Don'y Follow me
“Master, go one, and I will follow thee, To the last gasp, with truth and loyalty.” —William Shakespeare, As You Like IT, Act 2, Scene 3
He tried to inhale, but was greeted only with the taste of filthy water. He began to struggle as his body fought for breath, the chill of the cold river wrapping tightly around him. Finally he remembered what had happened only moments before, and his eyes shot open.
He was met with darkness—the murky depths of the water making it hard to see even a few feet in front of him. For a moment things seemed dissolved and offset, making him realized that the car was no longer upright.
‘Raven!’ he thought in alarm, recalling she’d been horribly wounded.
He had to act quickly, and pulled himself from the driver’s seat. In a slight panic he noticed that the passenger window had been broken in the crash. He swam beneath Raven and through the broken window, making sure there were no glass shards purging out of the frame. Once outside, he pulled her seemingly weightless body from the car, noticing a trail of blood as it dissipated behind her.
‘Just stay with me Rae, please,’ he silently begged and wrapped his arm around her chest, holding her close.
His ears began to ring as he looked up to see the city lights reflect vaguely at the surface, the faint light calling him to their salvation. The air in his lungs was becoming toxic, leaving him with a surge of panic. His need for breath was growing with every moment he was not permitted to inhale. He set his sights to the illumination and pushed toward the glow that awaited above him, just hoping he could make it in time.
He wasn’t sure how many yards he’d have to swim or how long it would even take, but it felt like a decade before he actually broke the surface. Deep relief fell over him as he gasped, filling his dying lungs with oxygen. He quickly remembered the nearly lifeless girl tucked under his arm and pushed himself, panting to the shoreline. It was at least 100 yards away and he knew if she had any chance at survival that he’d have to get there quickly. His body ached as he paddled, his breath still ragged and unsettled.
Approaching the shore, he quietly cursed himself for not being able to make it sooner and scooped Raven up in both arms. The pain in his head began to scream even louder, aching in his left temple, nearly forcing him to his knees. ‘I can’t,’ he huffed, marching forward, emerging from the now knee deep water.
Once at the shore, he placed Raven down beneath the cover of the bridge, her limp body looking lifeless. He brushed away the damp hair that clung to her face, his hand shaking as he choked back both tears and shock. He wasted no time and began administering CPR. Pressing down on her chest, he noticed her skin was looking whiter than usual, as though it were losing life with every moment lost.
“Come on Rae,” he growled with desperation, her stillness nearly insulting him.
Finally a rough cough emerged from the wounded girl’s throat, freeing the stale water that was trapped within her lungs. An emotional smile stretched across his face as he let his forehead rest on hers in a moment of silent relief.
However, this victory was short lived as he recalled that she wasn’t able to heal herself. But before he could address the matter any further, he heard the arcane voice of the man who’d taught him to be a hero.
“Don’t move kid, it’s over.”
The young man’s eyes flew open as a wave of shock ran through his body. He was trapped now and he knew he couldn’t escape, not without leaving Raven—he couldn’t do that. Fear grasped him tightly as the weight of the moment built in his chest, but he knew only Batman could save her now—not him.
He raised his hands above his head and pulled himself up right, the Dark Knight’s looming presence watching him the whole time. He took a deep breath, swallowing the fear that was caught in his throat and finally turned to the man who’d raised him.
“Please, Bruce. She’s dying?”
The man flinched at the sound of his name, but his heart dropped to his stomach at the sight of the person who’d spoken it.
“It can’t be—Richard? You’re…”
One Year prior…
The masked man turned to the hero who’d called out to him, a cocky smirk resting beneath his mask. The two had remained enemies for years, but over time seemed to have developed something of a mutual respect.
“Here to kill me, Chuckles?” the masked villain said with a laugh, though his counterpart was not amused.
“You’re just so funny, X,” Nightwing drawled painfully.
“Hey, I couldn’t resist,” the young outlaw mused, “So what brings you to my side of the tracks?”
“I have a job for you,” Nightwing replied apprehensively.
“A job?” Red X asked doubtfully. “Really? Don’t you mean setup?”
“No, I mean job. As in, I’m hiring you to a job for me.”
Red X turned his head away for a moment then looked back at the hero he’d spent most of his life outrunning
“What kind of job could you possibly need me to do?” he inquired skeptically. “Cause I don’t do corps disposal,” X added patronizingly, unable to help himself.
“Not when it’s yours.”
The young anti-hero looked back at Nightwing a little shocked at his candidness, truly caught off guard.
“Well look at that, Chuckles made a joke… I don’t know what’s more disturbing? The joke or fact you made one?”
Nightwing rolled his eyes, thinking how bad his idea was, but persisted regardless, “Listen X, I’m not here to hassle you and I’m not here to stop any of your shady dealings with God only knows who. I’m only here because I really do need you to do this job for me.”
Red X nodded in what appeared to be understanding, until he opened his mouth to speak, “Well what’s in it for me?”
Nightwing creased his brow as his jaw fell slack at the response, “Uhh, you get paid?”
“Yeah, but what’s stopping you from turning around and coming after me with those punch happy assholes you call friends?”
“Um, maybe the part where I hired you break a short laundry list of laws?”
“Well then, forgive me for not really feeling the trust,” X patronized and crossed his arms.
“Listen, if you do this… I’ll owe you a favor,” Nightwing added, not completely confident in his answer.
“A favor?” X questioned curiously. “Like the kind that includes a get out of jail free card?”
“Yeah sure,” he replied, holding back his better judgment, “but you have to promise this deal and all of the information I give you stays between us, okay?”
“What deal?” X said in a forgetful tone and shrugged.
Nightwing finally smiled with a bit of relief, “I’m glad to see we have an understanding.”
“So what’s this laundry list you were rambling on about?” he asked walking over to the ambiguous hero.
Nightwing produced a few sheets of paper and handed them to the masked villain who began to read them. He said nothing for a few moments as his eyes scanned over the black and white pages.
“Krokodil?” the outlaw questioned glancing up from the papers.
The hero shrugged not speaking a word, trying to play it off as nothing, but it wasn’t.
“What is all this, are you looking to cook it? Cause I’m not really willing to—.”
“So that’s where your personal line of decency begins?” the hero asked, shaking his head, actually surprised that Red X even had one. “And no. I’m not looking to cook it, but someone is and I need to figure out who made this.”
X looked up as Nightwing produced the krokodil, immediately noticing its physical form.
“Uh, that’s heroin,” he assured, not doing much to hide his demeaning manner.
“That’s what I thought, until I tested it and found that it has almost the same properties as desomorphine.”
He pointed to the results that Red X held in his hand, the young villain reading them with a little disbelief.
Nightwing only nodded at the young man’s question then began to explain. “I did some research last night and what I found is that this sample is actually made with both codeine and morphine and synthesized from a lot of the same chemicals used in making home cooked krokodil.”
“So this stuff was made in a high grade lab by someone who knew what they were doing,” Nightwing said a little disappointed that X didn’t seemed to follow. “Plus, I check its toxicity level. Most of the toxins that are present in home grade krokodil have been removed, but not all of them. This drug is still toxic and though it may not seem it at first, it will eventually build up in the body and eat away at it just like that shit they make in Russia. But what makes this even more dangerous, is that it looks like heroin, and is far more potent.”
Nightwing looked at Red X who seemed disturbed by the notion, but also apprehensive to help.
“I don’t know if I can help you. My specialty is stealing shit, not chemistry.”
“That’s not why I need you. You know the streets better than I do. You know who runs what territories and where they get their shit, and even who they answer to—” Nightwing abruptly paused with realization and looked at Red X soberly. “You’re afraid of whoever made this… you know who made this.”
Red X looked away, as though Nightwing could see through his mask.
“I’m right aren’t I?”
X rolled his eyes with apprehension strong on his face, “There’s only one person with the means to make something like this…”
The young man nodded and remained quiet for a while.
“X, I need your help. I can’t go digging into this right now. I’m about to lose my team, and to top it all off everyone sporting the #28 wants me dead. I need to know where to begin. Please help me.”
The young villain began to laugh a little cynically, “I never thought I’d see the day that the almighty Nightwing would come begging for my help.”
Nightwing crossed his arms and looked away realizing how pathetic he must have sounded and how weak his identity had become.
“Okay, I’ll help you,” X said with disbelief, “but only because, like you, I don’t wanna see this shit hit the streets.”
“Good, then we have a deal.”
“Not so fast,” Red X replied, “we still have the matter of payment.”
“What’s your rate?” Nightwing shrugged.
“Well since the item is information, that’s gonna take a lot of digging which can be dangerous. People don’t like it when you start looking for the shit they’ve buried. The fact it’s Slade, makes it more high risk—”
“Just name your price.”
“Ok, you want cash right?” Nightwing said without even flinching.
“Really?” X asked, slightly shocked that the hero even agreed.
“I just told you that this little excursion is gonna cost you a small fortune and you didn’t even flinch?”
“Cause I’m not worried about the money,” Nightwing replied with a faint shrug.
“What are you like some trust fund baby by day or some bullshit like that?”
Nightwing let an awkward smile pull at his face coyly. “Uh, I was just gonna sell something.”
“Okay then, I’ll take 5 up front,” the outlaw said still in disbelief.
“I’ll get it to you tomorrow.”
“Okay,” X replied, “be at the docks tomorrow at 2:15, bring the cash and come alone.”
“In the middle of the day?” the hero questioned in concern.
“Yep, less suspicious that way; and don’t come as Nightwing. You’re already getting enough unwanted attention.”
The hero let discomfort take hold as his true identity was becoming jeopardized. “But then you’ll know who I am?”
“No I won’t. We won’t even see each other. Just trust me.”
The thief smiled beneath his mask as Nightwing could hear the confidence creep back into his voice.
“That’s asking a lot.”
“Then that makes two of us,” the villain said and turned from the hero.
“X wait, I have one more favor to ask,” Nightwing called before he could vanish.
X turned, letting an annoyed look play on his face, “What else could you possibly want, Chuckles? I’m not a fucking delivery service.”
He turned back to Nightwing and noticed the apprehension knit into his brow.
“Can you get me in touch with the Red Hood?”
The thief waited a moment before responding, then said, “What do you want with the Hood?”
“I just need to talk with him, that’s all,” Nightwing replied slowly.
The thief took a few steps forward as surprise rang through his words, “He’ll never go for that.”
“Yes he will, I’m his brother.”
The two fell silent for a moment as reality echoed over the wind between them.
“I’ll tell him, I can’t promise he’ll answer, but I’ll tell him,” Red X replied then took off into the night.
Nightwing pondered the conversation a moment as he watched the mysterious figure vanish before him. He questioned his actions once again and the fact that he was one step closer to the line he was on the verge of crossing. Still there was something about it he found liberating. Like there was some sort of freedom at the edge of the world. However, he knew that freedom was a double edged sword that blind men so often fell on. Its sharp blade ready to bear his blood for his audacity to live outside the confines of the work he knew. But then why couldn’t he turn away?
As he ventured home, he thought about what Bruce would say if he were aware of his transgression, the moon hanging her head in disapproval.
‘God only knows the things the Moon’s lay witness to, yet it never speaks a word of it?’
He found the thought bitter and odd, but metaphoric in manner.
‘I feel like that’s something Raven would say—God, what would she say if she found out about all this?’
The thought hit him abruptly as the possibility of, not just Raven, but his whole team finding out became a plausible reality.
It was a pulpal question, what would they say if they discovered his plans, or better yet, caught him in the act? The scenarios played wildly in his head as looks of disgust and utter disappointment stared back at him in nervous thought. He knew the League would crucify him for such transgressions, but his own team, he couldn’t quite find one plausible outcome.
The collision of fear and reality was enough to make him feel sick as he approached the tower that stood tall in the near distance. He realized something as he stood within the late hour of darkness. He realized that nothing good ever happened beneath the cover of the moon, but many secrets she kept. His secrets she kept.
Once inside the tower he went straight to his room and removed his uniform with haste. He hated that he’d worn it to such an unlawful occasion, but realized he’d already soiled its reputation.
He tiredly crawled into his bed, once again unable to find sleep. It didn’t matter how exhausted he was, his head was far too heavy with guilt to rest. If he wasn’t replaying his standoff with Rancid, he was thinking of how much he’d hurt and betrayed Kory. He also found himself internally arguing about his “leave of absence.” Luckily for him, the League had an emergency they had to deal with, leaving Dick an extra day to think things through.
“If I leave, well then… at least I can pursue the Slade angle and keep the team out of it,” he said aloud, as though speaking to the ceiling. “And if I don’t leave, well…”
The thought of what the League might actually do to him left him cold and uncertain. They’d never put an outside member on mandatory leave, so what would actually be his punishment?
“It’s not like they can throw me in jail or anything like that, but they could probably make my life a living hell. Bruce however, that’s a different story.”
Another thought began to sink in, and that was a question of his safety. The Black Horsemen were out for blood—his blood. However that wasn’t what scared him—no. It was the possibility of his friends getting caught in the crossfire that did. Dick could live with having to look over his shoulder and accepted that there was a likelihood that he could—indeed—die as a result of his actions. But to think of one of his friends getting injured or dying as a result of them was something he could not. The Horsemen may have been after him, but they weren’t above taking out the people he cared about and that was what made them so dangerous. And the Justice League was no different.
Dick knew if he truly didn’t want to leave that his whole team would most likely back his decision and that’s where the League got their leverage. Aside from Raven, every Titan stood to be part of the next generation of the Justice League, including him. But if they all deliberately disobeyed a mandatory order, they’d all end up having their future memberships scraped before they were even given. All the League had to say was they’d all “misplaced their loyalty.”
Once again, Dick could take being punished for his actions, but he couldn’t stomach his friends taking the punishment for him.
Still there was a bitterness to it, as the loyalty to his team was in the end, going to be his undoing.
“Irony’s a cruel bitch,” he whispered staring up at the ceiling, vacantly looking beyond it.
He finally sat up, unable to stand the feeling of laying down. He brushed a small amount of hair from his face, trying to shake the feeling of displacement. He stood up and began to pace the room a moment as reality was beginning to crash in on him. He leaned over the dresser, resting his arms against it for support. His head hung downward as he exhaled abrasively. He looked up and caught his reflection in the mirror as it sat against wall. He could only see the dark outline of his features, coarsely illuminated by the moon. The sight was nearly sickening to him, and that’s when rage took hold.
Dick let a low growl free from the depth of his throat and with a quick swoop, swept everything off his dresser with force. The sound of crashing filled his ears and he picked up a random object and flung it at the mirror, watching it shatter on impact. For a moment he felt a dark fulfillment form the action and a slight euphoria washed over him as the adrenaline left his veins. His heavy breath began to steady and for a moment everything went numb, but then reality set in again.
He let out a rough sigh as he’d realized what he’d done. His euphoria quickly becoming disappointment, and his loss of adrenaline turning to shame. He turned on his bed side lamp, letting light shed over the damage.
“Shit,” he muttered as he look upon the broken glass and discarded items that now littered the floor.
Dick took a deep breath as a little shame crept into his fingers and began picking up the broken glass. He looked over and saw the picture of his parents, the frame splintered and cracked as the photo lay buried beneath fragments of glass. He picked it up, being careful not to tear it. He felt an emptiness for his behavior as he realized he’d used the photo to shatter his own reflection—to destroy himself.
“I just keep disappointing you guys, don’t I?”
He placed the photo aside and carefully put the shattered pieces in a paper bag. As he did so he couldn’t help but feel as though he were throwing himself away. The pieces of glass holding his reflection as he cast them aside. It was like each piece held a part of him he’d lost or was about to. It was a rancorous thought. Like the person he was, was slowly dying or maybe he was just never really that person at all.
Once he’d put the fragments in the trash with a little disdain, he once again tried to lay his tired head down, but once again found no mercy. It didn’t matter that many had deemed him absolved, or pardoned his crime, it was clear his soul had not, and probably never would.
It had been a long morning and none of the Titans seemed willing to speak to one another. The tension being so thick, a dull butter knife could have cut it with ease. Dick sat beside Raven, who seemed to be the only one enjoying the silence as she read one of her old leather books peacefully. Kory sat off in the corner fighting any urge she had to look in Dick’s direction. He too tried to avoid eye contact for fear of what he might see in her gaze. Victor was off in the kitchen, cooking something as he couldn’t stand the silence. Gar looked down, enamored with his phone, clearly off in his own world. Dick couldn’t blame him though. If it were even remotely possible, he’d be blissfully ignorant too, but his world offered little comfort.
“Well this is getting awkward,” Raven drawled, turning a page dryly.
“And it’s about to get even more awkward,” Victor added, walking into the common area.
Suddenly an alerted flashed on the screen, warning them of an incoming transmission from the Justice League.
“Oh man, this is gonna hurt—isn’t it?” Gar said, finally looking up from his texts.
Dick shook his head submissively and replied, “Not as much as it’s gonna hurt me, Gar.”
Victor made an unpleasant face as he accepted the call and within moments the Bat could be seen on the screen. However, he wasn’t alone.
“How have you been holding up?” a caped man asked.
“I’m holding…” Dick responded, not really feeling comfortable, “Thanks Clar—I mean Sir.”
He looked up at their faces as some stood hindered by masks, whereas others remained unrestricted. Each one held a different expression, Superman’s was clearly somewhat positive, whereas Green Arrow’s (or as Dick knew him, Oliver Queen) remained somewhat skeptical. As though his turmoil with Roy was affecting his judgment. But the expression that killed him the most, of course belonged to Bruce.
He was clearly disappointed to be sitting alongside his fellow Leaguers, waiting to hear whether his protégé and son would resign as directed. There was a cold feeling coming from him and deep down, Dick just wanted to disappear from all of it, but he couldn’t—at least not yet.
“So Dick, have you made your decision?” The Dark Knight asked gravely.
Dick could hear the urgency in his voice and the unspoken demands that dripped from it bleakly.
He looked up at him with a look of reluctance clear on his face, the words tasting bitter on his tongue.
“I have,” Dick replied slowly.
“So what’s your decision?”
Dick took a moment before responding, trying to brace himself for the back lash, “I’m going to leave the Titans…”
Dick could feel the multiple looks from each of his teammates, each one holding some sort of shock or regret in their stares.
“That’s very wise of you,” Bruce said blankly.
“It’s the right decision,” Dick replied glancing over at Raven, “for the team… and for me.”
The Dark Knight quickly glanced down a moment, as though he were dodging the blow. It was subtle, but a light air of tension arose in the air between them, filling it with unspoken animosity.
“How long do you plan on being gone?” Superman asked, trying to alleviate the tension.
“I’m not sure yet,” Dick replied unwillingly, “I guess, we’ll see how things go?”
“All right then,” the caped hero replied, looking over at Bruce who seemed a little suspicious about the statement. As though they were both expecting Dick to put up more of a fuss.
“Do you have a replacement in mind?” Superman asked a little apprehensively.
Dick sighed, “Yes, um… while I’m gone, I want Victor to take over as leader of the team.”
He looked over at the robotic man who glanced down a little uncomfortable with the idea of replacing his best friend.
“All right then,” Superman finally said, “If any of you need any assistance during this transition, the League is here to help.”
He paused a moment, noticing the lack of eye contact between Bruce and Dick, as though he could feel the blow to their relationship.
“Good luck, Victor. We trust the team’s in capable hands.”
“It is,” Dick nodded, knowing he could trust the mechanical man with his life and his team.
“And good luck to you too, Richard. Justice League out.”
And the screen went blank.
Awkward silence once again filled the room as the four remaining Titans sat looking at their now former leader and Titan.
Dick could feel the weight of their stares. The question and scrutiny that dwelled deep within their thoughts, weighting heavy on their tongues, but dare not spoken. A moment passed, and Dick knew that with the next drawn breath one of his ex-teammates would speak. But before he could be bombarded with any of their words or inquiries, he spoke himself.
“Well, I’m gonna go for a walk.”
Dick then uncomfortably rose from the couch, hardly making eye contact with any of his friends. Victor tried speak, but couldn’t seem to get the words out in time before Dick quickly disappeared.
The remaining Titans all looked at one another as though playing a strange game of chicken, none of them really sure what to do.
“Richard wait,” Raven finally called, shooting up from the couch, a slight panic in her voice.
Dick heard her throw down her book and follow behind him, and for once, he didn’t want her to. He could feel her steps gaining on him as he tried to further himself from her.
“Richard, wait, just talk to me,” she pled as she finally caught up to him.
“I don’t wanna talk right now, Rae,” Dick said, trying to keep himself together.
“I get that, but I know something’s wrong and I—”
“Raven,” Dick spat sternly, “I’m fine. You don’t have to worry.”
“I don’t have to worry?” she questioned as they reached his room. “You just gave up your entire life, and you’re telling me I shouldn’t be worried?”
They both looked at each other a moment as Dick tried to keep his withering front intact.
“Where are you going?”
Dick looked away from her as he grabbed his wallet and an old bag, “I’m going for a walk, to clear my head, ya know?”
“If you’re just going for a walk then what do you need an empty backpack for?” Raven questioned as he motion toward the door.”
Dick stopped dead in his tracts as she looked back him, challengingly. She knew he was lying, and this time, she didn’t appreciate it.
“Rae, I know you’re worried, you have every right to be, but right now, I have to do something and I would prefer if you didn’t know about it.”
“Richard, if you can’t tell me what you’re doing, then it’s nothing good.”
Her eyes were fiery, like she could see the misdeed just waiting to be done. He couldn’t reply, the more he said the more he dug himself into a hole. Deep down he wanted to tell her, but he couldn’t bring himself to. She’d fought so hard to shed the misconceptions that shrouded her most of her life. He couldn’t take her down with him.
“Raven, I know you are trying to help, but I don’t need it,” he said picking up his coat and closing the door.”
He walked past her as though she weren’t even there, avoiding her eyes. It pained him to do so, knowing that he’d never been so cold to her. He could feel the offense she took at this action as it erupted under her skin and boiled in her blood.
Before leaving the hallway, he stopped and with a bit of pain in his voice said, without even looking at her, “And Raven, please don’t follow me.”
The words hit her deep in her empathy and burned within their bond as she watched him walk away. She could feel that the words hurt him as well and the overwhelming darkness within them. Yet there was something about them that felt eerily familiar. She looked to his bedroom door, its secrets hidden under lock and key, but not hidden well enough.
Dick made his way down to the docks. 5 grand nestled safely away in the backpack slung over his shoulder. He looked around, vigilantly keeping an eye out for cops or heavily crowded areas. He also made sure to keep his back turned to any cameras he noticed.
He wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but he figured he’d just keep walking until he found it.
“So what am I supposed to—” he began, but stopped—he’d found it.
He looked over at an old rusty looking storage locker, sitting by an old shipping unit. The locker was rough looking with a very weathered face, painted heavily in graffiti tags, but only one stood out to him.
“X marks the spot,” Dick murmured and began walking toward it.
He found the old polyethene, covered in erosion from rain and sea water. Its lock, however rusted, was secure. Dick looked around to assure he was alone, then pulled out his wallet to retrieve a small paper clip. He quickly straightened it and placed it in the lock. Within seconds, he could feel a quick pop and the confines came unhinged.
“That was a little too easy.”
He pulled open the door to discover a tired looking key and a new burner phone. Be took the phone in his right hand and the scratched key in the other. Flipping it open, he saw a very small X displayed on the keypad. He pressed the button and watched as a nameless phone number appeared on the screen and dialed itself out. Dick placed the phone to his ear and listened as the lonely dial tone rang, until a voice replaced it.
“So you found the key,” Red X spoke with little surprise.
“Yeah, what do I do with it?”
“It’s for a safety deposit box at Jump City Federal. Bring the cash there. When you enter the bank, ask for Walter Whitman,” the young thief said blankly. “They’ll ask you for the box number, it’s 1212”
“Of course it is. What about Red Hood?”
“I put the word out, I haven’t heard anything, but I’ll let you know when I get a response.”
Dick creased his brow a moment as the sun hit his eyes, reflecting off the water.
“Okay, I’m on my way there now.”
“Good,” X replied, “And leave the key in the security box. I’ll contact you when I have they information.”
The call ended with a faint click. Dick then closed the phone and placed it in his pocket, setting his sights on the direction of the bank. He kept the key in his hand, holding it protectively. As he moved down the dock, the smell of salt rolled through the air while seagulls cried in the distance. He held his pack on his shoulder, the thought that he was touting a large sum of money, strange and out of place.
He’d gotten the money earlier that day by selling his 2012 Ducati 848 EVO at a dealership for roughly 12 grand. He’d deposited half of the check in his account and took the other half in cash.
As he walked, the thought finally hit that he truly was no longer a Titans, especially now that he was on his way to complete a transaction with a well-known thief. The look on Bruce’s face left a small, but palpable feeling of indignity as he thought of that moment. It was like a dream as it happened. His personal disappointment slowly driving to the pit of his stomach, while reality seemed like it could not adhere to such a thing. And Raven—where could he even begin?
His thoughts eased as he looked ahead toward the large building up ahead, the words “Jump City Federal Saving Bank” standing high in the warm California sun. Dick took a deep breath and braced himself before crossing the street. Telling himself that this is what it would take if he wanted to find answers. If he wanted to stop Slade.
Once inside the bank, he looked around, a little out of place. The bank itself was sort of high profile and for a minute he pondered if he was even in the right place.
‘What if this is a setup; that would just be my luck,’ Dick thought, part of him fearing something would go wrong.
He stepped to an open teller’s booth, a young woman waiting for him to approach.
“Welcome to Jump City Federal, how can I help you today?”
Dick smiled at her pleasant tone, noticing that young woman looked kind of familiar.
“Yes, I was told to ask for Walter Whitman, is he in?”
“The young woman nodded and said, “Yes, do you have to make a deposit?”
He nodded, still trying to figure out just where he knew the young teller from.
“Alright, let me call his secretary.” She picked up the phone and rattled off a few words. “And what is the box number?”
A few moments passed until the young woman spoke again. “You can go take a seat in the lobby over there,” she said pointing to her right, “Mr. Whitman will be right with you.”
Dick thanked her for her help and took a seat in the far corner where he waited. He looked around at the organized chaos that ensued before him in the glass offices, like little drones in their suits and ties. Finally a tall man with clean cut greying hair and a dark grey suit approached him.
“Hello, I’m Walter Whitman, and you must be Mr. Sutter?” The man said rattling off any name he could think of.
Dick immediately responded and played along with the vague ruse.
“Please, right this way.”
Moments later the two men walked down a hallway and approached a door, once there they stopped as the crooked banker began, “This is a privacy room; there are no cameras. Place the deposit in the box and leave the key inside. I will take care of the rest.”
Dick nodded in understanding, relief filling his eyes that his face wouldn’t be caught on camera officially breaking the law.
Mr. Whitman unlocked the door and Dick stepped inside. The room wasn’t very big and only possessed a table in its stark center. On the table was the deposit box, sitting patiently as he approached it. He threw on his hood, not taking any chances that the banker was lying, and covered his face. He opened his palm, revealing the key, as though it were indeed the one to unlock his destruction.
“I guess there is no turning back now,” Dick whispered and turned the weary key.
The latch to the box came undone, Dick opened the lid and looked inside to find it empty. He placed his bag on the table and began placing the cash inside, still unable to shake the nervous feeling in his gut.
He finished putting the money away and placed the key inside the box, being sure to double check the amount. With a deep breath he closed it, solidifying his business deal and officially straying away from everything he stood for. In hindsight, it really wasn’t all that big of a deal, but to Dick, it felt like he’d just turned his back on everything he believed in. Like he was turning his back on Bruce.
As he made the walk home, his conscience beat at him, but so did his pride. They both held their arguments strongly, yet neither one of the seemed to bring him any comfort. As he drew closer to home, he could see the tower, though he wasn’t sure if it felt like home anymore.
The tower now represented more to him than it once had. In his eyes, he no longer adhered to its code, he no longer had the right to call himself a Titan—how could he?
He tried to think of a place that would be less cruel to him, but found he had nowhere to go—so he just kept walking. Solemnly finding miniscule distractions along the way to avoid the questions and worry that awaited him. The questions he didn’t have real answers for.
He wasn’t sure where he would go yet, whether he’d stay in Jump or move on and find another city that would have him, but it all meant so little to him now. Jump no longer had anything to offer, it only reminded him of what he’d so begrudgingly lost. There was nothing he could do for the city now, and nothing the city could do for him.
Once he finally entered the tower, he found that most of the Titans had gone home. He walked into the common area where he found Victor, sitting on the couch working on some sort of gadget.
“Hey Dick,” he said looking up at him, “everything good?”
“Yeah…” he began, but stopped and corrected himself, “No, it’s not, but it’ll be fine once I figure out what I’m gonna do.”
Victor smiled and placed down what looked like a circuit board, “You don’t know who you are outside of this team anymore, do you?”
Dick nodded as he stared blankly into nothing.
“Well then maybe all this is a good thing after all,” the mechanical man said, “now you’ll finally have time to figure that out.”
Dick looked over at his old friend who’d probably grown the most out of all the Titans, overcoming everything Dick couldn’t fathom.
“This team has been my life and my identity since I was 15 years old, now I have to learn to live without it.”
Victor leaned back as the weight of his friend’s statement pulled him to its depths, “I know, I think we all feel the same, but you’ll always be a part of this team and when you finally figure out who you are without it, this team will be right here waiting for you.”
Dick smiled vaguely, “Thanks Vic.”
“Not a problem, plus I’ve only been appointed leader for a few hours and I’m already a whole five minutes away from killing myself. How the hell do you put up with this fuckery?”
Dick laughed genuinely as he replied, “I ask myself that same question every day, but I guess it grows on you.”
“Like a benign tumor?”
“Yes. Like a benign tumor.”
The two shared a sarcastic laugh for a moment. Dick had all the confidence in the world that Victor could handle the team, and possible be a far better leader than he.
“Well, it’s your fuckery now, Vic,” Dick said as he rose from the couch.
“Yeah, feel free to reclaim it whenever you’re ready.”
Dick shook his head at his friend’s sly tone, “Yeah, who knows, maybe I’ll get used to civilian life and completely give up this life of unruly chaos.”
“Dick, you without fuckery and unruly chaos, is like Batman without brooding and darkness. It’s not gonna happen.”
“You’re probably right, but ya never know?” Dick said leaving the room.
He walked down the hall, taking in the quiet. His talk with Victor had somewhat settled his nerves, but they still bit at him with an eagerness. He wasn’t sure what exactly his next move was, but he’d have to start thinking of it soon if he wanted to move forward, but where?
He opened his door and stepped inside, taken slightly off guard, “Raven, what are you doing in here?” Dick asked startled at the sight of her.
“Funny,” Raven replied looking down at some files, “I was gonna ask you nearly the same question.” She looked up at him with a bit of amusement as though part of her almost found the scene comical. “What is all this?”
“You went through my things,” he asked angrily and approached her.
“Nope,” she said flatly, “you left them out on your desk, so I read them.”
The two just stared at each other a moment, neither one of them ever invaded each other’s privacy like that before.
“Get out,” Dick growled at the dark-haired girl.
“Not until you explain, this,” she replied, placing down an open file filled with FBI information, “and this, and this, and uh…this,” she added, throwing down the small bag of krokodil upon the vulgar photos of its corpse-like victims.
He looked down at the pile of evidence against him as she looked up at him curiously, unable to say anything.
“It’s krokodil isn’t it?” she asked sternly. “This is what Roy told you about? This—all of this, is Slade… isn’t it?”
Dick was suddenly overwhelmed by how much Raven had actually figured out and sunk down on his bed in defeat. He could hardly speak, unsure of what she would do now that she knew, and he feared she’d tell the team, or even worse—the League.
“How can you do that, how can you figure all that out?” he shouted in frustration.
Raven rose from his desk and leaned over it as she said, “Because, Richard Grayson, I know you. I know you better than anyone, and I know you’ve been lying to me ever since you got back from Gotham.”
Dick looked up at her warily, a fire burning in his eyes, “I can’t believe you. How could you do this to me, Rae?”
“How I could not?” Raven spat, picking up one of the files. “You’ve been hiding this ever since you got back. This is why you left the team so easily, right?” She paused in realization still holding the file. “You’re going after Slade…”
Dick looked away from her and quickly rose from his bed in anger as though he could actually escape her.
“God damnit, Grayson,” Raven growled throwing the file down. “You were gonna try to do this alone, weren’t you? Or were you and Roy gonna band together on this?”
Dick turned to her in vexation, an overzealous look on his face, “You think you know everything don’t you, Rae?”
“No, just about you Bird—”
“Shut up and let me finish!” Dick yelled suddenly, taking Raven by surprise.
She bit her tongue a moment, holding back her more than harsh words for him and raised an eyebrow for him to continue.
“You’re right, this is all Slade and yes; I’m going after him because you know what—no else will. Bruce, the League, all couldn’t be bothered. Slade is gonna set that shit loose on society for whatever reason and no one cares but me. So yeah! That’s everything. You can continue to belittle me now.”
Raven shook her head after hearing what her former leader had to say, “I’m not here to belittle you, Dick,” she sighed, “I’m here to prevent you from being stupid.”
“Oh fuck off Raven,” Dick growled in frustration.
She rolled her eyes at him as he began to pace with discomfort, “I get it, I really do, but the last time you went after Slade, you just went chasing after a ghost.”
He turned to her again only this time with less venom in his voice, “He’s out there Rae, I know he is.”
“You’re probably right, but you can’t go after him alone, not again.”
Dick shook his head at her urgently, “I am not telling the team—I can’t tell them.”
Raven looked down at everything on his desk, hearing the defeat in his voice, “Because you think the League will punish them if they find out?”
“They probably will, Rae and I don’t know what they’ll do when that happens.”
He leaned against his desk again, his worn resolve showing greatly.
“I’m fine with ruining my own future, but I’m not fine with taking you, and everybody else down with me. I’ll burn in my own hell alone.”
She looked over at him with a sentimental gaze. She knew how he felt, how hard it was to hide something that was practically killing you inside. To feel like heaven wouldn’t have you.
“I’m coming with you.”
Dick looked back at the young sorceress dumbfounded, her statement taking him a completely off guard.
“You can’t,” he said finally, pulling himself together.
Raven looked back at him and raised a brow at his response, “It’s not an option, Grayson.” She looked him square in the eye and continued, “I’m coming with you.”
Dick could feel a bit of frustration hit him with a little animosity. She could be so persistent and rarely didn’t get her way, but now he couldn’t let her win.
“Rae, you can’t. Everything I’m doing has been forbidden by the Justice League. If and when they find out that I went against them, they’ll punish me. I can’t bring you or the team down this road with me!”
“I don’t care about the League Dick, I care about you,” she said in a softer tone.
She looked away toward his window and out at the bay. She slightly reminded him of Gizmo as she held that same distant gaze of something lost by many years.
“I understand that you don’t want to be responsible for the team’s future with the League, but I have no future with the League. I know you think that in time that will change, but it won’t.”
She looked back at him regretfully, a little hurt now placed in her violet eyes. Life had been quite cruel to her and though time had helped heal some of those wounds, others would never truly close.
“It could,” Dick replied meagerly.
“It won’t, you know that.”
“Raven, this mission will be dangerous, I can’t ask you to—”
“You’re not, I’m volunteering,” she said cutting him off, “I can’t let you go after Slade alone.”
He took a ragged breath, unable to break her will, “Raven if something happened to you, I’d never forgive myself.”
“Dick, this isn’t up for debate,” she snapped, “I can’t let you go after Slade by yourself. I know what he does to you, I’m not gonna be able to sleep if I know you’re out there looking for him.”
Her words left him with disparity as it bled from her like fresh blood. Dick ran his fingers through his hair, his emotion becoming more untamed.
“See this why I didn’t want to tell you.”
Raven smiled and rolled her eyes, “You actually thought you could hide something from me, Grayson?”
“I thought I could try,” Dick replied submissively. “You can’t tell the team, Rae.”
Raven looked at him a little torn. She didn’t want to lie to the team, but at the same time, she knew if she betrayed Dick, he’d most likely go after Slade regardless. And she couldn’t allow him to chase after that ghost by himself. He’d come back in a body bag if she did.
“Only if you let me help you.”
Dick let his face fall, her loyalty his current curse, “Raven…”
“I’m not giving you a choice, Richard. If you wanna go after Slade, I’m not gonna stop you, but I’m not gonna let you go after him half-baked like some pseudo-cowboy with something pointless to prove. If you go, I go. You’re gonna need me.”
She was right, he would, but not if it meant dragging her to Hell with him.
“Raven, the teams is gonna need you more than me. I’ll be fine.”
Raven looked at him and shrugged, “Dick, I don’t know if I can be on this team without you,” she said, letting free the words she kept steeped in regret. “The truth is this team isn’t the team we grew up on, it hasn’t been for a long time. Everything, everyone, is different now, and our bond is the only thing keeping me here. Everyone else is going in their own direction. It’s only a matter of time before this team falls apart, and I don’t wanna fall apart with it.”
Dick looked away from her, he knew what she was saying was true, it was just hard to hear. The team truly wasn’t as unified as it once was and some of the Titans had begun to grow apart. They still cared for each other, but they each had different paths ahead of them. It was only a matter of time before they parted at the crossroads.
“I don’t want you to get hurt…” Dick said brokenly taking her hand.
“And I don’t want you to get hurt either,” she replied dimly, “I know all of this is hard on you, and as much as I think what you’re doing is reckless… I know if I try to stop you that you’ll just go ahead and do it anyway. At least if I’m there with you, I’ll know what you’re doing, and I might be able to stop you from getting yourself killed.”
“Is that it, you think I’m gonna go running off halfcocked without thinking?” he asked with a cynical laugh.
“I know you will,” Raven reassured and leaned on the desk in front of him
“I don’t know where this mission is gonna take me, Rae. But I have a feeling you might not like what we find—hell—I don’t know if I’m gonna like what I have to do when I get there?”
“I can live with that, Richard.”
“I was afraid you’d say that.”