“Robin… you need to pay more attention to your team mates. You incapacitated Kid Flash with a misplaced smoke pellet while he was closing in on one of the vans.” Robin listened carefully to his mentor, his neck crooked upward to look at the significantly larger man. “If you want to be successful on this team you need to anticipate your team mate’s actions, not what I would do.”
“And Miss Martian,” she crossed her arms nervously and met the larger man’s white eye slits. The sharp white shapes studied her silently and she withered beneath the deadly gaze.
“Uhm.. Yes… sir?” She tested cautiously.
“You need to be prepared to commit. You spent so much time second-guessing yourself about which vehicle to stop that both vehicles were able to get out of your projected range.”
“Ah… I… Yes, I’m sorry.”
“Apologies don’t change anything Miss Martian. You need to be able to make split-second decisions. You’re lucky that no one got hurt this time.” Batman studied the faces of the youths before him. “All of you. This wasn’t exactly your best performance.” The team stood still, Wally and Artemis studied the ground carefully and M’gann looked sideways, guiltily avoiding the man’s scrutiny. Kon-El met Batman’s criticisms with poorly masked displeasure while Kaldur and Dick met them with somber acceptance.
“Yes, sir,” replied the Atlantean.
“We’ll do better next time, Batman,” Robin replied.
“I’m sure you will.” Batman looked at each of the young faces once more before nodding slightly and turning to leave. The large steel door closed with an ominous slam, leaving the team alone in their base of operations. Superboy was the first to break out of formation, stepping away from the group and skulking toward the couch.
While Batman had initially been reluctant to agree to furnish the team’s home-away-from-home for fear that the team might become unfocused; he eventually agreed that the home entertainment system could assist in team-building and the kitchen would be essential with a speedster in the mix. While the team had been quite impressed with the lavish creature comforts afforded them by the generous billionaire, none had been more surprised than Dick. Luckily or unluckily for him, Bruce had created a complete hybrid home/workplace for the vigilantes. Young Justice was anything but the cold professional atmosphere Dick had become accustomed to. Dick watched as Kon-El telekinetically grabbed the remote from across the room and flicked through the channels. The atmosphere had finally started to relax when Wally started laughing.
“Holy crap you guys!” Wally choked. “Shit, Robin. How can you take that kind of stress? Just being near the Batman is practically enough to give me an aneurism. I don’t think I’ve ever been so still in my life!” Robin smiled indulgently at the speedster while Artemis just rolled her eyes and M’gann looked anxiously toward the door, fearing that Batman might come back with more discipline in mind.
“You’re such a weirdo…” Artemis mumbled over her shoulder while she walked toward the kitchen for a snack.
“Ha, whatever! I could practically hear you hyperventilating!”
“You could hear me? Is this the same you who was incapable of hearing basic instructions just a couple hours ago?” Artemis shouted from the hall.
“I heard the instructions well enough!” Aqualad flinched slightly as the noise overwhelmed his sensitive eardrums. He excused himself silently from the group in search for some much needed quiet time.
“You just didn’t follow them.”
“Ugh,” Wally huffed. “Wait… did I just hear you open a bag of chips?” The young redhead seemed to disappear from the room as he ran to the kitchen to investigate.
“Sweet! I love Sour Cream and Onion!” Robin pulled out his laptop and sat on the couch.
“What? Go away! Get your own food!” Robin stopped typing for a second to snicker at the objections coming from the other room. He looked to Superboy for some kind of response which was met only with a quiet huff. Used to being rebuffed by the Batman, he contentedly continued his work.
An hour later, Artemis and Kid Flash had stopped arguing over the now empty bag of chips, opting instead to steal hot cookies from M’gann’s baking pan. It was a battle of stealth. Before Artemis could prepare herself to grab a single steaming treat from the pan, Kid Flash had already grabbed and eaten them.
“Damn it Flash, just let me have a cookie you hog!”
“Sorry… none left,” he grinned, crumbs still evident on his lips. Satisfied he sped from the room to watch television with the other guys on the couch.
“You’re such a twerp!” The blonde yelled in frustration as the alien beside her shifted uncomfortably.
“Please don’t… I just made them so you guys wouldn’t have to fight anymore.” Artemis saw the other girl’s sad expression and was reminded slightly of a sad Labrador puppy.
“It’s fine, I’ll just grab a sandwich. I’ll be heading upstairs in a second anyway.” She fixed herself a sandwich as M’gann cleaned the kitchen. “Uhmm, thanks anyway…” the blonde mumbled as she left with her hard-earned meal.
“No problem! I just wish I had some left over for everyone else… I figured one pan would be enough. I didn’t know earthlings ate so much…” Artemis pretended she didn’t hear M’gann as she headed up the stairs to her room. I hardly think Kid Flash is a fair representation of our terrestrial race…
“Were we able to recover any information from the vehicles?” Superman looked expectantly at the Dark Knight.
“And Kon-El… Conner… He doesn’t know about this?”
“I believe he is unaware of the mission’s connection with Cadmus.” Batman watched the superhuman coolly.
“We should do what we can to keep it that way.” Superman watched the stoic man for some kind of response. Finding none, he continued. “I don’t know what we’re going to find, but I don’t think that we should tell Conner anything he doesn’t need to know.” Batman’s eyes narrowed slightly.
“I understand your concern, but I hardly think that we can conceal this from the team while they are directly involved.”
“No… But hopefully we can figure out who’s behind it and why before he finds out.”
“That’s highly unlikely.”
“Yeah, it is.” Superman could hear the large man’s joints shift as he prepared to leave. “Bruce…?” Batman’s head cocked to watch him but he said nothing. “What do you think this is all about?” Superman asked, searching less for answers than for an excuse to talk to the human. Batman straightened slightly at the mention of his name and turned to leave.
“I’m not sure, Superman.” Batman slipped out the door, leaving Clark alone. The coldness of Batman’s reply would have been lost on most people, but the Kryptonian’s super-hearing left it loud and clear. Superman. The way his name was said was just like the man who said it… cold, clear, and strictly professional.
An hour later in the Young Justice hideout:
“Hey, Superboy?” Dick sat on the huge couch, practically a room away from the young man. Superboy said nothing, opting instead to stare blankly at the television. Superboy was silent for almost a minute before replying.
“Hm,” He grunted, accepting Dick’s question.
“Isn’t it kind of weird for you?” Dick watched Superboy’s eyebrow twitch slightly.
“What?” The Kryptonian replied curtly, clearly uninterested in the conversation.
“I mean the missions and stuff. It must be weird coming up against these guys so soon…” Conner ignored the question almost long enough for Dick to drop it before responding.
“What are you talking about?” His bright blue eyes, almost exact replicas of Superman’s met the wide white eyes of Robin’s mask. His eyes were sharper than Superman’s… more hostile.
“Uhhh, Cadmus? The last couple of missions?” Robin replied almost flippantly, a little frustrated with the Kryptonian’s obliviousness.
“Cadmus? What did they have to do with Cadmus?” Robin had clearly gotten the larger teen’s attention. Superboy looked at Dick with a threatening intensity, as though he were just as likely to launch him into space as to listen to his explanation.
“We’ve been going after Cadmus for weeks now. The surveillance vans, the vast hard drives… the Cadmus androids working the sites? The Justice League’s got us searching for information.” By this point the superhuman looked absolutely livid.
“What kind of information?” It became painfully clear to Robin that something was definitely wrong.
“Whatever we can get. Mostly just a couple names so far… How didn’t you know about this? I thought…”
“A couple names?”
“No one important. Just a couple people who worked in Cadmus during the same time period… Are you okay?”
Superboy stood abruptly, his hands shaking slightly. He took a step forward and flipped over a footstool sending it flying across the room before flying off. Robin could do nothing but watch him go and hope that he hadn’t said something which would cause a problem. He pulled his thin legs up onto the couch, feeling the spandex stretch and crease. I guess I’ll get back to work then… Not.
“I need to speak with Superman.” Conner stood tall facing the two adult superhumans, seemingly undaunted in his determination.
“Uhhh” Flash looked over at Martian Manhunter curiously.
“I’m sorry Superboy, he’s not here right now.” Jon replied, his voice strong but monotone. Flash looked around the large room of the Justice League headquarters subconsciously. Superman wasn’t there. Flash and Martian were scheduled to monitor the tower tonight. Flash wondered what the Kryptonian might need.
“Well, where is he? I know it’s him. He’s the reason you didn’t tell me.” Martian’s eyes narrowed and he watched Superboy carefully. The Flash looked between them uncomfortably.
“Wait. What’s going on here?” The two aliens didn’t respond, watching each other for a moment.
“He’s probably at work right now. I’m sure the Kents have his phone number; you could call him when he gets off tonight.” Superboy glared at the Martian. Jon made it clear that he knew exactly where Superman was, and knew about the situation with Cadmus from the beginning. It was unsurprising that a mind-reader would know this kind of information, but it frustrated Superboy nonetheless. He was supposed to be the carbon copy of the man of steel, and yet he didn’t even know whether he was supposed to be on Earth, in the satellite tower, or off in another dimension. Superboy turned to look at the Flash for a moment. Martian Manhunter wasn’t about to tell him anything, and the Flash didn’t seem to know. He ran his fingers through his hair quickly in frustration before turning to leave. Flash watched as Superboy flew past the large windows overlooking Earth and disappeared.
Superboy returned to his home with the Kents. He would have to wait until at least seven before he would be able to call Superman on his home number, and it was unlikely that he would reveal anything to the young Kryptonian anyway. Conner finished his chores and dinner before escaping out to the barn. This is where he grew up. This is where Superman lived. Where does that leave me? Where the Hell do I fit in? He watched as the sun started to set over the farm. The world already had a Superman. Some days, it seemed to have all the heroes it needed. What could anyone possibly need with me?
Later that night:
Bruce sat in the Batcave in front of the computer, his dinner growing cold beside him as Dick nibbled on pieces of chicken. Dick couldn’t help but recall the events from the day and wonder if he should tell Batman about Superboy’s distress. Superboy had seemed so upset about Cadmus… He couldn’t help but feel that upsetting the young man was his fault. How was he supposed to know that Superboy didn’t know about the mission’s relationship with Cadmus? Sure, they were part of a covert team and information didn’t exactly flow freely between Young Justice and the Justice League, but it wasn’t exactly like they were hiding anything, right?
“Uhh. Batman?” Dick ventured cautiously. Batman didn’t turn around or even notify Dick that he had heard, but Dick hadn’t really expected him to. “I was talking to Superboy today… and uhhh” the already elusive train of thought was lost when Bruce turned to face him. He was still wearing the Batsuit from tonight’s rounds but he had removed his mask.
“This is about Cadmus?” Bruce ventured. Dick looked startled for a moment before mentally smacking himself. Of course Bruce would know. Bruce knows everything… God, how does he do that??”
“Yeah, actually. I might have mentioned that we were dealing with Cadmus in passing and—“
“Superboy didn’t take it so well, I presume.” Batman seemed completely unfazed.
“No, he didn’t. How do you… What’s going on? I figured that someone would have told him, especially considering that it relates to the entire reason he exists in the first place!”
“There are some in the Justice League who feel that it may be better to conceal any information from him. They think it would be better to figure out what we’re dealing with before informing Superboy.”
“Why? What are we looking for anyway? Cadmus is non-operational. They’re taken care of, right?” Robin watched his mentor carefully. Just what are you expecting to find which would be worth keeping him in the dark…? “What aren’t you telling me… us… him?”
“Cloning is a difficult process, Dick. Even on humans…” Bruce’s blue eyes watched Dick’s carefully. Bruce was trying to tell him something. “I never told you not to mention anything to him. That’s my fault. I’m sorry to put you in that kind of situation.”
“You never told me not to mention it… but you knew I would have figured it out by now.” He wanted me to tell Conner. Whatever’s going on, he wants me to figure it out. Something’s going on and Bruce doesn’t want to cover it up.
One of the many features Bruce Wayne had funded and built into the Young Justice hide-away mountain was rooms for all of the members (and then some). Each room functioned both as an office space and a place for team members to sleep before and after particularly stressful missions. A little while after school had ended for the super teens, Dick, Wally, Superboy, and Artemis were making use of the cave. Dick was up in his room working on an update to his computer’s anti-virus programming. (It was critical that his computer be cutting edge if he intended to use it on missions.) Down the hall he could hear Artemis and Wally fussing at each other. Wally was trying to convince Artemis to watch a movie with him when Dick heard something strange. There was a crash in the room next door. Dick cautiously peeked his head out the door to investigate.
The noise wouldn’t have been significant anywhere else, but Dick’s room was next to Superboy’s and Superboy tended to be pretty quiet when he wasn’t upset. He stepped out into the hall, looking for any sign of an intruder. Finding none, he knocked lightly on the door. It was unlikely that the Superboy hadn’t heard him, so when the door was left unopened, Dick decided to investigate. He opened the door slowly, one hand on his utility belt. The room was a mess. The floor was littered with broken glass and a couple pieces of crumpled notebook paper. In the middle of the room he saw the rest of the torn notebook.
“Superboy? You there?” He looked around the room, seeing little in the dark.
“I didn’t say you could come in.” The voice came from behind Dick, practically breathing down his neck. He turned around quickly, a Batarang drawn. Superboy looked down at him, his eyes creased with distrust. He heard Robin’s heart beating quickly as the boy stepped back and slowly began to relax.
“It’s you,” he muttered, more to himself. “I heard a crash,” he looked at the wreckage, “presumably your lamp hitting the floor. What’s going on? Is everything okay?” Superboy walked over to his bed and sat with his head in his hands.
“Yeah, fine. Go away, Robin.” He just wanted to be alone.
“Why don’t you let me help clean up the glass at least? It might not hurt you, but someone could still get cut.” Robin carefully kneeled on the floor in front of Superboy, stretching out the gather the shards of glass. His body was small, so much more fragile than the Kryptonian’s. He couldn’t help but watch as Robin carefully scooped the pieces into a pile. Robin talked to Superboy as he worked, but Superboy couldn’t hear any of it as he was lost in his own thoughts.
“…don’t you think?” Superboy blinked.
“What?” Superboy watched as Robin turned to face him.
“Wow. Super-hearing and you still can’t hear me,” he laughed at the irony. “I said, ‘that’s a lot better, don’t you think?’” Superboy looked at where the glass shards had been.
“Sure, I guess.” He couldn’t really care either way about the shards. It wasn’t like they could hurt him, and it was his own fault for breaking the lamp. He felt uncomfortable with Robin in his room and wanted him to leave as soon as possible. He felt antsy being near the young detective. Dick watched his team mate with concern. He never really spoke much with Superboy. They were just too different… it seemed weird. Dick usually couldn’t shut up while Superboy had to be coaxed to say a word. He was always so angry and sad. Dick had always been a problem-solver, and looked for something he could do to help. The floor had been cleared of the shards of glass but there were still scraps of notebook paper littering the room. He started to pick one up. He thought about uncrumpling the paper to see what was written, but it didn’t seem right, especially given the circumstances. Superboy’s anxious gaze seemed to confirm that he shouldn’t so he left the paper where it was and stood, dusting himself off.
“Uhhh, is there anything I can do to help?” Superboy watched him. At first, he looked at the younger boy with scorn. What could you possibly do? Robin rubbed his neck uncomfortably and Superboy started to feel guilty. Maybe he could help…
“Hey, Robin?” Superboy asked, feeling nervous before it was even out of his mouth. “Is it possible for a clone to be different from the original and still be a clone?” Robin looked at him pensively. He walked over and took a seat beside him on the bed before responding.
“Well, yeah. In your case, you’re different from Superman, but that’s only because you’re younger. If Superman were to be younger, then you’d probably be a lot closer to being the same.”
“No, I mean…” He trailed off, thinking for a moment before starting again. “Is it possible for a clone to be different. Like maybe have a different skin color or something…”
“No, not to have a different skin color since their DNA would be the same. Why do you ask?” Dick remembered the look Bruce had given him, the look which told him to search deeper. He was getting closer to whatever it was he was supposed to find.
“Robin, I think I know how you can help me.”
“You might as well talk to him, Superman.” Batman’s sharp gaze cut across the long table. The superhuman had been on edge for weeks now and it was starting to interfere with his focus in combat. The Flash watched the powerhouses carefully, his polite discretion lost after Superman faltered during the Justice League’s last encounter with Clock King.
“I think it’s about time you came clean, Superman. What’s going on?” Martian Manhunter floated down from the floor above, preparing to defuse a conflict should one arise. The Kryptonian stood, refusing to respond to his team mate’s question.
“Whatever’s going on, it’s becoming dangerous.” Barry watched his friend cringe under his scrutiny.
“It’s been dangerous all along, Flash.”
“What has?” The speedster spoke quietly, as though Superman would run away at any moment.
“Cadmus. Experiment 13. It just doesn’t add up…” Manhunter and Batman looked at Flash for a moment, waiting for him to start connecting the dots. “Cadmus shouldn’t have been able to create a clone of me without a living sample. “
“They would have needed to see your DNA functioning in order to create a copy. All of the research we’ve found from Cadmus and Experiment 13 have been of human/Kryptonian hybrids. They could have used a living human sample and infused it with Kryptonian DNA.” Batman looked at Superman and Martian Manhunter, waiting for their conclusions.
“I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying… Experiment 13… that was Superboy. If they didn’t have your living tissue, then wouldn’t that make him…?” The Flash looked between Superman and Batman.
“Then he wouldn’t really be a clone after all.” Superman could feel his mind reeling. It was different to think about the possibility, but when all of the data came together like this, and when it was all out in the open, it quickly became overwhelming.
“How long have you guys known about this?” Flash remembered Superboy’s distress when they met at the tower. He was looking for answers from Superman at least a week ago. Superman and Batman exchanged a glance.
“Well… I thought that I might have missed something about the cloning process, or that there might just be differences but…”
“Superboy is left-handed, Flash. Dominant handedness is believed to be genetic, and even if it wasn’t, Superboy’s implanted memories would have caused him to favor his right hand like Superman.”
“How long have you known?” The Flash looked accusingly at Batman.
“Since I saw him that night.” Batman returned the speedster’s stare, refusing to back down. The Flash started to relax and look at the situation more rationally.
“So who would they have used?” Flash looked from Batman to Superman and Batman followed his gaze to Superman. Superman thought about the only left-handed person he knew who Cadmus would choose for the genetic splicing. He remembered the cold glare the man had given him the last time they’d met, and the Kryptonite injection which had followed it. Odds were pretty good that he and Batman were thinking the exact same thing, and Batman was sure to have a mountain of proof to back it up. Somewhere delving deep in Cadmus’s data files Batman must have found the name which could make even Superman shiver; Luthor.
Dick Grayson stood outside Superboy’s Kansas home, gathering the courage to knock. Of all of the parts of this meeting he had envisioned struggling with, knocking on the door hadn’t even made the shortlist. He irrationally wished that he had come in his uniform, rather than his civilian disguise. …he felt so naked and unprepared. It’s not necessarily that he expected Superboy to react poorly and maybe break everything around him… Necessarily… One way or another, this wasn’t going to be a boost to the struggling man’s already fragile ego. He realized that he had been pacing and stood still. With a deep breath, he prepared himself to knock.
“Robin?” Conner opened the door wearing a flannel shirt and jeans. He even had a bit of straw in his hair. Robin felt his cheeks burn at the sight.
“Uhh, hey there. I’ve got news.” Conner straightened his shirt a little bit before inviting him inside.
“Come on in.” Robin couldn’t help looking around the small country dining room and attached kitchen. The home was immaculate, but not in the way that Alfred kept Bruce’s mansion. In Wayne Manor, tables were kept completely empty except for subtle, extremely expensive, decorations. The home, if it could be called that, was mostly for show. The real living quarters were hidden underground and filled with vermin. (The irony was not lost on the young hero.) Here in the Kent household, everything seemed to have a perfect place where it belonged. In the middle of the old wooden table sat a fruit basket filled with a couple of different kinds of apples. Hand sewn curtains lined the double window over the sink which looked out over the endless grassy hills of the farm.
Conner followed Dick’s gaze out the windows. He remembered the day he’d arrived here, looking out those windows for hours and marveling at how the sky and the land met, forever away on the horizon. He was released from an incubation chamber to live here of all places, where he couldn’t even pretend to belong. Mrs. Kent gingerly stepped into the kitchen and watched the two boys for a moment before interrupting. She smiled at Dick who couldn’t help but blush at the attention.
“Hello Mrs. Kent, I’m—“
“—It’s okay. I don’t need to know.” She gave the seemingly very young man a wink before turning to her ward. “You’ve taken care of the chickens, haven’t you?”
“I—Yes, Mrs. Kent.” She lovingly picked a piece of straw out of his hair.
“Good.” She looked at the boys for a second and placed her worn old hands on her hips.
“I’m sure you’ve got business to take care of, but I think the pie I baked is just about cool. We were going to save it until dinner, but I’m sure you have no idea how long you’ll be staying.” She said, seeing herself in the young man’s… boy’s sunglasses. “Is apple alright?” Conner’s face turned three different colors in embarrassment before he looked sheepishly at the woman’s feet.
“That’d be nice.”
“Yes, Ma’am. Thank you.” Dick could feel his heart racing watching the young Kryptonian. Seeing him like this… It was so different. He was used to seeing Superboy quiet and skulking, seeing him in a family setting, looking so… sweet, caught him by surprise. The same guy he knew punching through buildings and beating up criminals like they were children could show a face like this. It was almost as alarming as the time he caught Batman smiling at one of his jokes, but there he was holding two slices of apple pie and blushing as Mrs. Kent brushed some dirt off his back. Forget the Justice League, Mrs. Kent could probably take down the Dark Hand with a smile and a pastry. It was Superboy’s look of urgency which brought him out of his thoughts.
“Thank you Mrs. Kent.” Superboy was already halfway up the stairs. “We’ll be in my room.”
Dick smiled at the older woman before rushing up the stairs behind him. Before Robin had even crested the stairs, Superboy had the plates of pie sitting on a desk and stood waiting for him. When Dick slowed, Superboy grabbed his arm and pulled him inside, closing the door behind him.
“Robin,” he stood only inches away, still holding the smaller man’s arm. The face looking down at the younger man was very different than the one he’d had a couple of seconds ago.
“I have news.” Superboy nodded his head, desperate for Robin to continue. “Superboy, you’re going to want to sit down.” Robin stepped back, refusing to look into the terrified blue eyes. “I ran the sample in the Batcomputer, and compared it to Superman’s DNA. Y-You’re not actually his clone. Not really…” Superboy ran his fingers through his hair. He’d been waiting for weeks to hear from Robin. He’d known all along that it would come down to this, but it still hurt to hear it aloud.
“Then what am I?” Superboy could practically feel the pity rolling off his friend in waves.
“You’re a hybrid. You’re a combination of Superman’s genetic coding and the genetic structure of…”
“Lex Luthor. You’re almost perfectly split, half and half. They were able to replicate the physical traits of Superman using a phenotype transfer, but the more complicated traits are primarily Luthor’s.” Superboy sat slowly in his desk chair, his mind still reeling. Not only was he not a clone, around half of his genetic code came from one of the most notoriously evil people on Earth. Being a poor clone of Superman was hard enough to deal with, but this? He could feel Robin’s hand on his back.
“Superboy… Superboy, this doesn’t change anything. You’re still the exact same person you were before. This doesn’t have to control the way you live your life. Conner, please look at me.” His blue eyes didn’t seem so much like Superman’s anymore. He’d seen Superman angry and stressed and sad, but never had he seen Superman look hurt and lost like Superboy did now.
Dick had never been someone you would call studious, but he was without a doubt brilliant. His brilliance, however, only made school all the more frustrating. In his mind he was going over the schematics of the new engine he hoped to outfit his motorcycle with while his teacher droned on about the nature of gerunds. Somehow Dick couldn’t imagine gerunds helping him out in any way… ever. He’d always loved books and the English language, but at this point he figured that the students who were going to understand gerunds had just about figured them out. Three days straight spent on them… Batman hadn’t even given him three days to figure out how to use a grappling hook to scale a building. While he was on the thought of Batman, the all too familiar buzzing came from the Batsignal in his pants pocket. The Batwave. Oh thank God. He raised his hand.
“Uhmm, excuse me. Can I go to the restroom?” The teacher looked at him suspiciously. It wasn’t as though the teacher could tell him, ‘no, he couldn’t relieve himself,’ but Dick Grayson had the nasty habit of disappearing from the bathroom. Sometimes for a week on end. He rolled his eyes. Wayne’s kid. He nodded. It wasn’t exactly like the ward of billionaire Bruce Wayne needed to learn much of anything with the kind of wealth he’d be inheriting. That was his thought process anyway.
Dick stepped out into the hallway, saluting his teacher with a smile after he’d turned back to face his class. Oh thank God. I could use some butt-kicking. He ran down the hall and into the boy’s room. He’d figured out long ago that the window for ventilation in the boy’s bathroom was just large enough for him to shimmy through and he could easily meet up with the Batman at one of the many cave entrances, this one being about a block away. He used all of his skill and cunning to sneak through the bushes to where he could jog without being seen. He was still picking leaves out of his hair as he got his costume on.
Batman was flying his jet which meant either that Batman was in a marginal mood, or whatever was happening was pretty serious. The jet lowered just enough for Robin to catch it with his grappling hook before heading off to their destination. Wally reached out to grab his hand once he’d gotten close enough and pulled him in. He offered his friend a smile before he felt the tension in the air. Wally and Artemis were sitting in the back while Bruce flew. It was a strange group. Wally and Artemis should have been at least a town away in class right now. He raised an eyebrow at his friend who blushed deeply and sparing a glance at the Batman shook his head to say, don’t ask. Artemis focused intently on her spotless uniform, dusting off imaginary dirt and Batman was scowling. Bruce was showing about the same face he had when he had to describe pornography to the young(er) Dick. Robin gave Kid Flash an impish grin which was returned in kind. He turned his attention to his silent mentor.
“So, where are we headed?” He relaxed gracelessly in the passenger side of the cockpit. Batman didn’t even turn to look at him.
“We’re going to Lexcorp Headquarters in Metropolis.” His scowl deepened. Lex Luthor. Now that was coincidental timing if he’d ever heard it. Unless…
“Where’s Superboy?” He tried to stay calm, he really did, but panic was written all over his face. Batman looked even more agitated.
“He’s already there.” Shit. Shitshitshit. This is my fault. Batman consoled his young charge, “Superman’s on his way. He got a call from Luthor a couple minutes ago.” There’s no way Luthor wouldn’t milk this for all he could. There had to be a catch. Whatever it was, he would soon find out.
Rather than landing, Batman ordered the jet via voice command to hover while the crime fighters jumped in through where the 50th story window had once been. Clearly Superboy had a similar idea. Superman flew to Batman’s side, barely acknowledging the rest of his reinforcements. They were standing in Lex Luthor’s office. The office itself was incredible, there were priceless artifacts on practically every surface and the walls were lined with dark wooden bookcases which matched his large, glossy desk and chair. The chair turned slowly, revealing a seemingly benevolent Luthor. Robin could practically hear Batman’s blood boil beside him.
“I wager I can guess why you’ve all come.” Batman’s slits narrowed and Superman’s shoulders tensed.
“We’re not here to play games, Luthor. Where is he?” Luthor’s façade slipped away before their eyes and he grinned like the cat that got the canary. He leisurely reached out and pressed a button on the underside of his desk which caused one of the bookcases along the wall to spin. Superboy was chained to the back of the case, looking pale and breathing heavily. Batman began to assess the boy’s health. Considering the boy’s genetic combined coding, he could theoretically be susceptible to all different kinds of poisons and toxins… It didn’t seem like Luthor to miss an opportunity to flaunt his Kryptonite, however. Batman could feel that he was being watched and turned toward the megalomaniac which only made Luthor smile more.
“I went with Kryptonite this time, Batman,” he gloated, holding an empty syringe in his hand. “I would have liked to pump him full of all sorts of terrible things, but I figured it would be long before you all showed up.” He used the back of his hand to motion to the group. He stopped when he saw that Robin with shaking. It was truly criminal that heroes like Batman could get away with exploiting such young boys. Laws and governing systems caved at their feet like simpering fools. It didn’t really matter though, in due time he would correct the indecencies of Superman and Batman and the like. And for now, he had everything he needed.
“You can take him now. I’ve gotten the samples I needed.” Luthor turned back to his desk dismissively.
“And what will stop us from bringing you to justice?”
“The law, Superman. I suggest you get out of my office before I call the police and inform them of a break in.” Seeing that they’d lost, Batman moved to gather Superboy. “Oh, and he’ll need immediate medical treatment if he wants to live… but you already knew that.”
Superboy was unconscious by the time they reached Batman’s jet. His powerful body lay limp as Superman carried the smaller half-breed to the gurney in the back, laying him down gently to avoid spreading the toxic Kryptonite any further. Robin, Kid Flash, and Artemis filed in behind him, clearly shell-shocked by the encounter. While meeting Luthor and learning the truth about Superboy had completely blind-sided Kid Flash and Artemis, Robin was held captive by his own fear and guilt. It was his fault that Superboy had come here in the first place. He should have known this would happen… He didn’t notice that he was trembling until he felt Wally’s hand on his back comforting him. Wally was still clearly trying to process everything that had happened while he tried to smile soothingly to his friend. Robin’s eyes were focused on his unconscious teammate before him. Superboy was pale and sweating profusely, his body doing everything it could to rid itself of the poison.
Superboy floated in and out of consciousness during their ride to Gotham. Voices and faces blurred in his mind… Everything seemed far away and distorted. Part of him could understand what was going on, but he couldn’t process the information in the frontal lobe to give the situation rational thought. He could hear every voice from here to Star City along with countless noises he couldn’t name; with his defenses lowered, he couldn’t prevent his Kryptonian hearing taking over. He heard Robin’s labored breathing leaning over him. He heard Superman’s elevated heartbeat and the words he spoke to Batman in the cockpit.
“Batman…” Superman’s voice was tinged with emotion… maybe, panic? “Batman, don’t be like that. This isn’t my fault. I didn’t ask for a kid, or a clone, or whatever you call him in your head.” Batman glanced back toward the cargo hold, ignoring the superhuman, before continuing to navigate the jet as though the other man hadn’t spoken at all.
“Shh,” Batman silenced his friend, well-adjusted to the sensitivity of Kryptonian hearing. He nodded back toward the cargo hold where Superboy could hear every word, even if he couldn’t process them. While it may have been obvious to Superman who Batman really was, Batman had since taken to lining his cowl to prevent another breach. Batman felt irritation rise in his throat. Emotions like this really have no place in crime fighting. Maybe Clark and Conner can get away with it, but it will get the rest of us killed, or worse.
When the heroes arrived back in Gotham they took a secret entrance into the Batcave. A normal looking building in a rougher part of the city retracted to reveal a narrow road leading into the dark. Batman flew over the road, quickly navigating a complicated series of turns before landing on the underground helipad. Superman carried Superboy out of the jet after everyone had exited. The cave was still further on, but there was no reason for Wally or Artemis to travel with them any further. For the sake of Batman’s already damaged security, Kid Flash and Artemis were to head out the way they had come. Superboy’s critical condition didn’t allow much time for social niceties, but Superman agreed to transport Artemis home after he had transported the younger Kryptonian into the Batcave’s medical wing.
“Is he going to be okay?” Dick looked at his mentor expectantly.
“He’ll be fine now. All he needs is rest.” Batman refused to look at his ward, opting instead to continue analyzing the results from various treatment options. He couldn’t stand to see the relief on the boy’s face. Dick sat on the medical bed beside his teammate, lowering his weight gingerly to avoid disturbing his friend.
“It’s all my fault, Bruce.” The older man’s eyes closed as he prepared for the confrontation. “If I hadn’t told him about the genetic splicing… I could have at least broken it to him more gently.” Dick’s fingers ran through his hair, pulling slightly in frustration.
“He had every right to know, Dick. You did the right thing in telling him.” Bruce turned to watch the young vigilante.
“He could have died today! I… I could have watched him die. And it would have been my fault…”
“Dick. Listen to me. The truth is powerful. Superboy needs to confront and accept his past. If he’s lucky, he may even be able to become stronger because of it.”
“I—I agree that he needed to know. I understand that. But what happens now?”
“Ideally? Ideally, he’ll awaken in two hours, dust himself off, and be ready for the team’s next mission. But things are never that easy…”
With Superboy’s conditions stable, Batman left Dick to monitor the half-breed’s condition while Bruce made a public appearance. Tonight he had reservations at the finest restaurant in Gotham to dine with a Russian supermodel. In all honesty, however, he would much rather spend his evening going over charts and criminal files. It was well after midnight by the time Bruce returned home.
“Welcome home, Master Bruce. I presume your evening was enlightening?”
“Thoroughly. I didn’t know it was possible for one person to talk about themselves for so long… this coming from an experienced Gotham socialite.”
“I can’t imagine your friend’s in the League know how much the Batman suffers to maintain his secrecy.”
“I’m sure Hal would smoother me with pity.” Bruce joked dryly as Alfred helped to remove his Armani suit jacket. “Has Dick eaten anything?”
“No sir. The last time I came down he seemed… otherwise preoccupied.” Alfred’s face was as unreadable as always and Bruce raised a questioning eyebrow as he walked toward the entrance to the cave.
“I don’t think he’s had anything since breakfast. If possible, try to convince him to have something before he goes to bed tonight.”
“I don’t know if it will be possible, sir.” Bruce rode the elevator down to the Batcave with Alfred, expecting to find Dick busy with one of his pet projects. When the elevator doors opened, Batman’s eyes scanned the cave for his ward. He found Dick fast asleep curled up next to Superboy, his head resting on the larger boy’s shoulder. “I’m afraid he may have already gone to bed for the night.” Alfred watched as Bruce’s eyes shifted from subtle surprise, to annoyance, and back to his usual cool façade. “Should we awaken the young master?”
“No.” Batman replied a little too quickly, turning away from the scene and addressing his computer instead. “But I could use some coffee.”
“If I may be so bold…”
“Not now, Alfred.”
“Coffee it is then.” Alfred replied with a nod.
“With the new information that has come to light…” Superman formally addressed the League, “I believe that it would be wise for Superboy to take some time away from Young Justice to address his more… personal matters.”
“Is this for Superboy’s sake, or your own?” Manhunter sighed, sensing the growing tensions between Superman and Batman.
“Well, Batman. We discussed it and we believe that it is in his best interest—“
“--to get the hell away from you.” Black Canary watched the fight from a distance as the Flash tried to intervene.
“No, Flash. Sooner or later we are going to need to address the elephant in the room. Putting this off won’t make it any easier for the team and adds unnecessary distractions. Superboy is cloned from Lex Luthor’s genetic coding. If Superboy wants to take time off, I would encourage him to do so, but sending him away doesn’t change what he is.”
“I’m not trying to change what he is. I’m trying to give him a chance to adjust.”
“Sooner or later, Superman, you’re going to need to take some kind of responsibility for him.”
“Batman, I know you’re upset with me—“ Batman silenced the larger Kryptonian with the wave of his hand.
“Not everything has to be about emotions.” The League members did what they could to avoid the growing tension in the room. This was an argument they had heard before, and it never ended very well.
“Damnit, maybe it wouldn’t hurt if you had some.” Batman only paused a second before standing and turning to leave.
“Uh, so… Superman. About the whole uhh…” The Flash chatted helplessly at the large man’s side while the rest of the League looked on in pity. Superman could do nothing but watch his friend go.
The following week, Kon-El took some time off in Kansas. Aqualad and M’gann were alone in the tower while Robin was out working in Gotham and Kid Flash and Artemis were on what she vehemently insisted was ‘not a date’.
“Wait… Aqualad. I understand that Lex Luthor and Superman have fought a lot in the past, but I don’t understand why. From all of the news information I have found, Mr. Luthor seems to be a nice enough guy.”
“That’s true, but he also owns all of those news sources. What you’ve found… They’re mostly not true. I mean, look at this one. Sure, Lex Luthor attended the World Summit and made a substantial donation, but Superman also insists that he hired an assassin to kill one of the leaders. Lex Luthor is powerful, brilliant, and thoroughly evil.”
“But Superboy… he isn’t evil at all.”
“I don’t think that he is either. I just can’t imagine what it must be like. Knowing what kinds of horrible things you could be capable of…”
About a week later in Smallville, Kansas:
For the second time this month, Robin found himself in Kansas. This time he was waiting on the Kent’s doorstep with his good friend Wally West. No one on the team had heard from Superboy since he left for Kansas two weeks earlier and instead of Superboy, this time it was Jonathan Kent who answered the door. His kindly weathered face wrinkled with consternation.
“Well you two are some young boys. I presume you’re here to see Connor?” Wally smiled openly at the man while Dick shifted his sunglasses uncomfortably.
“Yeah. We’re from Youn-mpphhh…”
“We’re friends from school.” Dick finished with a conspiratory smile.
“Suuure ya are,” he smiled back. His smile, however, faded before he continued. “I have to warn you guys, poor Connor hasn’t been doing so well since he came back. Clark used to come back here pretty frequently when things were getting tough in Metropolis, but he never took to stuffing himself up in his room like Connor has. Hopefully you can lure him out.” Jonathan motioned for the two young teenagers to let themselves inside and up to Connor’s room.
“He’s going through a bit of a rough patch right now, but I’m sure he’ll be okay.” Dick assured the elderly man.
“I’m sure he will, and if he’s anything like my son, he’ll come out of it even stronger.”
“Funny you should say that…” Wally twitched impatiently at his side. “We should be heading upstairs then.” Robin started after Kid Flash up the stairs.
“Good luck, boys.”
Wally knocked gently on Superboy’s bedroom door.
“Hey, Superboy? You in there?” There was no reply from the room so Wally opened the door. Superboy was lying face down in his bed, his face completely hidden by his pillow. His room was a complete disaster. The trashcan was overflowing with wads of notebook paper and there were dishes everywhere. Dick couldn’t help but pick up one of the wads and place it on top of the mountain that once was a trashcan.
“Uh, hey Superboy, how are you holding up? I’m sure it must be a lot to take in…” Superboy rolled over at the sound of Dick’s voice, laying on his side and facing the wall.
“Hey man, is there anything we can do?” Wally offered kindly, his eyes wide with concern. With still no response, Dick moved closer to the bed, sitting gently beside his friend. Sitting, however, turned out to be a bad idea. The morning he had awakened next to Superboy had taken a lot of effort to wipe from his memory until this point. He remembered sneaking himself out of Superboy’s ridiculously strong grip and praying to God that no one saw them and that Superboy wouldn’t awaken. His face flushed under his sunglasses and he quickly stood and walked stiffly to the other side of the room. Wally glanced between his friends curiously, waiting for some kind of explanation from Robin. Instead of giving one, Robin opted to distract Wally from the entire awkward affair.
“Hey, uh... Wally. Maybe you could clean his room for him really quickly? Not all of us have super speed and I’m sure he’d really appreciate the help clearing out the old dishes. Uhhh… especially that one.” Robin frowned in disgust at a particularly moldy cup.
“Sure, no problem.” Wally practically flew around the room balancing plate after plate on top of each other. Once the dishes were all stacked, he started to make his way down the stairs.
“I’m okay!” While Martha Kent helped Wally to clean up the vast pile of dishes, Superboy turned to face Robin.
“Hey Robin.” Superboy looked like he hadn’t slept the entire time he was away and then some. He had dark circles under his eyes and his hair was matted and messy.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Robin stepped slightly out of the corner he was hiding himself in. “Sorry if I overstepped my bounds asking Wally to clean, I was just thinking that maybe—“
“Come here,” Superboy begged, more with his eyes than his words.
“Yeah. Sure.” Robin walked over closer to the bed.
“No, I mean, come here.” Superboy grabbed Robin’s hand and pulled him so that he was sitting on the bed next to him. The proximity drove Dick nuts and he did the only thing he could do. Chatter.
“You know, it really doesn’t change anything what your genetic coding is, and I’m sure you’ve already thought about that, but just so you know that other people are thinking it too…”
“Robin. Why did you sleep with me that night?” Superboy heard Robin’s jaw clinch shut and watched as his cheeks reddened even further.
“W-What night?” Dick has always been, and always will be a very poor liar.
“When I was injured. You could have gone to bed at any time, but you stayed with me. You even fell asleep sitting there.”
“Uh… sitting there. When were you, uhmm, awake?”
“You were snoring for a little while. It awakened me.”
“Ah, right. Sorry.” Dick scratched the back of his head awkwardly. Could this get any more awkward?
“Heh,” Superboy chuckled at the flustered boy on his bed.
“D-did you just laugh? I don’t think I’ve ever heard you laugh before…” Superboy laughed again a little harder.
“S-Sorry. I couldn’t help it. Your face is purple. You look like you swallowed a pineapple whole!”
“You didn’t crawl into bed with me, Robin. You can stop worrying about that.”
“But then, how did I?” Superboy leaned in and placed his hand on Robin’s forearm.
“Remember when you were snoring? You looked really uncomfortable so I might have…”
“You pulled me into bed with you!?” Robin was practically flailing by this point.
“Shh! They may not have super hearing, but they have ears.” Superboy whispered. They stopped for a moment to stare anxiously at the door.
“You pulled me into bed with you?” Robin asked, whispering this time.
“…” Superboy turned back to the wall for a while before responding. “When I was in the helicopter, I could hear your heart beat. I… I’ve never heard your heart beat like that. Not when you’re not running anyway. You’re always so cool and collected but you… you were really worried about me.”
“O-Of course I was!”
“Robin… I…” Superboy’s free hand grabbed Dick’s. “I’m not sure I understand it, but I really care for you.” Dick tried to pull his hand free.
“I-uh, yeah man. You’re a really great friend.”
“No, you don’t get it. You don’t look at me like I’m some kind of freak or some kind of ticking time bomb. When I’m with you… You treat me like I’m just… me. What I mean to say is…” Superboy pulled the smaller teen closer, leaning in until their lips were touching. Robin’s lips were tight at first, his mind racing with shock, but just as he started to relax and his fingers laced into Superboy’s hair, Superboy broke away.
“S-Sorry,” he whispered, swallowing loudly before turning to the door. “Hey, uh, Wally? Is that you?” The door creaked open slowly and Robin jolted out of the bed.
“W-Wally? How long have you… The uh, dishes?”
“I have super speed, Robin. They’ve been cleaned up for a while.”
“I’m going to go. I’ll run home. See you guys later.” Wally refused to look at Superboy or Robin, disappearing almost instantly.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t know he was…” Robin stared at the floor, his face completely pale. He felt like he was going to be sick.
“It’s f-fine. It’s not like this changes anything. I mean, Wally and I have been friends forever. I can’t imagine him caring about…” Superboy placed his hands on Robin’s shoulders.
“I’m really sorry, Robin.” Robin turned around, burying his face in one of the large shoulders in front of him.
“Wally, please. I don’t understand—“
“We don’t have time for this Robin. We really need to be focusing on the next convoy.” Robin quieted for a while, his eyes searching the ground as his mind whirled frantically.
“Look, I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you. I had no idea that he felt that way.” Robin held on to Kid Flash’s arm, begging him to acknowledge him.
“I don’t want to know who felt what way, Robin,” Wally cleared his throat with discomfort, disgust clearly written on his face. “Can we just—“ Wally sighed. “Just look for the freaking trucks, Robin.” As soon as we take down Bane I can get away from here… and you. Wally didn’t say it, but it was clear what he wanted. There was nothing Robin could think that would make Kid Flash look him in the eye. For all of his practice disarming foes with his playful wit and banter, he found that there was nothing.
“Kid Flash, Robin? Anything on your end yet?”
“Nothing yet.” Wally responded to the radio, grateful to have something else to focus on.
Robin and Kid Flash were staked out somewhere in Tunisia waiting for Bane’s latest shipment of venom, likely escorted by Bane himself. The air was hot and dry and Robin was certain that it was the sand in the air causing his eyes to water. In this desert, the wind blew across the dunes relatively unhindered by trees as the landscape was only sparsely patterned with the occasional palm tree or desert bush. Devoid of life, the silence was suffocating.
“I-It’s just weird! I thought you were… y’know, normal.” Robin had been waiting over a week for this chance to talk to his friend again, but he realized that he was about to miss it.
“Kid Flash…” Robin’s proximity alarm chirped in his pocket and he whipped around, eyes scanning for the cause. From where he was he could see a small misplaced shadow peeking over the top of the nearest dune.
“I mean… We’ve hung out and talked about girls and stuff, and then you’re—“
“Wally. Move, now. Get out of here.” Robin watched as the shadow shifted, lifting something over its shoulder and taking aim. Shit, shit, shit!! “WALLY GET THE HELL AWAY FROM HERE NOW!” Time slowed for the speedster as he pulled himself out of his thoughts and tried to process what his friend was telling him. He saw the shadow on the dune and ran, but it was too late. He heard the rush of smoke as he tackled the attacker, knocking the rocket launcher out of his hands. His fists were a blur of punches when he explosive hit.
People always describe explosions as a loud noise, but all Wally could hear was the deafening silence of his ears ringing and his heart pounding as the sand launched into the air around where he and his friend had been standing only a second before. It was unlikely if not impossible for Robin to have moved far enough out of the way in time, but perhaps Wally had given him enough of an opening when he threw off the rocket’s aim. Please God.
Four hours later, Young Justice found themselves in the Justice League tower. Robin was currently being operated on by one of the finest surgeons Wayne money could buy while Kid Flash, Artemis, Superboy, and Miss Martian sat outside.
“Listen Wally, I’m sure he’s alright. You did everything you could.” Artemis sat beside him on a long bench as Miss Martian and Superboy floated anxiously. Her fingers wrapped around his, but rather than responding in kind, his hand lay limp.
“No… You don’t understand.” Wally couldn’t look at anyone. Artemis stroked the back of his hand with her thumb.
“What’s there to understand? Mistakes happen. All we can do is hope that Robin will be okay.” Miss Martian nodded in agreement while Superboy watched him critically.
It’s my fault. Superboy’s got every right to be angry… Robin… I hope he lives long enough to hate me for this. Wally shifted his legs, trying to find a position in which he could feel comfortable with the full cast surrounding his right leg. Robin… The door beside them opened suddenly and Batman’s usual scowl stepped out. The team stared at him anxiously holding their breath in anticipation which Batman expertly ignored.
“So, Batman? Is he going to be alright?” Miss Martian questioned.
“He’ll live,” Batman started, glaring harder than usual at Wally. “He has two broken ribs, but Doctor Juang has managed to stop the internal bleeding.” The team visibly relaxed. “We will have a full debriefing in an hour including a discussion regarding distractions and their role in this incident.” His cold eyes focused on Artemis, Wally, and Conner each for long enough to make them squirm before disappearing down the hall.
Dark circles were more obvious than usual under Bruce’s eyes as he sat by Dick’s bedside. He was grateful that his young charge had stabilized enough to be transferred into the cave’s medical wing, but it was difficult to see anything but death on the sleeping boy’s face. His skin was so pale, and his chapped lips looked frail and dry despite the cool wet air of the cave. It had been so close… Too close.
Alfred hovered silently into the room carrying an engraved silver platter covered in medical supplies. The bandages and gauze looked nauseatingly out of place with the finely polished piece and the irony of its juxtaposition with the medical supplies and how terribly “Alfred” the entire scene was did not escape Bruce as he watched the man over his shoulder. Alfred approached the bedside, setting the tray down before pulling back the covers. The white sheets highlighted the sickly purple of the bruises which seemed to cover every inch of the young form. Bruce cringed despite himself.
Beneath the bandages lie expertly stitched gashes and surgical cuts. It was clear to see which lines had been carefully opened to piece together the boy’s ribs and which had been blown into him by shrapnel and the searing sand. Alfred gently unwrapped the bandages around the boy’s torso and arms, applying disinfectant to the wounds which were starting to discolor.
“Sir,” he addressed his master as he worked. Bruce only ran a hand through the silky black hair which shone now that he had pulled down his cowl.
“Not now,” he replied impatiently, irritation grating in his voice.
“Perhaps you should get some rest? Dick’s starting to look a little better while you, quite frankly, are looking much worse.” Alfred’s cool voice made him nearly impossible to read as he stood with his back to Bruce.
“There’s no excuse,” he muttered, giving up on trying to understand Alfred’s seeming levity in the situation and facing his own grave thoughts. Alfred, however, kept at work.
“Pardon?” Alfred asked.
“He should have predicted that guerilla. It was Bane’s men. He should have been on guard.” His long black cape fluttered only slightly as he paced. Alfred stopped what he was doing to face him.
“I know. I just wanted to hear you say it. Master Bruce, Robin may be a superhero, but Dick Grayson is only human. From the way I heard it, he saved the young Flash’s life.” Alfred grabbed a wet rag and wiped the chemicals from his hands.
“He was distracted… Sloppy…” Bruce is mumbling to himself, agitation written all over his face.
“We should be grateful to whatever powers that be that he is still alive.” Alfred opens the container of gauze and starts back to work. “He’s only a child…” his voice is soft, almost apologetic as he dabs the wounds. They stand in silence for a while as Alfred works. He can feel Bruce’s eyes on his back.
“You’re right… He’s just a child.” Bruce storms out of the medical wing, pulling his cowl back up as he closes the door. Once the door closes, Alfred’s lips twitch into a smile.
“So, how are you feeling Dick?” Alfred meets Dick’s eye as it peeks open. He grins back, shifting up as best as he can.
“Like a guerilla blew me half to hell.” His eyes are playful and vibrant, and the air in the room somehow becomes less heavy. “He’s pretty angry, hunh?” Dick shifts a little bit to allow Alfred better access to a cut on his side, wincing as he dabs it.
“I believe he’s angry at himself.” Alfred quickly and expertly rewraps the bandages, allowing some of the more healed cuts to remain unwrapped so that they may have a chance to breathe. While he does, Dick takes the opportunity to look at the vases of flowers around the room.
Meanwhile, Bruce stands by himself in the main room of the cave in front of his display cases. The tattered remains of Dick’s uniform tightly clinched in his fist as he looks at the retired prototypes. It’s time, Bruce. With a heavy sigh, he forces his hand to loosen and the material hangs from his fingers. It’s time.
He opens one of the unused panels of the display case, sliding the glass back and allowing the stale air to fill his nostrils. The inside is white, each light expertly chosen by Alfred’s discerning eye to best display the pieces of Batman’s past, and in that panel, Bruce hangs the damaged remains of Dick’s costume. The fabric is burned and bloodied and tattered and the sharp lines of surgical scissors are clear where it was cut from Dick’s unconscious form so that surgeons could repair the shattered ribs. The sight of it only reaffirms was Bruce already knows. It’s time.
“Y-You can’t be serious,” Dick’s fork slipped out of his fingers as he stared across the long breakfast table at his mentor. The silky black hair that Bruce carefully combed and styled as ‘Brucie’ was matted and tangled and his face was unshaven. His eyes betrayed his weariness, clearly he hadn’t slept the night before, and likely a couple nights before that. The older man said nothing, and if Dick didn’t know the man better he would assume that he was being ignored. But that’s not how Bruce worked. He was being carefully studied, sized up so that Bruce may choose his next words as strategically as possible. Having reached a decision, he slowly turned his attention to his ward, but not before carefully folding his newspaper and placing it beside his half empty cup of coffee.
“Dick… it was by a lapse in my judgment that you became my sidekick. You were too young, and I can see now that you were clearly not ready. I’m sorry.” His entire face… his entire body language read to Dick as guarded. Clearly, this wasn’t up for debate, but if Bruce thought that he could end this without a fight, he was dead wrong.
“So what? That’s it then? Bruce, if I’m not fighting crime, what am I--?”
“You are my son.”
“And?” Dick asked, his voice starting to waver with emotion. Bruce almost winced at the emotion in the boy’s voice. He sounded as though he was on the verge of breaking down, but that would never happen. Bruce could feel the boy’s hurt and anger as though they were coming from his own heart and he had to remind himself, This is the right thing to do. Dick would be strong through this. He always was.
“…and nothing more. You’ll be attending Gotham Academy and you are welcome to hire any subsequent tutors as you see fit. You will be doing what you should have been doing in the first place and focusing on your education.” As Bruce spoke, he could see Dick’s eyes growing cold. Refusing to make eye contact, the young teen pushed his chair back from the table and stood mechanically before running out of the room. The air seemed to weigh more heavily on Bruce’s shoulders as he heard his young ward run up the stairs.
He cleared the second landing before he could think and he almost knocked the serving tray out of Alfred’s hands as he passed. Instead of pausing to help the elderly man as he would have done under normal circumstances, he merely met eyes for an instant before his bedroom door slammed loudly behind him. Shaky breaths teased his lungs as he leaned against the door, slowly sinking to the ground. He could feel his entire world crashing down around his ears.
He knew that he had made a mistake… maybe a couple mistakes, but it was hard for him to identify exactly where everything had gone wrong. Sure, he’d nearly been killed due to his own carelessness, but the end of his world started before that. It started with Connor… He hadn’t spoken to Connor since then. He wanted to know where everything stood with them… he wanted to know that Wally was okay with whatever feelings he may have… and most of all, he dearly wished that he could see everyone again. He’d never be able to see any of them again.
There was no room for Richard Wayne, heir to the Wayne fortune and up-and-coming Gotham socialite in an intergalactic superhero team. Richard Wayne had no business visiting Superboy, even at his home in Kansas. In order to maintain both Bruce’s and his own secret identity he’d have to give up everything he’d felt for Superboy in these last months before he ever really knew what it was.
He crawled over to his bed and climbed in, laying face first into his down pillow. His wounds ached and burned wherever they were touched and some places that they weren’t, and in his chest he could practically feel all the hurt and all the affection pressed into a dark space in his mind so that he wouldn’t have to look at them again for a long while. That was it for his friends, his life, and his… Connor. Tomorrow he’d be back in Gotham Academy doing his best to live the lie he had created to hide everything he really was.
Dick was greeted the following morning by the superfluous sound of his alarm clock blaring. Under normal circumstances, the deafening wakeup call would be… useful, if nothing else, but he had spent the entire night before tossing and turning. The deafening roar in his ear was absolutely unnecessary and the fact that it had managed to startle him despite spending almost the entire night watching the clock felt like salt in the wound. He threw back his covers with a bit of a huff and allowed his bare feet to be exposed to the cool wood of the floor. If Bruce’s word was anything to go by, today would be the first day of the rest of his life.
From now on, Bruce would be watching him like a hawk, making sure that he went to school in the morning and came back at night… and stayed there. The hurt from the night before’s blatant rejection still hurt, but if Dick was absolutely honest with himself, he’d say that he took it more as a challenge than anything else. How Bruce thought that he could protect him from his own obsession escaped Dick. The arrogant, self-centered, selfish… he was getting ahead of himself. There would be plenty of time for demonstrating the fallacy in Bruce’s strict prohibition, but now was not the time… not if he wanted to continue playing hero anyway. It would be better to just play along for now. And it was on that note that Dick left the manor for the limousine which would be his ride to school. Play along, Dick. It won’t be for too long, you can swallow your pride for now.
While Dick was at school “playing along” and swallowing painful lumps of his own pride, the Batman was falling asleep at the Batcomputer. It had been a long night. What had started out as a routine check on the state of Gotham’s underworld eventually led him to fighting off just about every mobster and ne’er-do-well this side of the East Bay. From what he could gather, various gangsters had been disappearing without a trace and they were starting to believe that the Batman had something to do with it. Every criminal scumbag and their mailman was on the lookout for the big black bat, and despite significant bruising both internal and external, sitting in front of the computer was becoming extremely comfortable. Rather than studying the police records he had managed to pilfer from Gotham PD’s database, his subconscious was telling him that the night before had earned a well-deserved nap. Now.
Unfortunately, the Batcomputer’s proximity alert begged to differ. A red bat symbol flashed on each of the monitor’s installed in the cave and the alarm sounded through the speakers. Someone was entering the cave without the deactivation code, and Bruce’s paranoid mind stepped in to overdrive. Bruce had removed the protective gauntlets of the Batsuit so his hands were bare as he pulled his cowl back over his face and retreated into the shadows. By the time the figure had entered the main corridor, he had a batarang in his right hand and the control to the batcave’s defenses in his left. His sore muscles were taught as he prepared for a fight.
“Bruce?” A deep male voice rang out from beyond the main cavern. The voice was strong, but kindly, and Bruce’s paranoia started to recede. “Judging by all the alarms, you already know that I’m here. I just want to talk.” The tall figure floated into the room, the tips of his bright red boots hovering a couple inches off the ground. Bruce’s body relaxed at the sight, but his heart seized. He grumbled to himself, well aware that the Kryptonian could hear the stutter in his heartbeat as he glided out of his hiding spot.
“There you are,” Clark smiled almost amicably, as though he hadn’t heard Bruce’s every movement. Bruce only grunted in response as he deactivated the computer’s alarm. Clark allowed himself to fall gently to the ground. “You’ve ignored four different hails from the Justice League.”
“I’ve been busy.” Bruce carefully focused his attention to the paperwork in front of him. Clark just sighed and walked over beside him.
“It’s normal for you to be… busy, but Young Justice is getting worried about Robin.” Clark leaned against the desk where Bruce was trying to work.
“You can tell them that Robin has retired.” Bruce stepped away from the table and his ally, doing what he could to extricate himself from the conversation. No matter how hard he scowled, Clark refused to leave or let the topic drop.
“You can’t seriously mean that, Bruce. I know that you’re upset about what happened to Dick… I think we all are. It’s easy to forget how much risk we’re really in sometimes…” Clark stared at the ceiling with nostalgia clouding over his eyes. Bruce could practically feel his blood pressure rising.
“It’s final, Clark.” Bruce responded, growing uncomfortable with the silence. His voice didn’t carry like it did when he was ordering around the members of the league. Instead it felt flat, hollow even to his own ears. Clark ignored him, partially because he enjoyed how uncomfortable the silence was making Bruce and partially because his mind was still lost in years past.
He remembered the day he had first met Dick Grayson. The story of his parents’ death was finally fading in the public’s eye and Bruce had recently adopted the child as his own son. Those in the League who knew Bruce were justifiably unsettled. The Bruce they knew--the Batman-- was anything but the father figure a mourning young boy needed. Superman was practically leading the outrage brigade up in JL headquarters, despite the close… working relationship he had the Batman had shared over the years.
All of the outrage and upset Clark had felt, however, had dissipated almost instantly after meeting the boy. He remembered standing in the cave, hovering menacingly over the significantly smaller prepubescent, hoping to scare him away from the life he had chosen. Instead of backing down, the lanky middle-schooler dug his heels into the ground and he offered a couple of choice words in response to Superman’s menacing. It was obvious to see in the boy’s eyes even then that he would never give up, never stop fighting for what was right once he was shown the way. The boy’s playful smile only partially covered the obsessiveness and brilliance which shown in his eyes. It was like looking into an alternate dimension in which Bruce had been born a circus performer. This boy would be a force of significant change in the world, and the Batman intended to make him a powerful force for good.
“I know what it’s like, Bruce.” He received a non-committal grunt in response and accepting that as curiosity, he continued. “You see how weak he is compared to all the horrible things in the world. You know how hard he tries and how good he’s gotten, but you’re not sure that will be enough… to keep him safe… alive.” Clark’s gaze on his back caused Bruce to shiver involuntarily. “You’d like to hide him away from the world so that nothing can hurt him, but you can’t.” Clark laughed, almost self-depreciatingly. “Bruce, this is who he is. The moment his parents died, he became a part of this world. I don’t care how brilliant you are at planning and strategizing, he will get out, and whether you like it or not, he will do good. He’ll be Robin until the day that he dies whether you let him wear the cape or not.” Bruce’s heartbeat was loud in Clark’s ears. The double meaning in his words had been clear.
“I hardly think—“
“Don’t push me away. Please.” Clark’s voice was soft, desperate. Clark stood from where he had been leaning and walked over to face Bruce. Icy blue, almost grey eyes stared up into his, narrowed only slightly with indignity. He could see each of the creases around Bruce’s eyes, the subtle lines of age just barely starting to show. His weight shifted forward to where he could taste the warmth of the man’s breath and his fingertips slowly, delicately met the gaunt pale cheek. He stroked it slowly, searching Bruce’s eyes for any growing displeasure as he allowed Bruce’s scent to flood his mind.
Bruce’s pale blue eyes flickered for only a split second between Clark’s eyes and his lips for before subconsciously licking his own. It seemed utterly unfair that an alien such as Clark should have such a warm human smell. He leaned in a little closer, the controlling part of his mind starting to shut down as his instincts kicked in. He wanted to smell more… touch more… closer. His head tilted only slightly upward to meet Clark’s lips with his own.
His heart seized in his chest and he could hear nothing but the ringing in his ears interrupted by Clark’s heavy breathing. His mind only had a second to reel before strong Kryptonian fingers were woven through his hair. Clark’s mouth forced his closer, closing any gaps between their lips before his smooth tongue slipped inside. The taste was sweet and only slightly bitter, like a ripe, fresh grape. It wasn’t the taste of a human mouth, but it was familiar and intoxicating nonetheless. As Clark pulled him closer, he could feel the powerful muscles tightening around him. His heart raced and his mind warned him that he was trapped. With panic churning his stomach into painful knots he pushed the other man back, hard. He couldn’t do this. This is wrong, he thought, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, his expression mirroring his inner disgust. He stared at the moisture on his hand for a moment before he met Clark’s terrified expression.
“Get out.” He said quietly, his voice cracking.
“Now. Get OUT!” Bruce was furious and as Clark started to hover back the way he came, he heard Bruce rummaging around in his utility belt. A cold steel batarang hit him between the shoulders, landing behind him with a metal sound, bent at an odd angle from the collision with his superhuman skin. Without turning around to see Bruce’s shocked expression, he flew away.
Hey, everyone. It took me a bit longer than usual to get this chapter up. I'm sorry for the wait! Thanks to everyone who has been reading and commenting. I thought about giving up on this story a couple of times, but you guys have definitely pulled me through the blocks. Thanks again!
Three days. That’s how long it took Dick to find the crack in Bruce’s protective iron curtain. Since the first night of Robin’s “retirement,” Bruce had installed overlapping layers of surveillance and security. There were motion sensors at every window and surveillance cameras watched the best escape routes. As far as Dick could tell, Bruce had created an impenetrable fortress to keep Dick out of trouble -- Impenetrable, as in unable to be penetrated. But Dick was already inside, and getting out unnoticed seemed about as complicated as building a handheld computer. A handheld computer with a pretty potent virus preinstalled, that is.
Getting into the heating duct above the Batcave’s main computer system hadn’t been too difficult. During the coldest days of winder, hiding out in a drafty cave didn’t seem like such a great idea, especially since few high precision supercomputers worked well below freezing. The computers had to be kept warm without creating a noticeable energy pull. By heating the mansion a few degrees fewer in the winter, the heat could be redirected from the manor without significantly affecting the Wayne utility bills and thus raising no questions. This, however, meant that there had to be a direct line from inside the manor somewhere to the computers in the Batcave, and it didn’t take Dick too terribly long to figure out where it was. The encrypted lockout on the Batcomputer had been a little more complicated, but not much.
Arrogant, Dick through to himself as he inched forward in the filthy metal duct. His uniform was coated with dust and dead bugs as he pulled himself forward on his stomach. He spends years training me and seems to think there isn’t a single way in which I have exceeded him… Satisfied with his distance from the computer he pulled out his handheld device and set to work. He wasn’t about to give up everything he had worked for and all the progress he had made in the last couple years just because Bruce told him to. Dick was forwarding the last of the bad coding to the Batcomputer when the frustration and anger he felt over the last couple days final started to recede.
Bruce was a lot of pretty impressive things, but he wasn’t about to beat Dick in a programming war. Being stuck in the past is suicide when it comes to technology.
I'm really sorry to everyone who has been sending me encouraging messages asking me to write more. I could write any excuse or explanation I want here but it still wouldn't be fair to you guys. I went through a bit of a rough patch in my life, and I really appreciated all of the comments I received on AO3 and FF. You guys are awesome, and it's easy for me to forget how much the awesome feeling of updating can lift my spirits. To most of you guys, this will probably seem really cheesy, and I absolutely don't blame you for it, but I really appreciate being a part of this and other fan communities and sharing my passions with you guys.
If he were the lying sort, Dick would say that riding off Wayne property and onto the roadway into downtown Gotham was nothing significant. He could say that he didn’t really give much thought to defying a direct order from his adopted father, the Batman. He could say that his palms weren’t sweaty and his body didn’t shake – if he was the lying sort.
Dick was an honest kind of a guy and for a stretch across the Gotham interstate he would privately admit that he truly believed that his heart had stopped. This wasn’t the first time that Dick had defied the Batman, but it was the first time that Dick had ever been unsure deep down whether he’d ever return to Gotham manor again. Escaping Bruce’s security once was one thing, but there was no way that Bruce wasn’t already aware of what had happened. If he returned to Wayne Manor and his life as Richard Grayson, heir to the Wayne fortune, he would probably never fight crime again. He would have to spend years ducking under the radar of both Bruce Wayne and Gotham’s Dark Knight, but if giving up everything he stood for was the cost of living comfortably, going against the big bad bat didn’t seem quite so bad.
Dick’s heart roared in his ears as loudly as the motorcycle between his thighs. His cape fluttered almost violently behind he and he felt like he was flying. Maybe it wasn’t the way he had always imagined it, but Dick had finally stepped out from under the Batman’s wing and become his own hero.
. . . That is . . . supposing that heroes were accustomed to sleeping in abandoned warehouses in Gotham’s once industrial East End. The place was beyond filthy, but it was miles from Bruce’s usual haunts and if you could ignore the used needles and urine smell, it seemed like a reasonably safe place for a runaway to spend the night. By now Alfred was probably trying to convince Bruce to head to bed for the evening while his employer paced and brooded. The image was warm and bright in his mind, and thinking about it in this dank hellhole made his heart hurt. He was cold and tired and he wished that things could go back to the way they were before. He wished that he might see Alfred one more time or spend one more boring stakeout with his team.
His body rejected the thought, shaking violently. He’d spend the last couple weeks pushing his friends as far from his mind as he could. He felt sick thinking wondering if he’d ever get the chance to reconcile with Wally over that stupid kiss… and Connor. The floor was cold and hard and Dick guessed that Connor had never felt so uncomfortable in his life. He couldn’t feel the ache forming in Dick’s back from the unforgiving concrete of the chill of the East Coast air, but there’s one thing they both could surely feel: utterly, and completely alone.
Young Justice headquarters had become an increasingly depressing place in Robin’s absence. Missions had been temporarily suspended and the Justice League was facing its own troubles as Batman took an extended leave of absence. What little information had been shared with the Justice League about Batman and Robin’s disappearance had failed to filter down to the younger team. It had been over a month now since the team had made contact with its youngest member and what had started as playful rumors now made the air feel heavy.
“Maybe…” Wally muttered half-heartedly. They were out of fun excuses. Either something serious had happened to the dynamic duo, or Batman had changed his mind about the league. Regardless, prospects of seeing their friend in the near future had become increasingly bleak.
Last week, Aquaman sent Kaldur’am home to resume his studies. Artemis was home in her apartment maintaining her second identity. Only Meghann, Superboy and Wally were left in the tower, waiting for some kind of news. They sat slumped in living room around the television as Gotham’s local news played quietly on television. Superboy’s hands were clinched tightly by his thighs, his entire body screaming out that he needed to punch something, someone… Robin. He could be dead right now and I wouldn’t even know. This is so stupid! We should go find Batman and demand some fucking answers.
Wally watched the couch nervously as the powerful alien fumed. Man… If all of this really is because Batman’s throwing another fit… Well… I wouldn’t really do anything. That guy is nuts. Christ! How can he leave us in the dark like this? How can any of them?? What’s happened to you, Robin?
There wasn’t much for anyone to say at this point. So many things could have happened to the young acrobat, but at this point no one really knew. He could just as viably be at the bottom as the ocean as in another dimension or wherever Batman liked to keep his charges.
Superboy decided he had enough. He grabbed his shoes by the door and headed out, only to have Wally standing in his way.
“Where are you going?” Wally asked, his own guilt weighing heavily on his conscious and fearing deeply that Superboy might be another member lost. Superboy just shouldered him out of the way, hovering so that he could tie his boots. Quickly recovering and zipping back between the alien and the doorway, Wally stared up angrily.
“Move,” the larger body floated ominously above Wally’s small frame. “I’m going to find him.” Connor’s voice cracked slightly as he attempted to intimidate the younger teen into letting him leave without further discussion. His body shook with emotion as his eyes remained as steely as ever.
“Connor, we’ve looked everywhere! We’ve tried everything. All we can do now is be here if… when he comes back.” Superboy’s feet landed softly on the ground and Wally moved to guide him back inside. As soon as the speedster’s unnaturally warm hands met cool Kryptonian skin, Connor pushed him back out of the way.
“No. That’s not good enough.” Connor lunged forward, his powerful legs damaging the stone floor of the cave. With a single jump, Connor propelled himself into the forest and out of Wally’s view as the young teen could do little but watch.
Forget being the next Justice League… I get the feeling Young Justice just became a two man team.
Not much later, Superboy stood in the streets of Gotham, his eyes closed as he focused on the sounds of the city. Instead of listening for Robin’s voice like he had tried before, this time Superboy attempted a more indirect method. Robin had to be somewhere in this city, even if he was somehow masking his location. Robin was clever enough to hide himself from his team mates, but he would have to be out in the streets if he wanted to fight crime. He listened for the signs of a struggle.
He focused carefully, dissecting the noises and categorizing them in is mind. He can hear the sound of footsteps shuffling all around him in the city and various domestic skirmishes in the residential district. He waits as patiently as he can for a sign.
After listening carefully for a full hour, Superboy is tired and ready to give up. He hasn’t heard any of the familiar sounds. He is quickly losing focus and hope when he hears something promising. Robin. In seconds he is at the source of the sound, grasping a shocked thug by the collar.
“Where is he?” he growls, his voice sharp and threatening with his desperation.
“W-Who are you? What do you want?” The man has several piercings and a specific tattoo on his face which Superboy recognizes as a symbol that this man has likely spent time in prison. He shakes the man roughly like a rag doll.
“Robin. Where. Is. He.” He speaks slowly and clearly, his voice raspy through his clenched jaw.
“I… I don’t know nothing! I saw him get jumped in an alley by a bunch of guys in suits. They shoved him in a van and disappeared. I’ve got nothin’ to do with it!” Superboy’s grip loosens slightly as the man’s friend approaches.
“He was jus’ tellin me what he saw. Give it up man, that’s all he knows.” This man is clearly younger than the one in Superboy’s hands and he has a lot less fear for the Kryptonian half-breed. Superboy concedes slowly, his grip loosening until the man could finally wiggle free. He spares a quick glance to his friend before they both break into a run.
Robin’s been… kidnapped?
PLEASE tell me if I've made some ridiculous mistake. This chapter fought me tooth and nail. If it seems out of place, tell me and I'll probably scrap it and try again.
“How long?” The frosty blue eyes seemed to glow as he glared down at the young metahuman. Connor struggled to respond, his voice caught in his throat. He’d never seen Batman without a cowl before, let alone seen him so angry… it was like having all the fear and rage he felt about Robin’s disappearance directed back at him ten-fold. The large black gauntlets gripped his T-shirt, dragging him toward the menacing face.
“How long did you wait before telling me this!?” Bruce was practically seething now and Clark shifted uncomfortably next to them. He reached out tentatively.
“Bruce…” He turned his fury toward the Kryptonian.
“You swore to me he’d be okay! I knew about the disappearances and you still convinced me to let him live on his own. Damn it, Clark…” The muscular shoulders slumped forward as Clark placed a comforting hand on his back. Superboy watched the intimate gesture, jealousy and fear further tightening his throat.
“Disappearances?” Connor ventured cautiously. Superman pulled Batman closer to him when he flinched at the question. Relaxing slightly in the taller man’s grip he started to speak again.
“Lowlifes, the homeless… The kind of people who wouldn’t be missed any time soon. Almost two hundred people... gone without a trace.” He took a steadying breath before pushing away from Superman and firing up his computer. He started flicking through the profiles of the missing people.
“When did you know he was taken, Connor?” The voice was steady now, almost too steady as he slipped back into the role of the Batman.
“T-Two hours ago. I thought… I—“
“It’s okay, Connor. You panicked.” Superman smiled comfortingly at him, the smile never reaching his eyes as he rubbed Bruce’s shoulders. “What do we know?” he asked Bruce gently. Instead of replying, Batman continued flipping through the missing people’s profiles, shaking his head slightly.
“Not much. No one has reported any of the kidnappings. All we know is the location from which they are being taken.” Batman returned the computer to standby mode actively avoiding Superman’s attention. He slipped out from the comforting hand before approaching his costume display case. Superman quickly followed after him while Connor stayed glued to one spot.
“No. Bruce, no. This is a terrible idea…” Calloused hands worked the clasps of the Batsuit, easing the cape onto a mannequin. He slipped his gauntlets off of his fingers, ignoring Superman’s pleas. “You have no idea what will be waiting for you! I… I won’t allow it.” His deep, rich voice waivered in a way Superboy had never heard before and Batman continued to ignore him. “Damn it, Bruce. At least have me go,” Superman forced Bruce to face him.
“No. This is my responsibility. I’ll do what I can to remain in communication. If I don’t check in every day or so, something has happened and I need you to contact the League.” Superman felt sick as he watched Bruce remove the final piece of his protective armor. There should be something he could say the man’s mind… but nothing. Nothing short of death would keep Bruce from finding his only son. The tension was palpable as the men stared each other down.
“Go to the Watchtower, Connor. I’ll be there shortly.” He waited only until the teen was out of the room to reach out for Bruce. His smooth fingertips brushed down Bruce’s rough stubble, cupping his chin. He could feel the man’s cool gaze watching him as he leaned forward and pressed their foreheads together. Warm breath tickled his lips as he closed his eyes, losing himself in the intimacy.
“Bruce…” he breathed airily. He could smell the warm scent of coffee on the man’s breath mixed with the soft scent of deodorant and sweat. He heard Bruce’s heart rate rising and felt the strong muscles flex before he was pushed away. The man was stiff and unresponsive as he held him in place and Clark had to press forward to match Bruce’s arching away. “Please…” he pleaded, his voice heavy with vulnerability reserved for Bruce alone. Slowly the muscles relaxed under his pale skin and he leaned forward slightly to accept the gesture. Powerful fingers ran a feather-light path up Bruce’s neck weaving into his hair. Slowly he tilted the unwilling face up the inch he needed to lean down and steal a kiss.
The kiss was slow and careful in fear that Bruce would run away. He didn’t press forward into it, allowing their lips to just barely touch. Bruce accepted reluctantly, leaning in just enough to feel the man of steel’s soft lips on his rougher, chapped ones. Gently, one of Clark’s hands reached for his, doing its best to still the shaking. Clark could feel Bruce’s lips move as he spoke.
“Clark… We can’t.” Clark only pulled him closer in response.
“I want this Bruce… We could make it work,” he promised. Bruce pulled his hand away slowly and turned back to his work.
“It’s a distraction, Clark. A dangerous one.” He pulled one of Matches’ old disguises out from a hidden panel in the display case, doing his best to ignore the warm breath upon his neck.
“You’d never have to worry about me, Bruce. I wouldn’t stand between you and your work. It makes perfect sense,” Clark’s hands rested lightly on the broad shoulders in front of him. “Please. Let yourself find some peace…” He worked on his reflection, applying Matches’ thin goatee. By the time he turned back around, he was a completely different person.
“I’ve got to go. I’ll signal you when I can.” He buttoned his cheap, ill-fitted suit jacket as he walked over to one of his spare motorbikes. It took everything he had to rev up the engine and ride out onto the highway. If he had spared a single glance back at Clark’s longing expression, he was certain he wouldn’t have been able to go alone.
Dick Grayson had to believe that Bruce was allowing him his freedom this past month. He thought that if it had always been so easy to escape the order and the rigorous training under his mentor, he might go insane. A month ago, Dick lived by what felt like Bruce’s every whim. He ate when Bruce told him to eat. He slept when Bruce told him to sleep. When Bruce said jump, he prepared for an intensive lesson on physical or mental training. For the first time in a long time, Dick Grayson took a walk down a street on the shadier side of town in civilian clothing.
Dick had expected people to be much more suspicious of a young man looking for work, but working seemed paramount to living in the slums. Few people here spared him a second glance. He had enough money squirreled away to make it on his own for a while, but he was going to have to find resources if he was going to continue in his previous line of work. On his third day on his own while he was searching for suitable employment, he stumbled across a small pawn shop hidden among the government housing. The shop itself was dusty and low on stock, but there was a constant flow of people moving in and out during the late afternoon and evening. It was obvious that the store was some kind of front, and Dick had every intention of finding the operation beneath. Finding a source of income would have to come later.
Night after night, Dick continued his stakeout. He watched through the windows with night vision goggles and listened in on conversations with a tracer he managed to plant inside. He had anticipated something along the lines of non-violent drug trafficking, or small arms dealings, but what he heard and saw was much worse.
People were disappearing. A group of guys might walk in with an unwilling companion or an excessively large bag, and disappear without it. A large truck would pull up to the back of the building at around midnight or so every third night, and quickly, almost so quick you’d wonder if it ever happened, someone (or a couple someones) would get thrown into the back and disappear. Dick used his handheld computer to scan for missing persons reported from the local area, but there hadn’t been so much as a peep out of a missing person’s family. Whatever Dick had stumbled upon… it was big.
After weeks of monitoring the inflow and outflow of people from the shop, Dick prepared to make his move. To his knowledge, everyone who had entered the shop the night before had left before the sun began to rise, but he still moved with caution as he picked the lock of the back door. As soon as he nudged the door open and slipped inside, large hands grasped his wrists tightly, dragging him up by them as someone else held a moist rag over his mouth and nose. These people weren’t the thugs he had seen coming and going the last couple of days... Whoever was holding him tight refused to budge as he fought. Dick kicked for the large man’s shins, heels connecting weakly as his muscles relaxed without his permission and his mind faded to black.
For what seemed like an eternity he faded closer to and further from awareness. He could see bright lights in his mind and smell harsh disinfectants in his dreams. His wrists were bruised from the cool metal restraining them over his head. In a haze he wiggled them to try to find a more comfortable position but the cuffs held tight. He came to with a shock when his body refused to move. Oh, God. Start with something small. He twitched his fingers over his head, satisfied when they moved as his direction. He clenched the muscles of his arms and legs, forcing blood back into his numb digits. Once his body had started to awaken he finally opened his eyes.
The light was beyond blinding at first and his eyes snapped shut to fight off the pain in his head. The room was cool with nondescript concrete walls and a concrete ceiling. The only feature of the room was a heavy metal door with a complicated electric locking system. In the middle of the room sat a metal cart very much like one you would see in a hospital stacked with bandages or medicines or whatever nurses needed to bring to various patients. It was almost completely empty except for a small vial of some kind, cotton balls, a bottle of rubbing alcohol, and a complicated device Dick couldn’t identify. It was relatively small and plastic, but it appeared to be in the basic shape of a gun. He was studying the device to distract himself as he forced his thumb against his other fingers, readying himself to dislocate the joint if it would give him enough room to slip his hand out of the cuff. Before he made the final rough tug, the door opened and bright green eyes studied him with mirth.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” the tall, bald man warned, a dark eyebrow quirking upward. With his hands folded genteelly behind his back he stepped such that the cart was between him and the restrained younger male.
“Luthor,” Dick spat, his voice heavier with emotion that he had expected.
“Hello, Robin,” he started mockingly politely. “Before you start worrying about your little stint as a juvenile vigilante, I haven’t bothered to check under the mask. It doesn’t really matter who you are, because it’s already painfully obvious what you are.” He casually clicked his tongue against pearly white teeth. “You’re a child soldier recruited for a war among men and gods. You’re either the Batman’s son or some sorry orphan he’s dragged into all of this and abandoned without the weapons to defend yourself.” Dick growled lowly in response feeling slighted while Lex merely rolled his eyes in response. “If he’d taught you everything he knew then you wouldn’t be here… you’d be hiding wherever he is, waiting to save the world from the next costumed creep while people around the world starve.”
“Years of training… Clearly the Batman has the resources to buy the best toys money can buy, and yet he wastes time on petty criminals who could be dealt with in a matter of seconds if he only had the strength to do what needed to be done… but I digress. You and I are mere mortals in the golden age of the Super Man. For all of our gifts and all of our talents, our will is meaningless against the growing metahuman population. We need representation in this new era before average humans like you and I become obsolete, and I believe I have the answer. Two decades of trial and error have finally paid off. Robin… how would you like to join the world of the gods?”
Chapter 20: ASKJDASD FORMAT CORRECTLY YOU WHORE!!! >: ( *Oh... Got it!
The Gotham air was cold and moist the following evening as Matches Malone shuddered against the wind. He allowed himself to gnaw nervously on tip of the toothpick bobbing at the corner of his mouth, a nervous tic not afforded to either the Batman or socialite Bruce Wayne. Matches was much less restrained… much more violent and primal. He was the kind of guy Bruce might have allowed himself to become after his parents death if Alfred had not been there maintaining his affairs, both mental and physical. When he got angry, he broke things. When he got hungry, he stole what he needed to fill himself.
He stood with a slightly crouched stance, arrogant and dangerous, almost begging someone to raise an objection to his obvious immorality. Somewhere underneath all of his posturing lie the cold, calculating intellect which defined the man’s character, but it was hidden such that even Bruce would have to dig to settle his mind back into place. He squatted down in the dark alley he had chosen near where Superboy had found the men who had witnessed Robin’s disappearance. The walls adjacent to the alleyway were filthy and old enough that the mortar which cemented the bricks together was little more than a wet powder. Matches avoided touching either the walls or the ground, opting instead of rest his horribly tired legs sitting on his calves. He’d caused a disturbance in a nearby bar hours before, hoping to reiterate Matches’ poor reputation and walking slowly to allow anyone watching to follow.
Mr. Malone was a perfect candidate for joining the recent disappearances. He was a loner type who didn’t have a job or a family who would notice his absence. He was without relatives and as of last night sleeping in the local homeless shelter. Anyone observing the area would be able to quickly deem him as a suitable target. He used his teeth to wiggle the toothpick up and down in his mouth. He wasn’t sure what exactly he was waiting for, but he was hoping it would happen soon. It was one thing to be waiting on a rooftop in his armored suit, and quite another to hang around in a cold wet alleyway completely unarmed. He was vulnerable and neither Matches nor Bruce were overly fond of that.
After waiting around for an hour in this particular location he could hear the sound of multiple undisguised footprints not far from the mouth of the alleyway. His ears perked up and he carefully counted the number of people while maintaining his casual composure. He slouched forward slightly, allowing his shoulders to slant downward and his large frame to hunch, appearing smaller and more vulnerable than he was. The three men started down the alleyway, ignoring his existence until they got close enough to surround him and force a dirty rag over his mouth and nose. Bruce allowed his body to go limp before them, rolling his eyes back slightly and fluttering his eyelids in a convincing display. He acted as nothing more than dead weight as the largest of the three men hoisted the brunt of his weight and a smaller man lifted his legs. They were either not intending to take him very far or they had another means of transport waiting nearby. He didn’t have to guess for long as the men eased him into the back of a large van which was hidden around the corner. Bruce listened carefully to the sounds of the suspension of the vehicle, and without ever having to open his eyes he ascertained that the vehicle was higher end. The engine purred to life after the men had piled in and they began their journey.
From what Bruce could gather, there weren’t any other people in the back of the van. He counted each turn and stop, carefully repeating the last two steps in his memory so that he could cement the order perfectly in his memory. Five seconds at a moderate pace. Temporary stop at a stop sign. Right turn. Stop sign, right turn. He could hear traffic moving around him. He connected that with the turns they had already taken and figured that they must be on the interstate. He continued like this for the next thirty minutes until the van finally came to a complete stop. The men shared a muffled joke in the front seat before heading back to unload their cargo. He could feel himself being taken through a doorway and into an elevator. They traveled down a couple of floors before the doors opened again, the smell of antiseptics and blood making his body tense almost unperceivably for a second before he gained control and relaxed again. It was a medical facility…
His handlers traded him off to another man who was wearing latex gloves. He eased the large frame onto a cart before handing the men some kind of piece of paper. Once Bruce heard the elevator door close behind his captors he cracked one of his eyes to access the situation. There was a long hallway leading away from the elevator with small rooms lining either side. Each room had a small window reinforced with internal wires, and inside each room he could see someone strapped to an operating table, with what he presumed was an IV drip meant to keep them subdued and unconscious. He would have to escape before he was strapped down or given his own IV which tightened his timetables considerably. Once the man closed them inside their own room, Bruce sprang into action. A sharp punch to the solar plexus silenced the man, leaving him gasping for air by the time Bruce flattened his jugular, quickly rendering him unconscious. He swiftly stripped the man of his lab coat and strapped him down onto the operation table which had been waiting for Bruce. Someone would probably bring the IV by shortly so he would have to be long gone by the time that happened. He slipped the coat around his shoulders, straightening the ID badge on its lapel before heading out into the hall.