Coping Mechanism

People had this notion that these things always took place in dark, seedy alleys with even darker, seedier characters, despite that one part in Pulp Fiction. The place Roy entered was your average lower-middle-class apartment building, the woman he visited just a single mom making a little extra money on the side dealing with the types that didn’t have the stomach for the dark alleys. Roy could have gotten this anywhere, but he liked the way her apartment smelled, and he liked the neat, tidy shabbiness, though it comforted him for very different reasons now than it had six months ago. He handed her some bills, and she ruffled his hair, and handed him a small plastic baggie.

Roy had started down the dark road to his own apartment when he heard it, a rustle in the blackness and a deep, familiar voice. “Don’t,” it said, from somewhere behind him.

Roy stopped, and a cold grin twisted across his face. “Seems you keep closer watch on me now than you ever did when I was your ward.” He turned around. “What do you want?”

Ollie stepped out of the shadows. His face was bare, and pained, and it gave Roy a start. It had been a long time since he’d seen Oliver Queen without his mask, without any of his masks.

“How long?” Ollie asked, softly.

Roy shrugged. “A couple months before I left.”

Ollie looked down and fiddled with the hem of his jacket. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“You always are.” Roy tossed the bag idly from hand to hand. “What are you going to do about it? Are you going to beat me up and take it like some street punk?”

Ollie stepped forward, and he grasped Roy’s wrist. Roy flinched, but there was no force behind the grip, only a warmth Roy had long forgotten. His skin tingled with the memory of it. Safety, it had meant once, and kindness, and love.

“I was proud of you,” Ollie said after a long silence. “I’ve always been proud of you, and I should have let you know that.”

Roy took a deep breath, and he wrenched his arm away. “It’s too late for that now,” he said, and he turned accusing eyes on Ollie. “Isn’t it?”

Ollie didn’t take the bait. He put his hands on Roy’s shoulders. “You are my partner,” he said. “You’ll always have a home with me, and a place by my side, as I hope I’ll one day have a place at yours again.”

Roy didn’t say anything. The little baggie crinkled in his hand, and Ollie looked down, and if Roy didn’t know any better he might have thought Ollie was going to cry.

“You don’t have to do it alone,” Ollie said, and his voice cracked a little.

They stayed like that, for a time, Ollie’s hands on Roy’s shoulders, Roy standing stiff and quiet while his heart pounded hard in his chest. When Ollie left, with a sad smile and an awkward wave, Roy still stood there, shivering under the dirty streetlamp, for perhaps a quarter of an hour. He watched the clouds move across the dark sky, and then he dropped the baggie and kicked it into the gutter. He would be back tomorrow, probably.

But maybe he wouldn’t.

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