Dan was so excited he could hardly breathe. He couldn't believe it when Nite Owl had actually answered his letter, and he was even more amazed when Nite Owl said his Owlship idea sounded "quite ambitious." Quite amibitious! If you thought about it, deciding to dress up like an owl and fight bad guys instead of being a normal cop was also quite ambitious, so it was almost like Nite Owl was saying Dan was just like him. And the idea of actually meeting him—it was like one of the fantasies Dan thought up when he was lying in bed at night trying to sleep. Those usually started exactly this way, with Dan making contact with Nite Owl and then Nite Owl saying that Dan showed promise and making him his sidekick and then the two of them going around beating up criminals together.
Dan was completely prepared for this meeting. He had brought with him his plans for the Owlship, which he'd spent ages drawing up, and a picture of Nite Owl he'd cut out of the newspaper in case it seemed like a good moment to ask Nite Owl to sign it, and even some owl poetry he'd written. He wasn't going to really show Nite Owl his poetry, but he figured it might fall out of his pocket and Nite Owl would pick it up and say "What's this?" and Dan would say "Oh, it's nothing" and Nite Owl would say "But this is genius!" and, well, he wasn't sure what would happen after that but it would be great.
Nite Owl had suggested they meet on a street corner, by a flickering neon sign for some new diner that had just opened, something that began with a G. Dan got there half an hour early, and it was only when he was there, hands shoved in his pockets and trying to look nonchalant, that he realized that it was one am and he was in not the greatest neighborhood and Nite Owl probably didn't think about these things because he was a masked vigilante and all. He tried to tell himself that he was probably going to be Nite Owl's sidekick really soon, so he should get used to it.
Finally, he heard a faint rustling noise. He turned to look, and there he was. Nite Owl, smiling underneath his mask, fists on his hips in a heroic stance, bare calfs gleaming in the flickering neon light. Dan's chest seized up and he tried to stop himself from actually squeaking in excitement, since that would be just about the worst thing possible.
They went into the diner to talk.
Dan knew he'd always remember every word of the conversation, especially since he was going to write it all down in his special notebook as soon as he got home. The conversation started with "What did you say your name was, kid?" and moved onto "Minutemen aren't doing so well these days" and some vague hints about succession that made Dan's heart race. It was becoming clear that he needed to really impress Nite Owl, so he said, "You know, we're really similar."
"Really?" Nite Owl said, his eyes glinting in amusement. "What makes you say that?"
"Well," Dan said, his heart pounding so loudly he could barely gather his thoughts to speak, "I've always felt like I had this special connection with owls. I'm sure you understand. I love all birds, of course, and it almost feels like an insult to pick a favorite, but if I had to it would definitely be the owl."
"Well, that's... wonderful," Nite Owl said. "Definitely a good start."
"Oh, it's more than a start," Dan said. He was conscious that his voice was getting a bit loud, but he was too excited to rein it back. His hands were clammy.
"I mean, owls have the best hearing of all birds," Dan said. "When I heard there was an owl vigilante, I knew that you'd chosen an owl because of their hearing and the way they can turn their heads three-quarters of the way around—although not the full way around like everyone thinks because, alright, muscles just don't work that way—but they have such incredible observational skills, perfect for a viligante, you know? Not to even mention the fringe on the edge of their primary feathers that allows silent flight—I mean, it's like they are already these crusaders slinking through the night, and also vigilantes would have to adapt like that, you know how owls have adapted to being silent in the night, and also their claws are like raptors!"
He paused to breathe. Nite Owl was staring at him.
"Uh, kid," he said gently, "I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I just liked the name. Nite Owl."
Dan hesitated. "What?" he said. He had heard what Nite Owl said perfectly, of course, because he was listening to every single word Nite Owl said and always would forever, but Nite Owl surely must have meant something else.
"You've got some great ideas, though," Nite Owl said, looking at the Owlship blueprints they had spread across the table. "In fact, I've been thinking that maybe—"
"Wait, wait," Dan said, feeling slightly panicked. "What are you saying? You don't care about owls?"
"Well." Nite Owl gave a sort of sheepish half-smile. "I've grown sort of fond of them by now, given that they're so closely tied to my public identity. But I don't know a whole lot about them. I had a friend who used to call me a night owl, so I—"
"Do you even care about birds at all?" Dan said in a small voice. Suddenly, this was not like any of the fantasies he'd come up with lying in bed at night. If Nite Owl didn't like birds, then who even was he? Did he have anything in common with Dan at all? They were supposed to be two kindred souls, joined by their love of the order Strigiformes, reaching out to each other through owls like a thread of light in the middle of a storm.
Nite Owl cleared his throat and shifted in his seat a bit. "I think they're very nice," he said.
Dan could feel his face flushing red with emotion. "Very nice?"
"Sorry, kid," Nite Owl said.
Dan stood. "I'm going to have to re-evaluate," he muttered. He snatched the Owlship blueprints away and put them back into his backpack where they'd be safe. He couldn't believe he considered showing this man his owl poetry. He obviously would never understand it.
"Hey, wait," Nite Owl said. "Would you like to be Nite Owl when I retire?"
Dan stopped. He slowly lowered his backpack to the ground, his fingers trembling. He looked back up at Nite Owl, his eyes bright and shining.
"You really mean it?" he said.
"Sure," Nite Owl said. "I'm getting older, and you seem pretty keen on the whole thing. We'd need to train you up a bit, but I'd be glad to help with that."
This time, Dan actually did squeak, but it was a very small squeak in the back of his throat that Nite Owl probably didn't notice. Probably.
"That sounds like an interesting proposition," he said, his voice miraculously not shaking as much as he'd feared it would. He sat back down at the table.
"Now, why don't you show me those blueprints again," Nite Owl said.
Dan started to reach into his backpack, and then made a sudden decision.
"I have something else to show you first," he said, taking out his owl poetry.