I caught him at the supermarket when I called. I try to sound cheery for his sake. His voice is flat like always-- getting more and more like Bruce everyday. His eyes are darkening, they get bluer and bluer each time I see him, blurred with some distant memory he's no doubt repressing. More and more like Bruce. Sometimes I'm scared he'll snap someday and end up killing somebody. Or more importantly himself.
I know he hates the phone, and I'm grateful he bothered to answer. I was my usual campy self. Sometimes I think I don't belong in this family, especially when the two of them stand side-by-side, tall and erect like always, eyes gleaming with the arrogance that always seemed to fail my own body right before it reached the surface.
My hands are doing something altogether separate from the rest of my body again. Chop Chop Chop, the knife slices into the tomato so easily. I shouldn't really be surprised-- I sharpen them everyday. The movements are so blurred and quick, I could really be a gourmet chef if I wanted to; thank you Alfred. I make a mental note to invite him over for dinner sometime. Bruce too. And Tim. That boy needs to eat better-- he's getting too skinny. I wince as the tip of the blade slices into my finger as easily as the tomato, and the redness of blood mixes with my salad. I eat it anyway.
The room hums with the familiar beep of electronics. T.V. Stereo. Telephone. Pager. Computer. Everything to keep me from actually having to venture into the world of human beings. Barbara is online. Oracle, I mean. She doesn't go by Barbara anymore-- at least not with me. I suppose I should count myself lucky that I live in an era where I don't actually have to move my mouth to speak to my paralyzed ex-girlfriend. No, I shouldn't say that. She was never actually my girlfriend. Whenever I have to go see her it's a flurry of awkward head scratches. Don't look at her legs, don't look at her legs. My English fails me and wilts from my tongue. Don't think about her skirt and those long milky legs... god I'm sick. Those useless tangles of flesh, sinew, and muscle. I look at my own powerful legs, honed through years of training. Bruce really put me through it. I guess I can't complain. Tim got it worse. Well, anyway. The room is cold, sterile. Much more blank than any of my so-called family would expect of me. Except maybe Bruce. He never has to say anything but he has the creepy all-knowing thing going on. I used to look up to him for that, now I just try to run from it. Can he see through my body into the black wells of my heart? No, I tell myself. That's Clark, you idiot.
Babs used to turn me into a babbling pool of awkward teenage hormones. I actually thought I was going to marry her and spend the rest of my life with her when we first met. Naiveté is incredible when coupled with testosterone. Once I told her I loved her and she laughed. She laughed. Not even in a mocking way, just soft friendly laughter. That was always the type Barbara was. I think that was when I developed a thing for redheads. Kory was different. She needed me. I needed her to need me. It was sweet at first, the way she clung to me. All of her alien strength and super powers and she needed plain old human me. In a lot of ways she was more human than Barbara ever was.
I stab myself with the fork and don't even blink. That's how batboys grow up. Dont blink. Don't show the pain. Jason was never good at that. Couldn't control his temper. And now he's, well... I sigh. After that, Bruce took his training to the extreme. Especially with Tim. He doesn't show anything, sometimes his voice gives me chills and I feel sorry for the boy who grew up too quickly. But I know how that is. Bruce is just doing what he thinks it's best. Don't show weakness, Dick. Don't show weakness, Tim. His humanity is peeled from him each time he puts on the cowl. Sometimes I worry there will be nothing left. Those two, they're made for each other yet they don't have each other. Bruce and Tim. Tim and Bruce. Mirror images but they could never break through the glass. Some sort of cold understanding is as far as they'll ever get. Neither of them has anybody left. Oh yes-- Dana. I always forget she's in the picture. Dana. Stepmother to a nobody, a phantom. A boy behind a mask and cape trying to fight his way through his pain. She doesn't even own him anymore. Own. What a funny phrase legally. My fists clench as I pull the metal out of my hand and some part of me knows I did it on purpose. I'm not the clumsy type.
I go to my secret place. The secret floor all the tenants have learned to ignore yet long to venture into. It leers at me from its case. Black dye. Just fabric. I pick up the mask and put it to my face. Just a second ago I was Dick. Now I'm Nightwing. Just a piece of material and it changes me completely. Dick. Not Dick. Nightwing. Batman. Bruce. Robin. Tim. Jason. Stephanie. Cassandra. Barbara. Suddenly we're all each other and I'm overwhelmed. I love my secret place. It'll ruin me someday. I ask it not to, I almost pray to the mantle sometimes. Please don't destroy me. I'm a coward inside. I used to be afraid of heights before my father taught me that heights were where God was. I tried to fly so high to be where God was. Now my father's gone. John Grayson. Deceased. Tried to be where God was. Bruce was... Bruce was just another attempt at God. To look him straight in the eyes as he contemplated snapping a man's neck. He could've done it but chose not to. Is that what God is? I put the mask down and it glares at me. Is that what I look like, a permanent glower? I've been spending too much time with Bruce. With Tim. No, not enough time with Tim.
Sometimes it hurts to put the costume on. The material scrapes my chest and that awkward place at the back of my knees where my skin is chaffed raw from bad habits and training. Nobody knows about that. I like to have the place behind my knees all to myself. Another secret place. We're all so good at keeping fucking secrets. I pull it over my chest and the transformation is complete. I've become a man acting like a god acting like a man. I have come like the fifth horseman to dole out justice as I see fit. Sometimes I wish they'd crucify me. The villains, the citizens. Just string me up and take off the mask and shout, "you're not our god!" Then I would rest with the rest of the bats, hanging upside down dead somewhere. No more questions or concerned looks from Alfred, understanding glares from Bruce. Of course i wouldn't do that. The all-American little Richard committing suicide. Ha. I wouldn't give it a second thought. My skin screams, raw and red, and suddenly I hear a voice screaming as well and I realize it's me. And I can't stop. It's time to hunt.
The first time I flew, true flight, I screamed like this. Bruce had to stop me from giving away our positions. Always the secretive one. He touched me on the shoulder and that was the first contact I'd had since they died. Just a simple touch brushing the bones of my shoulder. Didn't even go to the skin. It was wrong but I almost came right there. Just from a touch on the shoulder by the legend known as Batman. I'm disgusting. He squeezed my shoulder and that was enough. The most affection I'd ever gotten from him. And then that grimace-- the face of disgust. He tried to mask it with understanding but my cheeks burned. I was so ashamed. "It's okay, Robin." Always Robin. Never Dick. Always the dark knight, coming to my rescue.