Title: One Day I Slowly Floated Away
Author: cosmicastaway (greysnyper)
Rating: PG-13/themes & lang. There is slash.
Spoils: Draws indirectly from past and future events in Redwingverse.
bright orange table lost-boy milk
he counts gone citrus red hair silk
and sighs disdain soft morning moan
not knows of critters make phone home
twist heel lightly sneaker floor
understand but fail from presents for
if love's like coffee shatter frame
bitter late in cumming aim
no seriously. are you happy?
There are mountains in the silver key, and it almost fits into the lock smoothly on the first try. Tyler gives an agitated click of teeth and shifts his weight awkwardly, for he has far too many bags, and tries gripping the handle still with his other hand. It is not like the knob is going to evade him, but the clumsy fumble of his fingers demands focus, even breathing, and the properness to not give up in profanity.
He can’t even break into his own house.
“Get,” he growls, and finally the door ‘get’s.
The interior is well kept, despite Tyler’s absence. When he had last beheld the small space there had been a thick quilt covering the seventh story window, and the gloom had then been fitting for him. The gloom may still define Tyler’s demeanor, key clenched uncomfortably into his palm, had he not taken some comfort for why the sun was cutting through raised dust in halos. Tyler’s mother had been here.
She has not been the only one--“Tyler.”
It’s a dream that’s easy enough to wake from. He does so with the unusual habit of gasping in misplaced alertness and straining to his elbows. Propped upon them, Tyler feels the bruise on his left side more clearly.
It is his mother asking for him, and soon her head turns around the corner of the hall. She has brown eyes, like he himself possesses, yet Tyler only knows through memory. There are shadows cast across her face. He knows he’s worried her. Prison, and the black eyes he won’t explain; it’s definitely true that he’s worried her.
“Bad dream,” he assures her, and gratefully inhales the scent of cinnamon and air freshener.
She lingers in the doorway and Tyler does his best to appear sober in keeping her gaze. Finally, she asks, “Are you ever going to apologize to that Harper man?”
Yes. For once the answer is yes. The ache that settles in him expounds this. “This afternoon, mom.”
She nods and smiles, fleetingly. It’s a promise he’s made many times, but now there’s a time offered that is more promising than ‘soon’. Perhaps he’ll keep out of trouble, Tyler knows she’s thinking. Perhaps he won’t walk in on her beaten and bleeding so soon after spending time as a criminal in Edge City’s correctional centre.
It’s not his fault, right?
The criminal bit, yes; his fault. But he doesn’t deserve the dreams and the injuries. He hadn’t even fought back…
“I have his address by the phone,” she continues, wrapping her fingers in her apron. “If he doesn’t want to talk to you, well, at least you tried right?”
Tyler nods. “I’ll try.”
At one point in his life, Tyler had hated tears. Only blundering children in school cried, and so, even waiting in cuffs that first night in the police station, Tyler hadn’t felt the foreboding sting encroaching on him. He had made a mistake. It had been stupid of him, and Tyler had sunk into the sensation with bitter indifference.
That was, though, when Tyler had nothing save for his mother, to preserve. Tyler’s mother would love him no matter what.
Tyler didn’t cry after coming home for the first time. It had been dreams and numb shock, rather. His mind still stalls when he thinks back. The tension and the terror, and knowing exactly what he wouldn’t say to his mom when she answered his knock at her door. Bloody knock.
Why cry now? He had tried, after all…
“I have to go,” Tyler manages to murmur, and ducking his head he turns and then breaks into a run down the strange walkway and right down the street to the corner.
Collapsing against the white paint soaked frame of a fence, Tyler shudders back the rattle in his chest and pushed his fists into his eyes. Here and now, he realizes that he doesn’t care if other strangers on the street see him. He hears a door slamming in his wake, but that could only mean, to Tyler’s mind, that Mr. Harper is disgusted with the would-be thief and is washing his hands of him for a final time.
Tyler does not expect for the first inquiry as to his condition to be from Harper. “Um, kid?”
The shudders stop and Tyler knows he must look atrocious, glancing up with red-ringed eyes and a running nose. The man to whom he had been trying to speak with has followed him to the fence. One of Harper’s hands grips the post like he had planned to propel himself around the corner of the intersection. He has the reddest hair and the weariest green eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Tyler states in pure monotony. He casts his gaze to the afternoon shadow under him and waits to be excused and left alone.
Harper sighs, instead. “You’re a pathetic thief, why’d you even do it?” It’s clear he’s not leaving soon, and when Tyler does respond by looking up again, Harper continues, “It wasn’t even a good stereo.”
“I—I don’t know. I thought…opportunity I guess,” shrugs Tyler. It’s a weak answer but he has no other to give.
“Then why apologize?”
“Mom,” Tyler responds. “My mom thought it would be the decent thing.” He feels worn out and improperly used.
Tyler observes the man shift so that he’s braced against the fence, now, leaning. “You can’t be a trouble-maker, kid.” Harper continues, “So why are you broken and shaking like a leaf?”
Because the world we live in isn’t fair.
They go for coffee. Mr. Harper wants to be called Roy, and only Roy. Tyler doesn’t say anything about his fit save for eluding that something happened and he doesn’t want to talk about it.
It’s not drugs, though, he assures. Roy doesn’t like drugs, as it soon becomes apparent.
“It’s not illegal,” Tyler also adds. “I’m done with guards and cells.”
“Life’s hard,” Roy shrugs as he stacks the small cream containers that their table is garnished with into mini towers. “So you wake up with cuts on your face,” those green eyes flash up carefully, “sometimes it’s necessary to hurt.”
Tyler takes a moment before he understands. “I didn’t do this to myself.”
Roy raises his palms, more in defense from Tyler’s tone. “Okay, sorry. I misread you.”
They are quiet for a time under the chatter of the evening customers. Tyler is fascinated with the way his coffee swirls, and Roy continues to observe Tyler.
“You mentioned your mother?” he finally asks.
Tyler nods solemnly. “She lives in Southside, by the tracks. My dad was in a work accident when I was a kid.”
Tyler directs his attention to their reflection in the café window, and the dusk. “It’s a dangerous world. What happened feels so long ago and doesn’t seem to affect us anymore.”
Roy nods. “Then I suppose it’s fair to say that I hate my father.”
Tyler hums an answer.
“Enough for me to envy you your dad’s fate?”
Roy is suddenly regarding Tyler intently, and Tyler lets his mouth part in musing over the importance of such a statement. He can’t find the nerve that should be struck.
Breathing out of his nose, Roy flicks the top cream off of his mountain and smiles meekly. “The stereo meant something, Tyler,” he says. “It’s the first thing I earned of my own money. It’s worthless, really. But it had nothing to do with my dad.”
“I’m sorry,” Tyler answers, and he means it profusely. When he dares to look up, Roy shines a smirk at him.
“The stupid thing’s last use made me a friend,” he gives, warmly.
Nodding, Roy asserts, “Yeah. You’ve got a girl Tyler?”
Laying down a five, Roy starts to get up. “Then I’d love to meet your mother.”
The hands that sift through Tyler’s hair are not Roy’s.
“You didn’t change it,” purrs the owner of the hands; long and lithe fingers that sometimes dance along Tyler’s scalp or rest on his shoulders.
“I didn’t,” Tyler murmurs, fear and shame adding colour to his abnormally pale features. Like the last time, he had walked into his apartment (with the new uniform from the café slung under one arm) and had found himself in the company of a dangerous individual.
The individual hums approvingly, and continues to stroke and play with the sand-shaded locks. “As I was saying,” he resumes, “the League accepted him not even a year ago and already he’s in charge up there.”
Tyler has no idea as to what he’s supposed to do. His mouth feels like it is full of sandpaper. His knuckles are white, clenched into his jeans by his knees. There is an assassin breathing down his neck.
“Imagine, up on the moon! Do you think the League looks down on the Earth to think about the people they’ve left behind there?”
“Or how,” Tyler is quickly interrupted, “we can look up at the moon and ponder about what the League is thinking. Curiously wonder, whenever the moon is in sight, of what Slade is doing.”
Tyler whispers, “I can’t.”
The rhythm of the hands pause for only a second, and the assassin’s right hand gives Tyler’s upper arm a squeeze. “Of course you can’t,” he says.
There’s almost something else underlying the childlike statement, and then Tyler is sitting alone on the couch; his visitor pacing to the television. Long midnight hair splays over the assassin’s red and black body as he leans in to take a closer look at old photographs arranged carefully on top of the electronic box. Tyler’s mom had put them there.
Tyler feels out of place in his own living room. “Do you, uh, want a drink?”
“I helped myself to an orange,” the other smiles back at him. Tyler can’t make himself return the sentiment. “I also left you something by the bowl.”
Tyler’s head snaps towards the kitchen. It is overcast outside but the white from the window’s skyline only allows Tyler to make out the shape of the fruit bowl on his table, and nothing more. Why this individual is leaving him things…
“I promise not to blow up your apartment,” the other vows, bemused. “Now go on, take a look!”
How can Tyler refuse? The item in question is small and had been left to lay behind the glass citrus bowl. It is a tiny box layered in beige velvet.
Tyler isn’t solitary for long, and the assassin unabashedly clings to his arm, leaning over. “Open it!”
This he does, and inside is a jagged red stone, carved like an arrow-head.
Tyler can only ask, “Why?” He’s afraid to touch it, but it glitters in a marvelous way, even in the dim light.
“Harper’s birthday is in a week and a day,” the assassin breathes into Tyler’s ear. “Trust me, he’ll like this.”
The shade of crimson is unreal. “Why red?" Tyler asks inanely.
The other peels his weight from Tyler, and pokes at the rack of keys on Tyler’s wall. It is chipped from when it fell the last time an intruder entered his home. The one who started to hurt him and wouldn’t stop. The one who lives on the moon…
"What can I say, I have a thing for red. Why else would I call myself ‘Redwing’?"
“Oh my God.”
Roy’s green eyes are sharp and dazzling.
“Oh my God!”
“It’s…” not from me, Tyler prays he’ll smartly say.
Sharp and dazzling and now looking directly at Tyler in unbridled everything. “You’re my new best friend!”
“We’re…we’re more than that,” Tyler points out, and must settle for this as they both careen into the coat rack. The host of the restaurant gives them a disapproving glare for which Tyler wants to shrink beneath, though Roy would be just as likely to tell the man where to go.
Any further explanations do not get to be expressed the moment Roy pulls himself free, adjusts his suit, and boyishly states that Tyler’s made his life. “This is perfect. This place, the gift, your hair, and even that man right there.”
“You’re seats, Sirs?” the man growls.
“I’m,” Tyler whispers, “happy.”
It had taken a lot of persuasion to get Tyler his job. Having a criminal record and being unable to jot down a mother’s word as reference, Tyler had never dreamed of achieving a decent wage anywhere he might remotely enjoy.
“You need tighter pants,” Roy blandly observes, as Tyler adjusts his shirt in Harper’s bathroom mirror.
“My pants are fine,” Tyler argues without any effort. It is Roy to whom he owes his job at the café. “Do I have wrinkles in the shirt? I didn’t wash it…”
His boss is a wonderful woman who only demands perfection.
“Nobody can see them,” Roy answers, pushing into the room and dropping his toothbrush and accessories unceremoniously by the sink. “How long until Emma demands you cut your hair?”
The fingers Tyler’s devoted to pleating his shirt freeze. “I can’t change my hair.”
“It is getting a bit long,” Roy defines, leaning in close and tugging at a straw coloured strand. “Rugged is an okay look but you don’t have the facial hair for it.”
The air feels thin, suddenly. “Emma doesn’t mind as long as I have a hair net.”
“Hmm,” shrugs Roy. “Emma’s also not going to care about your hair if you’re late.”
“I’ll make it,” is Tyler’s answer.
He doesn’t make it. Skidding around the corner, jacket twisted under his arm, Tyler realizes that he’s not going to make it to the café at all.
There is a sleek red car, new make, growling along the curb alongside the white fence, and a familiar dark-haired individual sitting on the hood.
His pocket starts to ring, and Tyler fumbles with the zipper before he can pull his cell phone out.
There is a short exhale from the other line before Tyler hears Roy. “I talked to Emma today.”
Tyler negotiates his cart around a woman who is meditating on which brand of detergent she needs as he allows Roy time to continue.
Roy doesn’t. “And?”
“Of?” Tyler pushes onwards towards produce and consciously wonders if this is how a man trapped and drowning must feel. “Did she say?”
“No, Tyler. She didn’t say. But she’s different. I’ve never seen her so…agitated.”
I hadn’t noticed. Tyler curses to himself for almost slipping the lie. Emma was strong, sure, witty, and blunt. That had changed around the same time Tyler stopped worrying about having to explain his systematic no-shows.
“We need to talk Roy.”
Roy’s mouth is dropped and disbelieving.
“I hate being dishonest,” Tyler tries, “but…”
Tyler’s voice grows smaller. “Roy--,”
“You’ve been meeting with Redwing?!”
Tyler has to look at his shoes, and the laces are undone. “I don’t meet him. He just shows up.”
“How long has be been ‘just showing up’?”
Now it’s the ceiling that demands Tyler’s attention. “Two days before we met, Roy.”
Roy makes a sound, and it’s close to something enraged being strangled. “My God,” he eventually breathes. When Tyler discerns Roy, finally, the other has his hand thrown to his hair. “My God!”
“I had no idea if I should tell any--,”
“He’s the one who attacked you, isn’t he?” Roy accuses, and his face is pained.
Tyler stops any correction from leaving him.
Roy turns to logic, though it’s frantic. “We can’t tell the police, because this is Redwing! There’s Oliver, but…”
“No,” Tyler agrees. Roy’s father is out of the question and it’s possible that the assassin already has established ties with the organized crime in Emerald City.
“The League!” Roy exclaims. “The League is after Redwing. They’ll protect you--,”
Roy’s ramble is effectively put to silence. Tyler knows he looks stricken and slowly shakes his head. “The League won’t protect me.”
“You’re not a criminal, Ty. It was just a stereo. My stereo.”
“We can’t,” Tyler repeats.
The green eyes cutting into Tyler proclaim that they know that some truths still aren’t shared.
“The truth can kill you.”
Tyler starts from his book, glancing to the kid before him. There are breaks in the rain and the sky peeking through doesn’t look like a real blue. Not at all like the blue in the eyes challenging Tyler. He’s never seen this boy before in his life.
“The truth can kill you,” the kid repeats. “And the truth is, you’re worthless.”
Tyler cannot help but raise a brow and lean forwards to see past the stranger. The bus should be turning onto the street soon.
“You’re a strange fellow,” Tyler finally states, wishing that the bench had less than space for just two. He’s had his share of weirdness.
Redwing hadn’t spoken to Tyler since the conversation with Roy, but the oranges in Tyler’s kitchen keep going missing. Yesterday, Emma had also, uncharacteristically, given Tyler an increase in pay and today off.
Days off were fine, Tyler supposes. Though feeling those blue eyes picking him apart, he rather misses work.
“Really, what do you have?” the kid speaks again.
Tyler sighs, annoyed. “Don’t you have school?”
Here is where it should end. The brat will leave Tyler and he will return to being contentedly huddled in his sweater, rained upon, and pretending like his only care in the world involves the characters in Roy’s book.
“No, seriously,” the boy continues, shaking his head with bewilderment. “You are not at all what I expected.”
Tyler dog-ears a page and then shuts the book. “Who the hell are you?”
In answer, the boy ducks his head and looks…no less creepy. How can a child appear so eerie? “No, who are you?”
Tyler leans forward again to see around the kid. There is no bus forthcoming this time, either, but he’s already debating if he should just walk. It’s only a half-hour journey on foot, yet Roy is yelling in his head about why it’s so important to take the bus over red shiny sports cars.
Tyler sighs and asks, “do I know you? I’m sure that I don’t.”
“That’s not important,” the kid responds. “Nor is who you are.”
“Oh my God,” Tyler groans. “Will you make up your mind?! You can’t ask me who I am if you’re convinced I’m nobody.”
The other’s expression is indignant. “I can do whatever I want.”
There’s an unspoken opening that follows the statement, and Tyler believes that the kid is looking for a debate. He closes his eyes and silently tries to understand why he’s deserved such a life. “Kid,” he starts, “do whatever you want. Be whatever you want. Work hard and anything is possible.” Tyler is being sarcastic.
“Shut up!” the kid snaps and Tyler almost flinches.
“I’m sorry.” He couldn’t stop saying it. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
“Shut up!” Slade answered. There was no way Slade would help him now…
And suddenly, the boy is right in front of Tyler, bracing a sleeved arm on the back of the bench. Tyler leans back, but he feels confined. This is a child as large as a pipsqueak and Tyler’s unexplainably trapped.
“Stop whatever you’re doing. Whatever he likes, don’t you fucking continue!”
“Who--,” Tyler tries, but the kid grabs the lip of his sweater for emphasis and he’s definitely not just a pipsqueak.
“I’m serious,” he snarls.
Does Roy have some freaky brat as a stalker or…oh no. Oh God! Tyler knows why he feels uneasy around this one. His mind snatches the similarities and…
It’s painfully easy to shove the kid off of him. The boy gives a startled sound that isn’t caught in time. The boy is also too small compared to Tyler’s full height. Tyler is older and stronger, but unable to match the viciousness of the boy’s glare.
“Do you think I have a choice?” he states with sincere exposure. “Tell your ‘friend’ yourself, because if you think I haven’t made my desires clear, then you’re deluded! If I could cut ties with him, don’t think I wouldn’t. But really, I am nobody. I have just as much say in this as you apparently do.”
Tyler feels a sick sense of satisfaction because the boy winces at that. “Next time you want to talk to me,” Tyler warns, “be more coherent. You don’t intimidate me.”
He repeats this to himself as he turns away. The bus is still not in sight and Tyler now wouldn’t put it past this kid as being responsible for it’s absence. He knows what flock this kid flies with. Tyler can walk.
It’s cool out, pre-rain, and the afternoon sky is a changing spectrum of dampening colours. Tyler is fine with walking, as much as he is fine with everything he has told the kid. He can’t be intimidated. He won’t be.
Tyler refrains from glancing back at the bench and the bus sign and instead, he pushes forwards as he dwells on this new obstacle. He’s not being honest with Roy; Redwing won’t leave him in peace; there’s suddenly a crack-pot child determined that Tyler have nothing to do with the assassin. As much as Tyler could agree with the sentiment, he can’t shake the weight the boy’s stare held.
Pulling his phone free, Tyler keys in the familiar numbers.
“Roy,” he announces as soon as there is a pick-up. “I’m walking from Cumberland and I’m going to need a drink when I get home.”
We need to talk.
“We,” Roy carefully drags the word out, “have company.”
It always happens when he opens the door. In his dreams, there’s the key and sometimes he doesn’t need it. Other times, Tyler has to struggle and pray until it works. Turn the handle and push the door inwards. In the dream, he is not careful and silent. Tyler is unable to be undetected for long. Clumsy and blundering, he always falls into the first few blows. He wakes up screaming that he’s sorry, but upon waking, cannot explain why.
Roy’s waiting at the door for Tyler.
“I’m sorry,” he says, but his green eyes are weary only to a point. Tyler knows he can’t push Roy in this.
“I should have been honest,” Tyler murmurs. He can accept this because Roy hadn’t been told. He hopes he can, at least.
“What do you mean?” Roy asks, but Tyler’s already crossing the threshold with disregard to every feeling inside of him. If he doesn’t face this now, Tyler’s afraid that he’ll be running the other way soon enough. Fence-posts and grade-school…
Slade is inside waiting.
Nobody was saved.
There is a pink-haired girl sitting at the table, and Tyler knows that he’s seen her before someplace. She glances up at him, with luminous and mystic eyes, and she gives Tyler a smile that resembles the kind people make when they’re apologetic but stricken to silence. Her pale fingers softly roll an orange between them.
One of these days, Tyler’s mom will not be around to replenish the supply. He sees Redwing’s teeth gleam in his mind. He feels some brat’s fingers around his arm. There is an angry shadow falling onto Tyler and he just knows that the next thing that happens is going to hurt.
He flinches, and Slade stops.
There is a woven rug between Slade and Tyler. Roy is shifting unhappily by the doorway, and probably possesses the house key that fits neatly on Tyler’s busted key-rack. He imagines that nothing will come of this. He imagines that Roy or maybe the girl will keep the bad things from happening again.
Slade’s mask is impassive as he starts up the conversation, bringing the silence--again--to a merciless end. “Explain everything.”
“I need a drink,” Tyler breathes, feeling faint and dangerously out of place. The fridge is on the other side of Slade. He could try next door?
“Today is not the day for this,” commands Slade.
Roy’s presence is felt, hovering at Tyler’s back. He can imagine the other murmuring comforts like, “I’m here,” but he still feels bottomless.
“You’ve got that right.”
“How many times has Redwing been here?”
Tyler really envies Slade that mask, and it’s a potent realization.
“And don’t lie to me,” adds the Leaguer.
As if Tyler could.
“Eight,” Tyler turns aside, staring down to his left. The wall is beige. “Eight times.”
Slade tenses, Tyler bites down a wince and Roy stammers, “You said five at mo--”
“And four times outside of home.”
Roy is kind enough--shocked?--to silence himself. It’s an unsatisfactory win for Tyler. He thinks the girl is probably watching Slade carefully. He wonders if they’re lovers.
“Redwing likes to talk a lot,” Tyler adds. He wasn’t lying about the drink. “He talks about you, mainly.”
And there is a reaction. The orange is left stationary and Slade is at attention. Tyler keeps seeing the four metres between them melting into nothing but fluid motion. He’s done nothing wrong, he thinks. There was no way to avoid it!
“What does he want with you?” Slade responds, and only Tyler catches the real meaning of the tone. How could Roy? Who the hell is the girl?
The real meaning is what Tyler’s afraid of, and he gives no answer. A moment passes. The clock from Tyler’s bedroom is audible and ticking. Outside sunlight makes rainbow patterns through a crystal-thing that Roy brought home one day.
“What,” Slade repeats, “does he want with you?”
Tyler stares, and it’s a rushing relief when Roy moves to his side and says, “I think you two should leave.”
It must mean something when the girl looks meaningfully at them. Slade does not. “I won’t ask the question again Hardy.”
Tyler’s insides drop away from him.
“Will you beat it from me?”
Where that came from, Tyler doesn’t know. His nails are buried into his palm and he’s trembling. Roy makes a sound because Roy is smart. Slade’s mask probably hides the drawn features. Fuck Slade!
“If I knew why the hell he comes to me, do you think I’d be here? Would we be having this conversation? Would everyone stop asking? It was a fucking stereo!”
Slade is smart, too, and the plural doesn’t go unnoticed. The girl knits her brows but Tyler no longer gives a shit about her. Roy flinches but maybe that’s what Roy deserves for calling the League down in the first place. Slade is not going to help Tyler and Redwing will know Tyler’s betrayed him and Slade might as well break him now so that the assassin doesn’t have to. Isn’t that why the whole thing started, because of their stupid cat and mouse feud?
Why is this happening to him? It was really just a fucking stereo. Just one mistake. That was all it was…
His breath hurts in his chest and his head is light and sickeningly dizzy. And now Slade--“It…you’re what?” he snaps, asks or cries.
Roy slips his fingers around the loose creases in Tyler’s sweater, but it means nothing as the world drops from under him, again. Slade is apologizing.
“I’m sorry I hurt you. It was wrong of me.”
Tyler drops his head to his feet as Roy and the girl gawk at the Leaguer.
“What?” Roy asks. “He…you, happened?” His voice rises like Oliver’s, the one time Tyler had encountered the man. It’s not a change Tyler wants to see. “You’re supposed to be one of the good guys! Slade--,”
“Roy,” Tyler snaps, interrupting. Slade’s shifted and it’s not much, but perhaps the movement is intended to make him appear less dangerous. Tyler will never think that but he needs to say something. “Drop it. You wanted the League to be here, and truth is, the League always was.”
The day further descends past its goal of worst-day-ever when Roy’s gaze searches for Tyler’s. Tyler wants to be relieved or angry that the truth is nearly free. He can’t describe how he feels now.
“I want you to leave,” he says, heavy and deflated himself. Slade still hasn’t descended on him like a nightmare yet, but suddenly there is no urge to care. “Redwing broke into my home and then you followed and…and…leave. Now. Post a guard or set up something secret. I don’t care. You want to find Redwing, do your own goddamn work. It was one goddamn robbery attempt.” I’ve done nothing wrong.
Slade doesn’t move, and if Tyler has the gusto to suggest the man leave, once more, he gets no chance for the door opens behind him.
Roy turns, Tyler stiffens and his mother enters, carrying a bag of groceries in one hand. The oranges are recognizable from the bag opening.
She used to watch television every day after the event. Tyler had been old enough to understand that his father was never coming back. Bruce Wayne had been nice enough to pay for the funeral, but Tyler remembers his mother’s stricken face after she and the man had spoken. Tyler had been old enough to know when something bad was being shared. He had thought that he and his mom had at least enough money to keep on living the same regardless, but Tyler was probably mistaken. Children often are.
The two moved across town to a small apartment and though his mom had changed by the time he had started with the drugs, Tyler still recalls how her voice sounded every time she phoned the Chinese place on the corner for their usual. She didn’t cook.
Maybe, he thought once, that it didn’t feel like so much of a loss if she never brought it up. On a trip, he remembers having a moment when all of everything made sense. Afterwards, though, Tyler couldn’t recall the details of his induced reasoning. Maybe it was the same for mom?
He had explained this to Pat, his dealer, before Roy had ever existed. Pat would give him ways to find such reasoning, but then it had started to pour and after a bad trip, Pat left Tyler to himself and it all started making less sense. He had been fourteen and the pneumonia had been aggressive.
“Wake up, honey. Come on,” his mom had coaxed. Her voice then sounded nothing like her Chinese-ordering kind. “Don’t do this to me.”
Tyler never went back to drugs and his mom had found a daytime job and started shopping more. She liked to bring home useless things from the mall. She saw no need to buy Tyler anything fancy and Tyler had told himself that it didn’t matter. He had grown sick of Oriental food anyhow.
“Oranges are good for you. It’s natural food. Your dad used to love the ones at Christmas.”
He had never doubted that she would buy him a box of those green-paper wrapped oranges, instead of a radio or something electronic for Christmas. She had always thought that green was his favourite colour.
Roy’s emerald eyes are alarmed as they flash from Tyler’s mom to Slade and his associate. This shock is mirrored with Tyler.
Had he heard his mother correctly?
“More people in costume?”
She smiles because it’s nice of her son to have company, even if they are dressed strangely. She is perfectly accepting of Tyler’s lifestyle and choice in partners, so it makes sense that his friends have an odd preference of primary colours.
He needs to ask and confirm if she’s mistaken. More people?
Tyler’s heart still leaps into his throat when Slade fulfils his unspoken prophesy and places himself right at Tyler’s side. As Roy shifts to Mrs. Hardy’s side and the strange girl pulls herself up, concern showing, Slade roughly guides Tyler to the corner by the door.
“Talk,” he commands in a low voice.
Tyler, who had just a moment before been defiant and angry, only feels sick and weak. “Fuck you,” he whispers in a choked voice. “He’s after you because…well, I don’t know! There’s always threats and I never have a choice and now there’s some kid today who…oh God, my mother and…I don’t know why they’re using me.”
He makes himself look at Slade.
“There has to be more,” Slade growls, and the pressure he’s exerting on Tyler’s arm emphasizes his want of answers. “What else?”
“Don’t,” Tyler whispers in a hushed voice, “don’t hurt me.” It’s a plea and a threat and another prophesy. He jerks his hand free and thinks Roy will be coming for him soon--now--please. “It’s your job to stop him. It’s your job to stop Redwing like you stopped me.”
It was only a stereo.
Behind them, Mrs. Hardy is enthusiastically asking the girl what she does for the Justice League, and Roy needs to be here now, Tyler thinks.
Slade has released Tyler, but he still leans in close. “Because of the timing of your little stunt,” Slade murmurs, like a darkness about to unleash a downpour that Tyler’s only felt once before, “I wasn’t able to stop Redwing.”
Something is essential here, Tyler feels. “What?”
“Adeline Wilson d—died. Murdered.”
Everyone knew Slade lived on the moon. Everyone knew. He was the leader of the Justice League and he was Redwing’s favourite person and you’d have to be stupid to not know that Slade Wilson was the last and best defense for truth, justice and…Wilson.
It was only a stereo.
It was only a stereo like the kind he had once seen in one of the year’s first holiday displays.
“Oh my God.”
It doesn’t matter who is asking. If it’s the police officer stating his name for the file photo or Roy finally noticing that he’s needed or his mother calling for him through fever and delusions. Someone is asking for him, but he’s already gone out the door.
All the feelings of the floor collapsing under him melt into reality. On days like these, he can understand that there is dust rising and gravity grabbing him in its greedy arms. He dreams of someone screaming about a bomb and that discovery explains to his confused head why his centre of balance is reversed. Not even the drugs made him feel like this.
There are still people inside, and though he’s afraid for himself, Tyler doesn’t want to even consider the comforting green of the exit signs until he has someone to support.
I’ve got you, he whispers. He murmurs. He screams to someone who’s not breathing.
Some dreams are so real.
If he moves fast enough, the floor won’t rush up at him. If he gets the hell away, he won’t have to consider the implications. He’s to blame for someone’s death. He inadvertently aided the assassin Redwing and now the assassin feels that he owes it to Tyler to be buddies or some shit like that. There’s a freak-kid who hates Tyler for this and his mother is at risk and he doesn’t even deserve to know Roy. If he moves far enough, Slade won’t break him again and Redwing may never find him.
He’s across the tracks and into the suburbs before his legs give out, depositing Tyler by a tree in a park that carries the dusk well. He shudders and chokes and feels the numbness drain from his brain. He wishes for it back. He wants to feel like he’s gotten away—for once, just once in his life—but Slade’s voice still reverberates around him and it’s the goddamn League he’s trying to escape. Why did he think running with the stereo when a cape was after him would work?
It’s all my fault.
“You’re in some shit, aren’t you?”
Tossing his heavy head back to bump painfully against the bark of the tree, Tyler sees a pair of boots dangling from the shadows of the lowest branches.
Please don’t kill me.
“And you are?” he laments his demeanor. He’s still afraid of dying and this feels wrong, somehow. Maybe it’s the kid from the bus stop and he’ll finally have a name to scream out when he wakes up.
“Jay,” announces the figure in the tree. “And we’ve never met. I work in Gotham most of the time.”
“Charmed,” says Tyler, identifying now not the kid from the afternoon.
“You have to remember,” Jay adds, as he drops down with enthusiasm from his perch, “that you and I have never met. Or ever will. Okay?”
Tyler stares at him. His eyes should be burning. He wants to sleep. He still needs that drink. The kid he is never supposed to meet is dressed in a costume too, and is puffing out his chest proudly. Tyler prays for a drink.
With no answer, the boy shrugs and states, “Tim’s really pissed at you.”
“You met him earlier today. He’s a little taller than me and funny looking.”
The freaky-dangerous kid. “Lucky me.”
“You call that luck?” points Jay. “Obviously you’re either crazy or your life must really suck quite bad.”
Any moment now, he will be in tears. “Way to be, Captain Obvious.”
The other snickers at the phrase that Roy often finds hilarious.
“Are you here to gloat, offer advice or to put me out of my misery?” Tyler asks, and immediately wishes that he had left out the last option. Jay could be insane and criminal, too.
“Redwing says you’re a good listener,” Jay states. “And we know that you brought Slade here.”
So he is going to die. His mind stalls but Tyler can’t make himself react to the realization. Some part of him laughs bitterly about being labeled as a good listener.
Jay makes no threatening move, though. He kicks at the grass with one foot while he pulls a gauntlet through thick black hair. “And Red also thinks you won’t, or um, can’t take Slade from him. Which is nice. Everyone’s either denying him Slade, or taking the guy from Red.”
“I,” Tyler tries, uncertain as to anything, still. “I don’t want Slade. I…”
Jay is watching Tyler with a look that can only be described as mischievous. “I could be wrong, but you seem to be trying to get Slade to see you differently.”
“What?” Tyler asks, incredulous and confused.
Shrugging, Jay drops onto the grass, too. “Or you could deny it. Slade is never going to like you because you did a bad thing.”
Tyler can’t argue with that.
“But you don’t regret that bad thing, do you?”
His mouth falls open. “I’m not like you guys! I didn’t mean to and…” Tyler stammers.
Jay raises a hand, though, for silence. His smirk has many secrets behind it. “But if you didn’t do your bad thing, who wouldn’t you have met?”
Slade. The assassin wouldn’t have needed to apprehend Tyler for his crime and maybe he would have saved Mrs. Wilson. It was all because of Roy’s stereo and…“Roy.”
“You’re only half as dumb as you look,” laughs Jay. “Smart boy.”
Jay is polite enough to let Tyler sift through the revelation before adding, “We’re all bad here.”
Tyler looks up at the boy. Behind Jay, the tall buildings of downtown Edge City reflects the setting sun, with a wall of shadowy clouds amassing on the horizon. It’s going to be cold tonight.
“It’s something I’ve realized,” Jay continues, with a one-shouldered shrug.
Tyler feels like he should argue that. Does he really believe such a thing? His mind won’t work around it. “Everything’s so messed up.”
Jay’s smile is almost a comforting answer to Tyler’s wistful dirge. He says, “Don’t freak out over Tim. Tim’s a sneaky brat but as long as Redwing finds you fascinating, and I have no idea why he does, but you’ll be okay. The nutcases at Arkham even know that Tyler Hardy is off-limits.”
Jay snorts and then tilts his head, as if listening to something. “I need to vamoose, yo. Just note that you and I haven’t ever talked, and that Slade’s not going to be at your place by the time you get home.”
Tyler’s not sure if he’s glad this costumed character is leaving him or not. “Okay.”
“Oh,” Jay adds, brushing off his uniform with unexpected care, “I’m supposed to give you this.”
He pulls out of his belt an item and hands it to Tyler. It’s a locket. The metal is burned with a red hue.
“Don’t fall for all the ‘sucks to be you’ shit,” Jay chirps, grinning. “At least your life isn’t boring.”
No. It’s never that anymore.
“You’re not bored, are you?” Roy is sincere in his question, and Tyler shifts himself to a sitting position so that he can appreciate the eyes that are staring. Roy’s hair is much longer than Tyler’s now, and before them is Roy’s new bike which is shining proudly in the summer sun. It just needs a stereo, the other says, and it’ll be his ultimate favourite toy ever.
Tyler thinks Roy’s driving is atrocious, but he doesn’t mind the summerhouse that Oliver owns. Things are still rocky, but Tyler has hope that Roy and his father will work things out. They’ve finally learned to be civil, and Tyler sort of likes the man, as far as he can like a crime lord.
Tyler also doesn’t mind the fact that Redwing is standing trial on another planet, and with him are reportedly two other shady characters. And Slade is forever distant, too, as Redwing’s League/Earth representative. Roy couldn’t have chosen a better time to have a reason for celebration. It almost makes Tyler forget about the pendant Roy’s made a habit of wearing. Right now, it glitters along his collarbone as he shifts.
“I’m not bored. Just thinking,” Tyler answers.
Roy raises a brow. “About?”
Tyler shrugs. “Work. Mom. The universe in general.”
Now there’s an inquiry, Tyler thinks. “I don’t need to think about what happens there, when we have so much of this to ourselves.” He indicates the field and the house at the bottom of the hill. “But suppose the universe, all the people and such in it, were bad.”
Roy hmmms, plucking at a blade of grass. “Is this about what happened to Redwing and all those people?”
Tyler plays with a series of answers before surrendering to the offered example. “If we had power over our fate, or maybe just the chance to go back and change things, are we, like all people, corrupt and greedy?”
“I wouldn’t say all people are violent and murderous. Demented. Screwed-up evil. Um…I could go on.”
“I know you don’t like Redwing, Roy.”
Roy sighs. “Look at it this way. Redwing did something bad, but you and I are benefiting from it. He’s someplace obscenely far away, and we’re enjoying my new bike and my awesome skills at driving it.”
Tyler snorts and latches onto Roy’s smug smirk.
Eventually, he states aloud for the first time that if he could go back to taking the stereo, Tyler would do it all the same.
Roy’s eyes ask why.
“It brought me happiness,” Tyler answers.
Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length.
If we cannot live so as to be happy, let us least live so as to deserve it.
-Immanuel Hermann Fichte
It’s a dream that’s easy enough to wake from. He does so with the unusual habit of gasping in misplaced alertness and straining to his elbows. Or at least, Tyler tries to. He feels oddly paralyzed, at first. And that’s when he catches the sharp gleam of teeth and the shadows of eyes.
“Tyler,” Redwing asks, “are you happy?”