The Red Right Hand

Farewell, Fair Cruelty

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 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 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 other's 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 whether 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…"

"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," Dicked 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.

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