All Along the Watch Tower
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 Jonny 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, Jonny 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.”
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 aboutBruceand 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.
“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.
“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.