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how to raise a boy and never notice

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1) It took a few minutes for Roy to figure out that the red-black spots in his heavy eyes were the blood thickening and clumping in his eyelashes.

He'd been trounced good'n hard more than once back on the rez -- black eyes, bloody knuckles lips noses knees, bumps and bruises -- but not like this, not the wash of sticky-thin making his forehead itch and prickle as more of it came trickling down from the jagged gash on his scalp. Coughing, he scrunched one arm underneath him and began to lever himself up from the gravel roof he was sprawled out on, head injury adding bright white flashes to those blood-clots in his vision.

A weight settled across his lower back and hips as Executrix sat on him, thumping him back down, and Roy wondered deliriously why Ollie had never mentioned how distracting it would get to have women rubbing their ladyparts all over you when they were about to kill you. But then, he reasoned, he hadn't gotten the red togs all that long ago. There was some stuff Ollie was bound to forget to tell a guy.

"I don't know who you are, boy," Executrix was saying as she lifted his head by the hair, his torn scalp a lightning bolt of agony, "but your superhero journey ends here." The blade of a knife touched his throat, and Roy swallowed, hard. Zahadolchahi, he thought with all of the cogency he had left, Fringed Mouth Ye'i, i will accept death if it's my time, just please please help me to restore hózhó before i pass over. The knife bit into his skin and Roy drew a shuddery breath just as he heard Green Arrow saying, "You don't want a real abrupt tracheotomy, lady, you'll get the fuck off that kid."

The knife stopped where it was, slipping out from the flesh it had parted, and Executrix shifted on him. "I could kill him before your arrow reached me," she said after a moment. Roy blinked, looking at Ollie; his newfound mentor had a hafted broadhead nocked up at full draw and he was stock-still, arrow trained -- Roy had no doubts on that count -- directly at Executrix's voicebox. "What do you say to that, archer?" she was taunting.

"I'd say you don't know a fucking thing about concussive force." Ollie's voice was low and steady, hard, which caught Roy off-guard; the usual GA style of on-the-job patter tended to be more dumbass quip and careless non sequiter. "What's he talking about, dead meat?" Executrix asked, and Roy did his best to sound similarly grim when he rasped,

"It means that standin' eight feet from us like he is, with a stationary pull on a bow that's got a draw weight of a hundred and six pounds? That arrow's gonna punch your windpipe out through the back'a your skull before you could even twitch your wrist." He sounded good, especially because he wasn't all that sure he wasn't actually gonna end up dead by the end of the night. But Executrix inhaled, sharp, and dropped her knife.

They trussed her up and Ollie paused to do a quick patch job on Roy's head before they started heading back to the car, changing haphazardly back into civvies for the drive home. Roy carefully tried to keep his sore throbbing head upright instead of slumping down into the seat. Ollie had leather interiors.

"Wasn't sure there for a while I was gonna make it," he slurred. Ollie glanced over.

"Didn't sound like it, kid," he said, hand slapping over hand on the wheel as he took a sharp turn. "Sounded like you had total faith in me. And I mean, hey, you're bound not to from time to time, that's not a venial sin or nothin'. I'm not infallible. Long's you keep your chin up when the baddies are watching, y'know? United front and all that, you'n me together. Remember it."

"Yeah," Roy said. He was tired down to his toes. "Yeah, sure, Ollie."

"Atta boy," Ollie said, too loud. He reached over to cup the back of Roy's head, clearly forgetting that the pain from Roy's head wound would be radiating everywhere, but his fingers were trembling where they rubbed through Roy's hair. It could've just been from the pressure of drawing a hundred pounds of weight motionless for upwards of five minutes. Roy closed his eyes and didn't think about that.

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2) "--so you're tellin' me," Ollie said incredulously, wedging himself into the corner of the sofa so he could turn his gaze and eyebrows on Roy more squarely, "all those fine little Indian maidens running around and you never managed to, uh, pass the peace pipe?"

"You asshole," Roy choked, kicking Ollie in the hip. Ollie shouted with laughter, grabbing at Roy's ankles, and Roy dropped his empty soda bottle (he was training himself out of saying Coke, because apparently that was a verboten substance in the Queen household -- they only drank small-batch local labels, for chrissake, what the fuck) and snatched up a double handful of cushions to pinwheel in his defense. Ollie liked cushions and pillows more than any man really should in Roy's opinion, so it was satisfying to use them as weapons.

"Whoa hey hey heyhey," Ollie gasped, plucking one of the cushions out of Roy's hand. "Not this one, kiddo. This one's got sentimental value."

Roy let his remaining cushions drop, watching as Ollie turned his special cushion over and over in his hands in one long ceaseless motion. "Why?" he asked. He didn't know if he'd get an answer, or if the one he got would even be true. Ollie lied glibly, thoughtlessly, all the time, over big things and small things and everything in between. Completely opposite from how Roy'd been raised, in a life with little to no frills or luxuries, no head for the embellishments that Ollie compulsively gilded everything with. Sometimes Roy wondered what Ollie told other people about him, his fakey new teenage son; it kept him up nights on occasion, the thought that Green Arrow was telling everybody about this incredible fancy-dancy Speedy that bore no resemblance to the real fuck-up thing.

Ollie scratched his chin. "Old girlfriend made it for me," he said. "Made it outta one of my shirts, see?" He held it up and Roy stared at the buttons marching down the middle, the two breast pockets on either side. It was a pale purple with yellow stripes. Roy was kind of horrified.

"Ooookay," he said as Ollie hugged the thing to himself. "So?"

Ollie sighed. "Look, you're too young to really understand regret, kid," he began, and Roy could have said a lot of things to that particular clueless statement but decided it wasn't worth it, "--but sometimes when you break up with a woman, it's not her views on abortion or her college degrees or what noise she made when she came that's where you store all your memories of her. Sometimes it's in dumb things like the cushion she made out of one of your shirts."

Roy was skeptical. "I'm different from that," he said, feeling reasonably confident about himself. "That's not how it's gonna be for me."

"Go put that soda bottle in the recycle bin," Ollie said.

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3) When Ollie's knuckles smashed across Roy's face, barking open the too-thin skin over his cheekbone and knocking him to the familiar tiles of the kitchen floor, all he could really feel was relief. Finally, he was getting what he deserved for being such a phenomenal endless fuckup; finally, Ollie was letting Roy know how he truly honestly fucking felt about him.

"Get up," Ollie said, standing over him, voice sounding remote and cold. Roy hadn't even known Ollie could do cold. "Come on, get the fuck up, Roy. Unless you'd rather lie there and snivel like a coward, like all the rest'a your fucking junkie crackhead ilk--"

Roy held out a hand palm-down -- not for help up, just to let Ollie know he'd heard him -- and gathered his shaky legs under him enough to push himself up from the floor, trying not to weave as he unfolded. "What now?" he asked. "We gonna go a few rounds right here until you beat all the smack outta me?"

Ollie's fists eased, but his jaw got tighter. "That would make it pretty damn easy on you, wouldn't it," he said. "Then you could tell yourself it was me who screwed you over, it was me who caused this all. Well, ain't gonna happen, goddammit."

There were a million things Roy could have said at that moment. About the ways Ollie made the stupid things easy and the important things hard, about how living with him got less and less like salvation and more and more like perdition, about the times Roy wanted so badly to be able to talk to Ollie about things except that Ollie was gone, on his fucking epic quest or on an epic fucking quest, either way. Either way, leaving Roy wondering more every day just why the fuck Ollie had even bothered with him in the first place.

"Yeah," Roy said. The floor looked miles away. His eyes felt like they were swelling in their sockets; the inside of his mouth felt like burned cigarette paper. His insides felt like they'd been scooped out. If Ollie could have felt this, for one second, he'd understand why Roy's thready pulse raced at the thought of another dose, why going out and beating up bad guys and having shitloads of meaningless sex paled in comparison. He licked his lips. "Wouldn't want you to make anygoddamnthing easy for me. A coward like me."

Ollie sighed, and it wasn't one where he was feeling bad. It was the one where he was wishing whatever uncomfortable thing was over, already, so he could stop having to deal with it. "I don't think--" he started, then sighed again. "Look, you never did have much foresight and I can see why getting hooked on this kind of shit would have some kinda appeal for you, sensitive as you are. So, okay. It happened. What we gotta do now is move forward, right? I mean, I'm back now, things are cool -- there's no reason for you to need this junk--"

"Heroin," Roy said, just to say it, and maybe to see the curl of Ollie's lip at the word. "You know what that is, right, Ollie? Should I use all the dumbass slang for it that you and Hal use when you're beating up druggies like me? Big H and china cat and frisco speedballs and ready rock, s'that more your speed? Oh, and just so you know, speed ain't the same thing as black tar, and I ain't on speed, so you can at least feel good about that."

Ollie's eyes were narrow as an alley cat's by now and Roy felt a shiver of dirty, ugly satisfaction. "You're weak," Ollie said, firmly, deliberately. "I'm not as fucking clueless about addiction as--" He cut himself off, jabbing a finger into Roy's chest. "You're gonna go the fuck to rehab and dry the fuck out. Since you can't get your shit together on your own like a goddamn grownup."

"Well yessir," Roy mumbled. All he wanted to do at this point was drop to the floor and sleep for a thousand years; the earlier adrenalin had burned through, leaving him with just exhaustion and depression and the wish to not have to face anybody ever again. "Ship me off so I don't embarrass you or nothin', yessir."

"I'm not embarrassed." Ollie turned to head out to the living room as Roy sat heavily back down, then paused before he left the kitchen. "I'm ...." He held on to the doorframe with both hands, filling the doorway as he rocked indecisively back and forth, not looking at Roy. Minutes passed. Roy waited, and waited, but whatever word Ollie had been turning over on his tongue never came.

--- --- ---


--- --- ---

5) "Ollie." Roy paused from cutting up watermelon and turned around, holding the big knife in front of him. "You don't stop humming that goddamn song, I'm gonna stick this through one of our heads. And then Lian'll need to know what happened, and then nobody'll get their watermelon, and then nobody'll be happy."

The humming stopped abruptly as Ollie turned big astonished eyes on him. "What!" he exclaimed. "You love that song as much as I do!"

"Ain't nobody loves that song as much as you do, not even John friggin' Lennon if he was still alive."

"Ahhh, you're fulla shit." Ollie snorted, rustling around ketchup and mustard and relish in a pointless orbit on the table. "We agreed -- we both agreed -- that Working Class Hero was the ultimate Lennon song."

Roy laughed, sliding watermelon triangles onto a big platter. "Gimme a break, old man," he scoffed. "I agreed with every damn thing you said about music back then, especially when it came to golden oldie protest songs -- most of which, by the way, were popular when you were Lian's age, not bravely marching on Washington or someshit." Lian ran into the kitchen just then, demanding watermelon, and Ollie picked her up while Roy held the platter out for her to choose a piece.

Melon achieved, Lian settled contentedly in the crook of her grandpa's elbow to messily dive in, and Ollie grinned at Roy. "Well hell, son, not everybody can be a clear-eyed hoopy frood like you. Some of us shmucks get all soppy and sentimental about the soundtrack for a higher cause."

"What did you call daddy?" Lian inquired, wiping her mouth on Ollie's sleeve. He kissed her bangs and promised, "You'll find out in a few years, pumpkin, when you start getting interested in space books and aliens." She considered this, then looked at Roy as he put the platter down on the table and Ollie snagged a piece for himself, wolfing it in three big bites. "Auntie Kory is an alien, right, daddy?"

"Exactly right, angelface." Roy tugged one of her braids, and its little-girl warmth in his hand instantaneously sent a crossbow quarrel of surging, barrelling, overwhelming love shooting through his chest. How it was possible to love any one person so damn much, he'd never known, never even imagined. With Lian he had finally found a sense of stability and always that he realized had been missing from every other relationship he'd had with another human being. It would have almost been too much, except for how good it felt and how endlessly greedy he was for it.

Having consumed her watermelon, Lian gave her father her rind and her grandpa's and yawned hugely, slumping against Ollie's chest. "Make bumblebee," she demanded, and Ollie grinned over her shiny little head at Roy.

"Looks like I got one fan, at least," he announced triumphantly, humming into the chorus for the Bob Marley song that had made its way onto every goddamn mixtape Ollie'd ever made in his life, let's get together and feel all right as Lian snoozed peaceful and safe in his arms.

Well, all right, then, Roy thought, feeling weirdly warm and sleepy himself as he tossed the rinds into the compost and listened to Ollie's humming and Lian's baby-snores. All right.