Chapter Two: Gold Rush
"Everyone wants some of that stuff
It's the cure but you can't get enough
Go on, have another
I think you'll discover
You may never recover."
- Gold Rush, Dragonette
"Twenty." The dealer flipped over his own card. "Dealer has nineteen. You win again, Mister Grayson."
Richard gave a quick nod and placed more chips on the table, his fingers tapping impatiently against the green felt of the table. He'd been at this table for an hour and a half, waiting. This table was the only one where he could face the entrance without being totally seen. Garfield had wandered over a few times and sat next to him, trying to make small-talk and play the part of the gracious host. But he didn't linger too long; Garfield seemed to prefer the rowdier craps table, and Tara's shouts of joy proved he was undoubtedly winning.
Richard heard the door open and his eyes flew up toward the front of the room. An elderly couple walked in, holding each other's hands and chatting. He groaned and stared at his cards on the table, smacking his hand on the soft surface. "Hit me."
"You know with luck like that, you should try roulette." Victor moved to sit next to him and pulled out a few crisp bills. Richard looked over at him, trying to keep from hitting his head on the table. Victor just laughed and handed the dealer the bills. "Cash three hundred."
"Yes, sir." The dealer counted out the chips and handed them to Victor.
There was a long pause as Victor arranged his chips on the table before placing his bet. The dealer was reshuffling the cards, pretending not to notice the awkward silence between the friends. Victor took a long swill of his glass before finally breaking the quiet. "You haven't moved from this spot in an hour, Dick."
"Hour and a half…" He looked over at Victor and sighed. He knew he must have looked like a love-sick puppy, staring at the door and waiting for his master. "I'm waiting."
Victor laughed his deep, heavy laugh that made Richard think of Santa Claus. His neck grew red and he turned his gaze toward his cards. Victor rubbed his chin in thought, still grinning like a fool. "Waiting? I'm guessing for a certain someone you're not supposed to be waiting for."
"I… yes." Richard's head fell into his hands. He felt so stupid.
"How did I guess?" Victor chuckled and took another drink out of his glass. He glanced around them, as if making sure that there weren't any eavesdroppers. "Well, I wish you the best of luck getting close to her tonight…" Victor correctly read Richard's confused expression and continued. "She called me all upset last night."
Richard raised an eyebrow. "Over what?"
"Her father will be unable to attend tonight, so he sent someone to watch over her." Victor swirled the ice and liquor around the glass. Richard watched the ice move, waiting for a continuation of the story or some kind of explanation. Things should be easier without her father around, right? "It's her friend Roy."
"Oh…" Richard tried to remember what Raven had told him about Roy, but all the details seemed to run together and all he could remember was that soft, unsure, lopsided smile she gave when she found something amusing. Richard looked back up at Victor. "Is this bad?"
"Yes and no." He gave a one-shouldered shrug, as if uneasy. "Roy's a nice guy and all, and we've been acquaintances for a while… but he works for her father, and her father is a scary man. So, Roy will be all eyes and ears, even if he doesn't look like it. If he sees you trying to get close to her, he'll tell everything to her father. And you can kiss any association with Raven good-bye."
Richard let his head fall into his hands. This was just great. He was already stretched too thin, on way to many levels. He'd told Bruce that he was going out with Garfield and Victor, if he found out that Richard was here, waiting for Raven, it would be just cause for bloodshed at Wayne Manor. This situation couldn't get any worse. He glanced at Victor and groaned again. "So, what do you suggest? That I throw in the towel and go home?"
"Yes and no." Victor took another sip of his drink and smiled at the dealer. "I'll stay." He nodded and turned over Richard's cards. He waved the dealer off, staying at eighteen. Victor glanced over his shoulder at the craps table where Tara's shouts of joy had gotten louder. "I can see that you are genuinely interested in her."
Richard grunted and watched dealer take his chips. "Interested" was a strange term to use for his feelings for her, it was more like he was drawn to her out of some freaky, irrational connection. She was rude to him, teased him, and was generally withdrawn during conversation, but even after all of that, Richard still wanted to be close to her. He really was a love-sick puppy. "Why did I do this to myself?"
Victor snorted and bet more chips. "I don't know. I won't even pretend to know. But here you are, at a benefit you're not supposed to be at, waiting for a girl that your benefactor wants on the other side of the planet. You either have a sick sense of humor, or you are slightly masochistic." He gave his friend a sidelong glance and grinned. "And I'm starting to believe it's the latter."
"Ha ha. You're so funny." Richard sighed and took his remaining chips, leaving a few as a tip for the dealer. Maybe a drink would clear his head of all this weird emotional bullshit. Victor stood up and started to follow him to the bar, but he stopped and gave a low whistle.
"Well… well… it might be your lucky day, Dick. Look who just walked in."
"What…?" Richard turned and stared at Raven. His stomach dropped to the floor, and he fought to remember how to breathe. She was dressed to the nines in a black, sequined, mini-dress, with her slender, porcelain legs ending in sky-high heels. She paused as she stepped over the threshold, glancing around the room either looking for someone, or trying to make notes about the location. Richard felt his blood leave him for a moment, then rush to his face urgently. "Oh my god."
"That isn't quite what I expected out of your mouth, but I'll buy it. She does look nice, doesn't she?" Victor nudged his friend's shoulder and laughed as he groaned in response.
"You're trying to fuel these masochistic tendencies I potentially have, aren't you?"
Victor laughed again, shrugging. "Maybe… and there's Roy."
Richard watched a tall, toned redhead move to stand next to her. He said something to Raven, who rolled her eyes and smacked his arm before wandering off. Richard moved to chase her, but Victor grabbed his arm and shoved him back at the blackjack table.
"Don't you dare go chasing after her. That is asking for Roy to tattle on you." He pointed out Roy, who was approaching them. "Just, play it cool, Dick. He's not going to bother you if you stay away from Raven. Just pretend you have no idea who she is, and everything will work out. Promise." Victor raised a hand in greeting. "Hey, Roy. It's been a while, how've you been?"
"Good. How've you been, man? I haven't seen you in a month." Roy sat down at the table next to Victor and cashed a few hundred dollars into chips. He winked at a cocktail waitress, who giggled and wandered off to the bar to fetch him a drink. "I've been in Miami with Raven forever and I feel like I missed everything. It's such a drag going down there."
Richard felt something inside him tick with anger. This guy just strutted around the place like he owned it, eyed women like they were objects, but worst of all, he was keeping Richard from being close to Raven and he didn't even care that he got to spend a whole month with Raven. What gave him the right to act like this? And why did he have to play these stupid, petty games? It was infuriating to pretend to like someone and skirt around your differences, only because you were afraid of being offensive.
Richard bit back a curse and took another drink from his cocktail. The dealer eyed him expectantly, and Richard smacked the cards again. "Hit me."
The dealer laid down another face card. "Twenty six, Mister Grayson. I'm sorry, you lose."
Roy leaned over at looked at him, his face completely blank. There was a moment of anticipation as he sized him up, trying to decide if he was worth talking to. "Grayson…? You're Bruce's boy, right?"
"Yeah. It's Richard Grayson. I'm Bruce Wayne's ward." He bet a few more chips and turned away from Roy before Richard said something he would regret. He needed to remember that this man was a barrier between him and Raven, and pissing him off wouldn't do him any good. In fact, if the rumors were true, pissing Roy off was likely to get him killed.
"Hm." Roy bet a few chips, ignoring the poison in Richard's voice. He spun a chip between his fingers and gave a slow, sly smile. Something about it reminded Richard of a snake, not quite ready to strike but still waiting for its prey. "It's nice to meet you, Richard. I'm Roy Harper, I work for Raven's father. Tonight I happen to be her bodyguard and chaperone."
Victor snorted into his drink. He looked over at Roy and shook his head. "Chaperone? For Rae? You're fooling yourself, Roy. If there's anyone that needs babysitting around here it's you. You can't stop chasing skirts long enough to tell someone the time."
"Hey." Roy laughed. "I don't chase skirts, they follow me."
"Yeah right, man." Victor laughed so loudly a few people looked over at them from other tables. "Your reputation is so bad, girls flock from you."
"There was that one time. And she doesn't count." The waitress returned with Roy's drink, and placed it on a napkin with her phone number written on it. Roy just grinned at Victor and held up the napkin. "I've still got more game than you do."
"You're just an ass." Victor took a drink from his glass, waving off the dealer. "So, how's work going?"
"You know I can't go into details, man." Roy shrugged, feigning indifference. "But if you must know, it's all right. The job can suck sometimes, but the perks are good."
"Hm… I bet." Victor frowned as he watched the dealer take his chips. His eyes darted back to Roy as they all placed another bet on the table. "I mean you get to spend all the free time you want with Rae."
Roy snorted and tapped his cards for the dealer to hit him. "Yeah, sure. It's all business, and you know that. She may be our friend, but she has no feeling of friendship or otherwise towards me. No matter how hard I try. That girl is a locked box of emotions."
"That's because you're her chaperone." Victor waved off the dealer again. "You know how she hates being watched. She told me she feels like an animal in a zoo."
"Well, it's not like I want to watch her." Roy picked up a chip and spun it between his fingers, staring at the dealer's cards intently. "Her father has me following her like a fucking vulture. Everywhere she goes, I have to follow. To meetings, to every meal she eats, to her hotel suit… hell, I have to hover outside her bathroom door when she showers. I mean, do you even know how hard it is to pick up chicks when you look like you're pining after one? I look like a stalker!"
Richard opened his mouth to say something crude and insulting, but Victor stopped him. He shook his head and nudged Richard's shoulder. "Hey, man." He nodded toward the door, giving him a warning stare. "Kori just walked in, why don't you go talk to her? She's never been gambling before, I'm sure she could use a few pointers. That girl needs help finding her way out of her own house for god's sake."
"Yeah. I know." Richard forced a chuckle, trying to hide the tension growing around him. He looked from Roy to Victor and gave a one-shouldered shrug, still fighting to look nonchalant. "It was nice meeting you, Roy. See ya around."
"Mm." Roy took a sip of his drink, his strange, amber colored eyes still boring into Richard. "Likewise."
"See ya, Vic." Richard turned and wandered off toward the bar, tossing a wave to Tara who was jumping up and down. She gave an animated wave back and nearly knocked out a waiter in the process. Poor girl, she was hopeless. It was a good thing Garfield was head-over-heels in love with her, or she might have actually killed suitors in the courting process.
As Richard crossed the gaming floor, he felt Roy's eyes follow him, tracing his path, deconstructing him piece by piece. Taking him apart and trying to size up what kind of a threat Richard was to both Raven and her father's business. It was as if Roy already knew that he had met up with Raven a few times, and he would have none of that. Great.
Richard bit back a curse as he approached the bar. There was nothing he could do until he figured out a way to separate Roy from Raven. If that stupid kid wasn't watching Richard, his eyes were trained on Raven, watching every movement as she talked with Karen in the corner. It was infuriating that he was so observant, not even a blink.
Richard's eyes swept the grand hall, looking for some kind of sheltered nook. Anywhere he could have tugged Raven into for a short chat. Where could they even meet? The elevator? Yeah, that would work. Suddenly every paparazzi in a hundred mile radius would have a picture of both of them in a very compromising situation. That would be the end of Richard's life, let alone his friendship with any of his friends.
He sighed and shoved his hands in his pockets, trying not to think that this was the end. All he wanted were just a few seconds to be in her presence. Was that so much to ask? He finally approached Kori, who was desperately trying to order a drink she couldn't remember the name of. Richard laughed as he stood next to her. "You want a cosmo, Kori. With a splash of orange vodka. That's what you ordered last time, right?"
She smiled at him, looking relieved. "Oh, thank you, Richard. I can't believe I'm such a flake sometimes." The bartender glanced between them before rolling his eyes and wandering off to make the drink. He was mumbling something about "rich people." Richard decided not to point out that he wasn't technically one of them. It was a mute point.
Richard looked and Kori and shrugged. "Hey, it happens sometimes. I imagine you've been stressed out now that you're working in your father's business. How've you been lately? I haven't seen you since your party last week." He sat next to her on a bar stool, smiling. Kori had called him a few times during the week to chat, and while their conversations were usually brief, they made him feel welcomed. It was nice to know that he was finally making permanent friends.
"I'm fine. Busy, but I suppose that's to be expected… dad has me doing all kinds of work for the pharmaceutical branch. Right now I'm breaking apart portions of plant DNA to see what section is the most useful for this new drug we're testing in a few months." She sighed and smiled at the bartender as he handed her the cosmo. "It's the most obnoxious, tedious work I think I've ever done."
Richard blinked at her, fighting to keep his mouth from falling open. It was hard to remember that although Kori was a flake and a bit of a ditz, she was incredibly smart. Both her and her father ran some giant chemical manufacturing conglomerate, and they were both certified geniuses. Kori had graduated college at the age of nineteen, and had her doctorate by the age of twenty one. But it was really hard to see that when Kori couldn't even remember how to make a simple cosmo.
"I… I don't imagine breaking up plant DNA is any fun."
"Oh! I'm sorry, Richard… I know I can wander off topic sometimes. I'm sorry." She offered him a sympathetic smile before her eyes darted to the blackjack table where Roy and Victor were still playing. She fiddled with the orange peel in her glass, her gaze not quite meeting "I see you've met Roy."
"Unfortunately." Richard sighed and leaned back in the stool, glaring at the empty space in front of him. "I have half a mind to punch him every time I see him looking over here."
Kori laughed. "That's a feeling most people have when they first meet him. Don't worry, he warms up on you after a while… provided you're not Richard Grayson. I suppose he already has you marked because you're Bruce's son."
Richard snorted. "I swear my benefactor is going to get me killed one day."
"Well, not yet." Kori laughed again. "He'll have to piss off the right person before that happens. And seeing as you're still alive, I don't think that's happened yet."
"I wouldn't put it past him. I'm sure he's close."
Kori chuckled politely behind her hand. "Don't be so melodramatic, Richard. It's fine."
Richard ordered another drink and sighed, still staring at the emptiness around him. "You're not the one who has to step on eggshells everywhere you go because your benefactor and your friend's father are trying to duke it out over god only knows what."
"We're not always supposed to know what our parents do, Richard. Sometimes it's best that we know nothing at all." Kori's eyes looked sad for a moment before she plastered on a fake smile, and returned to her normal cheerful self. She started rambling on about what games were on the floor and how to play them. Richard attempted to give her advice, but both his heart and his mind weren't there. What had she meant by such a cryptic statement? And why did it look like her heart had been ripped out of her chest? Sometimes Richard just didn't understand this society.
"Water, please." Richard looked up from his drink when he heard the husky sound of Raven's voice. She stood next to him, wedged tightly in the space between him and Kori. He was so close to her that he could feel her warmth and smell the soft scent of lavender. The back of his head started to buzz with a million fantastic and terrifying emotions.
She glanced down at Richard as if she had no idea who he was, then turned to Kori and started making idle chatter. Richard bit back both a greeting and a curse. If she wasn't talking to him, there was a good reason and he should trust her. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Roy's amber stare trained on him, attempting to decipher him. Richard rolled his eyes and sighed. Clearly Roy wasn't joking around, he would stare at both Raven and Richard until they left, waiting for one of them to do something stupid. Richard sighed and waited patiently until she walked away, enjoying the way her body moved in heels. She was still beautiful, even when she was ignoring them.
"Here. This is for you." Kori dropped a drink napkin in his lap and smiled at his shock. "Sorry she has to play these games, but Roy takes his job very seriously and he would go running to her father the instant she made contact with you. I'm afraid I'm going to have to be your go-between…"
Richard smiled at her supportive expression and picked up the drink napkin.
The ladies bathroom in 15. We need to talk.
The words looked hastily scrawled with eyeliner. Richard crumpled up the napkin and shoved it into his pocket. Finally, a moment to talk to her. Well, at least he would try to talk. He wasn't going to make any promises when she was parading around in a mini-dress and sky-high heels. He looked at Kori, who had ordered both of them another drink, and smiled again. "Thanks."
"We're friends, Richard. We look out for each other… and if Raven wants to be friends with you, she must have good reason. And, I will say that I'm glad that she's finally warming up to someone. I never thought it would happen." She winked at him and handed him his drink. "Now, let's pretend we're deep in conversation for the next fifteen minutes, and maybe Roy will look away for a few seconds."
Richard laughed. "I'll try."
She raised her glass to her lips and smiled. "Why don't you give me some pointers on blackjack?"
Richard fell into a somewhat dull lecture on blackjack, knowing that Kori was probably bored out of her mind. But she feigned interest like a trooper and even asked questions a few times, trying to keep the conversation going and keep the façade up. He was going to owe her big time.
All Richard could really focus on was Kori's watch, watching the minute hand tick slowly towards the fifteen minute mark. It was like watching a slow moving train when you were stuck in traffic. Frustrating and torturous. Richard tapped his toes on the barstool, but Kori shook her head. Roy would notice his fidgeting if he wasn't careful. Damnit.
Time slowed to a crawl.
Then he saw Raven move, fidgeting through her purse as if looking for something. She muttered something to Roy, who must have said something rude and inappropriate, because she hit him. Raven waved him off and started toward the restrooms at the far back of the hall. As she passed Richard, she dropped a set of keys on the floor next to his feet. Richard waited a few seconds, stooped down and picked them up. He looked back towards the blackjack table to find Roy with two ladies on either of his arms. He was more interested in flirting than following the girl he was supposed to be watching. Idiot. Taking the chance, he followed Raven's path to the ladies room.
"Good luck." Kori whispered to him as he passed. Luck. He was definitely going to need that.
Seconds passed and he entered into the ladies room, where the peculiar scent of disinfectant and cheap hand soap hit him. Raven stepped out from behind the door and locked it as he passed through. She leaned back on her heels and offered him her familiar half-hearted, lopsided smile. "I wasn't expecting you to meet me in the ladies room… but, I'm glad you came."
Richard couldn't help the words as they rolled off his tongue. "Well, this isn't the most romantic spot for a rendezvous, but I'll bite." Damnit. Why did he have to be so stupid? Clearly she wasn't trying to have some kind of romantic entanglement with him in the ladies room.
"Ha ha." Raven rolled her eyes and leaned against the counter behind her. "I'm not here to make out with you, idiot. I have to talk to you about something."
"A guy can hope." His smile fell as she continued to stare. "Sorry, that probably wasn't appropriate."
Raven rolled her eyes. "Really? I never thought."
Richard tried to collect himself and not stare at her legs. "So, what's up?"
"I…" She sighed and fiddled with her purse. The air around them suddenly turned thick and tangible, and something in the silence felt dangerous. Richard didn't like the thought of Raven in danger at all, and some feeling of possession and protection rose into his chest. He pushed the feeling back down. Right now was not the time to think like that.
Raven chewed on her lower lip, still fidgeting with her purse. She looked up at him, and her deep, dark eyes seemed to tear down every one of his defenses. What was worrying her so much? "I can trust you, right?"
Richard's eyes narrowed slightly, and his head tilted to the left, watching her. "Maybe… what do you need my trust with?"
"This is stupid." Raven ran her fingers through her hair, snarling at herself.
Richard stepped closer to her, trying to dissolve the physical and emotional space between them. "Raven… if you need my help, I'm here. Just tell me what you need."
Her eyes darted to the door and then back at him. There was a long, waiting silence, and it looked like there was a war inside her, fighting her at every turn. Richard couldn't even begin to guess what was happening to her. "I… I don't know why I'm telling you this. But… I think that something… serious is going to happen to one of our friends."
"Like what?" Richard had a million bad scenarios run through his head at that moment. Raven's family reputation was not one to be underestimated, and if she was worried about their friends, there was justification behind it. Richard felt a shiver slide down his spine as he thought about what kind of actions "serious" might entail.
"I don't know. My father has been short on staff lately, and there's something weird about it. I think he wants to hire a few of his friends' kids to help him out but…" Raven ran her fingers through her hair again, this time yanking at the strands. Richard could see her hands trembling violently, and something in that image made him ill. Her eyes caught his stare again. "I just… I don't want anyone to have to go through what I do. Especially our friends."
Richard reached out to comfort her, but she pushed his hands away. What could have made her so angry and fearful at the same time? What was her father making her do? "Raven…"
"I'm serious, Richard. This can't happen. I've only got my friends, no one else. I can't trust my mother, my family, my household… and I certainly cannot trust my father. If he takes them away from me… I don't know what I'll do."
"Raven… calm down." Richard pulled her close to him, breathing in the scent of lavender. He stroked her hair down her head and neck, reveling in the softness. Okay, he had to focus. "Everything will be okay. I promise." Well, that was a stupid promise. He couldn't make everything okay if he didn't even know or understand what was bothering her so much.
Raven pressed her face into the lapels on his jacket, her whole body trembling now. "How do you know?"
"I don't." Richard brushed hair away from her face as she looked up at him. "But I'll do whatever I can to help you make things okay."
"I just wanted you to know, not make some gallant promise." Raven shook her head and frowned. "You can't fix everything. Stop trying to be a knight in shining armor, Richard."
He was unable to stop the sly smile that peeled across his lips. "Hey, if the shoe fits."
Raven stepped away from him and wiped at her eyes. "You're such an idiot."
"I know. Let me show you how stupid I am." Richard, in some act of idiocy, leaned down and kissed her, and to his surprise, she kissed him back. There was a moment of innocent excitement and anticipation hanging between them in the air, and then the flood gates opened. A conflagration roared to life between them, igniting every emotion still hanging in the air. Richard nearly shoved her against the vanity, his fingers running up and down her back, desperately searching for patches of her silky, smooth skin. Anything he could touch on her.
Raven's fingers dug into his hair, bringing him even closer to her. Their lips greedily sought each other's searching for both understanding and release. It was as if every thought or emotion they had ever had exploded all at once in a beautiful, burning fireworks display.
And neither one wanted the show to end.
So… after almost a year. Here is chapter three! I know it wasn't exactly worth the wait, but I had fun writing it. Please leave a review! I love to hear your thoughts.