Swimming had been good. Beneficial. Best decision he's made in a while and that was saying something. He'd gotten a chance to cool off, to rid his mind of all the questions and to get a chance to get things under control. So, after a lengthy swim and perhaps even a lengthier shower (clearing his mind didn't mean that he was doing this without reservation), he's made his way to her room, because they needed to talk and whatever they were doing was not talking.
To be honest, he could have just forgotten about it and perhaps he should have. Act like it never happened. But he was so sick of doing that. Not talking, letting it build up. Last time it was four months before something happened and then it was static. Even now, even after they'd been so intimate. Perhaps with a little nudge and a great excuse to do it, but what happened was now looming between them. They didn't talk about it before Raven got in between her brothers and it's been a few days after that and Kory hadn't made a sound towards him, but it was eating him alive. To have been so close, so intimate a few days ago and then act like it never happened. It had been almost half a decade since they've broken up and the only other time this happened, well, they didn't even see each other for months before even saying hi. He didn't want that anymore. He was tired of wearing a mask with everyone, but hated doing it with her, too.
His hand went to his head again, trying to dry the last droplets form his hair. Perhaps he should have waited. At least until his hair dried off?
Now or never, Dick. Well, he had already arrived at her door and it was too late to back away now. He knocked on her door three times.
"Kory, you in there?" He held his breath and held the towel in his hand a little tighter. There were pink ducks on his towel, whose was this? Lian's? When did she come to the tower?
Something fell to the ground behind the locked door as Kory's angelic voice came through the cold metal. "Just a second!"
There was a muffled sound, followed by a squeak as something shifted in the room and he heard her fast steps as she moved to the door and went back a little. He smiled at the sounds of movement, the quick steps, tinkle of glass, the screech coming from a dresser dragged on the carpet floor and many more as she moved quickly to cover for whatever she was doing in her room. The noise stopped after six or seven seconds, but he still had enough time to wonder what kind of antiques she must have inside to have taken so long at her speed, especially considering the tower itself tended to blow up every other week.
Hence low budget and badly insulated interior walls. The noise quieted down, and Kory opened the door, dressed in a white summer dress and denim jacket: civilian clothes.
"Hey." She smiled at him, a little out breath from moving so fast, but a billion-watt smile none the less. He felt a little warmed up, a little stronger, a little encouraged just by that.
After all that time, seeing her smile at him had that effect on him.
"Hi. Going somewhere?"
"I wanted to get out of the compound for a while, actually. What's up?" she said ever so softly although her eyes told him another story: What are you doing here? He took a moment to see her room from the door she's been keeping mostly closed. A bag, was she leaving?
"Oh. Well, I wanted to talk. Do you have a second? May I come in?"
She looked unsure for a moment, debating the whole thing, the explanation she would have to give and all the possible scenarios running through her mind in having Dick Grayson in her room to talk. Perhaps she should, since she was still on edge about what happened with Raven and her brothers, and herself and Dick, didn't really talked, but her curiosity won over the second she realized he didn't have his mask on with him and with the fact that he was holding in his hand the most ridiculous towel she had ever seen.
"Yeah, sure." He took her offer without a second's notice and followed her in as she moved to her dresser to close a drawer she mussed have forgotten to close.
"You're leaving?" he said, pointing weekly at the perfectly packed bag she had on her bed and the fact that there was nothing left in her room that would make it personal. The room looked so very unlike her. Cold, empty, distant… She was also dressed in civilian clothes and looked ready to get the hell out of there.
She turned to him and saw that he was focused on her bag and the mess of other clothes and items on her bed, all ready for packing and leaving. She suddenly felt very guilty and very weak.
"No, I was just—I'm preparing."
"For what?" he said, defensive and a tad accusing. Perhaps he was still a little too sensitive whenever Kory was leaving. Maybe that's why he always tried to leave first.
"When I have to leave. I don't have much here anyways." He sensed something tired and broken in her tone, didn't want to push it too much. The last week had been very emotional for all of them.
"Yeah, to be honest, it's hard to keep mementos when the place keeps getting blown up."
Bad joke. Seriously, Dick? She smiled weakly at his joke attempt. Maybe there was hope after all, although Kory had years of training with Gar when it came to bad jokes.
"I know, hard to keep track as well. I have a storage unit in San Francisco though. I guess I'll have to move these back in. I love being back on the island though. The waves, the lights, it's all very—"
"Happy. It reminds me of when I was happy."
That was another way to put it. He had many good memories on the island as well. Birthdays, anniversaries, mostly Kory. He remembered when he was happy here with her. Then there were other times when he was an absolute asshole and she tried to blast him off the tower. He wondered how many stolen kisses were there in the rocks down the shore, how many trees had they kissed under and if any of those trees was still alive after so many things went wrong. Learning and teaching how to skip rock on the water, dancing in the garden and watching the sunsets with Kory, sometimes staying up all night talking and catching the sunrise, even before they had started dating. It reminded him a great deal of when he was happy.
Then it reminded him of how his happiness kept getting burned and torn down and literally blown up.
"It seems rather a fit symbol for my life. I missed here, too. It was the only place I could ever truly be myself. Even in Gotham, with Bruce, it's all about the masks and the personas, feels good to be free of it. A little sanctuary."
"Wait a few months. Then it'll truly be the motif for our happiness."
He was taken aback by her throwback to his earlier joke. Good to know she did truly appreciate it. "Never pegged you for a cynic."
She laughed at that, an honest, true Kory laugh. Was this something he'd missed before or was it that she'd heard this too many times from other people? How long has it been since he had last heard her laugh with him?
"Vic says my humour's getting dark. After spending so much time with the Teen Titans and then you guys, I say it had to. Then having the misfortune of traveling in space where there were a lot of 'we're get sucked into a blackhole' jokes and then people 'actually-but-not-really dying' really messed up my sense of humour. I picked up swearing from Roy, though, so that's not much of a surprise."
"Does he know that? It might be his biggest accomplishment."
"There's Lian," she said, firm and proud. Auntie Kory always looking out for her nephews and nieces. But Auntie Kory was also closing her bag and thinking of leaving before Uncle Dick could talk to her about where they stood. A conversation that Uncle Dick should have done years ago instead of waiting until the last minute.
"She's amazing on her own. Where are you taking your bag?"
She questioned that statement. To be honest, nowhere. She literally had nowhere else to go but the Towers and not even The Teen Titans could give her a home, they had to be on their own. So, she had nowhere to stay in New York, did not know if she could afford somewhere in the city anymore, but there was this feeling she had, this feeling that everything was going to come crashing down on her like it did before, that had her wanting to flee. So, she had a packed bag and nowhere to go. But what was that to Dick anyways?
"I haven't decided. I guess I'll look into it more when the mission is over."
"Right. True. This isn't exactly a reunion."
"No, to be honest, it feels more like all of my worst memories combined."
Ok, he didn't mean to be that blunt or tactless, but hearing the woman you love say something like that just days after you got together with your group of friends stings a little. A few days after you've made passionate, mind-blowing, longing love, it stings every bit of your existence to have it compared to her worst memories combined. Even though it was clear that she didn't mean thatat all. Sadly, it took Kory a second too late to see how that might have been interpreted and she tried to get out of it and fast. Dick often found that she always had more grace than he did, she was good at dodging things like that.
"Are we doing this then?" she said, standing up, hands on her hips as she dropped the sweater to the bag and moved on to the small pile of blouses and dresses on her bed. He was a little distracted by her sudden and rapid movement as she folded each blouse to a neat pile in a factory worker's speed.
"Talking…Do you want to talk?"
"Yes, I do. I want to know how you are doing, Kory. You're important to me."
She sighed and picked up a blue blouse and sat back next to him. She never knew if he was aware of just how much influence he had on her. She suddenly felt guilty and tired of it all. She was so tired of pretending in front of him, in front of all of them.
"I didn't mean…us. The team. I love you guys. I love being here. It's the only place I could ever truly be myself, it's just…" she took a deep breath and fixed the non-existent creases on the blouse she was holding. Was she ready to admit this to Dick? Was she ready to talk about what happened after all those years? So many questions ran around in her mind in a second, she didn't even realize that he was sitting on her bed, in front of her. He'd realized, the minute that she'd done it, that she'd gotten very nervous. It was a tick that she had when getting uncomfortable or nervous, she'd play with her dresses or fix something in her hair. She'd sometimes braid it, small delicate and hidden and he'd know straight away that she had a nightmare that night or that she had seen something that would render her upset or frightened.
"The last time Raven went…bad…was very, very troubling. Before, during, and after…and I guess I'm not over it as much as I wished to be." She spoke very slowly and carefully, almost as if she was waiting for the words to come out. He took her hand and pulled her next to him in on the bed. He didn't expect her to say that, he didn't even know this had been a concern, though looking back, it should have been expected.
"That's reasonable, Kory. Those days were…chaotic."
"You could say that."
She chuckled and held a bittersweet smile. Another way to describe what they were would be anguish, despair, sadness, grief and disappointment. How much did they lose that day when they should have been pronounced husband and wife? How much of their future got stolen at that moment?
He realized all too painfully that this is why they never recovered from their breakup. Because just like she said, the before, during and after…All of it were filled with painful memories that they wanted to move past but couldn't because as sad as it was, their relationship was defined by those moments. She left, and he never asked her why. He never even knew when he forgave her for it. He didn't know if she did either.
He looked at her with a new clarity now. She looked reserved, closed off and seemed to be in defence which was exactly the opposite from where he'd actually wanted her. He weighed his options. Now or never, be a friend, Dick.
"Would you like to talk about it?"
"Not really. Neither do you," she replied, shaking her head. Short sentences, evasive answer, reflecting the question to him…Her hands already playing with the end of her skirt as she fiddled with the flowers at the end of it.
He saw her for real then, things she must have felt for the last two weeks. He'd been so focused on how to get the mission done that he'd forgotten to look out for his friends. Donna was being distant from everyone, Victor was dealing with having lost his body for so long, Raven and Gar were semi-dating and Roy and Wally were trying to parent their kids as best as they could amongst all the chaos there already was in their lives. Where was Kory then? How was she since they'd last seen each other?
Well, she looked lonely. And he hated having let her be for so long.
"You seem like you could really use it."
She slid down on the floor and leaned against the bed, he slid down with her.
"It's wrong of me to think back to it, I don't really do that. I try not to blame people about past mistakes…" she shook her head as tears slid down her cheeks. She was trying to be strong and he couldn't help but think that she would be much more expressive if he hadn't been there. If it was anyone else she was with.
"But this one was a true scare. For a moment, I was truly scared of what I felt. Because it was so familiar. Her voice, her words, her energy. Burning as though my lungs were filled with water and like my heart was going to explode. Not being able to move or speak, being so utterly powerless to the magic, again. And it was just for a millisecond, just a quick pull, but it was still there, and my mind went back to all of it, and I felt scared. Just a second and I felt truly, horribly scared…"
"I haven't felt scared in a long time."
They stood in perfect silence for a moment of clarity and Dick reached out to hold her hand. Her heart skipped a beat as they intertwined their fingers and they were both left baffled by how such a simple act of kindness and intimacy could comfort both of them after such a long time of pain and heartache.
"She's gone now, Kory. And you are not under her influence anymore," he said softly as they leaned against her soft bed and tears falling down both of their cheeks.
"I hope so. I truly wish for her to make peace with herself. I admire Raven greatly for trying it."
"Funny, it's something I've always admired about you."
"Confronting my inner demons?"
She cocked her head and looked at him, seeing him properly for the first time since they came back together as Titans. She saw the bags under his eyes, the loose curls of his hair and the beat behind his eyes. He looked honest, shameful and honourable all together. She saw how the guilt and pain was pushing him down after all the lives that they've lost over the years, his city, his family, even his identity… He looked open, transparent, free. Free to feel, free to forgive and free to move on. Perhaps that's even why he came to talk tonight. He looked so much like she used to remember him and perhaps it was that she had remembered how to see him for the first time in a long time. She would have wanted to see him, this him years ago.
"I think this might be the first time we've talked about those days since I left."
"It probably is. I'm not the biggest confronter in the family, you know."
"I know. I've been avoiding you, too, though."
"I've noticed. Was it because of this?"
She wondered about that for a moment. The Raven problem had been something she'd learned how to deal with time after time and although she had been very anxious and stressed lately, it would pass, and she would be back to normal, she had to. However, it was much more than that. Coming back to the island, being forced upon one another in that house like their lives depended on it, it had brought so many memories back, some of them now tainted by the fact that they were under the influence of a demonic being. Maybe it was the fact that they didn't talk about them, or the fact that these things just kept happening to them when times were hard or when needed comfort or when they had a good excuse, but more than that, it was a lot to do with the fact that she didn't know how to handle it. Didn't know what to make of them anymore and that killed her more than anything.
She tried to come up with the words, what this feels like, them talking, a new notion that used to be the foundation of their relationship. Was it that she was still marked by what happened with Raven? "No, it was because of the notion of…getting nostalgic."
No, it was because of what happened after.
"That was hardly nostalgic, but I see your point."
"It happened. We were overcome. His power tapped into an emotion."
Her explanation made sense, but he still couldn't shake the distaste of being overcome. That had never been them. They used to be in love. "Lust. Sounds so simple."
"With us, it never is. Familiar, perhaps," he said, toying with her fingers in his hands. She tried not to look at them or feel the tingling sensation on her hand that he wasn't even aware he was causing.
"It was merely used to slow our progress it was no great crime for it to happen, but I think we should talk about it."
She pulled her hand from his.
"Is there anything to talk about?"
Oh, well, here it goes…
"There is a decade's worth to talk about."
She got up abruptly, no, she decided, she didn't to do this. Moreover, she didn't want to do this now, when she's been feeling so vulnerable, when her whole life's been turned upside down yet again and she didn't even have a place to put one stupid bag to.
"And you want to do it after all these years? When you've actively ignored it when I came back the first time, when I was with the Titans, or when I came back after Donna, worked with you and Roy for weeks, when I was here? What's the point of it, Dick, when the damage's already been done?"
"You forget all the times you ran away. Or left without even saying goodbye."
He stood still, wished that there were some kind of attack in the Compound at that second. Something explosive or maybe even nuclear that would kill him instantly, but he had said it. After almost four years of ignoring it. He'd finally said it and he'd suddenly wished the ground would swallow him whole.
"Dick…" Kory pleaded as he got up to collect the pink towel he'd left on the bed. He didn't want to ignore it, but he had suddenly wished he'd turned back from the corner.
"I'm sorry. It's just—So that we can…not ignore each other in the hallway or keep it buried in or maybe not hide from it anymore. So that we can overcome it."
She considered her options as she walked up to her window, her back to him. She'd known that he was hurt by how they ended, but he had never confronted on it. Never even asked. She'd imagined that he was over it by now. But on the other hand, she wasn't over him.
"What's the endgame here for you?" she quietly asked. He looked at her, confused and wished that she had looked back at him.
"What do you mean?" he said, irritated.
"We became a couple when we were very young, and that connection has never gone away…but we cannot keep doing this. We cannot be anything without it causing discomfort or hurt to the other, so what's the endgame here for you, Dick?"
He sighed. Tired and drained by a conversation that hardly took twenty minutes, bearing down all of their past mistakes. "I don't know," he admitted.
She turned back, confused and a little angry. "You don't know?"
"I don't know!" he shouted, throwing the towel on the floor as if he'd wanted it to break.
That obviously wasn't the right way to go because her eyes started glowing bright green.
"Well, what do you want then? Because you came here tonight, and we talked, and I thank you for trying to help me, but we cannot just solve a decade's worth of conflict tonight. What do you want from this!" she shouted, bad insulation be damned. Then she laughed, a bitter and cruel sound compared to the weight of the situation. "I mean, we've been through this road so many times now, it seems impossible to get out of it. We can't be what we are, we can't move past it, so what do you want?"
"Having you in my life, Kory!" he shouted as he cam up closer to her. The anger being drained from both of them after his short explanation. "To be able to ask what your day has been like, to mock Gar and rant about the movies, to see you and not be hurt. I want us like we used to be, best friends. God, you were my best friend, Kory! My favourite person. And that is the person I want to see when I see you."
He stepped closer, daring both of them to look in to each other's' eyes as he held her hand once more. This was certainly not what he had in mind. It wasn't what she expected rom him tonight either. What they used to be like, even before they'd started dating, even before being together got complicated, it had been such a joyful thing. Now, they had matching scars from it. From betrayals, from feeling abandoned, from escaping the hurt and the pain and only letting it fester and grow until they grew apart. They had been hurt from being over. Over as lovers, as partners, and even worse, as friends.
"I guess what I'm trying to say is that I've missed this. I truly have missed it. Fighting by your side, having your back and knowing you have mine. To talk and laugh and joke around. I've missed this. Us. I miss you."
She took in what he was saying very carefully even though every fibre of her body had been telling her to end it, force him into a corner, just know that he wasn't in love with her anymore and close this chapter. For both of their sakes.
But the way they were standing, so close she could see him breathing and the way he was holding her hand, gentle and caring, she couldn't believe how she thought she could ever move on from knowing him. He took her silence for an invitation to continue, bringing her closer to him, perhaps dangerously so. He knew this one instance was in no way the magic eraser he thought they both wanted, but it was something. A white flag. Closure.
"I'm sorry. It's just—I just miss you. I want my friend back. I want you in my life and I'm sorry it took me so long to say it. But we keep falling back in without ever seeing where our feet are on the ground and it just pulls us deeper in the water. I didn't want to force you into doing this, to be honest, I didn't even know why I was doing this. All I know is that I think of you at times, and it hurts me to think of you because we've left too many doors unlocked and that is why it's so easy to get nostalgic."
He let her hand go and turned his head slightly to the side to wipe an angry tear escaping his eye. "But I'd like it to not hurt, because I do think of you, more than I care to admit even to myself, and I want you in my life."
She stood still. He waited. She didn't meet him halfway. He let her hand go.
"I'm sorry, this was too much of a confrontation than I wanted it to be. I'll see you in the briefing room in the morning," he said as he picked up the pink, duck patterned towel from the floor and walked to her door.
"You were wearing a black t-shirt and had my favourite champagne out with this plate of cheese that you must've bought from the store," she said quickly. He turned around. What? She took a step towards him, his hand on the door.
"You even had the flute glasses out and I saw you standing there, looking so hopeful and optimistic, like nothing could stand in your way and I just froze. I hid slightly behind a building and watched as you fidgeted around and looking around to see me somewhere, coming." He took a step closer to her, she took one further. "And I wanted to, more than anything I have ever wanted, but I couldn't. Because the hope in your eyes, the way you carried yourself, there was a great anguish and suffering behind it as well and I could see it from hundreds of meters away."
He met her halfway from the door and where she was standing, the corner of the bed somewhere awkward between them. He looked at her with a new clarity, with a new light, a new angle. Suddenly, everything he thought he believed and everything he thought he felt shifted.
"You came." It was a statement, because he was painfully aware of what she was talking about.
"I came. But I couldn't see you. Perhaps it was cruel on my part, but I wasn't healed when I came back to the states, Dick. The soul searching in the Southern hemisphere didn't help all that much and I knew that I needed to find myself again, but I couldn't take you with me. You were finally free to be the man you wanted to be. Not under the shadow of anyone, a hero of your own, and all of it waiting for you with me in that state...? I know I would have just stood in your way."
He crossed the awkward barrier the bed was creating between them, "How can you say that? We were a team, Kory."
She put a hand on his chest, he wasn't sure if it was to calm him down or to stop him from coming any closer. "We were, which is why I made the hard choice: to help the team."
"I would have stood by you," he said indignantly, but he put his own hand on hers.
Hot tears were pricking his eyes. Too much, all too much.
"You were my fiancée. You were going to be my wife, I would have been there."
He felt at loss, as if she wasn't seeing his point. "I wanted to be there, Kory. You should have let me."
She caressed his cheek and wiped away his tears with her other hand, coming even closer. "I wanted you. But I needed to do that on my own." And with that, all of his defences and will to fight hell apart.
She closed her eyes and stood there, standing close as an emotional silence fell between them. He pulled her closer in a semi hug. He heard her trying to sniffle away tears of her own and held her closer.
"Was it worth it?" he said to her ear, their hug sheltering them from the broken pieces of the other. She laughed sadly and nervously.
"Looking at us now, broken and crying, I'm not really sure."
"We should have talked. Before it got so messy, before everything got so blurred and before when we could have-" well, he didn't want to finish that sentence, he didn't know what to say. Anything too hopeful would be like erasing the after and anything in between wouldn't do it enough justice.
She laughed again, perhaps giggled, bitter and hopeful and he wondered how she managed to do it at the same time and stepped back a little to wipe the remaining tears on his cheeks and then hers, is hold on her waist didn't falter.
"We should have, but there is a first for everything."
Just with that, few words of reassurance, a feeling of calm and tranquillity fell over him against everything he wanted to do and everything he forced himself to feel for the last four years. There was a long way to go, many bridges to cross and many more things they needed to talk before they could become at least the half of what they used to be, but for now, for the first time in a long time, when Dick Grayson looked at this woman in front of him, this woman he's loved and cherished, who couldn't cook for her life, but sang like angels, this woman he'd hurt, been hurt by and forgave; for the first time in forever when he looked at her, he felt hope for more.