Auld Lang Syne
"Auld Lang Syne"
According to his sources, the apartment he was looking for was located in a section of Manhattan once known as the East Village. He knew the area well. There was a time when he had spent as much time there as he had in his own city. Walking through the grimy, disgusting streets, the graying man thought about those times. He was younger then, in mind and body, and this neighborhood held many memories of love and friendship. Back then, the area was a thriving neighborhood of artists, performers and small businessmen. Now, it seemed the drug dealers and the beggars fought for space on every street corner. As he walked, he heard a muffled scream coming from a nearby alley. For a split-second, he stopped and his muscles tightened, ready for action. It was an old instinct that he wished he no longer had. As the scream erupted yet again, louder this time, he pulled the black overcoat tighter against the biting winter wind and moved on.
Minutes later, he was in front of the building he had been searching for. It was a five-story walk-up; it's once-proud face worn and despoiled by brightly colored graffiti. Stepping over two sleeping vagrants, he walked up the cracked concrete steps and opened the door at the top. The smell inside was unpleasantly pungent, reeking of urine and marijuana, much different from the pristine antiseptic smell that permeated Metropolis' DA's office. If he ever had doubts about taking that position, he mused, all he had to do was revisit this building. Wrinkling his nose, he cupped his hand over his mouth and quickly stepped past the elevator, heading for the stairs.
The man took the steps slowly, one at a time, listening to the rats scurry away at his approach. He remembered the days when he would race up the tiled staircase, eager to see his lover. Now, that idea filled him with only sorrow and, if he was honest with himself, no small amount of dread. So much had happened between them since that horrible day, so much hurt, yet here he was, trying to put things right. What was he hoping to accomplish? The passion they had once felt for each other had died a horrible, lingering death many years ago. Was it pity that brought him all the way here, or perhaps a misplaced sense of responsibility? After all, many were the nights when he thought that if he had only stayed, just a little longer...But that meant little, now. He had made his decision. Now, many years later, he would have to deal with the ramifications of it. The apartment door loomed before him. With a deep breath, he rapped on the door.
"Who is it?" the gruff voice within asked.
"It's me, Kyle. It's RJ."
Richard Grayson held his breath and waited for his former friend and lover to reply. After long moments, he did.
Richard opened the door and was surprised to find Kyle Rayner sitting by the window in an old, beat-up recliner. The only light in the room came from a single lamp near the unmade pullout bed. There were paintings and half-finished sketches strewn all over the bare wooden floor. For a moment, looking at the hard, cold wood, he remembered how much Kyle used to love the feel of his bare feet on the soft, plush carpet of his old apartment. Obviously, it was no longer important to him.
"Hello, Picasso," the former Nightwing said, trying to lighten the mood by using his old nickname for his lover. Kyle simply grunted at him.
"Picasso?" Kyle said. "Funny name for a guy who hasn't done a decent painting in years, Grayson." The coldness and indifference in his voice wasn't lost on Dick. "What do you want?"
Dick silently wondered why he had expected a better reaction to their old nicknames for each other. Feeling a bit foolish, he moved closer to the window, taking off his overcoat and draping it over his arm.
"How've you been?"
Kyle turned towards him then, and Dick was saddened to see the condition of his former friend.
"How d'you think I've been?"
His face was unshaven, and his eyes were bloodshot. The lamplight glistened off the gray at his temples. He wore an old, ripped T-shirt and stained jeans. None of that, however, affected Dick as much as the sight of the stump where Kyle's right hand used to be.
"C'mon, Dick," Kyle said sarcastically, raising his right arm, "you've seen this before, remember? You were there when it happened!"
Dick's mind flashed back fifteen years to Desaad's laboratory on the planet Apokolips. The mad god had once again come up with some new tests for Kyle's ring and kidnapped him to test them out. By the time Dick and the rest of the JLA had arrived, it was too late. Desaad had already amputated Kyle's hand. Although they managed to defeat him and get the ring back, Kyle was never the same. He resigned from the League and turned the ring over to Jade. No one had seen him since.
"I know what happened. I remember."
"Yeah? Do you remember what happened after that? How you decided you didn't want a cripple as a lover anymore?"
"Kyle, it wasn't like that, and you know it!" Dick replied angrily. "You went into a deep depression, and I tried...we all tried...to reach you, but you wouldn't let us! I couldn't live like that anymore! You kept pushing me further and further away!"
"Then you should've pushed back harder!" Kyle exploded off the chair, fists clenched into fists, his face inches away from Dick's. The former detective could smell the liquor on the man's breath. "I needed you, Dick, more than I ever needed anyone before! Do you know how much Desaad cost me? Do you?!? Not only the ring, but my art, too! I had nothing left! Nothing! And then, I didn't even have you!"
Dick's shoulders slumped beneath the dark Armani suit, and his eyes searched the bare floor. Kyle stood in front of him a few moments longer before he plopped back into his chair.
"Anyway, that's all ancient history. Tell me what you want, Grayson, and get out of here."
"I came to see how you are and to...see if I could help."
Kyle's eyes darkened as they regarded the former detective.
"Well, you seen me. As for your help, you can shove it up your ass. Now get out."
"Kyle, I know you hate me. I guess you have a right to. But you've got to realize that I tried everything I could to get through to you! It got to the point where you wouldn't even look at me anymore, let alone touch me!"
"That's because, 'Mr. Detective', every time I looked at you, I remembered what happened to me!" The tears began to flow from Kyle's eyes now, running down reddened cheeks. "You all thought that all Desaad did was take my finger. None of you realized what else he did, the experiments he put me through! After all of that, I couldn't even think about...about sex, or being close to you!"
Dick's mouth hung open.
"Why...Why didn't you tell me? Kyle, we could've worked through it..."
Kyle rubbed his forehead and casually wiped his tearstained cheeks with his left thumb. He took a deep breath before answering.
"I didn't want to work through it. All I wanted was to be alone. It's part of the illness. Look up 'clinical depression', Dick. It's all there."
Dick's heart sank at the thought of his friend going through this alone all those years. He felt a wetness run down his own cheek and cursed himself for not knowing enough. With all the medical training he had received over the years, Bruce had never covered Depression. Absently, he wondered if that explained a lot about his former mentor.
"Kyle, I-I'm sorry...."
The tears flowed freely now, and he laid a strong hand on Kyle's shoulder. The shoulder was abruptly jerked away, as if burned. Kyle turned to the window.
"Don't you have something better to do?" he asked. "A date with Tim, maybe?"
Years ago, when they were lovers, Kyle had always teased Dick about his imagined attraction to his 'brother'. It wasn't true, of course, but Kyle enjoyed pushing his buttons back then and it usually led to some playful wrestling between them. Now, however, Dick's reaction was something different. His voice was heavy with emotion as he answered.
"Tim...died a few of years ago. Killed by Herakles during the Crisis on Mount Olympus. I was there when that happened, too. I tried to save him, but I wasn't strong enough."
Kyle's head turned slightly. Despite the years that had passed, he knew how close Dick was to the former Robin. They truly were like brothers, especially after Bruce and Tim's father had died. When he and Dick were together, he had occasionally felt a bit jealous of their relationship, having no siblings of his own, but the two young men had soon accepted him into their bond. 'After all', Tim had teased, 'Someday, you guys're gonna be married and Kyle will be my brother-in-law!'
Fighting back more tears, Kyle looked up into Dick's dark, haunted eyes. The playful spark that had once danced in them was no longer there. Now, there was only tiredness.
"I-I'm sorry, Dick. He was a great kid."
Dick smiled ruefully. "A great guy, you mean. It's been a while since you've seen him."
"Yeah, I guess you're right," Kyle answered simply, turning his gaze to the floor. He found himself wishing he could have been around to see Tim grow into a man.
"That's why I gave up the Nightwing gig and became a DA. I just couldn't stand to watch any more of my friends get hurt...or worse...because of something I did or didn't do."
Still looking at the floor, afraid to stare into those deep, dark eyes again, Kyle let out a breath and nodded his understanding. Long moments passed before Dick cleared his throat and spoke again.
"Well, I guess I'll go now. Take care of yourself."
Dick's put on his overcoat, shoved his hands into his pockets and turned to go. Halfway across the room, he stopped.
"Oh," he said, "I almost forgot."
Walking back a few steps, he handed Kyle a small, rectangular box wrapped in brightly colored paper and topped with a green bow.
"Merry Christmas," he said.
For a moment, Kyle's anger rose and he began to protest. But one look at the somber, almost-needy expression on Dick's face made him pause. He could tell this meant a lot to Dick and, despite their estrangement, he couldn't bring himself to disappoint the man. Not now. He tore off the wrapping and opened the box. Inside was a gold frame with a picture of the two of them, hugging as they smiled at the camera. Kyle stared at the picture as memories of happier times flooded his thoughts. He remembered, too, when that particular picture was taken. Tim had taken it, when he and Dick had told him about their relationship. They had worried how he would accept it, but he had been as happy for them as anyone.
"Dick, I...I can't...."
"Sure you can, " Dick answered, a slight smile playing across his lips. Once again, he turned and walked towards the door. This time, however, he was stopped by Kyle's voice.
Before turning, Dick gritted his teeth, hoping that he wasn't going to see the frame come flying across the room. He took a breath and faced his former lover.
"Yeah?", he answered.
"Maybe...Maybe you can stop by again? Whenever you get the chance, I mean...."
Dick felt his heart leap in his chest. He smiled broadly as his eyes welled up again. Kyle could have sworn he saw the eyes sparkle, just a bit.
"Yeah, I think that can be arranged. I'll see you soon."
He opened the door and left.
"Merry Christmas to you, too, RJ..." Kyle whispered as he stared at the picture of a once...and possibly future?..love. As he looked out the window at the freshly falling snow, Kyle began to smile....