“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?”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”