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Earning your keep

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Dick pressed his sleeve against his brow, wiping away a day's worth of sweat and dirt as he paused to take a drink of lukewarm, ionised water. He tried to ignore the taste as a flicker of movement near the south wall caught his attention. He frowned, his eyes straining as he attempted to figure out what it was.

“Stop fucking daydreaming and rake the goddamn soil already.”

Dick had just enough time to tense before a solid slap to the back of his head sent him stumbling into a dense patch of crops. He heard a deafening crunch and felt a lead ball settle in his stomach. “No,” he whispered, closing his eyes as he waited for the inevitable blowout.

Didn’t have to wait long, he thought numbly as he felt a big hand grab his shirt and drag him to his feet. He instinctively turned his face away and felt hot rancid breath against his cheek. “You idiot. You just crushed the fucking crop, didn’t you?” He was shook so hard his teeth rattled. “Well answer me. Did you or didn’t you?”

“I’m sorry,” he said, but the words caught in his throat and sounded more like a gasp than actual words. Every part of him wanted to lash out, but the consequences of laying his hands on one of the landowners would get him immediately thrown out of the steading. He had the boys to think of. None of them would survive on their own.

“What was that, huh Grayson? Got something to say?” The hand not hanging on to Dick’s collar grasped his chin and forced his head up. “Jesus, you can’t even look at me, you little coward. Come on, look at me.”

Dick’s eyes shot open as blunt fingers dug into his jaw. He reached up and grasped Taylor’s wrist.

“Ah, there they are,” Taylor said, grinning manically as he pulled Dick flush against his chest. “I’d almost forgotten you had eyeballs. They’re usually pointed at the ground. Except when you think no one's looking. Eh, queer?”

A dozen different responses popped into Dick’s head. He swallowed all of them. “I’m sorry about the greens, but I’m sure I can salvage -”

He broke off with a gasp as he was hoisted onto his tiptoes. Taylor’s lips were getting dangerously close to his. The closeted prick. “That’s not the point though, is it Dick. You’re supposed to look after the garden. That’s your job. But instead of doing your job you were daydreaming again, and as a direct consequence you went and trampled one of the patches. We all rely on that food. You know that.”

“I’m really sorry.” Dick said, forcing the words to come out, if not strong, then hopefully a little less weedy. “I really am Taylor. It won’t happen again.” He wasn’t letting go. What the hell else did he want?

But Taylor wasn’t paying attention to him anymore. He was staring at something behind Dick and frowning. He reached down and grabbed his gun. “Do you hear that -” He asked moments before there was a deafening boom behind them. The prick finally let him go and Dick turned around just in time to see a bullet pierce Taylor’s chest.

“Oh god,” Dick gasped, stumbling backwards as he saw at least thirty figures rise over the broken wall and rush towards the town. His first thought was for his brothers. They were both still young enough to spend the majority of their days in lessons. The school stood a little way from the main square but it wouldn’t take long for the invaders to reach them.

He felt a hand grasp his ankle and flinched violently before he realised it was Tyler. The brute was reaching out for him, eyes wide and desperate. He tried to speak and blood bubbled out of his mouth. He looked terrified.

Dick thought about all of the misery and abuse the other man had caused him and his family over the last five years. He thought of his brothers. They needed his help. They were his responsibility.

For one fleeting moment he almost told Taylor he got what he deserved.He was about to abandon him when the other man’s grip tightened. He looked terrified and he was definitely bleeding out. If Dick left him he would die.

He dropped to his stomach and grabbed the landowners straining hand. “It’s OK, you’re going to be alright,” he said a little hysterically, scooting closer. He wondered if he should press down on the wound, but before he could make a decision another bullet appeared out of nowhere and snapped into Taylor’s head.

Dick tried to scream but all that escaped was a strangled sob. He rose unsteadily to his knees and flinched when a bullet hit the dirt less than a foot from where he was kneeling. He felt like a deer caught in the headlights. He realised that whoever had their sights set on him obviously had a very clear view. He had nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. The nearest house was at least a minutes sprint away. He was going to die. He was going to die and his brothers -

He heard screaming and turned slowly to the compound. A small group of people were running into the fields. He heard shots ring out and a few of them went down. He couldn’t see who they were. Was it possible his brothers were among them.

He heard a deep chuckle and felt his head whip round so fast he he nearly gave himself whiplash. Two men he had never seen before stood less than twenty feet behind him. They were both behemoth’s. The younger, slightly shorter one was holding a machete. His eyes widened when he saw Dick. He took a small step forward before a flash of fury covered his features, there and gone in an instant before shifting into an amused smirk.

Dick tried to back away and another shot rang out, hitting the ground in front of him. He jumped backwards and collided with Taylor, falling to the floor with a complete lack of his usual grace. He blatantly realised he was lying in a pool of sticky wetness and almost gagged when he saw bright red blood coating his fingers. His panicked gaze jumped to the approaching men and then settled on Taylor’s gun.

“I really wouldn’t kid,” The older one said. The one with the gun that was now directed at Dick’s chest.

Dick’s hand twitched. He was fast, but was he fast enough to dodge a bullet? They had excellent aim. There was two of them.

“Seriously, pretty,” the younger one said, pulling a gun from his holster and pointing it at Dick’s face. “Don’t.”

“Stay away,” he said instead as he sidled around Taylor and continued to edge backwards. He could feel his eyes start to sting and realised that for the first time since he could remember he was close to actually crying. The boys. Where in the hell were the boys!

“You got anything on you kiddo?” The older one asked, his eyes shaded by a pair of dark sunglasses.

“You mean, like valuable?” Dick asked, gesturing wildly at himself. “A pack of tomato seeds?”

The older guy chuckled and turned to his younger companion. “Kid’s got one hell of a face on him. People will pay top dollar,” he said with a grin before turning back to Dick. “Cute kid. Real funny. I meant any weapons.”

Dick debated lying but he doubted boasting about an imaginary bazooka was any less likely to get him killed. “No, just the seeds.”

“Good. Get up and come here.”

“You’re joking?” Dick said before he could help himself. “You just killed Taylor. I’m not going -”

“You can either come to me pretty, or I can come get you,” the younger one said, letting the implied threat hang heavily between them.

Dick felt like he was swallowing sandpaper. He got unsteadily to his feet but he couldn’t make himself take the necessary steps towards them. He saw the younger man frown and seconds later they were coming at him.

Dick stumbled back, his hands poised as he waited for what would inevitably be a very painful and terrifying end.

The older guy holstered his gun when Dick was within grabbing distance and gestured to his younger companion, who was staring at Dick in a way that was setting off definite alarm bells. “Go ahead,” he said.

Dick wondered what the hell he meant when a meaty hand grabbed the back of his neck. He stumbled, instinctively pulling back and nearly falling flat on his face when the other man wrapped a meaty hand around his arm and he was dragged towards the town.

“We don’t have anything,” Dick said, hissing as the hand around his bicep tightened painfully. He heard screaming. “What’s happening?” he asked, attempting to plant his feet only to be dragged to his knees. He managed to right himself, suciking in a sharp breath when he saw the first group of corpses littering the ground. “No,” he whispered, shaking his head in denial as he saw a group of unfamiliar men and women ransack their home.

“Too easy. The town’s full of farmers and craftsmen,” the older one muttered, sounding displeased.”There isn’t a real fighter among them.”

It didn’t take the attackers long to take control of the steading. Dick was taken to the main hall and pushed among a group of around twenty other men and women. Even as he watched a group of kids were dragged towards them. He saw Tim and Damian and thought he might actually faint with relief. He grabbed both of the boys the moment they came into the huddled circle of town folk.

Tim looked grimly up at him, his big eyes shrewd as they danced over the surrounding invaders. Damian, who at sixteen was already an inch taller than Dick, shook off his hold but pressed his shoulder against Dick’s.

“What’s going on?” he asked, his voice pitched low enough to avoid attention.

Dick shook his head, his eyes fixed on the tall, bald man walking towards them. The crowd of invaders made way for him, clearing a path and even bowing their heads slightly as he passed. Their leader then, Dick mused, his hold on Tim tightening as he pulled the boy closer, and dangerous if he could so easily subdue such a dangerous group of people.

“This is all that’s left. Bit of a pathetic bunch, aren’t they?” he asked, his polished voice sounding decidedly unimpressed. Dick dropped his gaze as the bald man looked over them, hunching over slightly to try and block Tim from sight. “Except that one. He’s just full of spitfire, isn’t he?”

Dick just knew who the bald man was talking about. He looked up in horror, his hand fisting in the back of Damian’s shirt. He shook his head desperately. “Don’t,” he whispered, trying not to shake some sense into his little brother. “They’re killers.”

“And who is this?” the bald man exclaimed, suddenly sounding delighted. Dick felt Damian’s chest puff out, his shoulder slipping in front of Dick’s and literally shouldering him and tim behind him. “Ah, protective are you killer?”

“What is it you want?” Mayor Garcia demanded, stepping forward with his head held high. He was frightened, it was clear, but he was trying to keep it together for his people.

Dick chanced a look at him and noticed the mayor looked pretty beaten up. His arm wasn’t hanging right and blood had soaked a wound at the back of his head. Jesus.

“You’re the man in charge I presume?” the bald man asked, his tone completely losing its playful edge.

“My name is Mayor Anthony Garcia and yes, I run this town.”

“Oh well then, Mayor Anthony Garcia, you may call me Mr Luthor and although I’m loathe to correct a man in his own town, I feel it’s only fair to inform you that you may have used to run this town, but it's recently come under new management,” Luthor gestured with his hand and the older one that originally took Dick raised his gun and shot a bullet into Anthony’s head.

Dick hit the floor, dragging Tim and Damian with him. The rest of the group quickly followed, until they were a huddled, silent mass. Everyone except Lucy, Anthony’s wife. Lucy was screaming, clutching her husband in clear horror.

Somebody needed to calm her down. He had the boys. He should stay with them. Except no one was trying to help Lucy. Dick saw the older one raise his gun again and Dick moved on autopilot, jumping to his feet with his arms held wide. “Don’t,” he said, moving their attention away from Lucy. “No one else needs to die. We aren’t fighting you.”

“That one is hurting my ears,” another man said, his skin a sickly shade of white. He had two hideous scars across both cheeks, giving the impression of an everlasting ghastly smile. “It’s upsetting.”

“She’ll calm down,” Dick said, trying to sound soothing. He gestured sharply with his hand when Damian made to stand up and was silently relieved when he did what he was told for once. “She will, she’s just in shock,” he took a step forward, stiffening when at least ten sets of guns were trained on him. He raised his hands appeasingly, hoping to God they weren’t going to shoot him on principle. “Lucy,” he said, trying to sound soothing. “Please, come here.”

They were friends. He’d known her for years. He couldn’t -

The gun went off. The scarred one grinned at Dick, shrugging as he blew the barrel of the gun with a high pitched giggle.

Dick didn’t get the opportunity to react. He felt a grip around his waist and was yanked down so fast he practically fell in Damian’s lap. He felt Damian’s arm tighten around his waist and briefly squeezed the boy's hand, a silent apology. Dick reached out again until he had an arm wrapped around Tim, pulling him close and breathing in his scent as he tried to slow his thumping heart. Their group was silent. No one was crying anymore.

“So then,” Luthor said, the jovial tone back in his voice. “Let’s see what you wonderful people can do to earn your keep.”