb enough to work the beat she got picked up on?” she asked texting Enigma the location.

“Well I guess we’ll found out. Now come on.”

They began to walk the stretch of concrete, passing by people, trying to keep themselves hidden. Eddie noticed Duela looking passed him, her eyes trying to catch something that probably wasn’t there.

“You see something?”

She shook her head no, a dwindling look covering her face.

“You’re looking for them aren’t you?” Eddie asked as he’d seen this look a little more often than Duela had thought.

“Yeah, I guess?” she grimaced and placed her thin hands in her pockets. “It’s just weird to think they could be out there. I mean, they could walk right past me and I’d never know.”

“Yeah,” Eddie sighed as they crossed the street.

“What about your parents?” she asked to the rhythm of their footsteps.

“What about them?”

“Well, you never talk about them.”

“That’s cause there’s nothing to talk about,” the grungy boy replied. “They live in Syracuse, my dad’s a mouthpiece for a billion-dollar company, my mom plays tennis at her leisure. They’re good people, I guess?”

“You say that like it’s not entirely true,” she said watching as he said nothing, like part of him may have agreed. “But if they’re such good people, why’d you end up here?”

He shrugged. “Because I chose to be. The hero thing didn’t really hookup.”

“You didn’t fit in?”

“Yep, just like everything else in my life. I was kind of a freak.”

“Welcome to the club,” Duela smiled.

“Speaking of the club, I think we found the member we’re looking for,” Eddie added, spotting a thin girl leaning against a car, flirting with the man out of counterfeit attraction.

“Shit,” Duela sighed. “Call Jason, I’m gonna get closer.”

“Got it, just try not to scare her,” Eddie added, already dialing his phone. “Hey man, where are you?”

“We’re coming on Perez now, why?”

“We found our girl. She’s working on a potential john now.”

“Jesus Christ,” Jason drawled, “don’t let her leave, we’ll be there in a minute.”

“On it.”

 He closed the phone and texted Duela as he noticed the girl getting ready to get in the man’s car. He saw Duela look down at her phone and approach the scene, thinking quick on her feet.

“Hey bitch, where do you get the balls to eat out of my dish?” the redhead said, closing the door before the blonde could get in.

The man quickly sped away, the girl calling for him to wait.

“What the fuck?” she snapped, frustration etched on her underage face.

“I just did you a huge favor, Honey. Be grateful.”

“What! How did you—” the young girl began, then noticed the black panel van pull up and the Red Hood get out “—Shit!”

She tried to take off, but Duela caught her by the arm. The girl turned in protest and slugged her captor in the face, loosening her grip. Once free, she bolted, followed by Jason, Eddie, X and Dick. The men darting after her like wolves on the hunt.

Jinx stopped to make sure Duela was alright, then took off after her pack, leaving Duela to wipe the blood from her mouth.

The girl ran into an alley, losing her heals as she made the corner, she tossed something in a dumpster and attempted to climb up a fire escape.

“Hey—Stop!” she heard the man in the red hood yell, a young man with dark hair barreling toward her. She tried to take off again, but was cut off by another in a strange skull mask. He caught her and placed his hand over her mouth, muffling her screams as he pushed her against the brick wall.

He began to say something in a synthesized voice, but before he could finish, she threw her knee into his groin, knocking the wind clear out of him. She sprinted away again, the dark haired man not far behind. She turned another corner, but was met with a locked gate, throwing herself against it in defeat. She cried out in vain, breathy curse words repeating themselves as she couldn’t find the strength to climb the tall gate.

“Wait!” Dick called slightly out of breath. “I’m not gonna hurt you.”

The young girl turned, her makeup from the night before leaving her with a cheap aesthetic. Dick could see the fear in her eyes, and the split in her top lip. She reminded him of Cyndi, the woman from the motel, and unfortunately, the two were probably not very different. They both lived in a world where they were only as good as the money they earned, their souls sold with every dollar.

“Then why are you chasing me?” the girl questioned frantically.

She sounded so young, like a frightened child. The thought made Dick sick as her face clearly showed that this life was far from her choice.

 “Because I wanna talk—”

“Bullshit!” She screamed.

“No, I swear,” he urged, holding up his empty hands, “I just wanna talk, Mia.”

The girl’s eyes widened as she heard him call her by the name she’d nearly lost with her humanity.

“How did you know my—”

“Dick, get her!” Jason called as he and Jinx came barreling around corner, X slowly stumbling behind with Eddie.

The girl tried to claim the chain-link behind her, her hands and feet trying frantically lift her frail body.

“Mia wait!” Dick called, but to no avail.

Mia got herself nearly halfway up, but was quickly pulled down, kicking and screaming by Jason who was pretty much done with her shit.

“Listen, you kick me in the nuts, you’ll be sorry. Got it, darl’n?” he said pushing her back against the fence.

“Jason, what the fuck?” Dick scoffed, forcing himself between Jason and Mia. “She’s just a kick and she’s terrified!”

“Because she knows something. Now move.”

“No!”

Dick looked back at Jason, keeping his eyes pinned firm on the faceless hood staring back at him.

“Grayson, don’t make me move you myself,” the Outlaw warned and stepped closer to him.

“Like you could.”

Before Jason could act upon the dare given to him by his supposed elder, Jinx stepped in to break up their bickering.

“That’s enough you two!” she spat. “You both have a point, now stop measuring dicks before I cut them off.”

“And I thought Raven was bad,” Dick replied looking over at Jinx.

“Yeah, well Raven’s not the only one with a sharp tongue. Now, both of you, move.”

Jinx quickly pushed Dick out of her way, so she could meet Mia face to face. She noticed the tears running down her face and how they seemed to trace both fresh and faded bruises. She had no question who’d given them to her.

“Your pimp did that to your lip?”

Mia looked up, and wiped a few tears from her face, trying to avoid her cat-like eyes. “It’s nothing.”

“It doesn’t look like nothing,” Jinx replied. “Let me guess, you got a little mouthy and you deserved a good smack?”

“No…”

“Then what really happened?”

Mia refused to answer. She crossed her arms and looked down at her filthy bare feet. Jason shook his head in frustration, looking at Jinx with a vexed look under his helmet.

“Your bullshit motherly touch isn’t working, Jinx.”

“Maybe if you weren’t acting like such an asshole,” she replied sharply. “Listen Mia, we really don’t wanna hurt you, we just need to know who you work for.”

The girl rolled her eyes and cocked her head. “Well then I guess I’m getting my ass kicked, cause I ain’t telling you shit.”

Dick noticed the blank look in her eyes. She held far more fear for the man who only saw her as a means of profit then she did from the ravenous pack of wolves ready to tear her apart.

“We’re not gonna do that, Mia,” Dick said in a light voice. “You’re just as much a victim in this as anyone.”

“You’re still not getting shit out me. I’m not a rat.”

“Yeah well you’re about to get torn up like one. Now talk!” Jason snapped, losing patience with girl.

A few tears ran down her face at his tone, making Dick’s heart sink to the pit of his stomach. He turned to Jason and pulled Jinx from Mia, signaling her to follow him.

“Can I talk to you,” Dick asked addressing Jason, “You too X.”

Jason looked over at the terrified girl, her arms wrapped tight around herself as though she were hoping they were that of another’s.

“Yeah,” he replied and nodded for Eddie and Duela to watch Mia.

The three Outlaws gathered around the hero, waiting to hear what he had to say.

“This better be good, Grayson.”

Dick rolled his eyes at Jason, speaking in a low voice, “She isn’t gonna tell us anything because as far as she’s concerned, she’s gonna get a beating either way. She’s not gonna bite the hand that feeds her, not unless we offer her one.”

“What, like offer her protection?” X asked, his voice still a little sore.

“Protection, a place to stay. If we can offer her a way out of the life, she might talk.”

“It makes sense,” Jinx added and looked over to X and Jason.

“If she promises not to kick me in the balls again, I’m in.”

All eyes fell on the man in the red hood. None of them able to see the look of grief he held for the young girl, but he also had to look out for the big picture.

“I don’t know?”

Dick’s heart sunk a little as the vague words pushed their way passed the emotionless front painted in red.

“She needs to feel safe, Jason. You know what that’s like.”

“Jesus Christ,” Jason muttered as his head feel back. He took a moment to pull himself back together, shaking off the vulnerable feeling. “Okay, but she needs to show us an act of good faith. I’m not taking her in so she can spit in our faces later.”

Dick nodded in agreement, knowing that taking her in would be meaningless if they didn’t get anything out of it.

“Let me handle it, she’ll talk.”

Dick pulled away from the group and set his sights on Mia, hoping his plan of salvation would work.

“Your name’s Mia, right?”

She nodded but said nothing, the man’s tone calm and gentle.

“Okay Mia, what if I told you that we wanted to help you?”

She glanced up at him with a broken look, years of horrors reflecting in those nearly empty blue eyes. “I’d say the last time somebody said that I ended up on my knees.”

“That’s not gonna happen,” Dick reassured. “We can get you off the streets, you just have to help us.”

“You say that like it’s possible.”

“Do you know who he is?” Dick asked pointing to Jason. “He’s the guy you don’t cross in this town. Nothing here happens without his say so. If anyone can keep you safe, it’s the Red Hood.”

“He also wanted to kill me a whole 5 minutes ago,” Mia groaned, her arms still crossed.

“It’s my go-to, sorry,” the Hood shrugged.

Dick rolled his eyes at Jason’s response, though he full-heartedly knew it was the truth. “The point is, we can help you, give you a place to stay, food, keep you off the streets, keep you away from whoever it is you’re afraid of.” Dick paused, looking back at girl, her eyes looking back at him a little conflicted, but all she needed was a push. “And all you have to do in return is help us.”

“And let me guess, by taking care of you and your friends?”

Dick grimaced at the jaded statement a little disgusted. “No, by helping us find who’s been hurting you.”

“Why?” Mia asked, her cheap dress hardly keeping her covered. “Why is finding him so important to you?”

“Please don’t tell me you’re actually that stupid?” Jinx groaned. “If you have any idea what block you’re on, you should know why you even being here is a problem.”

Mia glanced over at Jinx who seemed to see right through the façade. She wasn’t buying it.

“You promise that if I tell you, he won’t find me, right?”

“He won’t even have the opportunity,” Jason said flatly, letting it be no secret what he intended to do to her tormentor.

She looked down a moment, her eyes holding some odd guilt. Dick recognized it as not quite Stockholm syndrome, but something a little like it. For Mia her very survival depended on this man, whoever he may be. Her loyalty to him ensured that she’d live to see another day and meant any chance of having a life beyond her current nightmare. There was also the matter of trust. Yes the people affronting her promised to free her, but would they? The man she served may not have been a good one, and as much as she hated him, he was the devil she knew.

“He goes by Ricky the Doll Maker, but his real name is Richard—Richard Walker. He brought me and few other girls here from Blüdhaven, specifically for this territory. He’s not the only one.”

“Did he say why?”

“All he’d say was that he was paid a lot of money by some big Gotham player to start “doing business in the Hood’s hood.” That’s all I know, I swear.”

Dick glanced over at Jason, assuming he was foaming at the mouth, but kept himself together for the moment.

“Jesus Christ,” the Hood drawled and stepped forward. “Okay Mia, a deal’s a deal. Jinx is gonna take you back to the bar, get you some reasonable clothing to wear, a hot meal. We have a girl there who knows a thing or two about medicine, she’ll patch up that lip for you. We’re gonna keep you safe.”

She nodded wearily, a dejected smile breaking on her face with irony. “The last time a man said that to me, he turned me into a whore…”

Jason paused a moment as his skin crawled from the comment. “That’s not gonna happen this time, I promise you. You don’t have to do anything that you don’t wanna do, starting now.”

He could tell she didn’t quite believe him, though she really wanted to. However, Jason didn’t take the distrust to heart. He knew she’d been conditioned to hate men and the fact she was even complying with them was a miracle.

Jinx approached the girl as Dick removed his coat and tried to place it over her shoulders in an attempt to salvage some of her lost dignity. He noticed her flinch, such an act of kindness had been foreign to her for so long it was like she’d forgotten such a thing exists.

“Well, I’ll call Clancy and give her a heads up that we’re adding another tart to the mix,” Jinx said looking back at group as she left, Mia quietly demanding that she not be called a tart. Jinx, however, didn’t care.

“Hang on,” Duela called, and ran up to Jinx and Mia, “Gimme your phone.”

“It’s just a pre-pay,” Mia said lifelessly.

“No shit Hun, but I’m gonna need to contact your ol’ man, so give it.”

“It’s in my purse, the one I threw in the dumpster. The grungy kid’s holding it.”

“Good, what’s his contact?”

“What are guys gonna do to—”

“You don’t wanna know,” X said, cutting her off and took the dime store bag from Eddie and pulled out the Hello-Kitty burner, proceeding to go through it.

“Let’s just say, you don’t have to worry about that sick prick anymore, blondie, you’re gonna be free to be a kid.”

“That’s never gonna happen,” she sighed dejectedly. Whatever was left of her childhood had already become a perversion of her innocence, it was clear by the choice of her phone.

“Well, then settle for not flat-backing it through college,” Duela smiled crassly, Jinx looking back at her with daggers.

“Words to live by, Duela. Thank you.” She pulled Mia away and went on her way.

Duela shrugged and turned around to find Eddie, Dick, and Jason all staring at her questionably.

“What, I never said my sense of humor was tactful?”

“No one said it was funny either,” Jason added as she walked back, letting his eyes drift away. “You find anything yet, X?”

“Yeah,” the masked boy replied and looked up. “The last text she sent to him was this morning “Hey sorry, I got hassled by the cops. I’m working on making up for it now.” And he replied with the classic, ‘Bitch you better not have said anything. And if I find out you did, that pretty face of yours is gonna be staining the pavement.’ He’s a real Romeo, right?”

“God, no wonder why she’s scared shitless of him,” Eddie said sadly, feeling pity for the girl.

Dicked sighed heavily, feeling something similar. “So what do we do?”

“Shoot him a text,” Jason replied, “tell him The Red Hood is out looking for him and she’s scared.”

“Why the ego boost?” X asked sarcastically as he typed.

“Cause I want him to get desperate and make a few mistakes. If he’s scared he’s gonna ask Mia to meet somewhere discrete, somewhere that only she would know about.”

“Like the mill?” X questioned, moving the phone in Jason’s view.

“Oh Mr. Walker you are just gonna make this way too easy, aren’t you?” Jason droned reading the text that demanded Mia make her way to the location ASAP. “Eddie, call Jinx and tell her to ask Mia what mill she meets Walker in. X tell him we’re on our way.”

The group started to act, getting ready to charge into battle mode. Dick, though disgusted with Mia’s treatment, still had his reservations about actually taking care of the man.

“You coming Grayson?” Jason asked, fixing his gloves as he spoke.

“Yeah,” Dick replied hearing Eddie hang up the phone.

“They meet at the abandoned paper mill on the west Gotham boarder—north of Bludhaven.”

“Good, let’s go,” Jason ordered and everyone took off down the alley.

“Jason wait,” Dick said before he left with the others. “Are we really gonna kill this guy?”

He shook his head. “Do you really have to ask that question?” he replied in a scolding voice.

“Can’t we just get what need from him, beat him within an inch of his life, then hand him over to Montoya?”

“Okay, I’m gonna humor you for a minute,” Jason replied signaling the other three to move ahead. “Let’s say we do that and he’s processed and the DA wants to take his ass to court so he answer for his crimes. You and I both know Mia won’t testify. We’ll be lucky if he even gets convicted and if he does, he’ll do 5 years tops, and then he’s free to do this shit again. I’m not gonna let him ruin some other girl’s life, Dick, especially not on my goddamn block. Now you can help, or you can go back to Jump. It’s up to you.”

Dick was taken aback by the venom in Jason’s voice, the disgust he held for the man he sought to end. Jason may have been a criminal and a murderer, but he liked people to believe he was a criminal with scruples. He didn’t kill innocent people and frowned upon selling drugs to children, or recruiting them into gangs and other criminal actives. And he hated those that forced women, especially young girls, into sex trafficking, never mind on his turf. And as far as Jason was concerned, Richard Walker had to die for that mortal sin. That’s what people expected of him and that’s exactly what he would do.

“Fine. Let’s go.”


 

 The Bentley pulled down the old dirt road, traveling out of the city’s heart and to the very edge of its exterior. This part of Gotham was reserved for only the few and powerful. A sentiment Oswald Cobblepot resent, greatly. However, if this meeting were to happen, it had to happen on his terms. And Cobblepot was in no position to delegate.

They arrived in front of a nearly hand-built wooden structure. The face of the building having a quaint pine porch, dressed with handmade cedar tables and oak chairs. A great sign read high atop the awning: Wilson Wood Crafting & Carpentry.

The vehicle came to a stop and parked out front. Neither Butch nor his employer had ever been to this establishment. And though, at face value, this seemed like a great privilege, one could only fret its unthreatening appearance.

The two slowly exited the car, both eyeing the seemingly charming structure as though it were just waiting to bite. The door suddenly swung open. A tall, white haired man stepped out, a lonely eye patch leaving him with a solemn blue eye. His face seemed hardened, but he somehow managed to smile through it, leaving his guests with little comfort.

“You look like the cat got your tongue, Cobblepot,” he said removing his old gloves, covered in fine sawdust.

“Slade, is that you?”

“Who were you expecting,” the man replied, still standing on the porch, “Walter White?”

The chubby man frowned, unsettled. In an odd sense he felt like Heisenberg or Keyser Söze was exactly who he’d found.

“Why’d don’t you gentleman come in—have a drink?”

Butch looked over at his boss who nodded cautiously and stepped forward.

“I wouldn’t have taken you as a working man, Slade,” Cobblepot said waddling up the stairs, his meaty hands grasping the railing to support his stiff knees.

“Well I’ve never been one to idle,” he replied. “My grandfather taught me wood working when I was a boy. I took it up again after I was discharged from the military.”

The men followed him into the shop, the interior kept clean and well cared for. The ceiling was pitched, supported by pine beams, their rustic character still present as they held the treated planks in place. The floor creaked, an obvious sign they were also made of pine. The cabinets on wall were made of a fine grain oak, carved with beautiful detail and stained in a rich pecan color to compliment the pine.

“Did you build all this,” Cobblepot asked, a little impressed with the level of craftsmanship present.

“Everything but the foundation,” Slade replied, pulling a decanter of brand from one of the stunning cabinets. “I built this place after I lost my son… apparently carpentry helps me cope.”

“Impressive,” Butch muttered letting his thick hand run over the raw surface of a table.

There were also trinkets on the wall, mostly taxidermy, a few buck heads, some coyotes, one bob cat and a black bear.

“Do you taxidermy too?” Butch joked, looking at the reasonably sized bear before him.

Slade laughed and shook his head. “No, I just hunt them. I take my daughter sometimes, she’s quite the shot.”

“Well with a reputation like yours, I wouldn’t expect anything less,” Butch added. His boss still a bit uneasy.

Slade handed them each a glass and motioned for them to take a seat at the table. “Well we should probably get down to business.” The two men sat across from him as he began. “Now as we all know, the run didn’t go according to plan, as far as I know, no one suspects your involvement and we need to keep it that way.”

“Once again I’m very sorry,” Cobblepot began. “I guess what’s left of Cosa Nostra isn’t much?”

Slade took a sip of his brandy, savoring it for a moment. “For 20 years, I’ve watched as the sun has set on the Five Families and I can tell you, there’s nothing waiting for them beyond the horizon. A couple trips around the sun ago, they may have had a chance of taking out the Hood, but not in the little daylight they have left.”

“I guess we should have thought of that,” Butch added, glancing into his glass.

“You should have,” Slade agreed, “but I understand why you chose them. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain. They also don’t have the pull or the power to retaliate when you turn on them; that made them a logical choice.”

Cobblepot frowned. “But?”

But they don’t have the skill, and at this point they never will, and if we’re going to take out the Hood, then we’ll have to play a wildcard.”

“Just one question,” Butch asked, “you’re the one who put the Hood in power to begin with, why take him out now?”

“Because of ambition,” Slade replied. “At the time I needed ambition, I needed someone who was hungry enough to go after the giant, and Red Hood was that man. He wanted to make Gotham a safer place for good people and keep the bad things as far away from them as possible. He was what this city needed at the time.”

“And by this city you mean you, right?”

“That was awfully bold of you, Cobblepot,” Slade smirked, “but I would be lying if I said I didn’t benefit from the rise of the Hood. I needed him to get rid of Black Mask and run every last memory of his existence out of this town.”

“And now that he’s done that?”

“I have no need for him,” Slade said, washing the words down with another sip of rich brandy. “There’s nothing left for him to do but dethrone me… and if left uncheck, a man of his metal will do so. He won’t just sit back and be part of the machine, he needs to be the one pulling the strings.”

“He sounds a lot like you,” Cobblepot smirked wickedly.

“That’s exactly my point.” He finished his brandy, eyeing the empty glass.

“But—and this is just figurative—but at some point, won’t you retire? Won’t you need someone to take over?”

Slade looked up from the empty glass, a cold smile curly at the corners of his mouth. “I may be old, but I still have a fight or two left in me. And though you’re not wrong; the Red Hood is not the kind of man I want to leave my legacy to, he’s far too feral for my liking.”

“One can’t really argue with that,” Cobblepot agreed. “So who would you suggest we get to put him in checkmate?”

“Someone who’s cut from the same cloth, someone who’s no stranger to feral things, someone who’s not afraid to put them down.”

“You don’t mean?”

“I do.”

Chapter Text

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." --William Shakespeare

It was cold in the boardroom, something Bruce Wayne took notice of. However, he thought it quite fitting for the fact that this was indeed a place of verbal bloodbaths. Especially when his cousin, Adeline Kane Wilson, was leading the charge. What else did he expect from a Kane after all?

She’d entered the room armed, holding a large leather folder. This, he presumed, had everything necessary for the assault, including everything from favors to blackmail. She could be so ruthless, but so could half the people sitting across from him. Bruce may have owned the majority of the company, but he was very well aware that many of his colleges were just waiting to pounce at the first drop of blood. Every last one of them sharks. The only person he truly trusted with the legacy of his family’s great company was Lucius Fox—a friend and trusted ally.

Lucius was, in many ways, Bruce’s eyes and ears, always looking out for his company’s best interest. He was also a man of great brilliance and loyalty, qualities Bruce valued above all else. But there was one thing in particular that Lucius Fox had that many of the board members didn’t—a heart.

“Are we ready to call this meeting into session everyone?” Lucius said with a hint of natural grandeur.

Bruce couldn’t help but chuckle a little at how official the man sounded, like he were a judge presiding over a court.

“Alright,” Lucius began, “today we will be discussing the plan proposed by Mr. Wayne for a potential youth center located on the site of one of Wayne Enterprises currently vacant properties. Now is everyone up to date with the proposed plan, and understands the details in which it was proposed?”

Lucius look up from his notes and noticed everyone nod, both looks of calm and dissatisfaction reflecting back at him.

“Good,” he continued, “I will now open the floor to those of you who have concerns. As always, let us try to be respectful and have a thoughtful discussion. Would anyone like start?”

A man in a navy blue suit, sharply dressed, leaned forward and raised his hand stylishly, a flat look upon his alabaster skin. He, like Bruce, came from old Gotham money, but what he did with it was a far cry from the values of a Wayne son.

“Yes Mr. Daggett, the floor is yours.”

“Thank you, Lucius,” the man said and stood up, buttoning his coat. Unaware of how much Lucius hated when John Daggett addressed him as a friend.

“My fellow members of the board, I think I speak for all of us when I say that this project is, and always will be, a beautiful dream , but a dream is all it is and will ever be.”

Bruce couldn’t help but roll his eyes as Daggett stood there, addressing the table as if he were addressing congress.

Maybe this really is a courtroom and I missed the memo?

Still, Daggett continued, “I want nothing more than to help ensure the youth of our great city have the tools they need to remain on the straight and narrow, but that’s not the reality we live in . Mr. Wayne wants us to believe that this center can make a difference, and bring light to a very dim part of Gotham, and maybe it can? I agree, the children in that neighborhood need a safe place where they can safely partake in productive activities and be enriched. I’m not saying we deny them of that, but with those kids come complications that cannot be avoided. Drugs, gangs, recruiters, and even possibly sex traffickers. Mr. Wayne wants and believes this center will be a beacon of hope, but I know—and—you know—this place will only be a beacon of opportunity to those who only wish to prey on these kids. I for one do not feel the need to chum the waters .”

Both Bruce and Lucius looked around at the many faces teetering on conflict, Daggett’s words grooming their appreciation into fear.

“Is that all, Mr. Daggett?” Lucius asked trying to keep the loathing and annoyance to a minimum.

“Yes, Lucius. Thank you.”

“Would anyone like to address the concerns of Mr. Daggett with a rebuttal?”

Yep, I missed the memo…

“I would,” Adeline said astringently and sat up in her chair.

“Ms. Kane?” Lucius said, a little surprised and looked a Bruce. “I didn’t know you were supporting this project?”

She smiled, a soft, but ironic grin. This concerned Lucius.

“It’s important to Bruce, and he is family. So, yes Mr. Fox, it’s important to me.”

That concerned Lucius more. “Proceed, Ms. Kane.”

“Thank you Mr. Fox.” A ravenous smile outstretched itself across her face. “I’d like to point out that Mr. Daggett is not wrong, it is a beautiful dream.”

John Daggett smirked a little nervously, but not because he thought he’d won. He just knew there was something beyond that lipstick smile of hers.

“But that is also where John Daggett is wrong, because here at Wayne Enterprises , nothing is just a dream. We are, without a doubt, the finest corporation in the world. We have made medical and technological breakthroughs that no other company in the world could have ever achieved. Hell—we’ve practically built the world we live in today. So how are we supposed to believe that we can’t save the youth in our own city? Now, Mr. Daggett isn’t wrong. A rough neighborhood means rough neighbors. We won’t be without our turmoil.” She paused, taking a moment of counterfeit reflection. “But, it’s nothing we can’t handle.”

God she was good.

Adeline motioned for her assistant to move toward the table, swaying her hand gracefully, refusing to break character. “I’ve comprised a list of suggested policies to help promote a safer, more stable environment. One that can help achieve the legacy this company was built on.”

She was really good.

Adeline removed a folder from the leather case and passed it over to her assistant so that it could be distributed. Bruce was among the first to receive his copy and scanned over the proposed suggestions. As this was taking place, Mr. Daggett spoke against Ms. Kane.

“So Addie, you believe that because our company helped cure polio that we can help cure gang violence in a city that was practically built on it?”

“Of course not,” Adeline replied, faux smile in tow. “But I do think we can help spare a soul or two from a life of delinquency, led in and out of prison. It’s a known fact that most children who end up in gangs usually come from broken homes in bad neighborhoods with notably poor educational systems. These children come from a world where their very survival depends on joining these organizations. These children need to see that they can survive without them, and we can do that through a strong infrastructure of education, stability, and a sense of community. This center can give them that.”

“What do you think of all this, Mr. Wayne?” Lucius asked, not taking his eyes off the ironclad brunette.

“I think Ms. Kane brings up several great points. Many of which, I agree with,” Bruce replied, addressing the room. “But there are several key points in her sub-proposal that I take issue with.”

“Such as?” she smirked.

“Such as, having an admissions program. A place of refuge should not be left to scrutiny .

Adeline smiled. “You’re right, Bruce. It shouldn’t. However, it’s only a precaution. We can’t allow those who are already gang affiliated to be part of the program. They could be there to recruit.”

Bruce frowned. “And what if they just want out of that life? What do we say to those kids?”

“In cases such as that we can put them on a probationary period. Once that period is complete then we can revisit the issue of having them in our program.”

“It’s a youth center , for AT RISK children. We can’t just turn kids away, especially the ones who need it the most.”

“We can if their presence is a threat to the other children, Bruce. I know you want to protect these kids, but you’re gonna have to accept that you can’t save the ones who don’t want to be saved.”

She was too good.

“I for one would feel a lot better voting for this if these guidelines were attached to the current plan,” an older board member replied.

Both Bruce and Lucius looked over at the greying man, his face unwilling to move from the notion that shutting out children was acceptable.

“It’s not unreasonable, Bruce.” Adeline urged. “We can even change the guidelines over time to best suit our situation. Who knows, maybe in a few years an open door policy will be something we can consider?”

“Consider? These are kids for God sake,” Bruce growled momentarily losing his composure.

He noticed Lucius look over at him, silently reminding him to keep himself together.

“Yes” she finally said, a calm look still plastered on her unmoved face,“ and as we know, children are not immune to the ignorance of others. If they were, this world would be a much better and safer place.”

Adeline was right. Children may have been innocent, but they could indeed grow to be tainted by those who chose to sculpt their minds with hate and ideology. But his mission was to stop that, or at least lessen its grip in Gotham. Could he still do that under Adeline’s stipulations? Was her iron fist truly just a necessary evil?

“What do you think, Lucius?” Bruce asked, knowing that if he wanted this project to go through, he didn’t have much choice.

“I think you made a deal with the Devil, Mr. Wayne. But it’s your call. If anyone has anything they would like to share, please take this time to address your concerns. If not, I propose we bring this to a vote.”  

The board room fell silent with no hand raised to make their case. Lucius looked down the table, knowing he’d have to call a vote, though he feared the choice the man to his left would make. Yes, Adeline made their case for them, and more than likely secured their win, but at what cost?

“Alright then, all for attaching the proposed set of guidelines to the current plan proposed and sponsored by Mr. Wayne?”

Adeline as well as five of her fellow board members raised their hands, a little less than half the board. Bruce’s hand however, was not one of them and neither was Lucius’s.

“All opposed?”

Bruce and Lucius raised their hands, both shocked to see that John Daggett was voting with them.

“What?” the man shrugged. “Even with her plan this thing’s a bust. Why help it limp across the finish-line?”

In all they were down one vote as two members decided to play Switzerland.

Lucius looked at Bruce, reluctantly shook his head and whispered, “If the Devil does indeed wear Prada, then she just hijacked your plan.”

Lucius composed himself, trying not let his feathers get too ruffled. However, he couldn’t understand why Bruce didn’t consult him before asking, of all people— Adeline Kane— to weave a tale upon her forked tongue ?

“All in favor of Mr. Wayne’s proposed plan with the added guidelines provided by Ms. Kane?”

Adeline and her five followers raised their hands again as Bruce watched. He had a decision take make; vote with the devil and get what he wanted (or at least part of it) or, abandon his ambition and watch it die on the boardroom floor? It would take months, maybe even a year or two to even have the program brought back to the table. Bruce was used to getting his way, he was used to it being the right way, but Adeline had a point. The board would never vote for his plan without this contingency attached, they were far too sheltered to.

Bruce turned his head to Lucius, a rueful look in his stoic eyes. He had to seal this deal with his soul attached, he just hoped he wouldn’t regret it too much. Lucius watched as Bruce raised his hand, and with reluctance, raised his as well.

Lucius didn’t even bother calling for an opposing vote. It was seven to six—it passed—barely. Bruce looked over at Adeline as Lucius continued with the meeting, a pleased, yet cynical grin on her red lips.

I may grow to regret this decision, he thought looking over at her as she basked in her victory.

Once the meeting finally came to a close, Bruce left the room hastily to catch up to the brunette, busy giving orders to her assistant.

“Push back my 10:30 conference call and move up my lunch—I don’t care what you have to tell them, just get it done—”

“Adeline, a word?” Bruce asked over her list of demands.

She glanced over at Bruce, she knew this was coming, she just didn’t care. “Walk and talk then, I have a world to run.”

Bruce shook his head, Adeline was a lot like time—she didn’t stop for anyone.

“When I asked you to help me pass the project, I didn’t mean change it.”

Adeline glanced over at him again, her dark green eyes steely beneath her flawless eye makeup. “Well, your plan wasn’t gonna pass unless I dressed it up a bit.”

“By making it selective ?” An asinine look grew on his face, one that he never sported.

“By making it less of a liability , Bruce.”

She stopped at the ladies room and pushed open the door, Bruce looking at her crudely.

“You coming?”

“That’s women’s bathroom?” he droned like a middle school boy about to cross the threshold of the unknown.

“I know, but I only have 5 minutes for a cigarette so if you wanna finish this conversation, you’ll get the hell in here.”

Bruce knit his brow and looked around before letting himself be seen entering.

“Come on Bruce, it’s just a bathroom. Stop being such a boy scout.” Adeline drawled, ushering him in.

“You actually smoke in the bathrooms here,” Bruce mused a little annoyed watching his cousin light up in front of him.

She took a long drag and leaned against the wall. “Well where else am I supposed to smoke?”

“Um… outside.”

She ashed her cigarette in the sink bring back up to her lips, brazenly. “Yes, let me schedule 25 minutes every hour so I can make the epic journey down to the lobby, because that would be really productive.

She always was crass with her thoughts. Bruce recalling a time when he actually found this quality to be one of her better attributes. Only now it seemed cold and hardened, like she no longer cared for the world... And she didn’t.

“Besides, if you think this is deplorable, then you should see what goes on in here during our company functions and Christmas parties.”

Bruce rolled his eyes and continued as his cousin carelessly smoked her victory cigarette. “You really are a piece of work.”

“Oh look how little I care.”

She exhaled and let her hand fall down, flicking the ash with her thumb. Adeline had a knack for using her smoking gestures as a witty way to punctuate her sentences. It was probably the only graceful thing about her foul habit.

“But I did what you asked me to. I got the center passed, you won.”

“Did I?”

Adeline took her hand from her elbow and leaned forward. “Maybe you didn’t get everything you wanted, Bruce, but at least you got something. And it’s a good start.” She tilted her head back, the sickening smell filling the air around her.

“So maybe you can’t save every kid, but you can save more than you would without this center.”

She put her cigarette out in the sink then flicked it in the toilet with little tact, and looked back at Bruce. He was disenfranchised and dejected, his heart still screaming that he’d been betrayed.

“Just take what you’re given, Bruce.”

“And what about you?” Bruce asked and crossed his arms. “Don’t I still owe you a favor?”

She smile, a little wickedly. “Why yes you do, and I will collect on that when the moment is right.”

She gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder and left him there. Bruce shaking his head in frustration and motioning out where he saw Adeline greeting Lucius a “good day.”

Lucius looked over at Bruce who carefully exited the bathroom, Lucius giving him a quizzical look.

“You do know that it’s against company policy to smoke on the property, right Mr. Wayne?”

Bruce smiled arrogantly. “Yes, I’m very well aware of that Lucius. I am the one who ordered it.”

Lucius shrugged being well aware of this, but couldn’t help pointing out the hypocrisy. “Well, I’d say you should inform Ms. Kane of that, but I have a feeling she’ll just do whatever she wants.”

“That would be correct,” Bruce replied. “My cousin is very forthright.”

“She’s a bitch, sir,” Lucius corrected, “and I mean that in the most endearing way possible. It’s why she’s so efficient at her job. It’s what makes her… well, like you—minus the morality of course.”

“I’m not gonna argue that point,” Bruce said, trying to ignore Lucius’s implications.

“I’m just pointing out that there’s a fundamental difference between you two, Mr. Wayne. You’re both smart, driven, cunning—you know what you want and you take it. However, you have the interest of others at heart, you think of the bigger picture. Adeline only thinks of Adeline. That’s why she isn’ t a Wayne, sir.”

“Yeah, I apparently learned that the hard way.”


He pulled up to the old mill, being careful to keep an eye out for a tail. He looked around, making sure he was alone. Before stepping out of his car door, he reached over and opened the glove box. He glanced up before reaching in and took the semiautomatic handgun in his grip, tucking it into his waistband. He got out of the car slowly, keeping close watch for an ambush. He knew he shouldn’t have come to this territory. That he should have just kept to Blüdhaven, but the offer was just too good to pass up.

He entered the old mill, the scent of dust and mold being potent enough to make his eyes water. He began making his way down the hall, calling for the girl he demanded meet him there. “Mia—Mia! Where the hell are you!?”

He looked down at his phone and sent her text a massage, “Where the fuck are you?”

A quick chime set off on his phone, “I’m waiting in the pressing room. I didn’t want anyone to see me.”

He replied, telling her that he’d be down momentarily and placed his phone back in his pocket. He followed the hallway, being careful not to walk into any cobwebs. A loud noise erupted from the room just off to his right. He pulled out his weapon, and pressed his back to the wall. He once again removed his phone, turning on his flashlight setting. He flashed the light into the shadows, but saw nothing as he let it shine through the darkness. Then out of nowhere, something flew out at him.

“Ahh!!!” the man cried, guarding his face in horror.

He watched as a large black crow flew up to an old pipe and perched itself, looking at him menacingly.

“Shit!” he scoffed at the creature’s presence, “I fucking hate birds!”

The crow dismissively squawked at him, as though taunting the frustrated man. He turned from the crow, still swearing under his breathe, pissed he was bested by crovid.

He entered the press area, the large machines frozen in time.

“Mia?” For a moment there was no reply and he began to wonder if he were even in the right place. “Mia, where the fuck are you, you little bitch? This isn’t funny.”

“Actually, it’s hysterical,” he heard and turned to find a girl with bright red hair standing behind him.

“Who the fuck are you?” he demanded pointing the loaded gun in her direction.

Duela only smiled, unfazed. “Just a girl who brought friends to the play date, Ricky.”

“Shit,” he scoffed and took off, but was met by another man wearing a black hood.

The scared man pointed his gun at the hoodman, who acted as a blockade. He looked up through his hood, noticing the gun. “You really think that thing’s gonna save you?” he asked.

“I know it sure won’t save you,” Ricky replied daringly.

“Go ahead, pull the trigger. You’ll be dead before I even hit the ground.”

The man looked at the hoodman, no fear present about him. This shook him, his hand quivering as he readied himself to pull the trigger.

“You should really listen to him,” he heard a dark voice say.

The man’s face plummeted. He didn’t need to turn around to know exactly who he’d find, as though he could see it from another life. I’m a dead man…

“Now drop the gun, Ricky, before I drop you,” he heard Red Hood command.

“I can cut you a deal, man.”

“I don’t cut deals with pervs,” the hood replied, “especially the ones who force little girls to sell themselves to grown men.”

The man took a big gulp, desperation clear in his cold eyes. He began to motion his hand down as though he were going to place his gun down. However, at the very last second, he tried to turn and fire at Jason, but missed. The bullet nearly hit Duela, who ducked just in time. Jason took the man by the wrist and pointed the gun upward, another bullet firing freely. Before Dick or anyone could run to Jason’s aid, Jason slammed his fist into the man’s nose, breaking it. But not before a loud metallic whistle could be heard as though something had just burst.

“What the hell is that?” Eddie asked looking up for the sound.

Another strange whistle cried again and X looked down from the rafters where he was stationed. “Shit!”

“What?” Jason said, taking his attention off of Ricky.

Ricky however, took this as an opportunity to make another run for it. He jammed his elbow into his captor’s stomach, briefly knocking the wind out of him. Ricky ran for his life, Dick quickly darting to cut him off.

Jason looked up through his helmet, angry that some lowlife like Richard Walker got the better of him. Beneath his helm he scowled, practically seething. Dick readied himself to block him, he wouldn’t get by, when he heard the two gun shots. Ricky’s body stopped dead as two bullets buried themselves in his back. A lifeless look began to take over his face, his knees collapsing beneath him. He’d be dead before he hit the dirt.

Dick looked on in horror, not for the horrid man, but for the sight of it, the sight of his own doing. In his moment of unraveling grief, he glanced away to see Jason, still holding his gun in the dead man’s direction. He could tell Jason was shocked, but not because he’d killed the man, but because he’d killed him out of rage.

The Outlaw glared back at Dick, feeling the judgment in his stare, but he recognized something else. He knew that look as though it were himself wearing it in the mirror. The sickly lost stare, the panic, the surreal nature of it all. He knew exactly where Dick was right then, and he needed him to snap out of it.

“Shit, Grayson, I’m sorry—you okay?” Jason said carefully.

But before Dick could even acknowledge Jason, X jumped down to the floor.

“We gotta get the hell out of here, now!”

“What?” Jason questioned.

“That pop we heard and that hissing! That guy’s shot hit a propane tank—it’s gonna blow! This place is gonna go up real—”  X was cut off by the sound of the tank bursting into flames, the dry martial catching around it. “—Quick,” X concluded nervously.

“Everyone out—now!” Jason commanded.

X, Duela, Enigma and Eddie wasted no time and flew past Dick who was still lost in the wake of the relived trauma.

“Come on!” Jason urged, pulling Dick by the arm.

The hero snapped out of it long enough to see the flames and took off with the Outlaw, taking one last look at the lifeless man left behind. The fire began to rip through the building behind them, devouring everything it touched. The wood and plastic were dry and covered with dust—years of darkness. The walls were catching the fastest, the fact they’d been insulated with old newspaper only helping to drive the flames to ignite. The smoke, however, was the worst. Thick billows filled the halls, burning their eyes and choking their lungs.

“We need to get out of here now, before we suffocate!” Jason shouted to X who was already looking for a quicker way out.

He looked to the left and noticed the fall was only about 2 stories.

“Anyone going down?”

“Just cause I don’t wanna burn to death doesn’t mean I wanna break my fucking legs!” Eddie bitched through a rough cough.

“You’ll be fine, let’s take the window,” Jason urged looking out of it. “There’s a fire escape we can use.”

X grabbed a random chair and smashed it through the glass, making sure to relieve the frame of the larger shards. Jason was the first to jump down, landing on the rusty steel frame of the stairway outside.

“Come on,” Jason called signaling that he’d catch Duela.

X and Dick helped her up on the frame and she jumped without a second thought. Enigma  was next, followed by Eddie, a little apprehension set on his brow. Still, he found the idea of dying a slow, painful death less favorable than the climb down. Once Eddie was out, it was up to X and Dick to decide who went next.

“Ladies first, Chuckles.”

“Not before douchebags.”

“Funny…”

“Just go, shithead.”

X jumped down with little issue, however the old stairway was read to give.

“Shit,” Jason scoffed as Dick leaned out the window.

“You guys are gonna have to jump,” the hero called, observing the crumbling brick.

“Again?” Eddie, snapped, only this time not very pleased about jumping into the river below.

“Jesus Eddie, you’ll dry off,” X scowled.

The metal began to give again and everyone on the landing held tight to the railing.

“We need to get the hell off this thing,” Jason ordered.

“Noted,” Enigma said and jumped without a second thought.

“See Eddie, at least she has some balls,” X said pulling himself up.

“Fuck you,” Eddie spat and leapt down to the river below.

The thief smiled mischievously. “My work here is done, see you kids at bottom.”

Jason smiled sarcastically as the metal cried. “Yeah I hope you bludgeon your face on the way down, asshole.”

“Right back at ya, JT.”

X threw himself over the bar, plummeting to the water below, meeting his friends who’d already surfaced, on the way down.

Jason looked over at Duela who was still clinging to the railing for dear life. “Your turn, sweetheart.”

She looked over at him, but shook her head no.

“The landing isn’t gonna hold both of you,” Dick shouted, the steel giving way again. “One of you is gonna have to jump.”

“Duela, please just go with the others, it’s not that far a fall.”

“I can’t—” she pleaded, the landing slipping further, “—I can’t swim!”

Dick looked down at her, seeing the fear biting at her like a cat dangling over a bathtub. The primal fear gripping her in a way logic could hardly overcome.

“It’s okay Duela, I’ll jump with you, alright?” Dick finally said. He looked over at Jason who was also clinging to the railing for dear life. “You need to jump, Jay.”

“What about you?”

“I’ll be fine, burning buildings and guided falls are two things that are very much in my wheelhouse. Piece’a cake—promise.”

Jason rolled his eyes at him and how calm he could be staring down the barrel of a loaded gun. Not that Jason wasn’t capable of doing the same; Dick was just better at overcoming himself for the sake of others.

“I know that—” the Outlaw began, when the steel readied itself to fall. Jason caught his breath getting ready to jump, but turned to Dick once more. “Get her down safe.”

“I will, Jay” Dick replied with every intention of keeping his word, “I got this.”

“I know… And stop calling me that, Dickhead.”

It was then Jason let his grip on the steel bars free, his body growing closer to the water with every moment lost to time. He hit the water, disappearing in a great slash, but surfaced a few moments later.

Dick slowly crept off the window ledge and onto the landing. He could still feel the heat of the fire as it had crept up on his back, leaving his flesh red. He’d begun to grow hot and a little disorientated, but he still fought to keep his focus .

If I die here, Raven’s gonna dig me up and kill me all over again, and Bruce… he’ll probably bring the shovel, Dick thought as he slowly stepped on the landing.

The metal whined beneath his feet, Dick struggling to not command all of his weight. Duela still clung to the railing, trying not to fall. He could see that it wasn’t the actual falling that frightened her, it was the water below. He slowly sunk down beside her, the landing threatening to give away at any moment.

“Okay listen Duela, we’re gonna have to jump. If the landing gives way and were are still on it, we’ll die. Now I know you can’t swim and that’s fine. You have four people who will make sure you make it out of the river safely— I will make sure that you get of the river safely. Got it?” he nodded.

She nodded back, her face contorted into discomfort. Dick reached out his hand, offering it to her like a prayer for the dying.

“Whatever you do, do not let go of my hand.”

She let go of a rough breath and nodded again in understanding, (wanting so badly to make a bad Titanic reference, but decided that now wasn’t the time) as Dick slowly guided her up from her knees.

“We jump on three,” he said, the steel ready to plummet within the next breath, “1, 2, 3!” Dick called, the two leaping from the fire escape just as a loud explosion bellowed from behind them.

They could feel the heat of the flames burst against their backs, the fire eating away at old chemicals left behind by its working days.

The two began to drop hand in hand, Duela’s gripping his tight as she anticipated that moment when they hit the water. Dick glanced down, his breath tight, as he’d never actually attempted anything quite like this without any of the tools in his utility belt. He could hear another explosion—a loader one, and closed his eyes.

It had been a long time since he’d actually let himself fall, since he’d placed himself in the hands of fate to bring him down safely. He forgot how freeing that was, to have no control, no will over the outcome. To just accept that fear and let the fall take you.

They hit water with a violent plunge, its cool grip washing over them, momentarily devouring them both. Normally this would invoke panic, but for Dick, he found the moment somehow calming—but only for a moment. He needed to breathe, his hand still entwined with Duela’s, as she trashed about crudely, fighting for the surface. Dick pulled her close and wrapped an arm around her, kicking off of a submerged rock below him. The motion quickly guided them up from the shallow depths to the world above them. He breached the surface, taking a grateful gulp of air, the smell and foul taste of the water pungent from algae and pollution. He could hear Duela’s desperate gasp for air, recovering from her momentary panic.

“Come on!” he heard Jason call over the current, “we need to get out of here before cops shows up.”

Dick nodded over the small waves and began paddling for the shore with his free arm, Duela still holding on to him like floatation device. Jason and X met them half way, help to guide them from the water and relieve Dick from his labors.

X took hold of the soaked girl, who seemed fatigued by the ordeal. Jason helped pull her closer to shore, guiding her to the chest-deep water so she could stand. Once Dick was free of supporting the tired redhead, he stumbled out of the brackish water, drenched and reeking of the filthy river.

Everyone was out of breath, their damp hair dripping down their winded faces. Eddie had pretty much recovered, his gaze cast toward the inferno in front of them. Dick turned, following his line of sight. What he saw was far worse than he’d previously imagined. Nearly the entire building was engulfed, windows blown out from the impact, bleeding black smoke, the smell of the burning structure high in the air.

“Come on,” Jason said again, trying to catch his breath, “we gotta go.”

Above his head, perched a large crow, its great wings collapsing upon its sleek back. Dick couldn’t help but notice the creature, and found it quite conveniently placed.

“So that’s it? We just walk away?” Dick asked through his staggering breath.

Jason looked back at him, unaware of the black bird sitting overhead. “Well what do you suggest we do? Sit here and wait for the cops to show up? Is that what you think the right thing to do is?”

Dick shook his head, his exhaustion getting the better of him. “You didn’t have to kill him...”

“You’re right—I didn’t,” Jason said vexed, “but that doesn’t change the fact the he deserved it and I’m not sorry.” Jason straightened his back and pushed by Dick, muttering as he went. “He was gonna die today anyway—you knew that. I was just hoping for something slower and far more painful.”

Dick’s face grew white and angry, unable to forgive himself for the fact that he’d willingly gone along with it. “What gives you the right to decide if someone should die or not?”

It was a bold question, one with perhaps no true or acceptable answer. Everyone remained silent as Jason stopped mid step, just barely glancing behind him.

“Because some people go their whole lives oblivious of the fact they’ve destroyed someone. Or worse! They just don’t care that they have. Those people don’t deserve a second chance, those people don’t deserve to exist, especially if they will never be sorry for anything they have ever done to another!”

Dick couldn’t help but feel like Jason was projecting, that he was specifically speaking to his mother, his father, The Joker, Bruce and even, of all people, him.

“So just kill them then? Like their lives don’t matter, because they don’t matter to you?”

“If you use your life to destroy somebody else’s, then yes. If that’s the cure, then I am the antidote,” Jason said coldly. “I can live with that, especially if it means a piece of shit like Ricky isn’t gonna ruin some innocent kid’s life, Grayson.”

“That’s awful godly of you?”

“Yeah, only I don’t see god doing anything about it.”


Jinx placed down a fresh change of clothes, not really concerned with parting with them. The young blonde had just finished a whole plate of food and two of Clancy’s muffins. Clancy and Raven both looking on a little bewildered at the shocking display. Jinx however, understood why the girl was ravenously hungry and tried not to stare at her too closely.

“I promise you, sweetheart, the kitchen’s not go’n anywhere,” Clancy finally assured with a laugh.

“I’m sorry,” Mia replied, taking a breath and wiping her face, “I just haven’t eaten a full meal in while.”

Clancy smiled weakly, realizing the poor girl was probably kept half starved to death. “That’s alright, darl’n. I’ll go fetch’y another sandwich.”

Clancy turned and set off to the kitchen while Jinx mentioned that she was going to check on Schizo, leaving the young girl with Raven. She noticed her thin frame, how fragile she looked, almost sickly. Her makeup was a mess, garish black eyeliner and heavy mascara finding its way into the creases of her eyes. Mia peered up at her through her spidering lashes, and Raven smiled at her, noticing the cut on her lip.

“Mind if I take a look at that?”

Mia nodded reluctantly, recalling that Raven was to tend to her wounds.

Raven lifted her hands slowly and gently placed them to the young girl’s face. With the lightest touch, Raven turned her head, giving the small gash a scrutinizing look. Mia was shocked at how graceful Raven’s hands were, how careful they were to not even treat her a little rough.

“That should really be cleaned out,” Raven finally said and leaned down to pull the first aid bag out from under her chair.

She opened it and removed a bottle of cleaning solution and a long cotton swab. The cut was still pretty fresh and Raven warned her that the treatment might sting. She lightly applied the tip of the cotton to the shallow split in her lip. Mia winced a moment, feeling the torn flesh quiver at the sensation. It had been so long since anyone had treated her wounds. She felt like a bit of a wimp, dwelling on the irony that she could so easily take a hand across her face, but was tearing up over the small sting of astringent.

“You okay?”

A tear rolled down Mia’s cheek as she looked into Raven’s odd violet gaze. “Yeah, I’m just—” She couldn’t finish the sentence, it hurt more than she felt it should.

“Just what?” Raven could see the girl was overcome with more than just a poor pain tolerance and recognized the look in her eyes.

“Nothing, I’m just—”

“Not use to people being kind to you?” Raven finally said, finishing her sentence.

Mia’s brow furrowed, unsure how Raven could even know that, feeling like a fool for even crying over it. “You must think I’m some sort of freak? God…”

“No,” Raven said applying an antibacterial cream to the cut and disposed of the swab, “I actually understand the feeling.”

“How?”

“Because once upon a time, when I was about your age, I wasn’t used to people being nice to me either,” Raven began. “I was more accustomed to people being afraid of me—hating me even. That was my life. That’s what I knew.”

Mia looked down, understanding the loneliness that came along with that life. “What changed?”

“I met people who cared,” Raven said, “and for the first time, I knew what it felt like to be loved.”

Raven’s eye filled with a little sadness, recalling how awful her life sounded, and realized that the 16 year-old prostitute actually felt sorry for her.

“I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry too,” Raven said trying to put the focus back on the girl, “because you know what that’s like.”

“I tried to tell myself that Richard loved me, but I know he didn’t. If he did, then I wouldn’t be sitting here, having this conversation with you.”

Raven looked back her perplexed. “ Richard?”

“His name was Richard …” Mia replied ruefully.

“Oh…”

“Is something wrong?” Mia asked, seeing Raven growing a little distant, like she was lost in a more personal thought.

However, before Raven could answer, the door swung open to reveal a group of five individuals, resembling drowned rodents. Raven shot up with concern as Clancy stammered out of the kitchen with confusion.

“Well I’ll say that this puts a whole new meaning to the term, I like a man who can laugh at himself when he’s wet,” the Irish girl drawled with a giggle.

Raven also couldn’t help but chuckle a bit, recalling the piece of literature Clancy’d pulled that joke from. Dick gave Raven an annoyed glance, unamused that she could actually find his predicament funny. Though he probably would have laughed too if he were in a better mood.

“Really, Rae?”

“What?” she questioned, pinching the arm of his soaked garment, “you are wet.

He rolled his eyes at her, and she could see there was something deeper in their troubled blue surface. She immediately felt regret for her need to reduce him to a joke, but once again, before she could speak, Jinx entered the room with an abrupt reaction.

“Jesus Christ, you guys smell like dead fish and garbage. Where the hell did you decide to go swimming, Courtney Love’s pussy?”

“The river that connects Blüdhaven and Gotham, so you’re close,” Red X grimaced, pulling an unidentifiable, scummy substance from his blonde hair.

Raven couldn’t help but laugh at his remark, especially because she felt the notion to be true. Dick however, still wasn’t very amused, but it had more to do with his inner demons rather than the fact he indeed smelled like Love’s lady bits.

“I need a shower,” Dick drawled as he’d grown weary of the childish antics and the events of the day, and it wasn’t even 1:00 yet.

He pulled away, making his way to the hall, Raven trailing behind him as he went. His thoughts were full and heavy with his actions and the actions he’d witnessed—even where they’d brought him. It was like reliving that moment again, that very moment of taking a life.

Raven finally caught up to him in the hall, her small hand catching his wrist. That very hand begging him to stop. He turned to her, his face a moment from shattering, and her expression fell to a deep worry she feared would not quell.

“Dick, what happened? Is everything alright?”

His eyes fell from her as his mind remained muffled. “Uh—Rae…” he began, “I just really don’t wanna talk about it right now, not here.” His voice was withered and defeated, a sound she’d heard fall from his lips before—it wasn’t good.

“Somebody died, didn’t they?”

With those words his eyes grow cloudy and grey, pressed with the rainfall that was soon to follow. “Raven, I—” he began, but stopped when he witnessed a familiar face walk through the door. “Roy?”

Dick stepped out of the hallway and toward his old friend, somehow relieved to see him.

The archer stopped only a few steps through the doorway, like he were hit by an immovable wall of an unseen nature. “Ah—what’s that smell?”

His hand curled over his mouth, covering his nose, desperately trying to guard it from the burden of the unknown stench.

“That would be the scent of lost dignity,” Jinx drawled sarcastically, her face flat.

“No, I know what that smells like, this is more like rotting corpse at the bottom of a cesspool.”

“Wow, tell us how you really feel, Roy,” Jason said, but knew Roy’s easement wasn’t trailing far from the truth. “Why are you here?”

“I just came by to return Raven’s Jeep, if I’d known you guys were gonna go swing in a septic tank, I would worn my hazmat suit. Jesus”

“You’re not the only one,” X added, lifting his beer in a one man toast.

“Hey, man,” Dick said reaching the young archer whose face seemed strained by not only the smell, but plagued by his shattered will.

“Eh, you too,” Roy wince catching a whiff of his friend’s offensive scent.

“Well it was either this or burn to death,” Dick replied tiredly.

“You should have reconsidered, you smell as bad as you look.”

“So do you,” Dick retorted, and took the keys and credit card with a dull look.

Roy finally sat down, shrugging at his friend’s comment. “So what did I miss?”

“Nothing you need to be privy to,” Jason quipped, taking a quick shot of whisky to warm his chilled bones.

“Since when am I not privy? I’m the one who got this ball rolling.” Roy’s face grew hard, and disbanded. He looked up at Dick, hoping his old friend would back him up. “You wouldn’t know anything without me.”

“Okay,” Jason said, “then where’s that sample Dick gave you? I wanna see it.”

Roy’s eyes fell over to Dick, a quick glimpse of a nervous nature showing itself, but was quickly tucked away. Dick noticed this look, and immediately grew worried upon seeing it, but before he could address it, or Roy could even reply, they heard Jinx growl.

“What the hell is she doing here?” She snapped, looking at Jason with searing discontent.

“Rose?” Jason muttered, removing his attention from Roy and placing it upon the girl’s sudden appearance.

She cracked an acute, uncomfortable smile, her icy eyes reading of uncertainty as she remained in the doorway like a nocturnal creature requesting an invitation to enter.

Jinx approached Jason, her hand gripping his shoulder as she forced him look at her. “Seriously JT? What the fuck is she doing here?”

He sighed, knowing that Jinx was not exactly happy with his choice in bed mates. He paused a moment, but knew there was little he could say to ease the venom that he’d soon be stung with. “I don’t know? Maybe she needs help?”

“Help? You’re the one who’s gonna need help if she isn’t gone by the time I get back!” the witch hissed.

“She isn’t here to hurt anyone,” Jason assured. He could see from the corner of his eye, Rose’s foolish expression, something to the effect of a child rejected on the playground. “She’s not who you think she is.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I do,” the Outlaw confirmed, “And stop it. You sound like my mother.”

Jinx’s face filled with a smugness, like a cat who’d grown weary of the dog. “I might as well be! Someone has to point out your boyish choices.”

“What’s that’s supposed to mean and what the hell is your problem?”

“I don’t trust her, and neither should you!” she snapped.

Jason shook his head, rolling his eyes. “You don’t trust anyone.”

“For good reason, Jason. And last time I checked, you didn’t trust anyone either, so why her ?”

“Do you really have to ask that question—you of all people?”

Jinx looked over at Rose as she stood awkwardly at the doorway, all eyes glaring at her with the most pervasive of stares, making her feel unwelcome. She was an outcast—a loner. Someone who knew how lonely it was on the fringe. Someone who knew what it was like to have no one.

Jinx let her livid pink eyes soften as they fell back on Jason. However, her frustration with his infatuation was still tight in her throat.

“See what she wants and get rid of her,” Jinx spat and crossed her arms.

Jason reluctantly nodded and began to turn away when he heard Jinx once more.

“And Jason,” she said stepping toward him with warning in her voice, “just know that nothing good can come of this.” She grabbed her bag and placed the strap on her shoulder. “ You know it can’t.”

“That’s on me, Jinx, I accept that.”

“Well I don’t,” Jinx added and pointed to Rose, “because that love , is gonna kill you .”

She passed him, her anger still biting as she said nothing and walked passed Rose, purposely bumping her shoulder, like a pissed off bull. Rose winced on contact, feeling the girl’s resentment practically burning her skin. And even though Rose hated the indignation, she couldn’t blame Jinx for her rancid feelings. For as much as she wanted to believe that the sorceress was wrong about her, she feared she was only right .

Once Jinx was gone, Rose peered over at Jason through the sparsely crowded room, a bruised look in her eyes. His brow creased as he said nothing—he really couldn’t. He felt embarrassed for her, for the fact that Jinx had an audience for her degradation and that there was little  he could do to change that. He knew his relationship with Rose was dangerous, he wasn’t stupid, but, admittedly a bit foolish.

He noticed Rose shift her body, to turn away. She was going to leave. The motion pushed his muscles to awaken and he urged himself forward to meet her, calling for her to stop. Once he reached her, she paused, unsure of what to do, or even if she should touch him. Jason reached out his hand and laced his fingers through hers.

“Come on,” he said softly, “we can talk in private.”

She nodded, a quiet expression filling those frost colored eyes. She followed him behind the bar and into the kitchen, an old room that hadn’t been updated since the 60’s. Rose leaned against the counter as Jason closed the door behind them, then turned to meet her. He noticed her face was long, and sulking, her eyes holding fear—loathing wadding in their icy blue pools. He knew she was afraid of something, or better yet, someone.

“What did he do?”

Rose looked up at him and pursed her lips as she replied, “Nothing… at least not yet.”

She bit her lip and looked down aimlessly, while Jason pulled a small pint sized bottle of whisky from the shelf.

“He threatened you?” he asked opening the bottle and offering it to her.

“No,” Rose said as she took the bottle from him and pressed it to her lips, “he threatened you.”

Jason knit his brow and retrieved the bottle from her. “He’s pissed about what happened on the run?”

“No,” she winced. “He’s pissed because Adeline made some deal with Bruce Wayne… one that involves the old Opera House in the East End. It’s getting torn down.”

Jason took a rather large sip from the neck of the glass bottle, his face lightly grimacing from the burned. “So what does that have to do with me?”

“He knows, Jason.” Her eyes fell from him. “He’s knows about us .”

She crossed her arms uncomfortably, unsure what Jason would say, what he’d even do. He muttered an obscenity under his breath, and took another hard sip of the liquor and handed the bottle to her.

“So what does that mean? Am I a dead man?” His voice was sarcastic, as though he wasn’t really afraid, but Rose could tell this front was more for her sake than his.

“You are if you don’t do what he says,” she growled in frustration and raised the bottle to her mouth. She took an unreasonable sip for a woman her size, and quickly followed it with another, trying to dull the pain of her father’s request.

“Whoa, slow down there killer, the bottle isn’t leaving the station,” Jason said with a light chuckle, trying to lighten the mood.

“This isn’t a joke, Jason. Jesus!” She placed the bottle on the counter and sat down, her face falling to her hands, defeated. Her finger roughly rubbed her temples and the bridge of her nose, then finally rested over her soft lips, covering her clear pout. Her pale eyes looked up at him from beneath furrowed brows, as if tears could fall at any moment, but wouldn’t. “We knew this was gonna happen,” she shook her head and continued, “how could we be this fucking stupid?”

Her fingers ran through her hair, Jason placed his hand on her shoulder, trying to comfort her, but she swatted it away. She reached into her coat pocket and pulled out her nearly empty pack of cigarettes.

She placed one between her lips and frantically began patting herself down for her lighter, but to her dismay, couldn’t find it. Jason, being a chain-smoker himself, could see the frustration growing on her face, unable to recall where she’d place the damned thing. He opened a drawer and produced a box of matches, striking one before her eyes. She reluctantly let him light it for her, her eyes still hard and glassy as they peered back him. He knew her hostility toward him was a front, a wall she was trying to build to keep him away, built of pure guilt.

“So what does he want?”

She scratched her thumb over her eyebrow and glanced down, taking a long drag before she spoke. “He wants you, to take a group of your people, go to the old Opera House, and dig up all the bodies he buried in the basement and move them somewhere else—tonight.”

“Shit,” Jason scoffed. That really was a heavy order, even for him. “And if I say no ?”

“Then he’s gonna kill you,” Rose spat, “to spite me.” She took another long drag, trying to settle her shattered nerves.

“So you’re dad wants me to clean up a lifetime worth of his mess. What? Does he think I have something to lose?”

“No,” Rose corrected, “But I do—we both do.” She looked back at him angrily. “He’s killing two birds with one stone. He wants both of us to know our place.

“So he’s gonna use my life as leverage to put you back in check?”

“Basically—yeah.”

“That’s pretty fucking evil.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying for the last year and a half. Welcome to the party.”

Jason looked over at her and shrugged, he wasn’t at all shocked by the man’s threats, in fact, he kind of expected them. However, what he didn’t expect was the nature of such threats. Slade wanted to make it clear who was running the show—yes, but he also wanted Rose and Jason to know who was running Rose. He was letting Jason know that she’d never belong to him.

He glanced down at the thought, a bitter glint in his eye. It was funny in a way, because no matter what, Slade won, and Rose lost. If Jason declined, Slade would attempt to, and most likely succeed, in taking him out. Then she’d be all alone, with him . Then there was the latter; if Jason fulfilled the request, Slade would gain the satisfaction of knowing Red Hood could be controlled, and would continue to use Rose against him. There was also a third option, and that was to walk away from her entirely, but he just couldn’t do that to her, not now. He couldn’t allow Slade to drive the idea that he didn’t love her enough, if at all, into her head. He couldn’t let her think that she wasn’t worth fighting for.

I guess Jinx was right, maybe this love is gonna kill me…

He looked over at Rose, her face wearing a familiar scorned look. A look that could only come from one thing, being used by your own father. Jason stepped toward her and pulled her to her feet. She wouldn’t look at him, her eyes hesitant to. He cupped her face in his, till her eyes met his, their stare chilly and distant.

“Rose,” he began, letting his thumb trace her jawline, “do you trust me?”

Her eyes closed, his damp hands clammy on her face. “It doesn’t matter if I trust you or—”

“That’s not what I asked,” Jason said cutting her off. “Now, do you, Rose Wilson, trust me?”

“Yes,” she nodded, letting go of her reluctance.

“Then let me handle this. I said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m not afraid of your crazy dad.” Jason offered her a comforting smile, which she tried to return, but couldn’t quite grasp. “It’s gonna be fine, Rose, I promise.”

“I know you mean that,” she said softly. “I just hope you can keep that promise.”

Jason let out a cocky chuckle. “Hey, have I ever lied to you?”

“Yes”.

“When?” Jason laughed sardonically.

She smiled genuinely and raised her silver brow. “When you said this was never going to be anything serious.”

“Oh wait, this is serious?” Jason grinned charmingly. “Cause I thought getting blackmailed by your dad was a casual thing.”

Rose laughed and hit his arm playfully.

“Hey I’m not entirely wrong,” Jason added catching her in his arms.

“I’d kiss you, but you smell like a chlamydia breakout in a whorehouse,” she muttered as she leaned into him. “And I should know.”

Jason laughed and leaned his forehead against hers. “I trust your judgment on this one. Something tells me you’re probably not wrong.”


The room grew quiet after Jason pulled Rose into the kitchen, each individual trying to look busy. Clancy continued serving drinks and hot coffee while Eddie and Duela took off to get cleaned up. Dick sat down at the table across from Roy, asking Raven to give them a moment alone. She nodded warily and tried to busy herself by helping Clancy with the coffee.

“Ah Raven could you be a dear and fetch me some fresh cups, they’re in the hallway off the kitchen?”

Before Raven could reply, X chimed in, offering to get them, and set off before anyone could object.

Dick glanced over at the exchange, relieved that X wouldn’t be present for the question he was about to ask.

“You have the sample, right?”

Roy hesitated and let his gaze fall to the floor. Dick noticed Raven look over in his direction, the two sharing a subtle, but telling glance.

“You didn’t?”

Roy remained silent unable to reply. He knew he’d failed, and that he’d probably burned the only bridge he had left, but he couldn’t help himself, not anymore.

“Jesus Christ, Roy,” Dick muttered, keeping his tone tame. “That was an important piece of evidence, how could you?”

“You wouldn’t understand, Dick.”

“No shit,” he retorted, “I don’t understand. How can you live a life that isn’t even your own anymore?”

“Neither is yours,” Roy said taking a sip of beer with his trembling hand, “that’s why you have such a hard-on for Slade.”

Dick stared back at Roy shocked at his words and how little fazed he was by them. But little did he know that their quiet argument was only background noise to another.

X reached the hall and grabbed a stack of the requested coffee cups, but before he could take them back to the bar, he overheard Jason talking to Rose. He peered over his shoulder, insuring that no one was looking in his general direction. Realizing the coast was clear, he leaned his ear against the kitchen door and caught scattered fragments of the conversation.  

“And if I say no?” He his leader say sternly, but with concern.

“Then he’s gonna kill you.”

“That son of a bitch,” X whispered under his breath as the conversation continued.

“So you’re dad wants me to clean up a lifetime worth of his mess. What? Does he think I have something to lose?”

“No. But I do—we both do.” X could hear how angry Rose was, how helpless she felt, something he knew all too well. “He’s killing two birds with one stone. He wants both of us to know our place.”

Just as these words were spoken, X realized he could feel a pair of faint eyes cast upon him and peered over to find none other than Raven staring back at him. He was startled for a moment, unsure of what she would do, but she remained unmoved, like she could see what stirred him. X walked over to her, visibly nervous.

“What were you doing?” she asked blankly, still trying to sift through the emotions that were bleeding from him.

His brow grew ruffled, his blonde hair clinging to his face like anguish. “You cannot say anything, not even to your little boyfriend.” Raven attempted to speak, but he wouldn’t let her. “As far as you know, you didn’t see that.”

She was alarmed as his tone was unusually hostile, even for him, no longer hindered by the crass sarcasm he was so very fond of. She began to speak, but just as she took breath, the kitchen door opened revealing Jason’s careless face, which fell to a front when he saw Raven looking back at him. Rose too ceased her laughter, her hand feeling less confident in Jason’s.

“What are you two doing?” Jason asked.

X’s eyes pleaded with Raven as she kept her face as still as stone. “We were getting clean mugs, Clancy’s going on about you all catching cold or motherly shit like that.”

“Oh,” Jason mused and walked forward, “coffee’s a good idea.”

Jason and Rose passed them both as Raven took a few of the mugs from X who mouthed her a grateful thank you. She shrugged, taking the cups from him and followed Jason and Rose out into the bar where Dick and Roy were currently bickering.

“Fuck you,” Dick spat at Roy and shot up from the table.

“Yeah, way to control that temper, Dick,” Roy replied nonchalantly, throwing more fuel to the now smoldering fire.

“Bruce was right, I should have never trusted you.”

“See Grayson, I told you not to trust a junkie,” Jason added from the bar. “And to think, you’re the one always doling out advice.”

“Nobody fucking asked you, Todd!” Dick snapped.

“Shut up and sit down, Grayson,” the Outlaw spat. “I’m not trying to start shit, just pointing out a valuable life lesson you should take note of.”

“No, I’m done taking orders from you!”

Jason rolled his eyes and gave Dick an ironic glare. “Okay fine Dick, then let me ask nicely. Sit the fuck down, please.”

Dick’s eye lit up as he was on the verge of absolutely losing his shit. However, Raven caught his glance, her lips silently informing him to do as asked of him. Dick pulled back is anger and pushed it down, taking a seat like an angry child in time out.

“Thank you,” Jason patronized and looked around to assess who was present for the little ordeal. “Where’s Duela and Eddie?”

“Upstairs showering,” Raven said pouring Jason a cup of black coffee.

He thanked her and told her to bring Dick a cup and go sit with him. She nodded, noticing how much gentler Jason was with her than he was with Dick or Roy, it almost perplexed her.

“What about Hogan, where’s he?”

“He’s out doing some errands, he should be back in hour or so,” Clancy replied.

“Good,” Jason said. “Clancy, why don’t you take Mia upstairs and show her where she will be staying?”

Clancy nodded and motioned for the young girl to follow her in a motherly manner. Mia gave Raven a worried look, the empath trying to offer an empty smile to lift her spirits, but feared it did little. She watched her leave somberly as she placed the cup in front of Dick, who was still fuming. She looked at him a moment before sitting down beside him and leaned in so that her soft lips where just at his ear.

“Get it together,” she whispered and looked back at him sternly, her eyes lit with the air of consequence.

Dick let out a rough breath as she sat, trying to remember himself.

Once Raven was seated and Clancy had removed Mia from the room, Jason began his order of business. “You might wanna head out now, Roy?” Jason said; it was hardly a suggestion.

Roy’s brows abruptly knit, his eyes stormy beneath. “No,” he asserted, “I’ve been a part of this longer than any of you. I’m staying.”

Jason shook his head and crossed his arms tiredly. “Fine, but only because it’s been a long fucking day and it’s hardly noon. Plus you can keep a secret, not that anyone’s gonna believe anything you have to say.”

Roy’s upper lips snarled, making him resemble a scorned dog, the crease in his brow growing ever deeper. “I’m still staying. It’s gonna take more than just my damaged ego to move me.”

“Believe me, I know,” Jason drawled, clearly over it. “But anyway, the reason I’m only talking to a small handful of you is because, despite all our differences,” Jason said narrowing in on Dick, “I know I can trust you. And what I’m about to tell you needs to stay within this group, Okay? Not a word of it to anyone.”

“Jesus Christ, JT,” X drawled, knowing whatever he was about to say couldn’t be good.

Jason glanced back at X with an underwhelmed shrug, like there wasn’t really much he could do to soften the blow.

“Slade’s pissed about the run, he thinks we could have done better. Obviously, he’s holding me responsible, and has taxed me with an unpleasant task to get right with it.”

It was a lie.

“How unpleasant we talking?” X asked from behind the bar.

“Unpleasant enough that we’re gonna have to dig up some old history and bury it someplace no one’s ever gonna find it.”

Dick glared up at him, completely at a loss. “You’re fucking kidding me?”

“I wish I were, Grayson. Believe me. The last thing I wanna do is go charging into the old Opera House and dig up a bunch of stiffs, especially because some fucking psycho told me to,” Jason quipped, truthfully. “But unfortunately, I have little choice in the matter—y’know, if I wanna keep breathing.”

Dick buried his face in his bare hands, their memory of red still clear as he caught the sinful scent of iron on them. Raven placed her hand on his shoulder and looked up at the Outlaw, the white-haired girl standing behind him. Raven let her glance fall on her, noticing the weary look in her fair eyes. There was something just under the surface, something amiss and Rose could see it. Raven looked over to Jason again, he wasn’t telling the truth—he was protecting her.

“So what is Slade going to do if you say no, Jason? And by all means, be blunt,” Raven warned.

“I don’t need to be blunt with you, Raven,” Jason replied, knowing the sorceress was practically a living lie detector. “You’re a smart girl, you know what he’s gonna do to me.”

She laughed with an eyeroll. “And here I thought the legendary Jason Todd was impervious to the Great White Beyond?”

“Yeah well if there’s one thing I’ve learned,” Jason droned, “it’s that no one is above death, the reaper comes for everyone at some point.”

“So how much time before the reaper come for you, Hamlet? Should I go dig up a grave so you can talk to Yorik?” X grumbled and placed down his beer.

“Sure, we’re gonna have to dig up Yorik anyway. So yes, get your shovel and go memorize the Grave Digger’s speech , cause we gotta do this shit tonight.”

“Mother of Christ,” X drawled and began to chug his beer with vigor. “I am not nowhere near drunk enough for this bullshit.”

“Yeah I think Christ is gonna sit this one out. Grayson, you in or out?” Jason asked tiredly. “And I’ll understand if you’re out…”

Dick looked up at him and laughed uncomfortably. “Why the fuck not?” he quipped. “I mean my line of decency has been crossed so many times today, I’m beginning to feel like I don’t even have one anymore.”

“Dick really, you don—”

“No, nothing makes any sense anymore, might as well run with it.”

Raven’s face fell into worry, as turmoil gripped her heart in a suffocating grip. She knew something was wrong, deeply wrong, and she needed to see that it was mended before the ties of Dick’s sanity completely unraveled.

 “I’ll do it—I’ll go.”

Both Dick and Jason stared in at her, like an insect under a microscope.

“No Raven, you won’t,” Dick said turning to her. “There is no fucking way I’m gonna let you debase yourself like that.”

“What?” Raven asked as her face grew with irony. “You’re allowed to go grave digging, but I can’t? Who the hell are you, my dad?”

“No, that’s not what I meant,” Dick defended. “I just don’t think you going is a good idea.”

“Like anything we’ve done in the last week’s been a good idea?” Raven retorted, finally falling victim to the overwhelming feeling of the room.

“Hey, if Sunshine wants to help dig up some fucking skeletons, I say let her. It’s not like this is the worst thing any of us have ever done…” X added, finishing his beer and paused,”…Well, at least on purpose.”

Roy looked over at Raven and Dick, who were still a little at odds over the matter. “I’ll go, Raven shouldn’t have to.”

“Oh hell no, the Junkie stays here,” X growled and stared at Jason.

“Uh, the Junkie is right here.”

“Don’t care.”

“But I wanna help!” Roy insisted.

“You wanna help, good,” Jason finally sighed, frustration boiling in his skull. “You stay here and babysit the prostitot .”

“That’s a bullshit errand,” Roy bitched in disapproval.

“No shit, Roy,” Jason exclaimed, “and if you wanna help us, then you’re gonna do what it takes to earn everyone’s trust back, cause you sure as hell haven’t done shit to make anyone believe in you lately.”

Dick’s eyes softened as Jason’s voice raised to a belittling tone, something he recalled being on the other side of. Only then, Dick was a 15 year old boy looking up into the eyes of his disapproving father .

He could recall the disappointment bleed from Bruce’s voice like a violent rainfall, his words thunderous as they spoke of mistakes and misused responsibility. But there was something else there—fear. Fear that Bruce had almost lost him, fear that he could still lose him. That was why he fired him—that was why Dick left. He couldn’t stand to be looked at, or treated, as though he were nothing more than a wounded child, once again overcome by his father’s shadow.

“Fuck this, I’m done,” Roy finally growled and rose from his chair.

“Roy, wait,” Dick pleaded.

Roy paused, his form a little shaky as he wavered whether to turn or not.

“Just let him go, Dick. He’s got a high to chase anyway,” Jason said numbly.

Roy scowled. “What the fuck did you just say?”

“You heard me,” Jason replied coarsely. “Now get the hell out of my bar.”

Roy’s face darkened with anger and resentment, but he couldn’t deny any of it, especially the part about people not taking him seriously. Because as far as anyone in the Justice League was concerned, Roy lost all credibility the second he put a needle in his arm.

He turned, his face still shallow and cold, his pride taken by the undertow as the tide came crashing in on him. With contempt, he swung the door open and slammed it, leaving a vexed air as he exited the bar. Dick flinched at the collision, feeling guilty for letting Jason speak to Roy like that, though part of him couldn’t blame him for it. Jason wasn’t one to caudle people’s weaknesses or allow them to make excuses for their bad behavior, ironically, a lot like Bruce.

Jason looked over at everyone in Roy’s absence, feeling the hostility and discomfort awkwardly filling the air.  “Okay, why doesn’t everyone go get cleaned up. We’ll talk more about this later. But in the meantime, we gotta have a meeting about last night and figure out what the hell happened.”

“Yeah I need a fucking shower,” X growled and sulked away.

Dick shook head with a shrug. “Like a shower’s gonna fix anything.”

Jason looked over at Raven, concerned, then glanced over at Rose who seemed just as out of place. “Hey Rae, why don’t you and Rosie go for a walk and clear your heads. I gotta talk Dick, alone.”

Raven looked at Dick, once again not wanting to leave his side, especially in his current state.

“It’s okay, Rae,” Dick said staring at the floor, “I have a few things I have to say to Jason anyway.”

He looked back at her, his face stone. This worried her, as she wasn’t sure leaving Jason and Dick alone was a good idea.

“Rae, I got this.”

She nodded. “Okay.” She got up from her chair and approached Rose awkwardly.

Rose smiled crudely at her and turned to Jason.

“It’s okay, Raven’s new here, she’ll play nice, right Rae?”

“I’ve been playing nice since I got here,” Raven smiled patronizingly. “You two better follow suit, or I’ll fucking slap you both.”

“I think I’m gonna like her,” Rose said with nod.

“Yeah I have feeling you two will get along just fine,” he smiled ironically, wondering if this was, indeed, a wise choice.

The two women exited the bar, leaving the two feuding men to themselves. Dick and Jason just stared back at one another, the two of them waiting to see who would speak first.

“You didn’t have to talk to him like that,” Dick finally said, breaking the silence.

“But he can talk to you like that, for calling him out on his bullshit?” Jason replied.

Dick glanced down at the floor, an embittered look on his face. He never thought he’d be the one on this end of the argument. Dick was always the one correcting Jason, but it seemed the tables had turned. Jason picked up a bottle of Jack and two glasses from the bar, placing them down on the table beside and Dick sat down.

“Remember how Bruce said that we’re brothers and we should act like it?” Jason asked as he cracked open the bottle.

“Yeah?”

“Well I just realized that we’ve never shared a drink together,” Jason replied and began pouring two whiskies. “So how can we act like brother and not at least share one drink?”

“It’s a little early?” Dick replied as Jason placed the bottle down.

“And this isn’t my first drink of the day, Dick. Booze is how I get through my life, just like saving people’s how you get through yours. So…” Jason said pushing one of the glasses over to the reluctant hero, “have a drink with your little brother.”

Dick picked up the glass and cracked a thin smile. “Fine.”

“That’s the spirit, Grayson! Alfred would be so proud,” Jason said clinking his glass to Dick’s.

“Yeah cause Bruce would go on about how alcohol is poor for the mind and body, but pouting disapprovingly at everything is chicken soup for the soul,” Dick rambled and took a sip from his glass, wincing from the burn.

“Speaking of pouting disapprovingly,” Jason said placing his drink down, “I think we might regret sending Rose and Raven off together.”

“Yeah something tells me those two are gonna have a lot to pout over,” Dick smiled.

“Yeah,” Jason said and glanced down at his glass and refilled it. “Listen Dick, gonna be honest with you. This errand Slade has us doing… I’m not doing it to protect me, I’m doing it to protect Rose.”

Dick glanced down at his drink with a stone-like expression. “What? He gonna kill his own daughter?”

“No,” Jason corrected. “He’s gonna kill me, but it’s not because he thinks I fucked up the run, it’s to punish Rose to spite me.”

“He doesn’t like you sleeping with his daughter?”

“Yeah, shockingly, he’s not happy with his her taste in men,” Jason replied, knocking back his whisky.

“I can see why,” Dick shrugged blankly. “So you’re doing this because you don’t want Rose to suffer?”

“Accurate.”

Dick glared back at him a moment in some odd realization. “Wow… You actually care about this girl, don’t you?”

Jason looked back at him a little insulted. “Is that really so hard to believe?”

“No…” Dick shrugged. “I know that you’d die to protect someone you love. I don’t know, I guess it’s just weird to think of you being in— ”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it Grayson,” Jason said cutting him off. “Humm, maybe I’m the predictable one?”

“No, you’re just not that bad of a guy. Deep down, you wanna save people too.”

Jason laughed. “Hey, do you remember when I first came to live at the manor?”

“Yeah?” Dick smiled. “You were a little shit, and you always stole my stuff.”

“What? You had better stuff,” Jason chuckled. “But remember how I kept telling you, Bruce, and Alfred that I wasn’t a member of the family because I had a dad and he was gonna come back for me?”

Dick took the last sip of his whisky and stared down into his empty glass, recalling the heartbreaking statement. “Yeah, that was sad.”

“Cause you knew he wasn’t coming back for me.”

Dick nodded.

“And do you remember when I finally realized it?”

Dick glanced up from his glass, cradling it with two hands, his eyes looking deep beyond the confines of the wall. “Yeah,” Dick said as he recalled the scene.

He’d just come down from a few long hours of studying. Bruce was out on patrol, leaving Dick in charge of Jason, as Alfred was off that night. It was shockingly quiet, and Dick began to wonder what the boy had been up to. He’d checked his room to find it vacant, then set out to look for him in the manor. Dick remembered feeling worried that the boy had snuck out, (Bruce would have had his head!) but luckily for Dick, he found Jason hiding as he sobbed under the dining room table. Dick’s heart sank at the childish site, recalling himself doing something similar upon his arrival.

“Hey, you okay, buddy?”

Dick lifting up the fine table cloth as Jason sat with an old hat his father had given him.

“What do you care? You don’t even like me?” Jason spat, trying to wipe his tears, hoping Dick wouldn’t notice them.

Jason had been taught by his father that crying was never an option, that as a man, you just kept punching though. Real men didn’t cry.

“I like you just fine, Jay, it’s your shitty attitude I’m not fond of,” Dick corrected wittily. “Mind if I join the party?”

Jason shrugged, letting out a few pitiful sniffles and wiped his red nose on his sleeve. Dick crawled under the table and sat beside the little boy, his childish pout leaving him less hostile.

“Nice digs, kid,” he joked trying to put a smile on the child’s face, but to no avail.

“What do you even want?”

Dick frowned a little and looked over at him. “I wanna know why you’re upset?”

“I’m not upset,” Jason insisted childishly, his irrationality plaguing eyes.

“Okay,” Dick said calmly, “I just thought with your dad gone you’d feel sad. I know I was really sad when my dad went away?”

Jason just looked over at him like a distraught puppy and asked, “Did you cry?”

“A lot.” Dick’s face fell a little. “I still do sometimes, it’s normal to.”

The tearful boy looked down at the worn out hat in his hands that held it with loss, recalling the very day he’d received it. Jason’s father had taken him to a football game, in an attempt to help ease boy’s distress after his mother’d runoff. It was his fondest memory of the man, and for all of Willis Todd’s faults, he had done his best to care for the boy. Though even with his best intentions, there was a lot to be desired, but to Jason, his dad was God. And Dick understood that explicitly well.

“Dick,” the boy sniffled, his eyes still pinned on the hat.

“Yeah, Jay?”

“Do you think my dad ran off like the cops say he did… or do you think he…” Jason couldn’t finish the statement, because either way, that little boy lost.

Dick could feel his heart bleed a moment, sinking into his stomach to a point even Bruce was not impervious to. He wasn’t really sure what to say, each choice was so hopeless. So Dick went with the one he thought would hurt less.

“No. I don’t think your dad would have ever left you?”

It wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t the truth. Dick had no idea what Jason’s father would actually have done, but Dick couldn’t bear to let that little boy think that his father, his hero, abandoned him.

A few more tears came pouring down the boy’s face as it turned beat-red.  He sat alone and just sobbed. Dick knew that feeling of utter loneliness, and the emptiness that threatened to engulf whomever it had been cast upon. That feeling of being truly alone, like someone had just ripped out your heart and lungs, yet somehow, you were still left breathing, though you don’t know how.

Dick reached out his arm and pulled the mournful boy into a one armed embrace. Jason completely let go of all his father’s “tough guy” philosophy and cried into Dick’s shoulder for a substantial amount of time. It was at that moment, Dick made it his personal mission to see that he was there for Jason. That he would be the older brother he needed, and on a subconscious level, be for Jason what Bruce couldn’t.

Jason reached over and filled Dick’s glass with a few more fingers of whisky, pulling Dick back to the present moment.

“I know you told me that because you didn’t want me going my whole life thinking that dad my dad bailed on me,” Jason said. “And I never thanked for that.”

Dick smiled and shrugged. “You believed your dad loved you, I didn’t wanna see that be taken away from you.”

“There were a lot of things you didn’t wanna see taken away from me,” Jason replied, recalling how much Dick had done for him during that time. “You were my big brother, and despite our differences , I really needed that.”

Dick smiled back at Jason sentimentally, actually missing those days when the two were genuinely there for each other.

“Listen Dick, I know we are completely different people now, and I know that we haven’t acted like brothers since the whole Joker shooting you thing, and I’m sorry for that. You were right to blame me. Hell—I blame me—but, I really need you to be my big brother right now.”

“Appealing to my humanity—smart,” Dick replied and placed down the glass beside him.

“Hey, I learned that trick from you,” Jason smirked with a cocky grin.

Dick cracked a weak smile. “I don’t know, Jason. Ever since Rancid, I haven’t been much of a hero. I can’t even save myself from myself . Maybe Roy’s right, maybe I’m not living my own life anymore?”

“Dick, you never have,” Jason said. “You did everything Bruce and League ever asked of you. You were the perfect student, son, sidekick—that was a lot to live up to. Trust me, I tried, and failed pretty miserably. But you met all expectations, no matter how difficult, and I kinda hated you for it…”

“No shit.”

“It wasn’t until I actually saw you fail that I realized you really were human, that you had limits too.”

“You have no idea.”

“My point is,” Jason continued, “you gave a lot of yourself to achieve that. You always did what you were told, and on the rare occasions you did step out of line, it was like a fucking travesty.”

Dick smiled devilishly. “Like the time I got suspended for fighting because Bullock’s shithead kid locked you the janitor’s closet?”

“And Bruce acted like you killed the Pope,” Jason added with a chuckle.

“Yeah, he was so pissed,” Dick mused with amusement. “Harvey Jr. had it coming though. I hated that kid.”

“I could tell, you beat the shit outta him,” Jason nodded with realization.

“Yep, I broke his nose in three, places. I remember Bruce bitching incessantly about paying to fix it.”

“And then pouted disapprovingly,” the outlaw grinned.

“Yeah that was the beginning of the end for me in Gotham,” Dick said somberly. “People looked at me differently after that.”

“Because you didn’t follow the Dick Grayson protocol . You made a decision based on an impulse and everyone judge for it.”

“And they still do,” Dick added a little bitterly. “It doesn’t matter how many lives I save, if I take one, even on accident, the rest don’t count.”

“You can’t save everyone, Dick, especially someone who doesn’t wanna be saved. You need to stop trying to do that.”

“Yeah if only it were as easy as that,” the hero sighed, thinking of the handful of people he’d been unable to help and how many hours of sleep he’d lost over them. “And now we gotta go dig up god knows how many bodies! As if today couldn’t get any worse…”

“It’s like only 5or 6.”

Only 5 or 6—that’s precious,” Dick droned sardonically.

“Okay, okay,” Jason conceded.

“Y’know,” Dick said, “you should really take your own advice.”

“What do you mean?”

Dick shook his head at the irony. “You’re trying to save that girl from her father, but I have a feeling she doesn’t wanna be.”

Jason peered into his glass, his face solemn and long. He looked up at Dick again, and chewed a little on the irony as he replied, “Would you walk way?”

“Probably not.”

“Well neither can I.”

Chapter Text

The two girls walked down the cracked pavement beneath their feet, unsure of what to say to one another. Rose shoved her unsteady hands in the pockets of her black leather jacket, trying to shield them from the sight of the ethereal looking girl. She studied her profile a moment, taking in the unusual color of her violet eyes. They were very strange to her, yet she found their oddity quite beautiful, even through their all-knowing stare. Rose also couldn’t help but notice how white she was, reminding her of a light December snowfall. It was nearly inhuman. Her raven hair only intensified its contrast, strengthening its winter glow, but even her hair color wasn’t normal. It was very dark, almost too dark, but it held a peculiar shade of midnight that did not from nature, and possibly not even a bottle. Still, something was redeeming about her unconventional qualities, there was a distant warmth to her coldness, a brightness that sort of reminded Rose of the moon.

Raven glanced over at the younger girl, still peering up through her silver hair and ice blue eyes. “Didn’t your mother teach you it’s not polite to stare at people?”

“Sorry,” Rose said a little embarrassed she was caught, “I just thought you were kinda pretty, is all.”

Raven looked back at her crudely and raised one eyebrow at the compliment . “Uhh, thanks.” She walked on ahead of Rose, unsure of where she was going, simply following the sidewalk as it stretched onward.

“You’re new here, right?” Rose asked walking up beside her.

“Why, is my naïve and doe-eyed expression really that oblivious?” Raven replied flatly, and gave Rose a violet glance.

“No,” Rose shrugged, “you just don’t seem to have a sense of direction. Where you from?”

“Um,” Raven muttered looking blankly at the foreign cityscape, “Jump.”

“That’s like a whole other planet.” Rose had never been to Jump City before, but she had a good idea what it was like. She, unfortunately, had to listen to Johnny Rancid go on about it from time to time, somewhat pretending to care. She also knew her father had spent a great deal of time out there some years ago, but hadn’t thought much about it otherwise.

“Yeah,” Raven sighed, but noticed the rich character of her surrounding structures. “But I think I could get used this one.”

“So what did you do in Jump City?” Rose asked as the two waited to cross a narrow side street.

“Um, I was a student. I just got my Master’s Degree.”

The light flashed for them to cross, and Raven again walked on ahead, Rose taken aback by the answer.

“Then what the hell are you doing hanging around with the Outlaws?”

Raven looked over at Rose and shrugged. “Jinx would call it, blindly following a man . I call it, babysitting .”

“Don’t even get me started on that bitch,” groaned a disgruntled Rose, her face expressing distaste.

“Yeah, she made it enviably clear she’s not your biggest fan.”

“Really? I didn’t notice,” she sang sardonically, “I was too busy waiting for her to have a coronary and die.”

Raven let free a crass laugh and motioned to a bench up ahead. “So what did you do to get on her shit-list?”

“It’s not what I did. It’s who I fucking am ,” Rose grumbled and sat down on the old bench. Raven sat beside her and pulled her blackened hair off her neck beneath high noon sun. “I don’t know what she thinks I’m gonna do, but she doesn’t trust me.”

“Yeah, Jinx is like that. She doesn’t trust me either,” the empath sighed, pulling lightly at the ends of her hair.

“Yeah, but does she treat you like the ugly step-child every time you walk into a room?”

Raven peered up at her, feeling something of a profound bitterness trapped in those words. “No, but that’s because Jinx and I have a sorted history together. And, over time, I think we’ve come to respect one another. But I understand where you’re coming from.”

Rose shook her head and huffed out a disgruntled breath. “God, if I could just even get her to tolerate me that would be great, but she just fucking hates me! You’d think I killed her dog or fucked her boyfriend.”

“No, I fucked her boyfriend,” Raven drawled, looking down.

“What?” Rose gasped, her jaw falling slack. “I think you just became my fucking hero!”

“It was not like the way it came out,” Raven corrected, a little embarrassed with her brash tone. “It was more like they’d just broken up, and it was just a onetime deal.”

“Oh my God, does she know!” Rose asked with a childish wonder.

“Oh yeah,” Raven nodded, recalling the incident that pushed Jinx away from the Titans for good. “I told her myself. I thought she should hear it from me instead of it somehow making its way back to her. I even told her I was sorry and that it meant nothing.”

“So what, she forgave you?”

“God no,” Raven huffed, rolling her eyes. “She called me a cunt and slapped me, so hard, I actually thought she was gonna take my damn head off.”

Rose giggled cynically. “Sounds like Jinx.”

“Oh it was totally Jinx. Nobody touches Wally and gets away with it. She’s very protective of what she feels is hers. ” Raven added with her obvious deadpan. “And that’s why I don’t drink Tequila anymore.”

“And you two like actually talk now?”

“Yeah, she’s over it,” the empath shrugged, “but at that moment, I think she thought I did it to spite her. I don’t know maybe she still does?”

“Did you?”

“No, I did it because I was lonely, and Wally was there. He was a nice guy who made me laugh, I didn’t care that he still loved her.”

“Been there,” Rose replied, leaning back on the bench with a thud.

Raven could feel how cold that statement was, how engorged with anguish, and its murky resentment, especially for her father . “Yeah, I kinda got that from you,” Raven replied, “I take it your father lives by nothing will come of nothing?”

Rose’s brow furrowed with curiosity, not understanding the statement and a crude expression filled her face.

“It’s Shakespeare,” Raven said, recognizing the look for what it was, as she’d seen on both Kory and (especially) Gar’s faces’ many times before.

“Yeah, I um, grew up in a brothel so as you can imagine the only Shakespeare I got was the occasional drunk John, spouting off some bullshit about Romeo & Juliet and once something about Faeries and dancing Asses…”

Raven giggled at Rose’s boldness, finding humor in the quirky ignorance, her honesty refreshing. “That would be a Midsummer Night's Dream.” She smiled warmly. “But uh, point taken.”

“So what does that mean, nothing will come of nothing? I assume that means something?”

Raven pursed her lips together a moment, gathering her best recollection of the literature. It had been a few years since she’d read the play, so parts of it were murky. But there were moments of that first act she’d felt she’d actually lived.

“In the play, the protagonist, King Lear has three daughters, the youngest being Cordelia, who he favors. So Lear, being old, is getting his affairs in order and tells his three daughters that he will give the most of his estate to the daughter who loves him most . Now for Cordelia, being his favorite, this should be an easy victory, but as she sits and watches her father ask her sisters, who give lavish, but superficial speeches about how much they love their father and only him. However, Cordelia find this dishonest and even a little manipulative as she feels that real love is “Silent,” and something to be shared with the few who deserve it. So when Cordelia is called upon, she only tells him that she loves her father the way a daughter should, “no more, no less ” and includes that she will one day owe her devotion to her a husband when she marries. Lear then demands that she augment her claim and profess her love for him, which she refuses. Lear warns her that, “Nothing will come of nothing,” and she once again refuses to speak his praises.”

“So what happened?” Rose mused, her eyes holding a childish glint of curiosity. “Did she tell him that she only loved him?”

“No, she didn’t, so he reluctantly disowned her. He was too egotistical to see that Cordelia did love him as much as any daughter should,, but he wanted her to love him the most, and she knew she couldn’t give that. Unlike her sisters, she refused to lie to him, out of love, ironically, but that still wasn’t good enough for Lear.”

 


 

They waited by an alley not far from the steel yard, the chubby, well-dressed man looking down at his pocket watch. It was a little past noon now as the minute hand ticked on, counting each second that lead closer to 12:13.

“Should we head in, boss?” Butch asked glancing back through the rearview mirror.

“I suppose.”

Cobblepot wasn’t looking forward to this meeting. He knew all too well what this man was capable of, and, though he hated to admit it, he frightened him.

Butch stepped out of the car and opened his employer’s door. Cobblepot shimmied out of his seat and firmly placed his feet on the sidewalk. He looked around, taking a moment to analyze of his surroundings. This was far from his territory and there was little to be done if this meeting went south.

“Everything okay, Boss?”

He looked over to the massive man, a perplexed look poignant on his bulbous face. “It’s quiet… too quiet.”

“Oh, what’s a matta, Cobby?” A flamboyant voice said from behind him, a gun firmly placed at the back of his head. “You find the silence a little unnerving or someth’n?

“Harley—” Butch began, reaching for his gun when the clown pulled out a second handgun and pointed it at him.

“Ahaha,” Harley tisked, “I wouldn’t do that if I was you, Butchy,” she smiled mischievously.

“This wasn’t part of the deal, we came here to talk,” Cobblepot hissed, trying to keep his head on straight.

“Oh I know,” Harley giggled. “I may be blonde, but I ain’t soft. Mista J simply wants me to ensure you gentlemen make it there in one piece … or two, I can’t recall!”

“I think one will do just fine, Ms. Quinzel,” a hearty accent added.

Harley removed her attention from her prey and placed it on the man standing behind her, a semi-automatic now to her head.

“Wintergreen, thank God,” Cobblepot rejoiced, for once happy to see the man.

“Don’t get too excited, I’m here to make sure that Slade’s requests be carried out in the manner he wishes, and for that to happen, Slade needs you two alive .”

“What about Lil’ ol’ me,” Harley cooed. “Surely a handsome gentleman, such as yourself, wouldn’t hurt a lady?”

“Last I checked, Harley, you are hardly what I would consider a lady .”

“Mmm,” Harley pouted, “you couldn’t even handle a woman like me!”

“Nor do I want too,” the Brit replied, unamused. “Now why don’t you make yourself useful and take us to the Joker?”

“Fine,” she sighed, still miffed, “but only cause my Puddin’s expect’y.” Harley holstered her weapons with a bored look, Wintergreen’s gun still in her face. “Hey Perce Morgan , I know you’re happy to see me an’all, but’y don’t have to keep pointing your gun at me.”

“Darling, my gun wants little to do with you.”

“You Brits are no fun,” Harley fumed.

“That’s the British way I’m afraid,” the man said thinking of a drier stereotype. “Now why don’t you be a good girl and take us to see your daddy .”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m going, I’m going, slow your roll, Professor Elemental ,” she said. “Alright boys, follow me, and please keep your hands and feet within the vehicle at all times.”

“This is gonna be painful, isn’t?” Butch groaned.

“It already is,” the chubby man added as Harley skipped by and headed into the alley.

The three men followed, watching as she pointed to things, giving them some witty commentary, such as where the best place to “hunt homeless people” was, and “where you should consider hiding the body.” The three men mostly rolled their eyes, they all knew Harley’s M.O. So there wasn’t a lot of shock value to her claims. But still, one could say that her little performance was somewhat “ charming.”

They finally arrived at a side entrance, and the pretty clown flamboyantly opened the door. “After you gentlemen.”

Wintergreen nodded, his weapon ready as he stepped into the dark hallway. Cobblepot and Butch followed, both ready for anything that may pop out that them. Harley closed the door and the hallway filled with black.

Cobblepot jolted noticeably, causing Harley to hone in.

“What’s the matta, Cobby?” she cooed, grabbing the short man by the shoulders, “you afraid of the dark?”

He swatted her away, clearly upset. “Just take us to the Joker already,” he whined, though he was about to regret his request.

“You should be careful what you ask for Cobblepot,” a sinister voice chuckled.

A flashlight flicked on, highlighting a wicked grin that spread ear to ear. The stout man jumped at the sight, not expecting such a thing to be that close to his face. Joker laughed hysterically, his madness unchained.

“Oh Penguin, you give fowl such a bad name,” he cried with glee. “Oh and I see Slade’s lackey has joined us as well, what a surprise! What? He couldn’t come take the time to speak with me himself? Or is he just too good for that sorta thing?”

Wintergreen could hear the contempt in the mad clown’s voice and couldn’t help but smile crassly. “I’m afraid Slade’s quite busy at the moment, he sent me to make sure his wishes are carried out.”

“So he did,” Joker acknowledged. “However, he seems to have forgotten that wishes are something I hardly grant. At least not in this outfit.” He chuckled again, and turned from the men. “But, I am in an awfully good mood today so—who knows—maybe I’ll entertain the idea!”

The Clown Prince lifted his hand and pulled a brass chain, an overhead light coming to life. A small table sat not far from where they stood, a deck of cards placed in the center. “Take a seat gentlemen; we have a game to play.

Cobblepot looked over at the table unnerved; it seems so innocent, which was why he was worried. Each man took a seat beneath the harsh light overhead. Once seated, Joker took the deck in his hands and began to shuffle the cards.

“Have any of you ever played Russian Roulette ?” he asked.

Butch and Wintergreen both nodded, Cobblepot being the odd man out.

Joker laughed and smirked wide. “Don’t worry Cobby, we’ll make a man out of you yet!” He placed down the deck and flipped over a card. “These are the rules, five players, five cards. We pass around the stack and you flip the top card, you get a king, I grant you a wish, you get a queen—then you kiss my queen, you get a Jack you owe me a favor, you get  an ace then you take a shot, but, if you get the Joker Card… you die.” His voice grew low as he pulled a small revolver and placed it on the table.

“And if any of us say no?” Wintergreen asked, taking note of the player to card ratio.

“Then your odds of leaving here alive go down… drastically ,” Joker warned, the Brit staring back at him, as if he were considering his options. “What’d y’say, English, wanna give it a whirl?”

“Sure,” he nodded, both Butch and his employer shocked while Harley rejoiced. “But only if we talk business while we play.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” the Clown Prince sang, shuffling the five cards and placed the stack face down. “Why don’t you start us off then?”

Wintergreen looked down, the cards trapped beneath rigid fingers, gilded by a satin glove of a cheap shade.  Joker, with a glint in his eye, pushed the cards toward him, his smile rabbit and fevered.

“Where would you like to start?” the clown asked, removing his hand, Wintergreen placing his own on the stack.

“The Red Hood,” he replied, “Slade wants him put down.

He watched as the clown smiled wickedly and replied, “I take it the rabid mutt has bitten the hand that feeds him? I myself have heard some interesting things.”

“It seems everyone has,” Wintergreen smirked coldly. “But Slade is more concerned with the future, Red Hood just doesn’t fit into that.”

“Good old Slade,” Joker said theatrically, “always thinking of the future! Most people would see that as being over cautious, I, however, see it as paranoia .”

Wintergreen, placed his thumb at the corner of his card and looked back at the clown. “Paranoid—yes. Justified—maybe. Foolish—no. Sometimes our paranoia is the thing that keeps us alive.”

Joker chuckled. “Or maybe it just means you have more enemies than you can handle.” He lit up from the notion as though mowing over the irony. “So I suppose Slade wants me to administer the injection ?”

“Correct,” Wintergreen said. “Though I think Slade would prefer to look at it as poetic justice. I’m sure a man of your talents can appreciate that?”

“I can,” he replied, “but I’m sensing a catch. Men like Slade don’t come to men like me without some sort of boundary, better yet, he doesn’t send a man like you unless there is one.”

Wintergreen sat up straight and tapped the back of the card. “The Hood is involved with a young woman, pretty—white hair. She’s off limits.”

“I may know the girl,” Joker said with a sudden hint of amusement, “but I think the better question is: why is she so important?”

“That’s a minor detail,” Wintergreen said. “Slade doesn’t care what you do to the Hood, but the girl is not to be hurt in any way. Understand?”

“Of course, but it’s hard to make promises when she could so easily get caught in the crossfire—I mean revenge is such a messy thing now, isn’t it?”

“We thought you’d react this way, that’s why Slade wanted me to remind you that the only reason you are allowed to wreak your havoc is that   he allows it. As far as he’s concerned, you’re only necessary as long as you are a thorn in the Batman’s side, but the second you become a thorn in his, that usefulness, becomes obsolete.” Wintergreen looked back at the clown, a dark look pooling in his feral green eyes. “The girl is off the table.”

Joker smirked with malice; he wasn’t ready to fold just yet. “You seem like a betting man, Wintergreen. Why don’t you put your faith in the cards; you pull a king, I grant you a wish, remember?”

“And if I pull anything else?”

“Then you don’t get your wish,” Joker smiled mischievously. “Simple as that.”

Wintergreen didn’t answer as he looked at the feral man and lifted the corner of the card, flipping it over, not even bothering to look down. Joker, gleaming, peered down, followed by the others, wanting eyes glaring from across the table.

He smiled wide, his yellowed teeth exposed as he said, “Well it seems the silver girl is safe… for now .”

“Ahh, nuts!” Harley whined with a pout, “I was look’n forward to stain’n that Lil’ bitch’s hair red.”

Wintergreen smiled. “We have a deal, Joker?”

He signed. “I suppose, I mean I did kill that brat once, it’s only right that I do so again. And who knows, maybe carving that bird up will be even better the second time around! Isn’t that right, Harley?!” Joker exclaimed wrapping an arm around her.

“Yeah, yeah,” she said with an eye roll. “Though I think they’d die better as a pair,” she mumbled.

“No so lucky,” Wintergreen smiled patronizingly.

Joker looked around the table; there were only four cards left and a player for each one. “Looks like you’re next Butch!” he smiled.

Wintergreen passed the cards to the large man, his eyes looking down at them quizzically. He placed his thick hand down atop them and took a deep breath, hoping for anything but one card. He released a breath and flipped the card, looking down, a relieved look on his face.

“It’s a Queen,” he breathed, overcome with ease, forgetting the consequence.

“A Queen my good man!” Joker sang furiously. “Well, aren’t you lucky!”

Butch’s brow rose as he looked across the table and recalled the action that followed. Harley smirked at him, a coy look in her eye. He swallowed a bashful breath and tried to object, flustered, but before he could utter such a notion, Harley flow over the table, taking the man by the face and planted a feverish kiss on his boorish lips. This took Butch by surprise, leaving the man unsure of what to do. His hand flew out to the sides, not sure whether to push her away or not, when suddenly, the skin of his lip broke. His hands shot to her face, forcing her away as the metallic taste tickled down the tip of his tongue. She giggled, her lips stick whorishly smeared, and a bit of blood fresh on her bottom lip.

“What’s a matta, Butchy, can’t take the heat?”

He pushed her away as she laughed, the Clown Prince cackling along with her as he wrapped his arm around her, possessively. “That’s my Harley, she leaves quite the taste in your mouth, ay Butch?” he chuckled.

Butch wiped the blood from his mouth, only glaring at the two clowns with a silent malice. He placed his hand on the three cards and pushed them to his right, when Harley darted across the table again.

“It’s my turn, Butchy,” she demanded. “Ladies first, remember?”

“You mean pigs before swine,” Butch seethed as her greedy hand gathered the cards.

Her brow knit; she was clearly insulted. She let her palm open and she slapped him hard across the face. She wound up, getting ready for a redo, but Joker shot to his feet and threw her back in her seat, slapping her violently across her painted face.

“That is not how we treat our guests, Harley! Now apologize!”

“But Puddin!”

“Now Harley!”

She shuttered at the growl, its deep texture coarse and abrasive. “S—sorry Butch.” She crossed her arms like a wounded child, sour for the fact her actions weren’t overlooked.

Joker scowled and slammed his hands on the cards, sliding them in front of her. “Draw your card.”

Harley turned her card face up, not even looking down at it, her face wounded and sore.

“An ace,” Joker said evenly, yet still somehow harsh. “How boring.” He slammed down a shot glass and poured a cheap vodka that probably tasted of piss. “Drink it,” he ordered, slamming the bottle down. He watched as Harley threw back the shot, the taste of blood overcome by the burn of the low-grade liquor.

Joker looked across the table, the chubby man across from him looking nervous as there were only two cards left.

“You first, Cobby,” he smiled wickedly, “I insist…” Joker pushed the two cards in the center of the table, still smiling. “So Cobby, now that Slade’s wishes have been addressed, what concerns do you have?”

He gather himself, and sopke with some composure. “I have been meeting with an informant, someone who’s been giving me insight into the going-ons of the Outlaws. She’s not very high up, but she’s been collecting information from those she interacts with. She needs to be naturalized .  If Red Hood or any of the Outlaws find out about her, it could jeopardize everything Slade and I have set in motion.”

“Consider her a gift,” Wintergreen added as Butch placed down a picture of an attractive girl. The Joker’s eyes flashed with an enticed joy.

“Maybe we should see what the cards say?” Joker chuckled, tapping his thin finger against the table in a rhythmic fashion.

Cobblepot looked down at the two remaining cards, unsure what kind of gamble there was to take. “But what would be the point? Don’t you think this is counterintuitive?”

“Nonsense, Cobby!” Joker sang. “Plus what good is making a deal if there is nothing at stake?” He slammed his hand on the table causing the bridish man to stir. “Now! Draw your card… I insist.”

He gulped, placing his portly hand down on the card, waiting to be claimed. Joker leaned forward, eager to see the outcome. Cobblepot lifted the corner, his hand slick with perspiration, and flipped the card.

Joker’s face lit up, his smile growing ever wider. “Good man, Cobby!” he exclaimed, Cobblepot staring at the card aimlessly. “It seems now you owe me a favor!”

The chubby man looked down at the card, his beady eyes wide. “ A favor ?”

“Yes, a favor !” Joker replied, almost innocently. “And I know just how I can collect on such a favor.” He flipped the final card, the face of a crazed Joker staring up at the five faces. Joker lifted the gun and firmly planted it before Oswald, his eyes mad and his grin wild. “Go ahead Cobblepot, pull the trigger… I know you want to.”

“But what about the deal?”

“What deal?” Joker exclaimed. “The game isn’t over, there is no deal—not yet!”

Cobblepot looked at Wintergreen and Butch, the boorish man confused and taken off guard, the Brit simply shrugging.

“I say pull the trigger,” Wintergreen said. “Like Slade always says, everyone’s replaceable.

“Not everyone,” Joker said, looking over at him smugly.

“We’ll see about that,” the Brit smirked. “Pull the trigger, Cobblepot, I have better things to do.”

Cobblepot looked to his bodyguards who slowly nodded with apprehension. He took the gun in his hand, slightly shaking, he knew there was a catch, but what, he couldn’t find. Before him flashed a vivid and crazed grin, yellow teeth set in crooked rows, green eyes filled with mayhem.

“Do it!’ Joker demanded, slamming his hand on the table. “I haven’t got all day.”

Cobblepot pointed the gun, still reluctant, but becoming more determined and placed his finger on the trigger.

“I’ll tell your dear mummy you’ll see her soon , Cobby ,” he added with a sick tone, his eyes glistening with a daring stare.

The man’s brow sunk, recalling the events that led to the untimely death of his mother, a bitter taste biting at his tongue. His hand steadied and his finger found conviction as it tightened. “Tell her I’m gonna make it right, starting with you .” And pulled the trigger.

*Snap

“What?!” Cobblepot exclaimed.

Confused and disappointed, he pulled the trigger again, only to hear the same disappointing snap.

Joker broke into a sickening laugh, his hysterical cackle echoing throughout the dark halls. He looked back over the barrel of the gun, still aimed at his head. With his smile wide, he snatched it out of Cobblepot’s hand, his wicked grin widening as he placed it to his temple and pulled the trigger, still no bullet deployed from the chamber.  He chuckled, taking the gun from his head and opened the cradle, only one chamber filled.

“Sometimes you have to have a little faith,” Joker laughed wildly, Harley joining in on the gag.

Cobblepot’s face grew red, clearly unhappy with the joke. “I should have known you’d pull something like this, Joker!”

“Oh Cobby, relax,” the clown sang. “We’re only having a little fun. So what if you mother’s dead—mine’s dead, you don’t see me crying about it. But I will say, yours put on one hell of a show!”

“You son of a—” Cobblepot growled, and flew over the table, both Butch and Wintergreen holding him back.

“Now, now Cobby,” Joker reasoned, “there’s no need for ill feelings. After all, I didn’t kill your mother.”

“But you could have stopped it!”

“I could have, but I didn’t,” Joker shrugged. “But as I recall, I once needed a favor of you, and you refused to deliver. But it seems now, we’re even, and you still owe me a favor.

“I don’t owe you anything!” Cobblepot huffed.

“Then there is no deal, and no deal means, no one is safe ,” Joker warned.

He looked over at Wintergreen whose face hardened. “He’ll take the deal.”

“What!” Cobblepot hissed. “No I won—”

“Yes,” Wintergreen insisted, “you will.” He stared at the man, a burden of consequences beaming from his beneath his weathered brow.

“You may have gotten the better of me this round Joker, but I assure you, I will have the last laugh in this, you’ll see!”

“Oh and I look forward to it, Cobby, I really do. As for my favor, I’ll be in touch.”

Wintergreen reached out his hand from across the table, extending it to the Joker. “Do we have a deal?”

The clown smiled and placed his boney hand in the Brit’s. “I believe, my good man, we do. Tell Slade I’ll have his vermin problem taken care of all in good time.”

“He’d like it done as soon as possible; a lot is riding on this.”

“Tell our humble king that the court jester said, ‘one cannot rush good art.’ I’ll take the time I’m given.”

“Whatever, I don’t care what you do, just leave the girl out of it,” the Brit warned tiredly.

“As promised, she’s safe, but tell Slade if he as much as even reneges on this deal, she’ll be the first person I carve a smile into.”

His brow furrowed; this was what he feared. “I can assure you, as long as you deliver, he won’t.”

A wicked smile stretched across his sinister face. “Then let the game begin.”

 


 

Not long after Raven’s heart to heart with Rose, the two returned to the bar. Rose mentioned that she needed to go and gather information regarding the unsavory task placed up Jason. Adding that she was going to help, even if her father instructed her not to.

“Just don’t mention that you are,” Raven said as they entered the bar, “especially if he doesn’t ask.”

“Wasn’t planning on it, but if he finds out, he’ll be pissed?”

“Then just say that you came along to make sure the job got done right, and that you were looking out for his best interest.”

“I like the way you think, Rae. I’m gonna start taking advice from you from now on.”

Raven smirked and turned to Rose as she stood outside the doorway. “You might get debatable results.”

“Well, I’m a debatable girl.”

“Right, well I’m gonna get back to my babysitting gig, and wrap my head around robbing graves.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t put too much thought into that, Mortisha. But see y’later.”

“Bye, Cordelia .”

Raven watched the girl walk away as her silver hair flowing behind her. Raven turned and noticed Clancy standing behind the bar, gathering empty glasses and bottles. She glanced over at Raven, her hands hard at work clearing the bar.

“He’s upstairs, Love,” Clancy uttered colorfully and placed a few bottles in the trash, the sound of singing glass somehow complimenting to her voice.

Raven nodded in understanding and approached the bar. “You need help?”

Clancy looked up at her warmly and smiled with that of a mother’s embrace. “No darl’n, I’m good here,” she replied, her accent soft with her gentle tone. “But thank you, dearie. I applicate it.”

Raven placed her small hands on the bar and turned to face the Irish girl as she continued her mundane task. She took note of her manner, it was uplifted and kind, keeping her in a state of constant goods spirits. Raven also noticed how calm she appeared in the potential face of a travesty. The girl not once faltered in the wake of Schizo’s near fatality, giving Raven the impression that she may not have been as new to the life as she’d previously thought.

Clancy turned to her, noticing the inquiring look on the empath’s face. “What?” she grimaced, “Is there something I can help you with?”

Raven smiled at Clancy’s default and just shook her head. “No, I was just wondering how someone like you ends up in a place like this ?”

The Irish girl smiled and tilted her head in perplexity. “Well when you grow up in a place where the reminiscent scent of your hometown is Keresan, you find your standers for people become— unconventional.”

A slightly embarrassed expression grasped Raven’s manner and she felt a little humbled for the moment.

“I can understand that,” she nodded. “I’m sorry if I came off as supercilious.”

“No love, it’s alright,” Clancy said ardently, “it’s a fair question to be asked, and fair should not be offended.”

Raven nodded, an enlightened movement. “So in fairness, how did you end up here?”

A coy grins crack colorfully on her kind face, her button nose wrinkling caustically. “Well school isn’t exactly cheap,” Clancy drowned. “And well, this beats busting my arse and make’n half the money.”

“You’re a student?”

“Well I was; I graduated. I’m taking a year off before I start med school, y’know, recharge the batteries and save some money. Odds are I won’t have much time for work’n.”

“I hear that,” Raven replied in an overdrawn tone, sardonically understanding the concept of being a student.

“And what about you, love?” Clancy mused. “You don’t exactly fit into this equation yourself?”

“Yeah,” Raven smiled in irony, “I guess I’m still trying to find my place is  all I can come up with.”

“Join the club, dear.”

“So you said Dick was upstairs?”

“Aye, he’s probably trying to wash the scent of Blüdhaven off, though that be a lingering stench if y’ask me?”

“I wouldn’t know, but thank you, Clancy.”

Raven heard her call out “you’re welcome” as she made her way into the hallway beyond the veiled curtain.  She was a little shocked by how still and quiet it was  reaching the end of the stairway, the space voiceless and void. Below her feet, ascending the shrill steps, she noticed the damp boot prints, staining the dilapidating wood, leaving it slick. She placed her hand against the wall for guidance, the cool brick telling of the years it had stood. Raven could appreciate this, its history, its story, its rich wisdom that could only come from the patience of time.

Once reaching the top of the stairs, she stood paused on the landing. She pulled out her phone, taking view of the name, “Victor…” she murmured, her eyes glancing away a moment.

She wasn’t sure whether to accept the call at first as the dull pain seemed to press against her heart. She truly missed the insightful man, but in truth, she also worried that speaking with him might stir her more controversial opinions. But still, she felt the need to talk to her symbolic older brother.

“Hey, Vic.”

She smiled as the sound of his throaty voice sang from a world away. “Hey Rae, how’s my little witch doing, I miss you,” he cooed.

“She’s good, a little over it, but good.”

He let out deep chuckled, and Raven could picture the wide grin and how it radiated into his eyes. She missed that. “The Jeepster make it Okay?”

“Yeah,” Raven sighed, sinking down the wall, finding her way the wood floor below. “It really needs an oil change, but it actually made it without a hitch.”

“I knew it would, those XJ’s are solid, and that engine’s practically bullet proof.”

“Yeah, well it helps that we put all that work into it. Who knows, maybe I’ll actually get to test out those new U-Joints?” Raven added, recalling all the work she and Victor had but into it over the years. Victor loved that Raven enjoyed working on cars and, even more, that she enjoyed learning about their mechanics.

“Maybe,” he laughed, “they were a bitch change.”

“Yeah, so was the radiator,” Raven giggled mildly, still able to recall the sweet scent of coolant. “How is everyone, I miss them.”

“Wait, did I just hear you right? You Raven, the queen of darkness and solitude—misses—Beast Boy?”

“No, I meant you and Kory,” Raven said dryly. “No, I’m kidding, I miss him too, but if he asks, tell him I said, ‘fuck off.’”

Victor laughed, the sound thunderous. “Gladly, though he might cry. Y’know he kinda loves you, right?”

“God only knows why,” Raven droned, toneless. “I’ve never possessed the quality of tolerance, especially when it comes to the sound of Gar’s whining.”

“Yeah, I don’t think anyone possesses that quality, but I think he just thinks you’re cute,” the mechanical man teased.

“Yeah, cause that’s super deep of him.”

“Well what do you want, he’s not that complexed,” Victor groaned playfully. “Speaking of complexed how’s Dick?

Raven’s head fell back down  against the wall and let it roll to the side, staring down the hallway. “Convoluted and stubborn.”

“So the same?”

“More or less.”

“I tried calling him, but he didn’t answer, everything okay?”

“Yeah,” Raven said keeping her tone even. “He’s in the shower.”

“Okay, you two getting along okay?”

“Yeah, I mean he’s a pain in the ass, but I mean he’s not that bad,” she joked. “Y’know one glare and he shuts up.”

“Yeah, I think most people know that glare.”

“I never leave home without my resting bitch face,” Raven drawled morbidly. “How’s Kory? I haven’t heard from her since we left.”

“Y’know she’s, well—sad,” Victor said regrettably.

“Oh...” Raven sighed. “I should probably call her?”

“Yeah, she’d probably like that,” she could hear him smile softly over the rueful tone.

“I’ll try her either today or tomorrow, but in the meantime tell Kory I miss her and that she can call whenever she needs to talk.”

“That’s really sweet, Rae, and in the meantime, I’ll tell BB to go pound sand.”

“You can tell him I miss him too,” Raven said with a playful irony, “then you can tell him to go pound sand.”

“God, I really miss your humor around here.”

“I miss yours too,” Raven replied painfully. “I gotta go, Vic.”

“Yeah, I gotta go too. And Rae,” Victor added, “don’t be afraid to call anytime, okay…”

“I know.”

“And I know it’s not your style but, I love you, RaeRae.”

“I love you too, Vic” Raven added. “You tell anyone I said that, and I’ll kill you.”

“You’re secret’s safe with me, princess.”

“Bye, Vic.”

“Later, RaeRae,  keep our exalted leader in line.”

“Will do,” Raven smiled and heard the line cut.

She held the phone a moment and stared at, the longing for home reflecting in the black surface of the phone. She took a deep breath, trying to capture that feeling of the familiar, seeking that place so very far away. She tucked the thin phone in her back pocket, biting her lip in a defeated way as she couldn’t quite grasp the lost feeling. Then with her hands empty, she rose to her hesitant feet and walked on, making her why through the thick of the unknown.

She reached the door to the apartment at the end of the wall and turned the knob, taking a moment to gather herself on the off chance she had to face her “exalted leader.” Victor could be such a wise-ass sometimes. Raven opened the door and found the room empty, the sound of crashing water pulsing from beyond the door. She entered and let the door fall closed behind her, removing her black coat and placing it on the bed. She turned her head as she noticed from the corner of her eye, the pile of damp clothing by the bathroom door. She sighed as the sight of them left her with a little humor. She picked up an old trash bag that hung by the desk across from her, and knelt down side the rank smelling garments.

“Maybe I should have gotten a biohazard bag?” she groaned picking up each article of foul scented clothing. “That’s reminiscent of death,” she grimaced once more, and tied the bag closed, ending the assault of the decayed smell.

She rose to her feet and began walking the bag to the door, when she heard the bathroom door open.

“Hey, what are doing?” she heard Dick say tiredly and turned to face him.

“Oh, I was just gonna see if there was a way to wash these,” Raven shrugged and lifted the bag of filthy clothes.

Dick ran his hand through his wet hair. “You can just throw those away, something tells that smell isn't coming out anytime soon.”

“Yeah, I figured it was worth a try,” Raven sighed, dropping the bag on the floor and plopped down on the bed. “The shower help you feel a little better?”

Dick shrugged begrudgingly as he pulled out some fresh clothes and walked into the bathroom to get dressed. “Yes and no. It’s not like I can just wash away my bad judgment.”

“Yeah morality works like that,” Raven called flatly as she stared at the wall, “such a bitch, right?”

Dick gave her a dry glance as he hung his blue towel over the door to dry. “Well aren’t you a little ball of sardonic irony today.”

“When am I not?” Raven said hoarsely and noticed his distance. “Dick, what happened?”

He leaned against the door, his head falling back with melancholy. “I just don’t know, Rae. It’s like I keep making these decisions that I would never make prior to all this, and… I just—I don’t understand why I’m making them?”

“I know,” Raven replied, able to smell the scent of rue strongly rising from his lament, “but you know we don’t have stay here, right? We can always go back—we can go home?”

Dick looked at her, her eyes coy, but uncertain if whether or not those words were what he wanted.

“I can’t do that, it’s too… I don’t know—the blood just falls too close to the wound,” he sighed as though he were addressing the floor.

“Wow,” Raven mused. “That sounded like something I’d say.”

“Yeah, well I don’t know who I am anymore, so I guess it’s fitting?”

“We could go someplace else?” Raven suggested, catching a glimpse of his conflicted glance.

“Where?”

“Anywhere but here.” She smiled at him, trying to give him an inviting look. The possibility of just picking up and moving on.

“I can’t.”

Raven frowned with furrowed brows. “Why, I mean, it’s not like you’re emotionally invested at this point, right?”

Dick only looked at her, his eyes stormy in the wake of cloudy skies, but said nothing to their cause.

“You know, if you want me to understand, then you have to tell me what happened, and why you feel the need to stay here, especially if you think it’s killing you.”

Dick raised his hands to his face and clasped them about his lips. “Is this the part where you shake a spear at me and offer me the insight of Pallas?”

“That makes me sound a little pretentious, but yes,” Raven said, toneless. “I do know how to shake a spear .”

“That made you sound pretentious.”

Raven rolled her eyes and shook her head slightly. “Seriously though, what happened?” she asked once more, her eye pinned on him.

Dick let out a deep breath, his chest falling with a heaviness. “I agreed to let Jason kill a man today—I think I was even willing to help him? I mean… how could I let myself think I had the right to do that? How could I think that was right?” A cynical grin revealed itself, its fractured image something of disbelief. “And worse, I couldn’t even see how diluted and disillusioned my judgment was until that guy was dead.” The grin dissolved on his face, leaving his expression sobered and wounded.

Raven looked away and pressed her lips in responses, the bitterness unpalatable. “Does Mia know?”

His eyes flickered up, and his head swayed. “All she knows is she was never gonna see him again… I’m sure she knows why.”

“Truly, I think she knows the only way to promise that is through death.”

“Maybe,” Dick muttered somberly. “Jason told me that there wasn’t much hope of keeping a monster like that off the streets, and he’s right. People like that don’t learn or regret, they just keep to the shadows where they can sink their teeth into the next naïve girl that walks by. But as true as that is, I still don’t have the right to decide whether that person’s life is worth taking or not.”

“You’re not wrong,” Raven said and glanced over at him, “but, Jason isn’t wrong either. You identified with Mia’s pain, the fact that that man took a part of her she could never get back and for that, you thought he should have a part of him taken too. Your response was actually quite human .”

“Was it though?” Dick shook his head vexed. “I’m failing to see the humanity.” His voice filled with irony; he didn’t quite know what to think. “And even if you’re right, I can’t just justify my actions as the weakness of my humanity. What kind of man would that make me?

Raven stood up and looked at him, perplexed a moment. “If Bruce should have taught you anything, it’s that your greatest strength is that you are only human. That’s what keeps you grounded and what makes you better. You know what it’s like to have to overcome something bigger than you, and you’re stronger for it. You don’t need power to be great . You only need you.”

Dick rolled his head in her direction as she leaned against the wall beside him and bowed her head to him.

“Then I should know better,” Dick asserted. “I should be able to understand that—no man—has the right to take the life of another man—what was I—what was I thinking?!” His hands, splinted in rue, found his face, his fingers lacing over his forehead in pause. “Maybe I need to keep humanity more in mind?”

“You didn’t have humanity in mind to begin with, Dick—you had Mia… you had yourself.

He looked at her perplexed, his hands slipping to the top of his head as he shook it. His eyes grew misty and his lips tightened, his jaw clenched in quarrel.

“You once told me,” Raven continued, “that you were happy that the man who killed your parents was dead, because if he weren’t… you were afraid you’d—”

“Kill him myself—I know,” Dick finished bitterly, recalling the long passed conversation the two had shared a decade ago. “And God, I really wanted to.”

“You meant it then, and you mean now,” Raven said softly, shifting her body. “I know that frightens you, but you have every right to feel that way. Tony Zucco took a part of you you can never get back, and you wanted your pound of flesh for that, part of you always will.” She reached out and took his hand in hers. “You see your reflection in the faces’ of victims and you tell yourself that it’s helping them, you’re taking that debt, but you’re still angry that you can’t take it from him yourself… and that scares you.”

“Stop.” He pulled away, ripping his hand free of her, though it wasn’t Raven Dick was trying to escape, it was the truth that burdened him.

“I’m just saying what we both know.”

“Well, I wish you wouldn’t,” Dick spat. “I don’t wanna feel that. I want— so —badly to just let go, but I can’t,” he sighed, “that would take forgiveness that I don’t have .”

“And I’m telling you that’s alright,” Raven replied. “You don’t have to forgive everyone, you may not have the right to take their life, but not every human diverse the charity of forgiveness, and that can be a lot worse than death.”

“You’re right,” Dick huffed and wearily sat on the bed, “but, to not forgive, means to hold on , and as much as I don’t have it in me to forgive, I still just want it to go away. I know it won’t.”

“It never will,” the empath sadly reassured then sat down beside him.

“No shit.” Dick sighed. “I just can’t wrap my head around any of it, y’know?”

“I do,” Raven replied and placed her hand on his again, “and that is why I understand if you wanna go… Back to Jump, go to Europe, go over the hills and far away—I don’t care. I’ll go wherever you want… or I’ll stay here, with you, but it’s your choice, Richard.”

He closed his eyes and shuddered at the tempting thought. “As much as I want to get as far away from Gotham as possible, I can’t.”

The look on his face was distained, his color washed out.

“Why, what’s keeping you here?”

“Jason, he needs my help.”

“Fuck,” Raven scoffed, “why, he’s never wanted it before. Why now?”

A cynical laugh freed itself as Dick thought of the irony. “Because now he really has something to lose… and he’s, for once, actually thinking of someone else.”

“Rose?” Raven asked, tilting her head.

Dick nodded and raised his brow in conformation. “Yeah, apparently Slade didn't give a shit about the run last night, he only cares that his little girl is sharing her bed with Gotham’s reining Outlaw King . He’s apparently not too keen that.”

“Oh God, heaven forbid the fair Ophelia make a decision that could tarnish her bright and shining virtue,” Raven recited sarcastically, “How dare she!”

Dick rolled his eyes, not surprised that Raven’s mind made a beeline for the works of Shakespeare. “Yeah, only knowing Slade, he probably cares less about his daughter’s reputation . In his eyes, that wasn’t her decision to make. As far as Jason goes, he just wants him to know that Rose doesn’t belong to him and as long as Slade’s left breathing, she never will.”

“Sounds like Plutonius—I mean Slade,” Raven muttered, glancing nonchalantly at her fingernails. “Gotta give him credit though, the man’s consistent.” She glanced back over at Dick, a more serious look on her face. “So I take it this little misdeed he wants performed is his way of putting those two back in their place?”

“Do I really need to answer that?”

“No,” she shrugged, “I have the misfortune of knowing that man well enough to know exactly what all this is.” Dick noticed regret filling her eyes as she continued, her tone unchanged. “He’ll eventually make her choose, and when he does, he won’t accept anything less than what he wants for an answer.”

Dick ran his free hand through his hair and exhaled a hollow breath trapped deep inside his lungs. “And either way, I’m sure Jason’s gonna be the one to truly pay for it, no matter who Rose chooses. The sad part is… I think he actually loves her.”

Dick’s eyes clouded to match Raven’s, the two sharing a sad, embittered look.

“Well, that would explain why Jinx hates her.”

“She knows this won’t end well,” Dick sighed, recalling how torn up she was during that time, “She’s lived it.”

Jinx never wanted Wally to have to choose between her and the League and even went as far as to leave the Titans and give up on trying to be a hero. Dick even sought to talk her out of it, but he couldn’t. Jinx just wanted to sever the flesh from the bone and be done with it. Wally, however, was more than willing to stitch the wound closed and cut off the other arm if he had to, and he did. He cut the League off clean, and he didn’t even flinch. Or at least he didn’t let them see him hesitate . Either way, everyone blamed Jinx for Wally’s decision, it didn’t matter that she loved him enough to walk away, or that she really tried to better herself for him. It was still her fault, only because, Wally would have never left if it weren’t for that Eve.

Dick always felt that people had a bad habit of blaming a woman for the sins of men, but in his experience, men were more than capable of getting their sainted hands dirty, with or without the help of a woman, and viscera.

“Yeah, I suppose she has. I know I didn’t help,” Raven added and bit her thumb absentmindedly.

Dick chose not to answer, a clear image of Jinx swatting Raven across the face and calling her a vulgar name, echoed in his head, especially the part where Raven let her do it.

Raven looked down, knowing that his mind had traveled there, and shifted to an embarrassed nature, then changed the subject.  “You’re afraid for your little brother.”

Dick glanced up at her, his chest practically plummeted with his breath. “Yeah,” he nodded, “he said he needs me to be his big brother again.

“That asshole,” Raven giggled, “how are you supposed to say no to that?”

“I can’t.”

“And he knows that.”

“I know.”

“Do you think he means it?”

“I don’t know?” Dick replied with a worn smile. “But it doesn’t matter if he does or not, because the truth is, he does need me, even if he doesn’t wanna see it.”

“He does, that’s for damn sure,” Raven grumbled. “But I’m afraid he’s gonna use that against you, he’s kinda doing that now.”

“Yeah, I’m aware of that. Jason’s no stranger to the art of manipulation, but as I said, this time, he has something to preserve, and as long as he has that, I have an advantage.”

“Because at the end of the day, Jason knows that he can count on you to help save Rose from Slade.”

“Yep,” Dick nodded. “He knows I can’t just sit by and let some poor girl be used as a bargaining chip. Plus, if Jason is going to take on Slade, he’s gonna need me. I know Slade and I know not to underestimate him.”

“You think Jason is?”

“A little, yeah,” he said. “He defiantly isn’t quite sizing up his opponent, but that’s typical Jason—strike first, ask questions later.”

“That’s what got him killed?” Raven frowned, recalling the incident.

“Yeah, in a way. He ran blindly into a trap, but honestly, part of me thinks he would have gone in guns blazing regardless. Yes, Jason has a bad habit of living in the moment, but if I were in the same situation, I can’t say I would have acted differently.”

“There is an irony in there I’m not gonna make,” Raven replied.

Dick smiled at her and nodded awkwardly, finding the parallel a bit caustic. Jason always lived for the moment, even as a child. Dick never really thought about it when they were younger, mostly because he thought that nature came from his naivety and lack of discipline. But now thinking about it, he was forced to revise his conclusion.

“That’s just the world he comes from.” Dick stood and went to the dresser, picking up his watch and latched it to his wrist. “Bruce took me in because I remind him of himself as a boy after he lost his parents. He took Jason in because he knew if he didn’t, Jason would have become, ironically enough, what he is today, a criminal.” He turned to Raven and secured the clasp. “This is the world Jason came from, it’s the world he knows best, and for that, the first thing Jason learned is that Time, was never on his side.”

“Time is never on anyone’s side,” Raven said still sitting on their bed. “We’re all destined to die, it’s just a matter of when and how.”

“Leave it to you to take something grim and make it far more grimmer,” he smiled sardonically.

“It’s what I’m here for, it’s in my job description and everything.”

Dick smiled at her again, though this time it was a warmer look that recognized her humor. She gave him a slight smirk in return as he shifted his weight and approached her. “Your efforts are very well appreciated, Rae.” He leaned over and kissed her forehead, feeling a little less hostile.

And if for nothing else, he knew he could always count on her to understand him, even when he couldn’t.

 


 

 

Roy’s feet beat angrily against the pavement as he approached his building and bound up the stone steps to the door. He threw it open, not even having to bother unlocking it since the deadbolt had been broken for years. However, its repair mattered little to him as he was aware that everything in this part of town stayed broken, including the people that lived there.

He slammed the door behind him and stomped up the steps, his anger driving the collision under his feet as he raced up the two flights of stairs. He finally reached his floor and looked up. His form frozen at the sight of her, her arms were crossed over her chest as she took a deep breath.

Shit, he thought as he looked back her, her long black hair gently curling around her, the sharp red spring coat she wore, draping off her shoulders in a fashionable way. She clearly didn’t belong there. She hadn’t noticed him yet, but he was sure she would at any moment. He turned, getting ready to take off before she saw him, he couldn’t let her see him this way. Just as his feet were about to step down, he heard it, the soft lyrical sound of her voice. It was both a sound he so desperately feared, yet so deeply pined for.

“Roy?” She sounded relieved, but there was convulsion gripping her tone.

Roy’s eyes closed painfully as his name echoed down the filthy hallway, humiliation arising from the fact that she had to not only seen, but stood in the very cesspool he lived in.

“Roy?” she called again as his hand shook atop the banister.

He finally turned to face her, a vacant expression cast on his grey face as he looked back at her numbly. “Donna, what are you doing here?” His voice was thin and wounded as it spoke, leaving her a little empty at the sound.

She glanced away a moment, her lips parting, trying to gather the words. It had been well over a year since she’d seen him, and to be honest, the sight of him startled her. He was so thin now, his once high broad shoulders were sunken and weak. His eyes were dull, their forest green glare no longer full of life or determination. Then there were his hands, ashen and hard looking. They shook now, their steady grip nothing but a faint memory, he was merely a ghost to her now.

“I um… came to check up on you,” she finally managed.

Roy let out a heavy breath, letting his head fall back. “Why?”

She let out an uncomfortable laugh. “Because I care… and after the call I got, I was really worried about you.”

“Get in line, Donna,” Roy replied as he finally made his way down the hallway.

Her face grew with insult as he walked passed her, reaching his door. “Really, Roy? Is that all I get?”

“I having nothing to give you, Donna,” he replied. “At least nothing you would want.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

Roy opened his door, but she pushed it closed with little effort. He’d nearly forgotten how strong she was, as she stared back at him vexed, the way she’d used to. He’d also almost forgotten how much he loved that look.

His face softened as he let his defenses down and pulled himself out of attack mode. “I’m sorry, Donna… rough day.”

“Okay,” she replied and took her hand off the door. “You wanna talk about it?”

He looked up at her, her eyes solemn and burdened. He knew what he should have said, he knew exactly what he should have done, but still, he there was just something about her he just couldn’t say no too.

“Sure…”

 


 

The table was set as all present members sat around it like Knights waiting for King Arthur to speak. The table was around and carved out of old, finished pine that didn’t quite work with the fading brick or the heavy oak door. Still, the piece held its rustic character, its surface scarred with tunnels left by the worms that had borrowed throughout its flesh.

Dick glanced down at these paths, tracing them with his fingertips. The sight perplexed him, how something so invasive could be so eerily beautiful. He looked up at the faces around him as he sat beside X who flanked Jason’s right, Jinx to his left. Across from him sat the older man known as Hogan and to his left Duela, whose hair hadn’t quite dried. Enigma was beside her, her hair tied up in two buns atop her head. Eddie was beside Dick, his red form dormant as he too waited for Jason to speak and bring the meeting to session.

Jason sat at the head of the table, his eyes downcast in thought, his finger tapping the old wood while his mind conjured. “So what do we think happened last night?” Jason finally said opening the conversation around the table.

Everyone remained paused, not really sure where to start until, finally Hogan spoke up, “We almost got our shit wrecked, that what happened.”

“I know that, I mean how?” Jason replied looking for answers.

“Well, most of them are dead, so their plan wasn’t exactly bulletproof,” X shrugged smugly.

There was a light giggle among the table only Jason and Dick seemed to be impervious to.

“Has it ever occurred to you that maybe that’s why they caught us off guard?”

“What do you mean?” Jason questioned as everyone placed their attention on Dick.

“Well think about it, last night both hits were executed with two key features , surprise, and brute force. I mean, was it me, or did the whole thing feel like The Godfather got hijacked by the Fast & the Furious franchise?”

Jason thought about what Dick had implied and translated. “So you’re saying they we got hit by old school Mob, but they’ve been watching some pseudo bullshit gangsta movies? God, I hate myself for saying that...”

Dick shrugged. “Not in so many words, but yeah.”

“I thought you were supposed to be a detective, Grayson?” X snorted.

“I am,” he replied with annoyance, “but seriously, did anyone of you, at all, feel like you were going up against a paid professional last night? Or some punk who needs to stop watching Vin Diesel movies?”

“So armatures?” X asked, looking at the Boy Wonder crudely. “We nearly got our asses handed to us by armatures ?”

“Well, that girl sure as hell wasn’t a trained pro. I took her out with a basic maneuver she should have seen coming, but didn’t. The two older Italian guys didn’t seem green, but they were trying to play by a different set of rules. The only professional on that team was Shimmer, and well—”

“Rose put her down,” Jason finished and took a drag of his cigarette.

“Yeah, so here’s the question: what are two old Italian Mod guys, a professional hit-woman and a couple of gangsta wannabes doing carrying out an ambush on a high-level criminal syndicate like the Outlaws?”

“That’s simple, they either want territory or control over Gotham’s underworld,” Jinx said tiredly.

“Yeah after last night’s display, I’m gonna say that control isn’t really that realistic for their skill set, so we may need to think smaller,” Jason added.

“That’s not necessarily true,” Dick corrected. “It’s possible that we might just be dealing with a pawn? But if you ask me, I think the true answer lies in whoever hired Shimmer, and she was a pro, she should have had contacts, there might even be a contract floating around.”

“That’s a good point,” Jason nodded. “X, can you reach out and see if you can pick up any intel?”

“Yeah, I can probably dig up something, I have plenty of favors to cash in.”

“I’ll check out what I can find on the Hidden Wiki, see if I can find the actual contract,” Enigma added.

“Good,” Jason replied, “but in the meantime, who do we think we’re looking for?”

Hogan shrugged. “There’s a lotta Mob in this town; it’s kinda hard to narrow down.”

“Well for starters, those guys couldn’t have been high-level Mob, we would have recognized them,” X said.

“They also didn’t have the experience that someone higher up the food chain would have. So my guess is that if they were the best that family had to offer, then maybe they are lower players,” Dick added.

Jason rolled his eyes. “So basically all we got right now is a couple of punks playing Grand Theft Auto , Shimmer and a disgraced Mod family, sorta narrows down the pool.”

“Actually,” Jinx sighed, finally joining the conversation, “have you seen some of the newest generation of Mob? Not exactly following the rule book of Goodfellas .”

“What’d you mean?”

“I mean it sounds like we’re looking for somebody’s shithead kid?”

“She’s got a point,” Dick said. “Last night could have been an initiation. That would explain the lack of experience and the huh— flare.

“Yeah, but who sends a newbie to do a pro’s job?” Duela asked.

“Someone with nothing left to lose and someone who has a lot to prove,” Dick shrugged.

“Okay, I want Eddie and Duela to go see what they can dig up on the streets. X and Jinx look into your prior contacts, Hogan you check the books, see if anyone is coming up light?”

Everyone nodded, accepting their orders.

“Also, we still have the issue of Jump, word on the street is Slade’s getting ready to start putting people in play, we need to find out what that play is and make our own, but we’ll worry about that tomorrow.”

Jason noticed Dick glanced down and his shoulders fall with vexation, affronted by the unsavory thought of his abandoned charge becoming something dirty. Jason dismissed everyone from the table, bring the meeting to a close. Dick rose as well, but Jason beckoned him to remain seated.

Dick looked over at  Jason as he mildly lit a cigarette. He placed his lighter on the table and took a drag, Dick waiting for him to speak.

"Listen, Dick, I know you're not happy about me moving in on Jump, but it's what I gotta do."

Dick stared straight ahead at the stone wall, bare of false paneling and asked numbly, "Does moving on Jump have anything to with Rose?"

"What do you mean?"

Dick then looked over at the Outlaw again, his cigarette now hanging from his lips as he peered down at his burner.

"Like is she using you to get away from her father, or are you doing this to try and take her away from him?"

Jason looked up from the phone and closed it, placing it back in his pocket. "Rose doesn't even know. I haven't told her."

"Why, are you afraid she'll rat you out?"

"No,” Jason replied and took another drag. “I'm afraid of what Slade will do to her if he found out she knew."

"Okay, I get that, but you're gonna have to tell her eventually, and I just hope that when you do, that she doesn't turn on you."

Jason’s words remained unspoken as he promptly flicked the ash off his cigarette. However, Dick still had plenty to say.

“Why are you doing this? Why is Jump so important to you?”

Jason glanced up at him; his eyes a little chilled as they glared at him. “Because, if I don’t, Slade will, and I’m not gonna sit by while everyone just lets him take whatever he wants.”

Dick glared at Jason, his face that of stone, cold and unmoved. Dick, himself, could feel the stillness in his own eyes as they began to evaporate and filled with a smoky color of reality.

“I understand that, but why is Slade’s power so important to you?”

“You’re asking a question you already know the answer to, Dick. Besides, it’s either the Devil you know, or the Devil you think you know."

"If that’s true, then which one are you?"

 


 

Roy sat across from Donna in the small booth by a foggy window, the sun beating in through the smudges of handprints. The two looked at each other awkwardly as the waitress approached, an older woman who strangely resembled a Boston terrier.   

“What’ll it be?” she asked, her voice foggy from years of nicotine abuse.

Roy glanced up at her with a fake smile, “Coffee.”

“Tea,” Donna replied and uttered a small ‘thank you’ as the underwhelmed waitress withdrew.

Donna looked at Roy, unsure of what to say. She noticed his index finger as his frantically scratched at a chip on the surface of the table.

“Is everything alright?”

Roy looked up at her, her fingers laced under her chin. She glanced down at his busy digit, still mindlessly digging away. He let out a sharp breath and refrained from the worthless task, flattening his hand upon the table.

“Define alright?”

Donna’s eyes fell from him a moment, a little put off. This was by far not the Roy she knew and very much loved, yet she remained there. It was then the waitress returned with their order and placed down the off colored mugs.

“You two need anything else?” she asked, looking at the two awkwardly, the pair looking quite crude together.

“No thank you,” Donna smiled as Roy looked away, hiding his insult.

The woman withdrew from them with nothing more than a shrug and left them to one another.

“So what do you wanna talk about?” Donna asked picking up her tea.

Roy leaned forward and took his coffee in his grasp, bring it to his lips. “I don’t know Donna, there isn’t much to say.”

Donna sipped her tea and set it down. “Well, say what you can.”

“Why?”

“Because I want to understand.”

Roy laughed cynically. “No, you don’t.” He took a sip of his coffee as Donna’s brow furrowed. “So what does good ol’ Terry think about you coming to check up on me?”

“I left Terry.”

Roy looked up at her, shock in his forest green eyes. “What, when did that happen?”

Donna picked up her tea and replied, “The other night after you called.”

“Why?” Roy asked. “I mean what happened, I thought you two were happy and all that white picket fence shit?”

“Yeah that picket fence wasn’t as white as it seemed,” Donna replied sardonically. “Plus Terry isn’t really the man I thought he was, it all just sort of fell apart, I guess…”

“Yeah, I know that feeling,” Roy said sipping his coffee again.

The irony hit her heart a moment as she glanced down. “Yeah, I guess you were right, after all…”

Roy looked up at her, recalling the words he’d spoken to her years ago with a drunk and broken heart. “Donna, what I said was—”

“The truth,” Donna said cutting him off, “I should have listened, but I didn’t.”

“Yeah, but I said that because I didn’t wanna see you marry another man, I said it because I was being selfish. I couldn’t take seeing you with anyone else.”

“I know,” Donna said. “Hints why you told me the night before my wedding, but regardless, you were right. I married the wrong man.”

Roy looked down, feeling ashamed of that night, his actions were fueled by heartache and alcohol, blinding him of his better judgment. He’d begged for her to come back to him, he begged her to call off her wedding, insisting that she was making the biggest mistake of her life and that Terry wasn’t worth giving up her life for. He spoke every argument and practically recited sonnets, declaring his incurable love her for her.  Yet, no matter how particle or beautiful the point or the verse was, she wouldn’t accept it as fact. He even went as far as telling her that she could doubt all the facts of science, but she could never doubt that he loved her. That made her cry, but she married Terry anyway, even if it was partly out of guilt.

“So what about you?”

“What about me?” Roy replied. “I’m not exactly the picture of morality.”

“I’ve heard.”

“Yeah, I’m sure everyone is just more than willing to air my dirty laundry for all the world to judge.”

“Roy that’s not what I meant, I didn’t come here to judge you.”

“Then what did you come here for?”

“To make sure you were alright.”

“Well, I’m reluctantly still breathing.”

“Don’t talk like that.”

“I’m just being honest, Donna,” Roy shrugged numbly. “Everyone seems to have this idea that I’m the way I am because I made bad choices, and maybe I have, but no one has ever considered asking why I made those choices to begin with.”

“So this is my fault?”

“What?”

“Your problem,” she replied. “If I hadn’t married Terry then you would have never gone on that mission.”

Taking a pause, Roy stared at her at her a moment and took out his wallet then placed a 10 dollar bill on the table and stood. “Okay, on that note, I’m done.”

Startled, Donna turned her head and watched him leave, then scrambled to her feet to catch up to him.

“Roy, wait!” she called throwing her purse over shoulder, “Roy, please!”

“Why, so you can wash your conscious clean of me?” he spat, making his way to the sidewalk.

“Roy, please just listen to me,” Donna begged as she caught him by the arm. “Please?”

“Why do you feel like what happened to me is your fault?”

“Because I feel like you took that mission to get away from me.”

“You're right, Donna, I did take that mission to get away from you, because I loved—fuck—I still love you. I wasn’t strong enough to see you with another man. But that’s not the only reason I took that mission; I also took it because I wanted to get away from a lot of things, I wanted to live outside of Ollie’s shadow and didn’t want to be part a team anymore. I wanted to be myself, and in doing that I fucking lost myself, and that’s why I put a needle in my arm to forget everything I lost and have to endure. I can’t live with some of the things I’ve done. Living and knowing that people died because of me, that is why I’m a heroin addict, Donna, not because you broke my heart. You can go back to your pretty little life now.”

He turned to walk away, his numbness blinding him to his dark, glassy reflection, rippling in her eyes. He only got a few steps away when he heard her voice again, fragile as it cracked.

“Roy, wait… I want to help you.”

He stopped a moment, his own eyes growing heavy with turmoil.  “Why Donna, why now?” He turned to her, stepping in her direction. “Of all the times to come running back to me, why did you have to pick now?”

“Because I want my friend back,” Donna whimpered, her expression still pleading with him.

“I want him back too, Donna,” Roy said, “but I don’t know if can go back to being that man.

Donna stepped forward bridging the gap between them. “I’m willing to help you try.”

A tear fell from her eye, and Roy’s heart shattered. However, he held his tears back as he leaned in and kissed her, not even giving the gesture a second thought. Donna’s eyes, grew wide as his lips pressed against hers for a brief moment, but then closed, accepting it before he pulled away.

He let his thumb grace her chin as he looked down at her, for a moment, feeling almost human again, but of course, the clouds rolled in. “I’m not."

He pulled away again, this time leaving her speechless and as he scurried away like a stray cat, trying to remove itself from the sight of humanity. Donna just stood there and watched as he drifted away like a plastic bag, minimal and forgotten, heart aching for him to see that to her, he mattered.

However, what Donna didn’t realize was that Roy knew he mattered, especially to her, and that hurt more than she could ever know.

Roy once again bounded up the steps of his apartment building, his feet falling with more defeat this time. His splintered hands pulled open the door, regret harboring beneath his skin. He took that regret into his apartment and shut the door promptly, hiding himself from the world he no longer wanted to be a part of. The moment the door fell closed, he finally broke down. Tears began to spill from his eyes, rolling down his garish, thin face. His hand slipped deep into his pocket, trying desperately to find the cure to his unrelenting pain. His fingers gathered the much-needed object, and he produced it in his palm as he looked down at it with remiss. The tiny bag remained lifeless in his hand, though it somehow left him haunted and broken, even just by returning his hateful expression blankly. Still, his hatred could not keep them apart, and if this was what it took to escape this world, then this was how it would end.

 


 

“You don’t play fair…” Jason said breathily as he laid next to Rose, her head resting on his shoulder.

“Hey you knew that going into it, JT,” she replied, accepting the cigarette as he passed it to her, her fingers laced within his. She stared up at the cracked ceiling, taking a puff, her eyes a little hazy in her current state.

Jason took the cigarette from her as she exhaled, the smoke billowing above them. “So you and Raven get along okay?”

Rose giggled and stole the cigarette with a smile. “She fucked Jinx’s old man, I fucking love that bitch,” she laughed and placed the cigarette to her lips.

Jason chuckled with genuine shock. “Wow,” he drawled, retrieving their shared past time, “I didn’t know that. I wonder how Grayson feels about it?”

“What’s the deal with those two anyway,” Rose asked, “are they like a thing or something?

“I have no fucking clue, they say they’re not, but I don’t know. I honestly don’t think they do either.”

Jason stubbed out the cigarette in the ashtray at his bedside, leaning over a little as Rose adjusted her position and turned to her side.

“How hard can it be it to figure out?”

“Well,” Jason began, “for starters, Dick was engaged to another woman like 3 or 4 months ago.”

“What’d she dump him?” she asked intrigued. She could be a bit nosy, but it came with the misfortune of being a Wilson, the fact she was only 19 also didn’t help much.

“Not exactly, she married another man while she was still engaged to Dick.”

Rose’s eyes went wide, “How does that even happen?”

“Arranged marriage,” Jason replied, playing with a piece of her silver hair. “Dick asked her to call it off; she didn’t, he left.”

“That’s shitty,” Rose grimaced, looking up at him.

“That’s probably a gross over simplification, but yeah, basically.”

“So what, Raven’s like his little rebound?”

“No,” Jason said blankly, “she’s more like his best friend who acts more like his wife.”

“Yeah, I can see that,” she nodded.

“She loves him, and I think Dick needs that.”

“But does he love her?”

“Yeah,” Jason said convolutedly, “but I don’t know if he realizes that, or if he’s even capable of seeing her that way, but he loves her. And I don’t know; maybe it’s enough for Raven.”

“She did say something about love being silent ,” Rose sighed, placing her chin on Jason’s bare chest. “She said I remind her of Cordelia from some Shakespeare play I can’t remember the name of…”

King Lear ,” Jason said, finishing her thought, letting his restless hand run through her silver hair and down the skin of her back.

“Yeah,” Rose smiled and continued. “How do you know that?”

“I was adopted by the richest man in Gotham, I was bound to sit through the Shakespeare canon at some point.”

“Do you think I’m Cordelia?” She looked up at him with icy eyes, the fringe of her grown out bangs encompassing them and the hills of her cheekbones.

“I think if you look deep enough into something, you can see yourself in it.”

“Is that like a Shakespeare quote or something?” Rose questioned a little bewildered, her education not nearly the length of his.

Jason giggled, “Nope, that’s all me, Rosie, if Shakespeare said that, it would probably mean more than it does.”

“I wouldn’t know.” Her face fell into a bit of shame, she may have been a Wilson, but she never quite lived the life of one. She grew up in a rough neighborhood in New York, her mother earning her living as a prostitute and madam. Rose, though very bright, never really got a proper education. Her studies suffered greatly after mother died, for several reasons. One, she began acting out as she didn’t quite fit into the prestige of Gotham Academy and two, she spent a great deal of her time throwing herself into her training, dropping out shortly after her 16 th birthday.

However, Rose’s real education was earned on the streets, and in the Brothel her mother ran. She became steeped in the ways of people, their different dealings, their cultures and their struggles—the very fabric of what made the underworld tick. Better yet, she learned how to survive. By the time she was 14, she already knew more about the human condition than any girl of her green age. She’d witnessed the darkest depths of fringe society and understood the very drive of counter culture. But it wasn’t until her Father came along that she truly became a cynic.

Jason’s upbringing wasn’t much different, “ same shit, different flavor” as he referred to it. His father was a criminal, his mother walked out them, he’d pretty much grown up in the streets, caring for his drug addict step-mother. He knew what it was like to have nothing and be happy with little. They both came from broken households--fractured families, the sharpest of realities plaguing their childhoods. And, more importantly, they both knew what it was like to be broken. They even had a game they played where they compared battles stories just to see which one was a little more fucked up. Sadly, in the end, neither of them really won.

“You don’t have to, you’re a smart girl,” Jason said with sincerity, “you don’t need the words of a dead poet to figure shit out.”

Rose smiled and stared up at the cracks in the ceiling again, their fragile lines somewhat fascinating to her, like they were very well the cracks on her own cracked surface.

“Can we just stay here all night? Y’know and just do this?”

Jason smiled at her and ran his thumb over the pout of her lower lip. “I honestly couldn’t think of a better place to die, but I know you’d be crushed if this were my last night alive.”

“It was worth a shot?” Rose sighed with remorse, wishing it were her own life on the line. However, not being much of a romantic herself, she still found the prospect of dying to spite her father a little palatable. But alas, her father knew her a little too well, and maybe, that was where the rub lied.

“It was. It always was,” Jason muttered nearly dispassionately, his thoughts drifting in and out of reality and what reality might become.

He sat up, noticing the time ticking on the wall clock. He wasn’t happy about the approaching task, but he was in not position to disobey the command he’d been given.  He grimaced at the irony of it, his stomach turning with revolt, though he could not act upon it, he had to capitulate. Still, he swallowed the nausea, clenching his jaw as though biting down hard on his tongue. Rose noticed the trouble in his posture and the tightening of his strong jawline. She knew how hard this truly was for him; to just lie down and take it like a dog that was being kicked for stepping out of line. “You okay, JT?”

“Yeah, I am,” Jason sighed.

Rose pushed herself up from the mattress and pulled herself over to him as he drew her into his lap. She wrapped her arms around his neck, and her legs followed around his waist. He pulled her bare body against his and placidly kissed her. He looked back at her and once again brushed the white hair from her brow, her long platinum strands spooling down to her small breasts.

She parted her lips and exhaled, feeling guilty that her once unequaled love was now unwillingly her father’s dog. “I know you’re doing this for me, but you don’t have to.”

He smiled at her briefly. “I know, but I want to.”

She smiled at him weakly.

“Plus I’m really not keen on dying again, at least not on those terms. So yeah operation corpse disposal, here I come,” he chuckled bravely.