warning: strong language
His eyes were full of color and depth, mostly blue but also green and brown and a color she couldn't quite describe. Not in English, anyway. It was a color she had not seen for many, many years. His eyes were so unlike Dick's, whose were a clear, shining blue, like the ocean or the sky on a summer day. Jason's eyes were darker than that. They were darker, almost muddied – but natural. Organic. His eyes expressed many things, but mostly they showed how lost he was, especially when he sat there in silence and stared into the campfire. Roy sat with him, usually, repairing arrows or making more or tending to his bow. Kory didn't always stay with them. Excusing herself on the basis of scouting the area, she spent much of her time above them, closer to the sun.
She watched the sun rise every morning, and it filled her with a joy she found nowhere else. A joy she tried to repress. It was a form of training unto itself.
She didn't like it. She didn't enjoy holding back her feelings, her joy or her anger or her sorrow. But she knew how lost Jason Todd was, and she had seen how far Roy Harper had fallen, and that meant that she had to hold them together. Which was completely impossible, if she were to wear her heart on her sleeve. Expressing her emotions would signal weakness to these men. She would not be viewed as weak, as powerless. She was not, and never would be ever again.
There were some things she could do. Help them stand upright, lead them in the right direction, know them. That would be the only way to heal them. She must know them, and if she held back everything else, she would always extend her love to them. Always. Even if they weren't fluent in the language of the heart, there was a closeness, an intimacy she could forge with them without objection. That's something, she reassured herself. That's progress. I'm helping them.
She floated high above their camp, a bright star in the night sky, watching the sun disappear behind the horizon. She covered her mouth with a hand. Tears stung at her eyes in the thin air. Her tears, so similar to those of a human, and yet completely different.
The tears of humans, she had discovered many years ago, taste like salt. The tears of a Tamaranean taste sweet.
She didn't know what she was doing. How did she think she could fix them? She couldn't even fix herself.
For a long time, she hung there in the sky, allowing herself the tears she would not show to her companions.
Finally she descended. Roy looked up to greet her, a big grin on his face. She returned the smile instinctually, her heart momentarily lighting up with joy. And then she looked to Jason again, and saw that he was still staring into the fire, the flames dancing in the reflections of his eyes.
Roy followed her gaze, glancing at Jason. She felt a rush of affection for the man when his expression at Jason's intensity mirrored her own. She was not the only one who cared about him, and that gave her such relief.
"You look tired, Jason," she said, passing him, trailing her fingers lightly across his back. Amused, she asked, "Perhaps it should be bedtime?"
"I'm busy," said Jason.
"Bullshit," said Roy cheerfully. "You've been staring at the fire like it's a friggin' Magic-8 Ball for the past coupla hours. You're just being lazy."
"Oh, you're one to talk, Harper-"
"Hush your mouth, look at me." He held up his arrows. "I'm being productive. Go take a nap or something, Jaybird, or I'll shoot you with one of these tranq arrows-"
"Two strikes. You say Jaybird one more time, and I will literally shoot you. With my gun. Absolutely fatally."
"You're a real team player, you know that?"
"Just shut up," sighed Jason, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "I don't need this right now."
Kory hesitated, then reached out and gently rubbed the man's shoulders. "You are tired," she said soothingly, "and upset. Let me help."
He didn't move for a second, and Kory applied just a little more pressure to his shoulders. She felt him give way slightly, his muscles relaxing under her strong hands.
And then he sat up straight, shaking her off. "Look, Princess," he began, "I appreciate the offer, but you really need to quit trying so hard. Alright? If you're really that desperate, there's always Kid Arrow over here."
"Yep," said Roy, nodding. "I'm always here. Always available. Pretty much always."
Kory took her hands away from Jason. "Desperate?" she echoed. "You think I'm desperate?"
"Well, I don't see anybody else around here fishing for some completely gratuitous sex. Not that I don't enjoy it, it's just that…" He smiled at her, probably thinking that he looked kind; he just looked like he was having to explain this to a child. "It's not all about you, Kory. Okay?"
She gaped at him.
Jason almost sighed, his eyes rolling slightly. Rage flared inside of her, and as hard as she tried she couldn't beat it down.
"You think this is for me?" she demanded. "Do you think that any of this is for me? Are you honestly suggesting that I've been parading around the world with you two idiots for weeks for my own benefit? Jason Todd, I knew you were crazy, but nobody ever told me you were stupid."
He blinked at her, shock plainly written across his face. The fury pulsed through her, and she let out a strangled, frustrated sigh.
"Do you know what I'm capable of?" she snapped at him. "Do you know what I can do? No, you don't. You think you do, but you do not. I have stood my ground against Wonder Woman, you arrogant son of a- I was once invited to the Justice League. Tell me, where were you during this time? Would that have been when you were training as an assassin?" She snarled at him, her eyes and the fire in her hair pulsating as her rage pumped through her veins. "Oh, no, I had almost forgotten. That was probably when you were dead."
There was a ringing silence. Kory stood there, her chest heaving. Roy and Jason stared at her. She blinked the moisture from her eyes and breathed deeply. The energy crackling in her hair eased.
"What I mean to say," she continued, her voice lower but still burning dangerously, "is that everything I have done since I met you has been to help you, Jason. And you, Roy. That's it. That is all."
"Oh, right," replied Jason skeptically. "Sorry, but you can't just magically make everything better by sleeping with me a few times-"
"You don't understand," she cried, distress filling her voice. "I don't care what you need, Jason! I do not know what you need! I just – I just wanted you to let me help. That was all. That was all, Jason."
"Smart plan there, Princess. Fuck the broken toys, make 'em all better. You this nice to everyone, or is it just me?"
There was a loud smack as her hand collided with his cheek. He was knocked to the ground, her strength far more powerful than he'd realized. From the ground, he looked up at her. In the flickering firelight, her entire body slightly glowing, betraying how intensely visceral her reaction was – as she stared down at him, alighting slightly off the ground, her arms defiantly held out as if to hit him again – it was awe-inspiring. For the first time, he started to think that maybe he had underestimated her, after all.
"You are broken, Jason Todd," she said, her voice regal and authoritative. The voice of a princess. "You need to heal. You need to know caring, and love."
"Jesus," he muttered. "I should have seen this coming."
"You should have seen what coming?"
"How fucked up you are!" he shouted at her, his own rage bursting out of him, blood rushing to his face. "You say I'm the broken one? Your idea of learning to love? It's demeaning. You're better than that. You're more than that, no matter whatever horseshit you were subjected to in the-"
"Excuse me," she said again, her hands glowing purple with pent-up rage, "but you have no idea what I've been through, and I would advise you to stop talking this very second, lest I end your life for good this time."
Jason said nothing. There was a silence. Kory glanced at Roy, who looked bewildered and a little frightened. She planted her feet on the ground again, then took a few steps towards Jason and kneeled down beside him, taking his arm.
Lowly, she murmured, "Jason, when was the last time somebody told you they loved you?"
He didn't answer. He didn't react at all.
She reached out and cupped his cheek with her warm hand. "When was the last time you knew somebody loved you, and they didn't have to say it?"
He looked away, pulling away from her hand.
"When was the last time you let somebody in?" she asked gently. "The last time you felt a connection with someone? The last time you trusted?"
For a moment, he let her hold his arm steadily. And then he looked back.
"The last time I trusted somebody," he said to her quietly, "I ended up dead."
He got to his feet and pulled away from her, heading away from the fire, into the darkness. She watched him walk away.
"Dick was right about you," she said.
Jason stopped. "What?" he asked, turning around.
Kory got to her feet, but said nothing.
"What do you mean he was right about me?" he asked dangerously, taking a step towards her. "What did he say to you? I – you told me you didn't even remember him!"
"I lied, Jason," she said. "Believe it or not, you did not invent lying."
"You said you didn't remember him!" Jason said, and his voice was rising steadily higher. "You don't remember anything!"
"It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter."
"Yeah," he said aggressively. "It does." There was a long pause, and then Jason said, "I don't want Dick's sloppy seconds. I don't need you, Princess. I don't need either of you."
He stalked off into the darkness. Kory let out another strong, frustrated breath, then flew into the sky, leaving a brilliant fiery trail behind her.
Roy stared up at the sky, then looked down at his arrows again and blinked.
"I know she wouldn't forget him," he murmured to himself. "I totally called it."
It wasn't even an hour later that Kory returned. She hit the ground with less grace than she usually did, and Roy was slightly surprises that she didn't fall over. Without saying a word, she went and sat next to Roy.
There was silence. Roy didn't say anything. And then, her voice a mere whisper, she asked, "Am I doing the right thing?"
Roy looked at her. "What?"
She met his gaze, her big green eyes piercing his. "I only want to help him," she said. "I only want to help you."
"Aw," said Roy. "Well. You are helping me, if that makes you feel any better."
She almost laughed. "Thank you, but there is no need to spare my feelings. I know I've been trying so hard with him. I apologize for neglecting you, Roy."
"Hey, you weren't neglecting me at all," he said, flashing a grin her way. "Besides, you know. I got used to that a long time ago."
And a silence again. She leaned in towards him, he returned the pressure, and they sat there together, supporting each other.
"I do love you," she said. "You are…so important to me."
"I know that," he replied. "I've known you for a while now, Kory, I know that. And I know that's why you're trying so hard with him. Because he doesn't know that."
"Yes," she said. "And because you know what path you're going down, Roy. You know who you are. I'm not sure Jason does."
Silence. Roy asked, "What did Dick say about him?"
"Not much," she replied. "That he needs help, that he's troubled. Nothing I couldn't have realized on my own." Her eyes slid to Roy, who was staring up at the stars. "Do you miss him?" she asked softly.
"Who, Dick?" She nodded. Roy considered this, then shrugged. "Yeah," he admitted. "Yeah, I do. I haven't seen him in too long. What about you? Do you miss him?"
Kory said nothing, then she turned her face so that her lips almost brushed against his ear. "Don't tell either of them this," she whispered. "But I never miss him. Not when I'm with Jason."
Roy didn't react to this at first. "Good," he said finally. "You're right. He needs you."
"Who needs you?"
They looked up; Jason was standing just within the light of the fire.
"No, don't answer that," he added. "I know."
The silence turned awkward. And then Kory said, "Will you sit with us, Jason?"
In lieu of a reply, Jason headed over to them and sat down beside her. They all stared into the fire. Kory reached out and pulled the boys close to her, snaking her arms around their waists, leaning her head on Roy's shoulder.
"You are both incredible human beings," she said, under her breath. "I'm honored to be here with you tonight."
"Yeah," said Roy. "Me too."
Kory asked, "Are you, Jason?"
There was a silence. And then Jason said, "Jay."
"Call me Jay," he said. "And yes, I am honored." He hesitated, then added, "And I'd be lying if I said I wasn't intimidated. On a team with an alien princess and the best archer this side of Star City? How can I stack up to you guys? And please, don't say the whole coming-back-from-the-dead thing again. I get that too much."
"Well," said Roy reasonably, "you were trained by Batman."
"Pft. Everybody's trained by Batman these days."
"You are special, Jay," said Kory quietly. "I've been trying to make you believe that since we met."
"You could have just said it out loud."
"I was under the impression that you'd…respond better to other ways. Roy does."
"I do," confirmed Roy.
Jason chuckled slightly. "Nah," he said. "I mean. I think you're great, Kory, but right now it's just…difficult."
"Of course," she said soothingly. "I wish you had told me earlier. I don't mean to make you uncomfortable. Either of you. I want the opposite of that."
She pressed her lips to Roy's cheek, and then to Jason's.
"You are my friends," she said, and some dam or wall or something just broke inside of Jason, and everything that he'd been hiding, collecting deep inside of himself came rushing out at once, and his eyes began to water and his shoulders began to shake and he bowed his head, and Kory stroked his hair gently, then Roy was on the other side of him and he reached out and embraced Jason, held him tightly, and, Jesus, Jason lost it.
They sat there in the near-darkness of the flickering embers before them, holding each other, clinging onto one another, and Jason thought about what Kory had said and he just wanted to go back to being dead again, they were too kind – they gave him too much – he didn't deserve…
Kory's voice in his head. You are my friends, he heard again, and something inside of him lit on fire that night, and it was a baptism by Kory's sweet tears and Roy's crushing embrace, and this was his and for the first time since he'd been beaten and left for dead at sixteen years old, he began to think that maybe, just maybe, it was okay to try and start to love again.
Title from a quote by Sam Keen: "We come to love not by finding the perfect person, but learning to see an imperfect person perfectly."
This was written about the time RHATOLs #3 was out, so it's obviously a little bit outdated. Also it is clearly not 100% adhering to New 52 canon. This is basically what I had hoped would come to the Outlaws: both Roy and Jason had been through so much trouble and pain, it would be easy to understand that they would drift away from humanity, from life, from themselves. They needed Kory's love and emotion to help them heal, and become stronger, and find themselves. Unfortunately that is not what Outlaws became, and enough has been said about that.