But Home is Nowhere
“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”
—The Tempest: Act 1 Scene 2
The smell of fresh coffee hung faint in the air as a white-haired man entered the large dining room. He took a seat at the head of the table and looked over at the tall brunette, enjoying a cigarette at the other end.
“You know I don’t appreciate you smoking at the table, Adeline,” the man said, taking hold of his morning paper.
The brunette let out a long puff of smoke, “And I don’t appreciate you not even saying good morning, Slade.” She lightly flicked the ash off her cigarette with an eloquent hand movement. “Oh, and by the way, you might want to brace yourself. Your business dealings are all over the front page.”
Slade looked down at the plague of black print, reading the headline aloud, “Jump City Vigilante Slays Outlaw Biker,” his voice robotic, as it drawled off the words coldly.
He continued to read on as his wife stood up from her chair, “Jonny Rancid is dead,” she said picking up a fresh pot of coffee, “and it gets better, Nightwing killed him.”
Slade looked up at his wife with a sharp look in his cunning blue eye, “I always knew that boy had it in him.”
His wife lifted her head and gave him a sinister smile, “You sound proud?” She slowly poured him a cup of coffee and took a quick drag of her cigarette. “If I recall, Nightwing is the same young man you recruited as your apprentice, if I’m not mistaken?”
“Yes, only he was known as Robin then,” the assassin mused, “God, how I would have loved to see the look on the Bat’s face when he heard the news that his little sidekick, Robin, finally killed a man.”
His voice was sick with pride and amusement as the mental picture of Bruce’s disappointment played in his head.
“Robin, as I recall,” Adeline began with a slight laugh, “was more trouble than he was worth?”
“Just like his father,” Slade replied, taking a sip of his coffee then looked down at his paper. “Always going against nature, it seems the Graysons will never learn.”
Adeline put out her cigarette and poured herself a cup of tea, “Who was his father again?”
“Oh yes, Tommy Dawley’s grandson,” the brunette said picking up her cup, “Whatever happened to John? Wasn’t he practically raised by Tommy?”
“John learned the truth, but I think deep down, he knew it all along.” Slade paused, reflecting on his words and let his gaze fall a moment. “However, John learned little from the truth, and that’s what got him killed.”
“Well then, it would seem that irony has had the last laugh, his son has killed your enforcer now, hasn’t he?” Her voice had a vexed quality to it as though part of her was annoyed with her husband’s predicament.
“It is a shame. Rancid was good, but not irreplaceable. There are plenty more where he came from, there always will be.”
Adeline could feel the cold chill roll off his words as he turned the page without missing a beat. “I know that, but I’m more concerned with the plan, in case you’ve forgotten?”
“No of course not, but I promise this setback will do little to the overall agenda. At the least we are rid of Snowflame and his insolence.”
“Yes, but now Jump City is wide open for the taking and we can’t afford to lose it, not with the clinic in the works. Rancid was a key player in that plan.”
“We won’t lose it,” Slade urged, “you just kept moving forward on your end and I’ll handle the battlefield on mine.”
The white-haired man looked up at his wife as she stared down at him with warning on her aged face. She’d sacrificed too much to fail now and wouldn’t accept failure as an option for anything. It was what made her the perfect business partner, that and her tactfulness. She was systematic and ambitious and above all, committed. She also wasn’t afraid to draw blood if that’s what it took, even her husband’s.
“Ugh,” Adeline sighed, “so would you care to tell me what’s the next move is in this little game of chess?”
Slade smiled and picked up his coffee, “Let’s just say the blood on Nightwing’s hands may actually push things in the right direction.”
Dick laid in his bed staring up at the ceiling. His thoughts heavy as they began to cave in on him, finally processing what had happen. He looked over at the beautiful red-head who lay beside him, looking up with her inquisitive green eyes.
“So?” Kory asked cautiously catching the questioning look in his eyes, “what now?”
Dick looked away from her unable to come up with a clear answer. ‘I can’t believe that I let this happen, what was I thinking? Oh yeah, I wasn’t,’ he thought disappointed with himself.
“Dick, can you please just answer me?” Kory urged, feeling the tension growing between them.
He sat up and placed his arms over his knees, still struggling to find a direction.
“Dick?” Kory finally snapped.
He looked over at her with confliction, a void glare in his eyes, “I honestly don’t know?”
She threw the ruffled sheets off her with a wroth hand and quickly sat up, pushing herself off of the bed with urgency. He watched her, wincing at the force of her movements and her frigidness, though he couldn’t blame her for it.
“Save it Dick,” she hissed, throwing up her hand at him, “I have grown really tired of this game.”
“Kory this isn’t a game, I just don’t know…”
Kory finished pulling on her jeans and began buttoning her blouse. She took a deep breath and let it free itself raggedly.
“Dammit,” she huffed and plopped down beside him, “I should have listen to you, this is—”
“No Kory, this isn’t your fault. It’s just…”
“…Complicated,” they both said in unison.
“I know,” Kory continued with frustration dripping from her voice, “you have been saying that all day.”
Dick looked away from her ruefully as honesty bit at the tip of his tongue, “I know this is wrong, that I shouldn’t be doing this to you, but it’s like I can’t make a logical decision these days, Kory.”
She looked away, letting her gaze fall to the floor, and hesitantly took his hand in hers. He looked over at her a little surprised and saw a heavy look on her face. She was just as torn as he was. Part of her wanted to scream at him and the other wanted to tell him that she still loved him and always would. But it was different now—fractured. The physical attraction was still there, but the emotional one seemed distant and poorly translated, yet part of them still reached for it.
“I’m really sorry, Kory.”
“The last time we started down this path we found ourselves here,” Kory mumbled with a shrug, “but I understand. I just wish we could go back to the way things were, when you were home… with me.”
Tears started to fall from her misty eyes and once again the sharp dagger delved into his heart with sorrowful furry. It was then Dick realized what “home” actually was. It was a feeling you sometimes couldn’t get back.
“If only it were that simple,” he said looking down defeated and wounded.
“I’m going to go now,” she said choking back the majority of her sadness.
He nodded and watched her walk away—dejected and embittered as though the whole world was ending. Like it would fall from the sky and shatter at any given moment for both of them.
She opened the door, but before leaving, looked back at him and said, “Oh and Dick, I…” she began, but couldn’t find the words she strived for.
Dick looked up at her, noticing the betrayal and hurt pooling in her eyes—twisting the dagger even further, “Yeah Kor?”
“I don’t know anymore…” she smiled briefly, but disdain claimed it promptly, “Goodbye Richard.”
His name fell into ruins, filled with disillusion and broken promises that would always bare the cracks of their relationship. The door closed slowly, Kory unable to look back at him again. He unavailingly watched, lacking the words to stop her, and in truth, part of him didn’t want to stop her.
Once she was gone, he fell back on his bed and attempted to sort through the mess cluttering his head. In the last 48 hours he’d managed to (once again) break his ex’s heart, possibly divided the team, get blackmailed by the Justice League, kill a man, and on top of it all, didn’t even know how to help his friend battle his addiction.
“Yeah Grayson, you’re a real winner,” he scoffed in frustration.
It was like no matter what he did, he could never find the right answer and in truth, part of him felt there wasn’t one.
A hand rapped at the door, catching his attention.
“Hey Dick, it’s Vic. Can we talk?” the mechanical man said from behind the door.
Dick pulled himself out of the bed and picked up his clothes, “Yeah just give me a minute.”
Once he finished getting himself dressed, he opened the door and allowed the robotic man to step in.
“So what did you wanna talk to me about?” Dick asked a little sheepishly, though he tried to hide it.
Victor looked back at him, quickly realizing that something was off, though he kind of expected it to be.
“Um… well, there are a few things,” he replied looking around, noticing the torn up state of the bed. “Like what happened last night? How are you holding up?”
“If I told you the house might fall apart, would you worry?”
“If you told me it wouldn’t fall, I’d be worried,” Victor replied dully, “I mean with everything that’s been going on, you should be feeling the weight.”
Dick sat down and pinched the bridge of his nose, “The League contacted you didn’t they?”
Victor crossed his arms and immediately changed his stance, “Yeah.”
“So you know… what they want me to do?”
“And what do you think I should do?” Dick asked his friend earnestly.
“I don’t think it’s a bad idea,” Victor replied with a little regret breaking in his voice. “I mean, Roy and Kory aside, last night was a big game changer for you, and I think some distance might be good.”
“You too,” Dick sighed, “Well I appreciate your honestly, Vic. Thanks.”
“You sound really disappointed?”
“Yeah, disappointment becomes me these days.”
“Dick, sometimes we can’t help the situations we find ourselves in,” Victor said reassuringly. “Sometimes life just happens.”
“Yet I’m still being punished for it.” Dick looked up at the robotic man a moment, forgetting himself in his weary mind set. “I’m sorry Vic, I didn’t mean for that to sound personal.”
Victor gave him an understanding smile. He understood that his friend’s emotions were staggering and caught between opposite ends of the spectrum.
“I know it feels like you’re being put in a time out, but just think of it as putting things into perspective. You’re caught between being a Titan and your personal life, and both have been really hard on you.”
He was right, Dick was struggling to balance his dueling lives, but his pride refused to see it that way. To him, stepping down meant submitting, to admit he wasn’t strong enough to handle the pressure when it truly added up.
“Some leader I’ve turned out to be?” he said mournfully, taking in all his current failures.
“Sometimes what makes a good leader is knowing when to step back,” Victor said with a firm, but light nature.
Dick looked up at him, but couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge the words with positivity. He only kept a flat, defeated expression that clung dully to his eyes, filling them with a broken stare. Victor let his sight fall from his wounded leader, a little disappointed in his expression. He knew Dick would come to see this was all for the better when he was ready. He just hoped that he’d come to see it sooner rather than later.
“There is one other thing we need to discuss,” Victor added with a heaviness.
Dick shrugged, cueing him to continue.
“The commissioner called today,” he said noticing Dick’s eyes widen with a fearful guilt, “he wants to know when you’re gonna give your statement?”
Dick looked away again, unsure of what to really say. He had no problem giving his statement, however it meant he’d have to acknowledge his actions and tell (in great detail) how he’d taken a life. The thought made him a little sick and a lump formed in his throat. But what made it so much more difficult is that he’d have to face what drove him to do such a thing, he’d have to face that darkness. It was something he didn’t quite understand, though it was always there, waiting for just the right moment to rear its ugly head. Always managing to do so when his thoughts were infested by one particular proponent—Slade.
“Listen, you don’t have to give me an answer tonight, but I’ll have to know by tomorrow—”
“I’ll go now,” Dick said cutting Victor off.
The robotic man gave him a hard look, a little offset by the sudden decision. “Dick that’s not necessary, we don’t have to go right now.”
“I just wanna get it over with, the longer I wait, the less I’ll wanna do it,” he said standing up in a stern manner.
Victor remained silent for a moment, unsure of what to think. “You sure, Dick?”
“Yeah Vic, I’m sure.”
With that, the two made plans to head down to the station where Dick would meet with the city police commissioner. He took a quick shower in a feeble attempt to wash away his poor judgments, but the guilt still lingered, weighting on his morality. He soon after got dressed and put on his uniform, though he wasn’t sure how much longer he’d be wearing it. As he was pulling on his gloves, he looked back at the backward picture frame, unable to look at its face—he was too ashamed to. He ran his fingers through his damp hair and put on his mask, attempting to shield more than just his face.
He soon met Victor in the main room where he was the only one waiting. Dick noticed he was putting away his cell phone, a conflicted look on his face.
“Hey Vic, everything okay?” the masked hero asked approaching him.
The mechanical man sighed a moment before he spoke, “Yeah, I just forgot Sara has this family thing tonight I was supposed to go to. It totally slipped my mind.”
“Is she mad?” Dick asked feeling a little guilty for taking up his time.
“A little disappointed, but she understands,” he replied. “I just hate letting her down, ya know?”
“Man, I’m sor–”
“Don’t be,” Dick said cutting him off, “I need to man up to the decisions that I make, no matter how uncomfortable they are.”
Victor just looked at him simply, not really sure of what to say.
“Go with Sara,” Dick finally said breaking the silence.
Victor looked at him sharply, “But what about you?”
“I can do this on my own, Vic. Don’t disappoint Sara on my account.”
“Sara gets it,” Vic replied, “I wouldn’t feel right letting you go through this alone.”
“Vic, this is my mess, I have to clean it up. I’d be a shitty leader if I didn’t and last I checked, I’m still the leader of this team.” Dick said with reassuring sternness.
“I know man, as far as I’m concerned, you’ll always be our leader.”
The two shared a moment of mutual respect, finding comfort in each other’s understanding.
“Then as your leader, I’m ordering you to let me do this on my own and not fuck things up with your girlfriend.”
“Only if that’s really what you want?” Vic asked one last time.
“It is,” Dick replied, “I’m the only one who can put this ghost to rest, I don’t need to take you with me.”
The robotic man nodded, but had more question, “Okay Dick, just one more thing.”
“I really don’t know if asking this is alright, but it’s been eating away at me all day an—”
“What Vic?” Dick asked a little cynically, cutting him off.
“I know that at the time it seemed like the right decision, but do you really think killing Jonny was the only decision?”
Dick looked away shocked at the question. His friend’s eyes holding a truthful regret that held his stare firm.
“Do you mean do I think it was right?” he questioned cautiously, not really sure what to think.
“No, what I mean is; do you think there was another way, even if you didn’t see it?” Victor corrected.
“Probably,” Dick said weakly and shrugged, “I mean, I let him get the better of me and because of that I made a bad call, maybe if I’d just… I don’t know… not been so—fuck. He probably wouldn’t be dead if I’d just done my job right.”
Dick looked back at his friend who’d watched him struggle through the answer to his question. His face wearing a look of confliction, but also acceptance.
“I can respect that answer,” Victor said in a dull tone.
The statement didn’t leave him much comfort, but stirred his curiosity, “Why’d you wanna know?”
“I don’t know… I guess I just needed to know what you really thought about it,” Victor said still searching for the right words. “Sometimes it’s hard to know how you really feel, you tend to hide behind your mask.”
His statement came off a little cold and deep down, but deep down Dick knew he was right. He did hide behind his mask when facing the world became too hard. However, part of him got the feeling that Victor questioned his sincerity on the matter, and if so, he wasn’t entirely wrong. Part of him did feel horrible for what he’d done, but a darker part of him didn’t seem as overburdened as it should have been.
“I’d be lying if I said I don’t know how to feel about it,” Dick replied letting a bit of his guard down. “It’s hard to wrap my head around, I’m honestly afraid of who I might become as a result of it.”
“Even more reason why you should take a step back and just figure things out,” Victor replied with concern.
‘Not this again,’ Dick thought with a hint of bitterness, but pushed it down, no longer willing to fight the point.
“I’ll think about,” he finally replied. “Well, I’m off, give Sara my best.”
“I will. If you need anything, just call, okay?”
Dick nodded as he moved to the doors, leaving the past conversation behind. Part of him knew if he left, the team would be in good hands, yet he still found the idea profoundly hurtful. It was his team, his mission, and his responsibility. Letting it go was going to be more difficult than anyone could truly imagine. But maybe letting it go was the right thing to do in the end?
Nightwing felt odd as he entered the police station, something he really didn’t do often. He’d come in through an emergency door in the back as to not raise any unwanted attention. Though he still fell subject to the curious stares of the dubious officers as they went about their business. The commissioner—an older man, but not quite as old as Commissioner Gordon—set him up in an interrogation room and sat down across from him. This wasn’t the first time the two men had spoken, in fact, they’d dealt with each other regularly over the years.
“Well I’d like to thank you for taking the time to come down here, I just want to ask you some routine questions,” the commissioner said in a dull manner.
“I understand,” Nightwing replied coldly.
The man nodded and began asking Nightwing the same, tired, questions he’d already answered several times that day. And of course, he replied with the same dry answers, leaving little room for emotion, keeping his front unscathed. The questions rolled on, some even being asked twice, but with different words.
“Alright, I have one more question for you,” the commissioner said finally looking up from his files.
Nightwing nodded, allowing him to continue.
“Was it—at any point—your intention to kill Jonny Rancid, during your confrontation with him?”
The question raised some rather interesting points as Nightwing took in the words. The commissioner’s expression was cold as it clung to his leathery skin, leaving an absence of innocence or guilt. Nightwing wanted to reply with a simple answer, but to him, there really wasn’t one. He just wasn’t quite sure what the truth was.
“No,” he finally replied, his voice flat to mask his turbulent thoughts.
The commissioner looked back at him a moment, letting his eyes wince in response, “You hesitated, anything you’d like to add?”
Nightwing felt his heart sink, but kept his stoic look intact, “No, only that I do feel responsible for his death.”
“Because I wish I could have found another way.”
The hero had to fight his voice as it so badly wanted to break as he spoke, the sound producing something of a pseudo confidence.
“Sometimes there isn’t one, kid,” the man replied gravely.
Nightwing looked away as he could see a man who’d been somewhat hardened by the tasks he had to commit. Leaving him to wonder how cold he himself would eventually become.
“You’re free to go, we won’t be pressing charges.”
Nightwing looked up just a little shocked, “That’s really it?”
“Yeah, as far as I can see, this was self-defense, and Jonny Rancid was a mean son of a bitch, a trigger happy one at that. I can’t even count how many people that guy’s killed and in how many cities.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right?” Nightwing replied with a heavy defeat on his brow.
“Listen kid,” the commissioner said sternly, “I can see this is weighting heavy on you, but if you ask me, someone shoulda taken him out a long time ago, maybe some good people’d still be alive?”
Nightwing appreciated his efforts, but he couldn’t really find the will to fake a smile or feel grateful for that matter, especially knowing Jason was out there. He (like Rancid) had lost his way, and Dick couldn’t stomach the idea of someone taking his life and brushing it off like it didn’t matter.
He also thought about himself and how easily he could have become that person. That street kid destined for terrible things with no guidance, all alone in a world that thought nothing of him. And if it weren’t for Bruce, he would have become that person, running off into the woods with the wolves and the hoods, never once looking back.
‘It could easily be me on that slab… and no one would give a fuck…’ he thought with a cold irony.
As Nightwing followed the commissioner out, he looked to his right to see a small man slumped over in a holding cell.
“Gizmo?” he questioned with surprise.
“Oh yeah, our little friend here’s learning a valuable lesson,” the man replied looking over in Gizmo’s direction.
“And what lesson would that be?” Nightwing asked raising a brow.
“What happens when you refuse to cooperate,” the man said cynically. “Gizmo here, is waiting to be transferred to Rockbell Prison.”
“That’s maximum security,” Nightwing said a little off put.
“Yes, and he may not look it, or act it for that matter, but this young man is indeed, a full grown adult. And well, I’m inclined to treat him like one.”
Nightwing immediately looked at the man with a heavy stare. He may not have liked Gizmo, but he couldn’t just let him get thrown to wolves like that. He was defenseless without his gadgets.
“Commissioner, he’ll get killed.”
“Like you have any right to talk,” Nightwing heard the small boy laugh as he woke up from his hazy state.
Nightwing resented the comment, feeling almost lessened by the harsh words, but threw them aside.
“What if I can get him to talk?” the masked hero questioned with a curious desperation.
The commissioner stroked his coarse chin and creased his forehead in thought, “If you get him to talk, I can probably have him sent to Strafford. What’d ya say Gizmo, medium security?”
“Fuck off,” the boy spat vulgarly.
Nightwing looked over at the commissioner a little awkwardly, “Can you give us a minute?”
The man shrugged carelessly and moved away from the cell. Nightwing watched, waiting for him to no longer be in sight.
“So what are you hoping to gain, Bird Boy?” Gizmo asked, looking back at the hero bitterly.
“Don’t call me that,” Nightwing replied in a void tone, still looking away.
“Oh I’m sorry. You gonna kill me now to avenge your damaged ego, Bird Boy?” His voice was vexed as he mocked the masked hero grimly, his opinion of Nightwing quite poor.
“You have every right to hate me Gizmo. I’m not going to deny that,” Nightwing said through his guilt. “But please don’t let your hatred for me stop you from helping yourself.”
Gizmo rolled his eyes and shook his head as he laughed, “You are so fucking full yourself aren’t you, Bird Brain?” The man let a bitter texture seep into his voice, his anger and frustration finally surfacing in their raw identity. “My choice not to talk, has nothing to do with you or your fucking guilt trip. And personally, I’d never help you redeem yourself, even if it was in my best interest to, murderer.”
Nightwing filched as the sharp word caught him by his empathy, letting guilt bleed heavily.
“Gizmo, that’s fine, but please? You and I both know if you go to Rockbell, you’ll never come out in one piece,” he pleaded, trying to get the boy to listen to him.
“And if I open my mouth and tell you who I’m working for, then I’ll be as good as dead anyway. So really, why does it matter?”
“Because it’s your life,” Nightwing said, “we can protect you.”
“No… no you can’t,” the small man replied with a laugh. “That’s bullshit and you know it.”
“I’ll make sure of it,” The hero pleaded, trying to reason with him.
“Like you were sure to kill Rancid?”
The small boy might as well have cut out the hero’s tongue as he was left speechless by the venomous statement.
“You may not have thought much of him, and maybe he deserved to die, but the fact that everyone is just brushing your mistake under the rug makes me sick. And you call yourselves heroes?”
Nightwing looked away from the dwarf with shame painted on his face, “Gizmo, just tell me who you’re working for,” he replied in defeat.
The small boy stood up and strolled over to the bars of his cell, a sadistic smirk on his boyish face.
“You really wanna know?”
“Yes, I do?”
“Because it’s my job to.”
Gizmo snarled his lip and took on a meaner expression, “No, your job is to know what he wants you to know.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Nightwing questioned of the cynical boy’s expression.
“It means, you’re a pawn in his game, pit sniffer. You all are.”
The mood in Gizmo’s voice changed and became more ominous in quality, giving Nightwing an eerie feeling.
“If that’s true, then don’t you think I should know who I’m playing for?”
“That would just take the fun out of it, Bird Brain,” The dwarf replied spitefully. “But since I’m practically a dead man, I might as well give you a hint, but just one.”
“Get to the point, Gizmo,” Nightwing snapped sharply.
“Hum, you have quite the temper, don’t you? You should learn to curb that, you might kill—oh wait…” Gizmo mocked.
Nightwing growled and rolled his eyes, his blood practically boiling. ‘Why am I putting myself through this, he doesn’t even want my help?’ he pondered in disdain for the little dwarf.
“What, no quirky remark, Nightwing? No witty pun, huh?”
“Ya know what Gizmo, I am trying to fucking help you. If you wanna die in Rockbell then fine, at least I tried,” the young hero barked and began to walk away.
“Oh save your bullshit, you just didn’t want my blood on your conscience,” the small boy spoke sarcastically. “But seriously, I hope you never sleep again. Or better yet, I hope you eat the barrel of that gun Jonny tried to kill you with.”
Nightwing turned to the boy with a hard look in his eyes that even made Gizmo wince as he reached through the bars and grabbed the intimidated dwarf.
“Remember what I said about that temper?” Gizmo asked, eyes wide.
“Yes, and it’s wearing really thin right now,” the hero replied forcefully. “Now you owe me a hint.”
The boy snickered selfishly, “You don’t have to raise your voice Bird Bo—”
Gizmo immediately jumped at the man’s tone, the look in his eyes growing bitter and untamed.
“I work for the man who’s gonna be the end of you, Nightwing,” Gizmo said dryly, sourness clinging to his words, “but he knew you best as Robin.”
Nightwing’s eyes grew wide as a long wave of reality broke over him, crushing him with everything it had.
“That can’t be true?” he said letting his grip loosen and freeing Gizmo.
“There are always three sides to every story Bird Brain; your side, their side, and the truth; where you end up is up to you.”
Nightwing looked back at him still in disbelief, his eyes glaring intensely through his mask. Gizmo turned and went back to his bench, where he sat down.
“Oh and do me a favor Bird Boy, don’t squeal to the commissioner about all this, I’d like to die with some dignity and not go out like a rat.”
Nightwing looked back at the dwarf in shock, horrified at what he just implied.
“He’d honestly just let you die?”
“You know him better than I do, what’d you think?” Gizmo quipped and leaned back against the wall.
“But you didn’t do anything?”
“I got caught,” Gizmo said weakly, “and in his world, that’s an offence punishable by the red right hand of God.”
“But he’s not God, he doesn’t get to make that decision,” Nightwing replied in disgust.
“In my world there is no God, there are just men with a lot of power, and they decide whether we live or die. In those terms, doesn’t that kind of make a man God?”
Nightwing felt his brow sink with repulsion. The thought of Slade playing God was a little too much to bear. He knew every villain had a bit of a God complex, but to go as far as to decide whether someone’s mistakes were punishable by death just didn’t sit right with him.
“Think what you want about me, but you and I, the Titans, even the Justice League—we’re all blind,” Gizmo added with a fatal look in his beady eyes. “And in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king.”
He looked back at Gizmo who started to look away toward the wall as though he were looking beyond it. His eyes blank as they seemed to see something distant in his mind, maybe something that brought him a little closer to home. Nightwing never knew much about the small man, but now he wondered what brought him to the place he stood now. Was he the victim of circumstance, or was he just chasing after that same power that Slade strived for? Who was he in the land of the blind?
His thoughts were suddenly pulled away as he heard a bit of a commotion from down the hall. He looked over to see the commissioner giving orders to two other officers who had, in their custody, an ornery looking man. He was tall with long, ratty hair, pulled off his face by a seasoned bandanna. His clothing consisting of torn jeans and worn out leather, covered with patches, one reading 1% across his outlaw heart.
The man had been arrested on a few charges, including disorderly conduct and public intoxication. Though it seemed he’d walked off some of his drunken fog as he made his snarky, but clever remarks to the commissioner.
“We’ll Mr. Gunn, looks like you’ve earned yourself a night in holding,” the commissioner drawled in annoyance of the man’s tone. “Take him to his cell.”
Nightwing watched as the two officers directed the outlaw biker down the hallway toward him. At first the man didn’t seem to notice him as he rolled his eyes at the situation. But then out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Nightwing. The look on his face immediately changed, his annoyance quickly turning to rage. Nightwing couldn’t quite figure out the cause for the sudden shift, but then he saw it. The number 28 tattooed on his thick neck, for the second and eighth letters of the alphabet. He was a Black Horsemen.
The two made eye contact and Nightwing could see the loathing that gaped in his eyes and cried for vengeance. Something the Horsemen were long known for. The man’s face was creased with blood lust as the two exchanged hard looks, waiting to see who would recoil first.
Nightwing stood his ground, having looked into the eyes of far too many mad men to count. But he never looked too deep, knowing that at their depths, he might not like what he’d see. However, this exchange was different, and though he would never admit, it or show it, he was actually a little intimidated.
The man was only a few feet away from him now, his eyes still growing from the deepest pit of his hatred. A long moment passed as the man menacingly crossed Nightwing’s path in the hall, then suddenly lurched at him out of nowhere. His eyes were wild and accompanied by a furious expression. The two officers held the wild man back, but he still managed to get only inches from the young hero’s face. But Nightwing didn’t move, he didn’t even flinch. He just watched as the man lunged toward him.
The rough looking biker’s expression changed to inquiry as the two officers fought to keep him at bay. He could see something in the hero’s eyes, something he’d seen in many others.
“Something’s not right with you kid,” the man said looking back at Nightwing, trying to see further than his mask.
The hero didn’t say anything, he just frowned at the comment, but did not act on it, or take his eyes of the biker.
“Oh and kid, you may wanna watch where you walk at night,” the man threatened from over his shoulder, “the Black Horsemen are coming for you.”
Deep down Nightwing found the warning a little unsettling, knowing it was more than an empty threat. If given the opportunity, any Horseman that was true to their patch would take him out if they could manage. But that was a big if.
He watched as they threw the overzealous Horseman into a cell and eagerly locked him in like a rabid dog.
“Looks like I’m not the only one whose days are numbered?” he heard Gizmo quip from behind the bars.
“You still have a choice you know?”
The boyish man looked to the wall again as if taking one last look at a distant memory and said, “I think I’ll take my chances with the wolves, I’m too far off the path anyway.”
Dick entered the common room after he’d changed out of his uniform. The tower itself was once again quiet with Gar and Vic clearly out for the night. Kory had obviously gone home, her broken heart all she had to keep her company. Dick could still feel the coldness she felt toward him and how much his actions had dispirited her. But he couldn’t think of that now.
There was now something deeper and darker afoot. Something that confirmed his questions and only solidified his deepest fears. He could feel his hatred for Slade growing, its loathing nature festering within him like it once had. Only now, he was faced with a new question; should he pursue it?
Before he could consider the matter any further, he heard the call of a low, raspy voice.
“Hey Grayson, you’re back,” he heard the pretty goth girl say, “so how’d it go?”
He looked to his right to see Raven standing in the kitchen, obviously making a pot of tea.
“Um, well, they’re not pressing charges against me,” he replied and motioned toward her.
“Well that’s a start,” Raven said placing down two cups. “Black, no sugar, right?”
Dick nodded and sat down. Raven could see the disparity on his face and heard the light brokenness in his voice. It hurt her to see him so lost—that discouraged. She turned and retrieved the tea kettle, taking a moment to let his emotions sink in.
“So have you thought about what you’re gonna do?” she asked, pouring his tea.
“Not yet, I haven’t exactly had time to think today.” He looked away from her, not wanting to provoke another standoff. He just didn’t have the energy for it.
“I can see how that could happen.”
Dick noticed a little awkwardness in her tone, like she knew something he didn’t want her to.
“She told you, didn’t she?”
Raven looked at him a moment and pressed her lips together, “Yes, she did,” she replied, noticing Dick’s face fall from the confirmation, “sorry…”
“I can’t win today,” Dick sighed in defeat, “what’d she say?”
He noticed her body tense a bit, but unwillingly responded, “She asked me if I thought it was a mistake.”
Raven looked down at him and bit her lip as she leaned on the counter, waiting for his reply.
“What’d you say?” His voice was hesitant, unsure of what he’d hear.
“I told her I couldn’t answer that because it’s not my place to make that judgment,” Raven shrugged and continued, “and that it was between you two to decide…”
“Oh thank God,” he sighed with a little relief and took a sip of the hot tea.
“Yeah, so was it a mistake?”
Dick looked up at her, her tone brazen, but then let his eyes fall down to his cup again, “I think so.”
Raven creased her brow and painfully muttered the word, “Ouch.”
Dick could tell that she found his response uncharacteristic of him, but he could see that she oddly understood.
“I just can’t believe I let it happen.”
He ran his fingers through his dark hair, frustration lightly shaking his normally steady hands.
“It’s not that big a deal,” Raven assured, “I mean, I’m kinda surprised you two made it this long without any slips.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dick questioned a little unnerved.
“That I honestly thought you two would work it out, or well, end up doing… well… that.”
Dick only looked at her and shook his head with an eye roll.
“What?” the dark girl said defensively. “You two have been together forever. I thought if anyone could work through this shit-storm, it would be you two.” There was an ironic quality to her voice, but it was what it was. “But I guess I was wrong.”
Dick took another sip of tea and shook his head at Raven’s response, “I thought we could too, but it’s just not the same now. I just don’t feel it anymore.”
Raven sat down in the chair beside him and placed her hand on his while he continued.
“I mean, a year ago I thought I’d be married by now, maybe even thinking about having kids… But the closer I got to that thought becoming a reality, the more I couldn’t even pick a date.”
He looked down, not letting her see his eyes, the pain and relief nearly too much for him to bear.
“Are you saying that your feelings for Kory started to change before she even got married?”
Dick looked back up at Raven as she caught his eyes with hers, “I don’t think I realized it at the time, but yeah, I think they did. I just didn’t see it until today.”
Raven wrapped her still hand around his supportively.
He looked at her and smiled, though to do such a thing felt crude. “It’s like my eyes are open now, and I can see that part of my life is really just a lie at this point. I’m not the man she fell in love with, and she was never really completely mine. Some fairytale huh?”
“Fairytales are just lies to help children sleep at night, so we can pretend the world isn’t as cynical as it truly is. But in reality, the princess is an evil queen and the prince is never comes,” Raven said darkly. “In reality, endings are never perfect, life’s just not written that way. The decisions that we make determine what happens to us and where we end up, and better yet, who we end up with. But we like to pretend that the world doesn’t work that way, we like to pretend that we can be someone else. But the truth is if you love enough, you’ll lie a lot,” Raven added with a slight shrug.
“Quoting Shakespeare again, are we?”
“No, it’s Tori Amos.”
“That was my next guess,” Dick said, slowly letting one side of his lip curl.
“The point is, that sometimes we try to become the person that we think we need to be for someone,” Raven replied, meeting Dick’s eyes once more. “But most of the time, we’re just not that person.”
Neither one of them said anything for a minute as Dick let her words sink in with their sobering truth. He’d told himself that Kory made him want to be better, but looking back he never really tried to be. He just did what he though she wanted. True, he was still himself to an extent, but to another, he was tethered to someone he only seemed to be around her.
He finally took his hand away from Raven’s and stood up, “I’m gonna try and get some sleep, but thank you for, listening, Rae.”
She looked up and smiled kindly at him, “Anytime, Boy Blunder.”
He rolled his eyes at her playfully, only slightly annoyed by her term of endearment. She was the only one who could get away with calling him that.
He turned to leave, but then a quick thought crossed his mind, “Oh Rae, you took chemistry, didn’t you?”
Raven stood up and picked up her cup, “Yeah, I wasn’t very good at it, but I took two courses. You actually helped me with it, remember?”
“Yeah, you hated it,” Dick laughed recalling how frustrated she got going over the rules of basic chemistry formals and theories. “You wouldn’t happen to still have your text books, would you?”
“Uh yeah… you can have them, I don’t even know why I kept those?”
“Because you can’t take it upon yourself to throw a book away.” Dick quipped as he watched Raven put her cup in the sink.
“Yeah, that’s probably it,” she replied and turned back toward him. “Remember the only way you could get me to understand chemistry was when I told you about alchemy?”
Dick smiled, recalling how Raven had told him that back in Azarath she’d studied the subject for years. “Yeah, and I had to read one of your old alchemy books, that was fun,” he said with a sarcastic nod.
“Good times… so what do you need my old chem books for?” Raven asked and leaned next to Dick.
Dick didn’t reply right away, having to think of his answer before responding, “Um… I just wanna brush up on an old skill, plus I need something to take my mind off things.”
“So you’re gonna read old chemistry books?” she questioned crudely.
Dick, nodded, but could tell by the look in her eyes that she didn’t really believe him, mostly because she could feel something was off. However, Raven wasn’t one to dig, especially not with everything he’d been through in last 48 hours.
Raven shrugged and told him to follow her while she collected the volumes for him. The two didn’t say vey much as they made the trip to her room. It had been a while since Dick had actually entered it which was only a handful of times. Once they reached her door she opened it and told him to come in (to his surprise). She didn’t often let people into her room, even him. It was something that she’d always clung to and probably always would, but for now, she was willing to let him in.
Dick stepped inside. As she flicked on the light, he looked around at the dark paint and gothic art that hung on the walls. There was always something about the dark art he found menacing, but also comforting at the same time, kind of like her. She was coarse and had a sharp edge to her that would cut you if you weren’t careful, but she was also very inviting if you knew how to approach her.
Raven walked over to one of her many bookshelves and started looking through old volumes of books she’d collected over the years. He watched as she carefully let her fingers grace over the spine of each one until she finally stopped. She took in her hand an old leather bound book that looked quite heavy and didn’t look like anything a university would give to a student.
“So I have this,” she said turning toward him and handing him the heavy book. “It’s an old chemistry journal form the Victorian era. It’s mostly chemical compositions and formals for early medical grade drugs.”
Dicked flipped the cover open to find the hand written ink faded form time and light. “Where did you even get this?”
“Believe it or not, Eric gave it to me. So when you’re done with it, feel free to burn it,” Raven replied with a little venom toward her hated ex. “But I think I buried my text books in the back of my closet to be forgotten. So I guess I’ll go dig them up.”
“Need help?” Dick asked not looking up from the journal.
“No, I’ve got it.”
“You just don’t want me in your closet,” Dick laughed leaning against her desk.
“Yeah, I can’t have you seeing how many actual skeletons I have in here,” Raven called, her voice muffled as it carried.
“Oh so that’s where you keep the bodies?”
Raven finally came out with an armful of books and a sarcastic look on her face, “Well, I couldn’t put them in the fridge now, could I?” she said and handed Dick the heavy stack of tomes. “But since you know my secret, I’m going have to kill you now.”
“And I always thought Slade would be the death of me,” Dick said with a grim humor as he took them form her with a little irony.
“Speaking of,” Raven replied ambiguously, “how are you dealing with everything Roy told you?”
“Are you asking me if Slade had anything to do with what happen last night?” Dick asked knowing exactly what she was she was implying.
Her face was equivocal, and the look in her eyes unclear as though the answer didn’t matter as long as it was the truth.
“Yeah,” Dick said ruefully, “he brings out the worst in me.”
“He has that effect on everyone,” Raven replied in an unadorned manner.
Dick looked down at her as she sank to her bed, her eyes still hindered with concern, but her face still unvarnished. He knew she’d experienced Slade’s wrath for herself, and his involvement with her father left a bitter taste in her mouth. But Slade only targeted her because he had to, it was in his best interest to do so. But Dick never did quite figure out what why Slade had personally chosen him. It was a question that bothered him more than he’d ever let on, but deep down, he knew there was a reason for it. And he knew whatever it was, he wouldn’t like it.
“Yeah, but not like me…” Dick finally said, “he makes me blind.”