Dick could remember being fourteen or fifteen, being Robin: bright uniform, bad puns, bold attitude. Most of the time, it had been fun, a thrill that called to his high-flying soul. The leaps, the acrobatics, the danger, the daring, he’d loved it all.
He had idolized Bruce, of course. All of them did. The Batman, who knew everything about everything, who appeared and disappeared from the shadows as if by magic, who lived by a stringent code of ethics that was the only thing separating him from his terror-inducing villains. It was even in his name: Clark was Superman, Diana was Wonder Woman, but Bruce was often referred to as the Batman.
The thing was, once Dick had lived with and trained with and worked with Bruce, he started to know the real man behind the legend. And that man was stern, uncompromising, brutally fair, light on praise and heavy on training. He loved his boys, but he often didn’t show it very well. Dick suspected that Bruce feared showing them too much affection; the world was hard and cruel, especially for them, and he wouldn’t want to create any chinks in their mental armor.
Clark was a different creature entirely. Just as idolized as Batman, but for other reasons. His amazing powers, his stunning deeds, and most of all, his unexpected niceness. Superman was humble, always glad to extend credit to the police and fire crews. He was universally kind to civilians, and as much adored as Bruce was feared by the general populace. Bright and shiny, it was little surprise to those who knew him that the Kryptonian had the most ‘normal’ life of any superhero.
Dick looked up to him as well. He’d been a fan of Big Blue even while he was in training with the Bat, and the occasions when he’d met Clark as a kid had been etched in his memory. So much so that his current codename was taken from Kryptonian myth. The funny thing was, even though he he’d worked with Clark and knew him fairly well now, had met his kids and his wife a few times, something about the man just turned everyone into a starry-eyed fanboy.
And now, when the world seemed to be falling down all around them, here was one of his childhood idols putting a warm hand on his shoulder and telling him it would be okay. “It isn’t your fault, Nightwing,” he said.
“Yeah, it kind of is,” Dick said dismally. “All of this goes back to B and how he never really got Jay. He was always trying to make him into me. And Jay’s a totally different person, he comes from almost a different world, and he needed different things. I saw this coming, I saw them having trouble, all the arguments, but I didn’t fight hard enough for Jay.”
He sighed. “I would’ve taken him, you know. Made him my sidekick. Jay always needed approval, and B couldn’t give that. I could’ve. But B wouldn’t let me. Sometimes I wonder, if I’d fought harder, if I’d gotten him, maybe he wouldn’t have been so desperate to find his mom, maybe he would’ve never been in that warehouse in the first place….”
“Stop this, Nightwing.” Clark tugged at his shoulder, making the younger man face him. “What happened tonight wasn’t your fault. You couldn’t have possibly predicted everything that happened, and even if you could’ve, there’s no guarantee you could’ve stopped it from happening. Stop blaming yourself.”
“Then who am I supposed to blame? Jay? He was always kind of wild; he always had some anger issues. B tried to channel that. Maybe we should’ve tried another way, but Batman needed a Robin and I’d checked out.” Honestly he was furious with Jay for everything he’d done, most especially for hurting Tim, but Dick couldn’t help the fact that his anger was tempered by grief. And even pity.
“Everyone has to grow up and find their own path. Even and especially our kids. You’re a man now; it’s unreasonable to expect you’d stay the Boy Wonder forever.” Clark smiled sadly. This had to be bittersweet for him, with both of his own children about to leave their teens.
Dick lowered his head with a deep sigh. “I just don’t know what to do. We thought he was dead.”
Clark put an arm around his shoulders and hugged him. “What we always do. Fix what we can. Deal with the situation at hand. Plan for the future. Learn from the past, but don’t dwell on it. And have hope, Nightwing.”
This was hell, remembering the kid Jay was while trying not to hate the man he’d become. There was something wrong, something fractured in his psyche; this was more than just revenge. Dick couldn’t do more, at that moment, than to return the hug. If Bruce stood for justice, and Diana for truth, then Clark was the living symbol of hope. And Dick definitely needed a dose of that at the moment.
The hour was late, the latest of the concerts over for the evening, and Kala was happily snuggled into Dustin’s arms. Lately she’d found herself pretty worn out after a performance, feeling a little off-balance for some reason. Dustin was getting pretty good at re-grounding her. “So you like Denver?” she asked.
He shrugged. “It’s got nice views. We haven’t really seen much of it, though.”
That brought on a chuckle as she grinned tiredly up at him. “We never do, honestly. That’s life on the road—I think I’ve stayed in half the Holiday Inns in the country, but I almost never have time to explore, especially now that we’re doing these structured tours. It was a little different when it was just the three of us and the van. There’s so much I wish I could see. I always end up rehearsing in the afternoon, singing at night, and sleeping all morning.”
“It’s pretty hectic,” he remarked, and nuzzled her hair. “Luckily the view in here is just as good as the one out there.”
Kala laughed. “You sure know how to flatter a girl. I just took my makeup off and I’m wearing one of your t-shirts. I’m sure I’m the height of stunning.”
Dustin tipped her head back and kissed her cheek. “You are.”
That made her smile, warm as sunlight. Dustin really was just about the perfect guy, and she was incredibly glad to have him with her. She’d been even more on edge than normal all night, just antsy and irritable and out-of-sorts, but all of that tension had bled off after she got back to her hotel room with Dustin.
And then her phone chirped. Kala groaned and grabbed it off the nightstand, eyes rolling before seeing the message was from Jase. A frown crossed her face, especially since they had just talked the other day. What it said made her hair stand up, even without knowing the actual tone of the words. Need to see you soon as you can.
Something’s wrong. Very wrong. Another chill down her spine. Her first reaction was to focus her hearing around his heartbeat. Quiet, except for ragged breathing: someone else’s, sounding pained, not threatening. Quickly, Kala texted back: What’s going on? You okay? At the same time she told Dustin, “It’s Jason.”
“Is he all right?” he asked.
“Not sure,” she replied, and the reply came in just as she finished speaking. After-school club issues. I need a hug. Kala sighed, biting her lip. She should have guessed; the creepy anxious feeling was back, and she knew he wouldn’t text if it was as simple as it sounded. It had to be something within the capes and something that had him in knots for this to be happening. She had to get out there, if only for a few minutes. Give me ten and I’ll be there. Excuses to make. Love you.
“Not good, huh?” Dustin said, watching her face.
Moments like this always gave her a moment’s pause over the choices she was making in her life and made her wonder for the thousandth time how Dad had done this for several years without anyone knowing. She respected him even more every time. “Something ungood in real life. I really hate to do this, but I really need to talk to him. Dustin…” Kala trailed off, trying to think of what excuse she could make, making it clear that she was reluctant to leave.
Thankfully he had had quite a few years of dealing with their closeness and let her go willingly and with that little of an explanation. “Privately, twin to twin. I get it, Kal.” He smiled and pulled her in for a kiss. “I can go hang out in the hotel lobby.”
“No, honey, you’re already comfortable. I’ll just throw some clothes on and take this call in the tour bus. It shouldn’t be long.” Kala kissed him again, lingering to steal a bit more warmth and comfort.
“Take all the time you need. And tell him I’ll call him tomorrow and see if he’s okay. And he’d better make it out to Kansas on school break.”
“I will. Promise. Love you.” With that, Kala slid out of bed to grab a pair of jeans and hurry into her boots, waving as she stepped out of the door. As soon as she closed the door behind her, she was down the hallway faster than the eye could see and in the air seconds after, immediately regretting that she hadn’t tied back her hair.
She was on the roof of Titans Tower even before Jason could send another message, where a weary and miserable twin awaited her. She knew that look on his face, hating it before she even knew what brought it on. It was the haunted look of the aftermath of their childhood nightmares, a look they had seen in each other’s eyes many times. Without a word, Kala came straight forward and he enfolded her into a long hug.
These days Jason didn’t scare easy, so whatever had happened really had to have unnerved him. And it rattled her to see him so intense. As much as she loved her life, as much she had wanted the singer’s gypsy life if she couldn’t trust herself to have her birthright, she hated the distance that yawned between them these days, both literally and figuratively. “Hey, it’s okay, Lizardboy. See, I’m here and with that special delivery hug you wanted, all the way from Colorado,” she murmured against his shoulder, hugging him a little tighter. “Jase, what happened? What’s got you so freaked out?”
“You haven’t seen the news?” he asked, still holding on tight, sounding exactly like he looked when she had touched down.
Kala shook her head before leaning back to look him in the eyes. Now she really was worried. “Not in the last three hours. Tonight was a work night in Denver. I’ve been in rehearsal for most of the day and onstage until about an hour ago. So tell me what going on, Jase, okay? ‘Cause you’re starting to really scare me.”
The look on his face told her she wasn’t going to like the answer.