RUIN, n: a fallen, wrecked, or decayed condition. See FAILURE, TRASH.
"In every parting there is an image of death."
With all his experience with women, Roy should've been perfectly comfortable with the twins he was helping at the gas station. But there was something wrong.
It wasn't their appearance, or their manners. They smelled sweet, like a blend of peaches and flowers, and the way their drenched hair clung to their faces was endearing and gave them some semblance of innocence. The hint of a southern accent hid in their twangy vowels and polite speech. But the way they leaned over the engine beside him, their smooth thighs accidentally brushing against him, hinted at their modern, city-dwelling lifestyle.
No, it wasn't that they were unattractive beings. He just… wasn't attracted. And Roy Harper had never before felt that way toward otherwise perfectly alluring women.
Twins, he inwardly sighed, while his mouth was rattling off directions to a good mechanic by itself. They're twins, self. What the hell is wrong with you?
The girls were thanking him now, flipping their hair and sharing some secret message with each other via smiles. One extracted a pen and paper from their purse while the other kept talking.
"We're so glad we stopped at the gas station with the handsome Good Samaritan!" She smiled, nodding at the paper that her twin was extending to him. "We'll be in the city for a few days, so… call us."
Roy looked at the paper—there was a phone number scrawled across it in perfect cursive—and then at the twins. He still couldn't feel any magnetism toward them.
"Just in case you want to, you know, fiddle with things under the hood a little more." The first twin winked. "Or… teach us how to work the parts better."
Roy laughed and pocketed the slip of paper. "Oh, I'm sure all your parts are working fine already," he answered, eliciting giggles from the girls. "But I'll see what I can do. Now, my friend is probably going to kill me if I don't get back. I'll be around." He winked, and turned to leave.
The archer was only a few steps away from the covered station before he was already sopping wet again. He squinted through the rain for Garth's car and spotted it in the next lot over.
"You've got to be kidding me," Roy sighed, and started his hike.
When he got back to the car, he couldn't open the door. He knocked on the window, waving at the Titans he knew were inside. The doors didn't unlock.
"Dammit, Garth. Let me in!" he demanded, hitting the window again. He couldn't see through the tinged glass, and that made him even more annoyed. "C'mon, I'm already fucking soaked out here!"
The window opened an inch. "I don't know," Garth said from the inside. "Robin, did he say please? I couldn't hear."
"Just let him inside," came the answer.
"Fishstick, if you don't let me in right now, I'm draining your pools."
"Garth!" Roy slammed his hands against the window. "I'm going to buy every fish-like meat from the grocery store, and I'll fill your room with them. Then, I'll fill your pools with shrimp, like I did when you dismantled my bow. Remember that? That was fun for me. And that's going to happen again if you don't—"
The lock popped open, allowing Roy to slosh into the front seat.
"It's about damn time," he growled.
"I see you got a phone number out of it, though," Dick commented.
Roy took out the paper and crumpled it, flicking it at the Boy Wonder. "Have it. It's yours now."
Garth sneered, his tone carrying the rare hint of derision. "Not into girls anymore? I always suspected."
This time, neither Dick nor Roy had a retort quick enough to answer that. Both simply sat there with wide eyes, surprised not only at the degree of scorn that came with the remark, but also at the comment itself. When he could move again, Roy sent Dick a confused glance—a silent Does he know?—but the leader only shrugged, just as perplexed. Before they realized it, too much time had passed to reply, and the silence had become too thick to speak through.
"Robin," Garth said sharply a few minutes later. They were on the highway again, and it was the only word that had been spoken since they left the parking lot. "Where are we dropping you off?"
"I'm staying over at the Tower for a night. I can head back in the morning."
"Oh, super. That's really great. Really." Roy's sarcasm was more than apparent; Dick just ignored it. Garth, however, did not.
"You know what, Roy?" A pale index finger was suddenly pointed emphatically at the archer, a few inches from his face. "You… just… Shut up. Okay? Shut up. I am so sick of you."
Frowning, Dick uncrossed his arms and sat upright. He didn't need them fighting. "Listen, I appreciate the support, but you really don't—"
"No." Garth threw the archer a glare. "He needs to be quiet. You"—he jammed a finger through the air at Roy again—"need to get over yourself. And also, you need to clean out my car when we get home. You're getting everything wet."
"Chill out, Fishy." Roy shoved the pale hand away from him and sunk lower into his seat. "You were just being the mediator on the ride over here. What, did you shove a tree trunk up your ass at the gas station? What's your issue?"
"You seem to be my issue! So just stop complaining for half a second and realize this world does not revolve around Roy Harper!"
"Well, you are my issue, too," Roy snapped back, glaring out the window. And you have no idea how much of an issue I have, he added silently.
The Atlantean was about to throw out another venomous remark when Dick decided to end the feud, and interrupted with a calm tone.
"So Garth," he said pointedly, gaining the Titan's attention before he divulged the ideas for a new bridge in Jump City to replace one that had rusted over. For the rest of the ride to the East Tower, they discussed water damage-resistant materials and underwater lighting apparatuses, while Roy stared mutely out the window.
Karen and the twins, having apparently returned from their meal, were waiting in the lower garage of the Tower when Garth carefully parked the Vanquish in its proper place. The twins had pried the back door open before Dick could even reach the handle, and they were pulling him out of the car and leaping up to hug him before he could react to their intrusion.
"We just made late-night pancakes," Karen explained with a chuckle. "So they're a little hyper. Want some?"
"I'd love some pancakes," Dick grinned, mussing both twins' hair simultaneously. "I'll race you."
Both were gone in a flash.
The two leaders started a slow ascent to the first floor of the Tower, halfway up the steel staircase when they realized the other two Titans weren't following.
"You guys coming?" Karen called down.
"Apparently, I need to mop up the front seat of his car," came Roy's reply, muffled slightly by the way he was scouring shelves for a dry towel.
"I'm supervising him," Garth answered.
Robin muttered something to her about leaving them be, and then the duo disappeared into the elevators at the top of the stairs.
"Aren't you the one who controls water?" Roy asked tersely. He had a towel in each hand and a scowl etched into his face, about to start his tedious punishment. "You could probably dry out your car in thirty seconds if you tried."
"Oh, I'm sure I could dry up the mess myself, and in much less time than thirty seconds." Garth shrugged with one shoulder. "It's not my mess though, it's yours."
Roy growled in frustration, and then set to drying up the seat and floor. It was minutes before either spoke again, and when Garth did, he was by Roy, leaning against the archer's motorcycle.
"Listen," he said, "I know you and Robin have some kind of rift between you at the moment, but maybe you should consider what he's saying, and maybe do what he tells you to do."
Roy granted Garth a glare. "And why's that?"
"Well, I mean, he's Dick Grayson, the Boy Wonder, leader of the Teen Titans. He was trained by the best."
"If by the best, you mean some crazy tycoon who dresses up as his own worst fear, then I—"
"Roy," he said to stop the archer, with the slightest hint of levity in his voice. "He's our leader. He knows what he's doing."
But Roy shook his head. "You don't understand." He tossed the damp towels to Garth when he stood to get new ones. "He keeps secrets. Secrets that involve me, specifically, but he keeps them to himself."
"He probably has a good reason. Have you asked him?"
Roy snorted. "Of course I—"
"I mean, have you asked Dick nicely? Instead of the usual attack tactic you seem to favor?"
The redhead was about to reply when his mouth snapped shut and he became still. Turning to face Garth, he shot him a curious look. "Why do you even care how Dick and I get along?"
"You're both my teammates, aren't you?" Garth stood upright, nearing his car, slamming the passenger door shut. "And when you guys are mad—especially you, who I see every day—it gets me mad. And anyway, I really do think you should listen to him. Dick's only trying to—"
"Is that all you can say? Dick, Dick, Dick," Roy groaned. Then, maliciously, he chuckled. "Are you into that now? I thought girls were more your type, but—"
"See?" The Atlantean heaved an audible sigh of aggravation. "You can't even take a suggestion from someone when it's trivial, let alone when it's Robin and he needs you to cooperate for the sake of the greater good."
"What greater good?" Roy held out his arms, looking around. "I see no good greater than my personal understanding of the situation here."
"By the g—You are… so…" Garth threw his hands up. "I can't even describe it. Self-centered, to begin with. Narcissistic, proud, sinful. You won't take direction—"
"You're very flattering," Roy snapped.
"—from anyone, your superiors included."
Now Garth was nodding, advancing, in Roy's face. "Yes, your superiors—you don't listen to them! Robin, Bee, Green Arrow—"
Roy shoved him. "Don't fucking bring Ollie into this!" he snarled.
Undeterred, Garth continued, even more furious. "Even the government is below you in Speedyland! The law is dirt to you! You're as bad as some of the criminals! You're always drinking or smoking or sleeping in a different bed every night—"
"You know what? Fuck you! That doesn't make me a fucking crimin—"
"Yes, you're right, that doesn't make you a criminal," Garth spat, grabbing the front of Roy's shirt in both fists. "That just makes you a pathetic, disobedient excuse for an ally—"
"Get the fuck off me!"
Garth slammed him into a wall instead. Roy was aware of his back hitting brick before the blow yanked the air from his lungs. Pale fingers tightened around the fabric of Roy's shirt as he jerked Roy closer to his face.
"Right now, I'm ashamed to even admit I'm acquainted with you! I'm fairly certain I'd be shunned permanently from society if I called you my friend!"
He considered that for a moment, then—when Roy tried to speak—pounded him into the wall, making him lose his breath a second time.
"Shut up," the Atlantean barked, teeth clenched. Long-hidden resentment roughened his voice. "And now that I think about it, you aren't exactly a friend to begin with—to me or anyone else. Are you really that shallow, that self-centered, that you can attach to people like a parasite until it suits your needs—and then leave them, no strings atta—Hey!"
Roy had finally moved against his teammate. He pried Garth's fingers from the front of his shirt and twisted his wrists until the dark-haired prince flinched. He let go without warning and, using the wall behind him for support, used one leg to shove the Atlantean away. Roy's foot hit Garth squarely in the chest, knocking the aquatic wonder back a few paces.
Breathless, Garth glowered at Roy, his eyes smoldering with rage. "You're just mad because I'm right. Because what I'm saying is true." He took a deep breath. "I pity you. You have no real relationships, no real loves, no real friends… And with your attitude, why would anyone want you? You may as well be dead alread—"
With one blow, Garth was on the floor, jaw aching from where Roy's fist had made contact.
"Fuck off," Roy growled.
Barely conscious of where he was going, or what the Atlantean was saying to him, he straddled his motorcycle and kicked the thing into motion. He met the stale air of the underwater tunnel and sped toward the city, not thinking, not going anywhere in particular as long as it was away from the Tower. Where he would end up didn't matter, he didn't care any more.
All Roy could process was the painful blow that had shattered his ill-conceived illusions. There was a small glimmer of hope he had secretly harbored that maybe, eventually, Garth might feel the same way toward him—but now it was obvious that he had hoped in vain.
The headlights were the only source of light in the concrete tunnel, and that scathingly truthful voice was the only thing in Roy's head. He couldn't believe it—he had to believe it—he knew all those things were true. The alienation, the obstinacy, the egotism, the insensitivity—all of it.
The beeping of his communicator made him veer awkwardly to the right; sharp reflexes saved him from tumbling headlong into the walls. Letting out a line of oaths, he yanked the communicator from his jeans.
He knew the incoming call was from Karen even before he saw Bee flash onto the screen. Who else would want him anyway?
But he didn't want to speak to her. Not only her—not Garth, not Dick, not Raven, or anyone anymore. He'd just mess it up despite trying his best with impossible odds, and goddamn he didn't want to be disappointed again.
"Don't fucking"—he threw the yellow device onto the pavement—"talk to me!"
A piece clipped off from the communicator on impact, but it wasn't broken yet. The light was still blinking. The connection could still be salvaged.
He revved the engine of the motorcycle and shot toward the device, getting a sickening amount of pleasure as the glass screen chinked in every direction. He pulled a U-turn and went toward it again, repeating the destruction until the yellow paint was no longer yellow; now it was in a thousand tiny flecks, just a funny mark of crushed electronics and plastic scraped against the tunnel pavement.
Roy stopped the motorcycle and stared down at the puddle of ruined equipment. A grotesque sort of fascination kept his eyes on it, like an accident on the highway that was impossible to avoid, impossible to avert his gaze from, equal parts mesmerizing and gruesome.
He wanted to grieve, he wanted to laugh—to do something—but he felt too empty now. He knew he was guilty, not just for what Garth had said, but also more—and yet the shock hadn't worn off and he felt good and nauseated at the same time.
Letting out a wild grin, he shifted into the fastest gear, loving the sound of the whining engine. As he whipped into mainland traffic, he knew he was going far too fast, tens of miles above the speed limit, but he couldn't stop and he didn't want to stop he just wanted to become free of whatever chains he'd put on himself—
And suddenly he was on a highway off a highway engine keening as he swerved through the countryside, avoiding cars in the opposite lane by mere fractions of an inch. Then he was on a low cliff curving on the gravel close to the edge and there was a flash and a Caution! sign and his engine sparked, the bike trembling and the gravel below him shifted and the wheel jammed on the edge and he pitched over the cliff and he was falling and flying and something scraped his arm his hand his shoulder and a branch caught his face and—
Everything went black.