Dick Grayson is eight years old the night when Superman comes to Haly’s Circus on a moonlit night. The troupe is set up out on the outskirts of a sleepy Kansas town, practicing their routines underneath the glare of the tent lights as Dick works on his tumbles underneath his mother’s watchful gaze, when they smell it: smoke in copious amounts.
“Mom,” Dick cries out, reaching for his mother as fire licks at the far side of the big tent. Any other little boy would have pressed his face into the curve of his mother side to look away from the fire sweeping up the red and blue panels of the tent, but Dick is brave. Dick watches as Mister Haly and some of the other people at the circus try to put the fire out on their own. Then when their effort fails and the flames reach higher, Dick stares with wide eyes and as his father moves to help bring buckets of water from the tank that they keep for the dives.
Dick’s mother tries to get her husband to leave with them. “John,” she cries out from near one of the exits of the tent, finally tucking Dick’s head in against her chest as smoke blooms in the confines of the tent. “We have to go outside!” She clutches Dick close and he can almost imagine feeling his mother’s heart thumping against his cheek. “Just leave, John!”
“I’ll meet you two outside,” John shouts, choking on smoke and coughing as he jabs a finger in the direction of the exit. “Just trust me.” He reaches for another bucket of water and then turns back to the flames licking at the tent. “Take care of him, Mary.”
Dick sniffles, eyes burning from the smoke, and tries to wriggle out of his mother’s grip. “Daddy!” He calls to his father as loudly as he can and then starts crying from the smoke and the fear that he’ll never see his father again. “Daddy!” Tears stream down his face and soak into the shoulder of his mother’s practice suit as his mother makes to carry him out of the tent when he drags his feet and tries to look behind at where his father and the rest of the circus crew are trying to put out the fire.
And then in a flash there is the sound of rushing wind and the fire is out, tatters of tarp flapping in the wind. Standing in front of the blackened and burnt tent flaps is none other than the new superhero that had been seen flying around Metropolis: Superman.
Dick stares, but everyone else in the tent does as well. He doesn’t think that his mom will scold him for staring. The pictures in the newspapers don’t do Superman any justice at all. Standing taller than most of the people in the smoldering tent, the superhero is bright and big underneath the lights still beaming down from the top of the big tent. He smiles at everyone as though he’s happy to be there and he seems to zero in on where Dick is standing with his mother near the exit.
“I smelled smoke and I had to help,” Superman says with wave of his hand in the direction of the fire he had just put out. “I hope that nobody was hurt.”
Two nights later, Dick starts his first Superman scrapbook.
Superman’s hands are huge. And warm. And way too distracting as he pats Dick down as they stand on a rooftop a few blocks away from the fight they had just been in, checking the teenager for injuries. He monitors his strength as he touches his smooth fingers to Dick’s cheek where a bruise throbs and rubs his thumb over the damaged skin.
“You’re hurt,” Superman says simply, eyebrows drawing together as he watches Dick flinch away from the touch of his hand. “I should have come sooner. I didn’t--”
Dick cuts Superman off before he can take responsibility for Dick’s bruising, him getting captured or even global warming. “You came right on time,” he breathes softly, feeling his cheeks burn with a blush. “If it wasn’t for you, I’d probably be dead.” It chills him to think it, but it’s the truth. If Superman hadn’t had an ear out for him, Bruce would probably be unaware of his ward’s death until the next morning. Dick shivers and tries to act as though it’s because he’s cold and not because he’s only just realized how close he came to death.
He’s a hero, but he can’t stop thinking about it. He can’t stop thinking about how close he was to drowning in that river and--
Dick doesn’t realize that he’s still shivering until Superman steps forward into his space.
Superman doesn’t miss a thing. He leans forward and cups Dick’s shoulders in his large hands as if he wants to hold Dick and keep him from running away. “You’re safe now, Robin,” the older hero says in a soft tone of voice. “And if we leave now, you can be home in time to get a good night’s sleep.” Superman keeps holding on to Dick, rubbing his shoulders through the sleeves of his tunic as though he wants to warm him up. “Are you up for a flight?”
“I-I don’t know,” Dick stammers, eyes darting away from Superman’s earnest blue gaze. “I still feel a bit…” He trails off and glances down at the big S-symbol that stretches across Superman’s broad chest, feeling embarrassed. His cheeks are still burning and he feels strange as the older hero looks down at him with warmth in his eyes. “I’m just cold.”
Dick hates lying to Superman and he knows that the other hero can probably hear his heart rate pick up, but he feels so weird being soaked to the bone and shivering in front of one of his childhood heroes. “I’m sorry,” he starts to say, looking down at his feet in his soaked pixie boots, wiggling them and trying not to feel so bad.
Superman shushes Dick gently and drapes one arm around his shoulders, pulling him close in a friendly embrace. “Don’t apologize, Robin,” he says in a low tone. “Do you need to borrow my cape?” The older man is already unlatching his cape and before Dick has a chance to say no, he’s being enveloped in the warm red fabric of Superman’s cape.
When Dick breathes in, all he can smell is Superman. There’s a sharp ozone scent and then something warmer, earthier that makes Dick want to roll around on the cape until he smells like Superman and Superman smells like him and--
Dick blinks, coming back to himself when Superman clears his throat. “Thank you,” he says down at Superman’s chest because he’s afraid to look up and see what expression is on the older man’s face. “I think I think we can go now.” He sighs and hitches Superman’s cape higher up his shoulders until it’s covering most of his body. “I feel better now.”
“That’s good to hear,” Superman says and then he’s gathering Dick up in his strong arms and moving him, moving them both up into the air and flying towards the manor and Dick’s empty bedroom. “I won’t drop you,” he promises just loud enough for Dick to hear above the rushing wind in his ears. “You’ll be back in your room in no time and you can change out of your wet clothes.”
Dick turns his face so that his cheek is pressed against the side of Superman’s chest. His chest feels strange and his head does as well, all hot and aching from something that isn’t the near-death experience that he’d had less than an hour before. But he keeps quiet and curls his fingers into Superman’s cape as though he never wants to let it go.
“Sooner or later, you’re going to have to call me Clark.”
Dick flinches and looks down at his hands, willing them to stop shaking. “I do call you Clark,” he insists in a rough tone, feeling his cheeks flame the way that they usually do when the older man looks at him. “Sometimes.”
Clark laughs low in his throat and shakes his head. “I don’t mind,” he says as his smile widens. “But you might slip up and call me Superman when we’re not alone.” Clark sits down beside Dick on the gravel-covered rooftop and touches one hand to the teenager’s knee. “Did you figure out where you’re going to go after this?”
“I don’t know,” Dick mutters down at his knee where Clark’s hand is covering the joint. “I want to be useful. I want to be helpful. But--” Dick cuts himself off and then frowns. “Bruce fired me and you don’t want me as a partner. I just don’t know where I can go or--”
When Clark interrupts Dick with a soft tap to the side of the leg closest to him, Dick’s mouth shuts with an audible snapping noise. He turns his head away so that he doesn’t have to look and see Clark’s face. This upset, the gravel looks interesting and Dick wants to reach for it and let it spill through his fingers. He needs something to do. He needs to move.
Dick doesn’t realize that he’s already trying to get up on his feet and pace until Clark’s fingers are entwined with his and the older man is keeping him from moving. He blushes again, feeling like the only thing he can do when Clark is so close is blush and make a fool of himself. “Clark,” he starts to say as Clark’s mouth downturns in a mild frown and he continues to hold Dick’s hand as though they’re lover instead of merely comrades. “You don’t owe me anything--”
Clark’s first kiss stuns Dick, leaves him gaping. The second makes Dick’s eyes go heavy-lidded and his body reacts in an all too predictable way. Clark’s mouth fits nearly over Dick’s own, soft lips parting as he licks at Dick’s mouth as though begging permission. Clark tastes of tea and something deeper that Dick can’t quite place as he curls his fingers against the side of the older man’s jaw and tilts his head so that he can deepen the kiss.
Dick has been waiting --hoping-- for something like this since he was a dripping wet teenager in scaly green shorts wrapped up in Clark’s cape. He’s been dreaming of Clark’s kiss, of Clark holding him, for years and now that it’s happening, Dick doesn’t know what to do except roll with it. He moans and slides his hand back until he can fist his fingers in Clark’s thick black hair and hold him close until Clark pulls away, leaving him panting softly and licking at his swollen lips.
“You never let me finish speaking in the fortress, Dick,” Clark says in a low voice as he cups Dick’s face in his hands. “I’m not looking for a partner, but I would be happy to have you as mine.” He ducks his head and then smiles at the teenager in an endearing way. “At least until you find something that suits you better.”
Dick touches Clark’s jaw with the tips of his fingers and then nods. “Sounds like a plan.”
“We should order in,” Dick suggests when he comes back to his Metropolis apartment after patrol only to find Clark sitting on the couch and watching reruns of something on the discovery channel. He’s sore all over and he still smells like tar from where he had taken a spill, but Clark is in his apartment and the night can only get better from here on in. “If you’re sleeping over, I know a good Thai place that delivers late.”
Dick starts shucking his kit before he gets an answer from Clark, tossing the top half of his suit aside and reaching into one of his pockets in order to get the mask remover that he so desperately needs. After peeling the mask off, Dick keeps the bottom half of his suit and his jock on as he walks to the small table in his kitchen and snatches up two of the takeout menus on the table.
“But if you’re in the mood for something else, there’s a Chinese place that’ll deliver too.” He’s excited, still running on adrenaline from fighting and excited about possibly getting a chance to spend the night with Clark.
Dick drops down on the couch, just barely missing landing in Clark’s lap and turns his face up at his lover, expecting his usual goodnight kiss and cuddle.
But then he realizes that Clark isn’t exactly talking back to him, much less kissing the sense from his head. The older man is in full “Clark Kent” mode, sitting with his glasses low on his nose and wearing the baggiest sweater that he keeps in his closet. He also doesn’t smile, not even when Dick sits up and sits in his lap.
“What’s wrong, Clark?” Dick asks as he curls his fingers in the excess fabric of his lover’s sweater and rocks forward until he can feel the familiar press of Clark’s big hand resting against the small of his back. “Did something happen at work?”
Clark frowns mildly and then starts to rub at Dick’s bare back. “Something like that,” he mutters as Dick sits astride his lap and starts to undo the buttons of his sweater. There’s a rueful twist to the corner of his mouth and when he glances up at Dick’s bright eyes, the next thing he knows, Dick is kissing him lightly, sweetly.
“Dick,” Clark says against Dick’s mouth, breaking the kiss without pulling away from his younger lover completely. “We need to talk.”
Dick isn’t naïve. He knows what “we need to talk” means better than he should for someone that’s his age. Hearing the words come from Clark’s wide mouth sends Dick’s heart racing and he makes to wiggle away from Clark’s body and just… get away. However, Clark is infinitely faster than Dick will ever be and so he captures Dick’s wrists in a light grip that Dick knows to be unbreakable and frowns at him.
“Dick, please,” Clark says in a low voice. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Of course not,” Dick says in a surprisingly calm tone, still faintly struggling to pull away from Clark’s strong fingers. “You’re just going to tell me that you’ve finally got Lois to say yes to you.” He frowns at Clark and hates himself for how twisted up inside he feels about this whole thing. He’s been pining after Clark for entire sections of his too short life now… now it’s over. “You don’t need to drag it out, Clark. I’m a big boy.”
Clark repeats Dick’s name, but then releases his wrists. “I’m sorry,” he says as though it’ll make things better. “I really am.”
Dick shrugs. “Don’t be sorry,” he says in response. “I knew this was temporary. You’re in love with Lois Lane. Always have been, always will be. It’s sweet.” Dick smiles and makes it a good one. He’s lying with so much of himself in this moment that Clark has to be able to pick up the thudding of his heart in his chest and the way he isn’t breathing enough at all. “Just invite me to the wedding. Okay, big guy?”
Donna takes one look at Dick and knows that something is wrong. The tall Amazon strides across the living room floor in the tower and takes Dick up in her arms. She doesn’t even bother waiting for Dick to open his mouth or do more than look absolutely miserable.
“Who broke your heart this time?” Donna asks, leading Dick over to the couch and guiding him to sit down with a touch of her hand to his shoulder. “You look like you’re going to cry. What’s wrong?”
Dick shakes his head and makes an effort to smile at her. “Nothing’s wrong, Donna,” he insists even though Donna can see the redness around his eyes without squinting. “I’m just feeling a little under the weather.”
Donna has to resist the urge to roll her eyes. “Yeah, that’s why you flew all the way to New York,” she says as Dick drops his head back against the arm of the couch with a dull thudding noise. “You’re sick… And it has nothing to do with getting your heart broken?” She raises one eyebrow and watches as Dick flushes and then tries to look away from her gaze. “Are you really going to try lying to me, Dick?”
Dick shrugs. “That depends,” he mutters. “Is it working?”
“Not even a little,” Donna says with a shake of her head. She sits down on the couch beside Dick and folds one leg underneath her so that she can sit facing him. “So do you want to talk about it?” She doesn’t expect Dick to answer her, not yet, and he doesn’t disappoint her as he reaches to hold her hand.
They sit there in silence for several minutes, long past the point where Donna’s legs would feel numb if she were human. Dick hardly moves the whole time, but just when Donna’s about to call it a night and suggest that they watch television together, Dick exhales with a whooshing sigh of air and almost seems to… deflate.
“Have you ever wanted someone that you shouldn’t?” Dick asks, finally looking at Donna even though there’s an almost empty look in his eyes that makes Donna worry even more. “Or someone that you couldn’t have?”
Donna purses her lips in a frown, thinking back to all of the people she’s loved and lost because she couldn’t bring them into her world. She wants to gather Dick up again and tell him about it all and promise him that things will be better, but her heart hurts. In the end, she simply tells him yes in a hushed tone and reaches out to take hold of the hand closes to her.
Dick curls the fingers of his free hand into a fist and thumps it against the couch cushions. He closes his eyes and sucks in a shaky sounding breath. “I can’t do it, Donna,” he breathes softly. “I just can’t…”
Donna hugs Dick, really hugs him, for that. She reaches over and pulls him into a tight hug that makes him grunt. “Don’t do anything that you don’t feel comfortable with,” she says as Dick gives in and goes limp against her. “No one’s going to make you do anything that you don’t want.”
Eight o’clock on a Monday morning is too early for Dick to be awake.
But he’s awake nonetheless, staring blearily at the alarm clock on his nightstand as though he doesn’t understand why he’s not still unconscious until noon. Dick yawns wide enough to crack his jaw and then reaches down to scratch at his junk as he tries to figure out what’s woken him.
A minute or so passes and Dick reaches for his blanket, trying hard to ignore the light streaming in from his bedroom window. He’s warm and as comfortable as he can get with bruises pulling with every motion that he makes--
And then he hears knocking on the door and he has to bite his tongue to keep from cursing. It doesn’t go away. In fact, the knocking actually gets louder and Dick groans before sliding off of his big (empty) bed and knotting the bed sheet around his waist. “I’m coming! I’m coming,” he shouts, padding on bare feet towards the front door.
When Dick looks through the peephole, he’s surprised to see Clark standing there. So surprised that he reaches up and unlocks the front door without thinking about why it’s so bad to have Clark back in his apartment. Dick steps back, making room for Clark to come in and make himself at home in Dick’s rather dirty living room before trying to close the door and shut the rest of the world out.
A well-manicured hand reaches out and stops the door before Dick can get it closed.
“Watch it, flyboy,” Lois Lane says (and Dick should have guessed that Clark wouldn’t come to see him without his wife at his side). “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were trying to take me out.” She smiles at him and while it reaches her glittering eyes, it doesn’t put Dick at ease.
In fact, it does the opposite.
Lois looks Dick up and down from head to toe. She takes in his messy bed hair and scars without speaking, but when her eyes slide down Dick’s naked torso down to where the sheet is knotted at his hip, her lips quirk up into a smile. “Do you always answer the door dressed like this?” Lois asks as she leans up against the back of the door and watches Dick squirm like a pinned bug. “I might have to stop by some more in that case.”
Dick frowns, still too tired to understand what’s going on. He glances back and forth between Clark and his Lois. “What are you doing here?” Dick asks Clark as he curls his fingers around the knot in the sheet around his waist. “I thought you’d be busy on your honeymoon or something.” Dick doesn’t mean to look and sound so sullen, but nothing he’s tried to do while flinging himself around Metropolis could ever prepare him to see Clark so happy.
“Didn’t you hear the news,” Lois drawls as she walks around Dick’s living room with a measuring look on her face. “Our honeymoon got cut short: too many emergencies in too many days.” She smiles again but this time it’s somewhat… milder. “And apparently, you’re one of them.”
Lois gives Clark a look and then sits down on the couch with her legs crossed neatly at the ankle. “Go on, Clark,” she says as her husband fidgets and avoids looking at Dick for too long. “Don’t you have something to say?”
Of all of the things that Clark can say (from “I told my wife about us” to “I’d like you to leave Metropolis”), what he says next isn’t it.
“I’m sorry, Dick,” Clark says, coming around to stand in front of Dick. He reaches out and takes Dick’s hands in his own, rubbing his thumbs over the backs of Dick’s shaking hands. “I shouldn’t have ended things the way I did. I shouldn’t have ended things at all.”
Dick can’t think. It doesn’t make any sense. Not Clark being so kind and earnest. Not Lois with her gleaming smile and an air of smugness. And certainly not Clark telling Dick that he shouldn’t have let him go. “Should you be telling me this in front of your wife?”
Lois chuckles. “Don’t worry, flyboy,” she says as she watches Clark hold Dick’s hands as though there’s something normal about seeing her husband confess his feelings to another man. “Clark and I have had our talk already. This one’s all for you.”
“Then why are you here,” Dick can’t help asking as Clark comes closer and closer still until the warmth of his body is almost a brand against Dick’s bare chest. Dick is so tempted to lean in and close the distance between them, so tempted to kiss Clark because after all of this time spent apart, some instincts can’t be silenced.
Lois grins and it’s a predatory look on her. “I’m here to make sure that Clark doesn’t get distracted,” she says a moment later. “He’s supposed to be telling you that we’re interested in trying something with you, not doing his best to make you fall in love with him.”
The “again” at the end of Lois’ sentence is silent, but implied, and Dick shakes his head, pulling away from Clark. “I want to get dressed,” he says, not looking at either Lois or Clark as they watch him with faint worry showing on their faces. “I’m not having this conversation in a sheet.”
“But we will talk, right?” Clark sounds worried and for the life of him, Dick doesn’t understand why.
Dick shrugs. “If you want,” he mutters softly, still not entirely sure what’s going on or what it is that Clark and Lois want from him. “Can I go get changed now?” He leaves before Clark and Lois can say anything, all but running so that he doesn’t have to look at their faces and have that little bit of hope come alive in his chest.
Hope is bad. Hope means that every time that Clark and Lois are around, that Dick will feel regret and shame and every other negative emotion that he can. It means that he’ll be let down again. It means that he’ll wind up needing Donna’s shoulder to lean on and that he’ll be spending more and more time away from his apartment.
Even knowing all of this, Dick still makes himself get dressed in enough clothing to be presentable and steels himself for what’s bound to be one of the most confusing and uncomfortable conversations that he’s ever had in his entire life.