So here's my dirty little secret. When I was little, I wanted to be Wonder Girl.
I wanted to be Wonder Girl before there even was a Wonder Girl. The blond one, I mean.
Yeah, it's stupid, I know.
In my dreams, Wonder Woman would crash in through the roof of our apartment. She would pick my father up by the neck and hold him, his feet dangling. And he would be crying, pleading, sobbing for forgiveness, for his life. She would toss him to the side and say something like, "Evil does not deserve forgiveness." Or sometimes, "You're lucky I don't kill you." Or sometimes, she would kill him.
She'd kneel and embrace me. And I would let her, without even flinching. Her words were always different but she'd tell me that I was a princess too, that my whole life had been a big mistake. I'd been kidnapped as a baby and she'd been searching for me ever since. Now that she'd found me, I would be granted the powers and the life that I was supposed to have in the first place. I'd fight by her side. I'd be the new Wonder Girl.
But it never happened.
I mean, obviously, right? Shit like that doesn't happen in real life.
It's not like I really believed it would happen. I'm not stupid or anything.
It just became something to hold on to, a little movie to play in my mind to make myself feel better.
But even then, while I told myself that it was impossible, I still held a little corner in my mind that believed it might, might really happen.
It wasn't until I was like thirteen or fourteen that I completely gave up hope.
Wasn't any one thing really. And I can't say that it was because I had finally grown up or something. I guess I just gave up.
I tried to save myself. Got pretty close a few times, actually. But the closer I got to making it out, the more it hurt when I was pulled back.
Eventually, it just hurt too much. I decided I didn't deserve something better. I had always thought of myself as a strong person, but in secret, I had broken completely. And to this day, even with all the shit I've been through, it was the most ashamed I have ever been.
So, that's when he chose to make his heroic entrance. Robin Hood to the rescue.
It was the greatest thing that had every happened to me.
But still, I kinda wish I had been able to save myself.
He let me fly the jet. It's pretty surprising, considering what a total control freak he is. I've known him for like what? A month? And I already know that his blood pressure must have risen at least five or six points just because he can't have his hands on the stick.
I glance at him and almost said something like, "Don't worry, Robbie, I promise I won't crash." But it isn't the time for humor. And even if Beast Boy can't recognize that, I can.
"Where should we land?" I ask. We weren't even close yet, but I just wanted to know. And I feel like I need to say something.
He doesn't answer immediately, he just stares at the console.
I wait for a few minutes, "Um, so do you know where—"
"No. I mean, I don't know. I have no idea what it's going to be like when we get there. I expect the worst."
He says it in a tight voice, all control and strength, never betraying the sadness underneath.
I nod and twist in my seat to reach the radio. And I feel it. A small pop on my side. I hiss in pain and take a hand off the steering to grab at the bottom of my rib cage.
"Motherfucker!" I gasp.
Beast Boy is up and moving toward the front of the jet, "Wow, tell us how you really feel."
But before he can reach me, the Boy Wonder is up, blocking his path.
I squeeze my eyes shut in pain and nod.
He turns and looks at Beast Boy, "Gar, take the pilot's seat. Keep trying to reach Nightwing on the coms. I'm going to go wrap her up."
Robin turns back to me and helps me out of my seat.
Gar waggles his eyebrows suggestively as we brush by him. It was cute at first, maybe even funny. But it's starting to get old fast. I know I give as good as I get and, for the most part I don't mind his comments, but he's got to learn when to turn it off.
I hear him start to say something but I cut him off quickly.
"No, you horn-dog, you don't get to see Speedy in her sport's bra. Boo Hoo. Just drive the plane, Green Bean," I grin and reach up to muss his hair as we pass.
He gives a short wolf howl and plops down in the seat.
Once we get to the back I try and maneuver myself to one of the back seats. But Robin doesn't let me.
"What do you think you're doing?" He asks as he tightens his hold on my upper body.
"I just need to sit down, I'll be ok."
He snorts and continues to pull me along. "Who are you kidding? You suddenly got some kind of meta super fast healing powers?"
"I wish," I mutter as I head further back toward the medical closet. I shrug his hands off my shoulders and perch myself on the seat.
He's already rummaging in the closet for supplies. He's taken off his gloves and discretely exchanged them for a pair of latex ones. Does he think it bothers me to see him do that? They all step around me on pins and needles, like they don't want to remind me or something. Yeah, like I can forget.
I ignore the pain and slip off my gloves and mask. After Ollie's house got blown up the whole secret ID thing really became absurd. Besides, if Robin is anything like his creepy mentor, he already knows my whole life story. So there's no point in trying to hide the track marks on my left arm as I lift off the upper part of my uniform. They are faint, but still there. Maybe you wouldn't see them unless you knew what you were looking for. But I'm sure he knows.
He's taken off his mask as well and he kneels down beside me to begin wrapping up my ribs. He's eye level with my chest but he's still not staring. What a gentleman.
"Knife wound?" he asks as he readies the wrap.
"Hmmm?" I look down.
Gently he places his forefinger on a faint scar to the left of my belly button. He runs the length of it, his finger ghosting over it. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I can feel a shiver shoot through my spine.
I don't like to be touched.
I tighten my jaw and try not to flinch. "Yeah," I say in a cracked voice.
He takes his finger away and glances up at me. Our eyes meet for a brief second before he looks away and begins to wrap my ribs. He opens his mouth halfway, as if to apologize. But he just concentrates more on his work. I think he realizes the touch and his prod into my personal life were inappropriate. I've held them all at arms length and he and Raven have been the only ones to respect that.
Bart's mouth runs as fast as he does. Wonder Girl gets embarrassed for him. But even as he asks his questions, "Where are you from? Do you have any brothers or sisters? Do you like video games? Where did you learn to shoot? Do your parents know about you being Speedy?" I can tell Wonder Girl is interested in the answers.
But Robin is different. He waits.
"It was before…all this," I say.
"Oh," he says, as he looks up. I can tell he is surprised. Maybe he doesn't know everything. Maybe he's just been too polite to delve into my past. Or maybe he just never found anything. It wouldn't surprise me actually. There isn't much of me left out there to find.
So I guess he doesn't know why I am so eager to get to Bludhaven.
He's finished wrapping.
We sit in silence for a few moments.
"Were you hurt at all?" I ask.
He shakes his head. "Lucky."
I grin at him, "Sure."
He stands and begins to put the rest of the supplies back in the closet. "What?" he asks with a small laugh as he turns to see me grinning at him.
"Not luck. You're good." I say as I pick up my top and struggle to get it over my head. It's difficult to get it over my ponytail so I reach up and pull my hair band out, letting my hair down.
He places his hands gently over mine and helps me guide my head through the top. "You're good too."
I pull the top on. "Better than Cissie?"
He pauses for a moment and watches me. He doesn't seem surprised that I know who Cissie is. He's seen me at night accessing the Titans computer files. I've seen him at night hunched over his microscope. While Conner sleeps, Robin is in the pool doing laps. While Wonder Girl sleeps, I am in the weight room doing bench presses.
He has to think about it. But that's ok. It means he will give me an honest answer.
"Yes," He says as he closes the medical supply closet.
"Wonder Girl doesn't think so," I say as I stand.
"Cissie was her friend," He says as he removes his latex gloves and disposes them in the medical waste container.
I stare at the container for a moment.
"Yeah," I say as I turn and head back to the front of the jet.
"You're just new," He says. But he doesn't follow me. And I don't turn.
We've landed in hell.
And I'm sitting here drinking PowerAde. We've just spent the past six hours running around the city looking for survivors.
There weren't many.
I'm sitting in the corner of the makeshift medical center watching as Robin speaks with the head doctor. Gar is center stage entertaining the kids, some of them now orphans. He's turning into a skunk, a bunny, an octopus, a duck, all to make the children laugh. Maybe he was right and Robin was wrong. Maybe laughter is the way to deal with it.
And as I look around me I have to laugh just a little. All of Bludhaven has been destroyed except for one small section.
The Zee Moores.
Home sweet home.
Nobody recognizes me and it's not just the mask and costume. I left when I was twelve. And even before that I wasn't the kind of kid you'd look twice at. No, I was always the girl you tried hard to ignore.
Always filthy, wearing the same ripped jeans and green hooded sweatshirt, the same ratty old tennis shoes. Hair in a messy ponytail, eyes down, mouth closed.
I've been watching him for a while now. He's giving blood for the second time. People keep coming up to him and shaking his hand, patting him on the back.
An old woman comes and sits beside me.
"All my cats are dead," she says to no one in particular.
I nod at her. Her hands are heavily bandaged and she's in shock. She turns toward me and I suck in a quick breath. I know her.
She lived in my building, in the floor above us. I used to climb the fire escape to her porch so I could steal the food she put out for her cats.
She's just sitting there staring at nothing.
"Who's that?" I ask as I point toward the big blond man giving blood.
She smiles at me, "That's Tom Hunter. He saved my life. He's a hero. He kept going back in, saved so many people today."
I watch as a woman approaches him and embraces him in a hug of gratitude.
I start to stand up. I can't handle being here anymore.
But Mrs. Warren isn't done talking. "He's such a good boy. He's had such a hard life," She says as she nods her head, "His wife died and he was so sad."
I sit back down. I don't want to hear this but I have to.
"He started with the drugs, you know. So many young men get pulled into that here," she makes a sour face and shakes her head. "This used to be such a nice neighborhood back when my Albert was still alive." She is still shaking her head. "Tom had a little daughter. She was such a wicked, dirty little girl, always stealing from people, always running away. What was her name?" She says to herself.
"Kate," I say in a hoarse voice. "Katie Hunter."
She nods. "That's right," she says. And she doesn't seem surprised that I know the name. "Such a bad little girl. She would throw the worst tantrums, always screaming and crying in the middle of the night. Her father worked so hard to provide for them but she was such an ungrateful little girl."
"What happened to her?" I ask in a small voice.
"Oh, she finally ran away for good. Her father was so sad, he looked for her for so long but he could never find her. He would go out at night and ask people if they had seen his little girl, Katie. I wonder why he never found her."
I bit my lip until it bled and squeezed my eyes shut. "She changed her name," I say too quietly for her to hear.
"What are you doing?" his voice is quiet and right in my ear.
I stiffen and take my hands from the keyboard. I turn and face him.
"What are you doing?" he asks again, louder this time. He's not angry or curious. His voice is still and dangerous and still.
"Oh, hey, Robin. I was just double-checking the blood supplies, seeing if they had enough. Thought I might try and contact Ollie or Conner for some medical supplies and stuff."
He nods. I can't tell whether he believes me or not. Usually I wouldn't have to worry about that. If there's one thing I'm good at it's lying. But with these bat kids, I'm not so sure.
"Contact Oracle, she'll take care of it," he says as he walks away.
I watch and wait for him to leave the area completely before I turn back to the computer screen. I type in Tom Hunter's blood donor reference number and wait for the results.
Blood is in high demand and short supply. The Red Cross has set up tents and they are taking blood and testing it all at the same time.
I turn from the screen and watch as a man comes up to clap him on the back.
Tom the hero.
The drug dealer.
The wife beater.
Tom the child molester.
I get up from the chair and make my way outside the medical tent, trying not to see the group of people gathered around his bed.
Once outside, I take a deep breath of smoky air and squeeze my eyes shut.
Why did I come here?
Was I hoping he'd be dead?
I don't know. And all of a sudden I am sobbing and running. I'm running toward the few standing buildings. I leap on top of a dumpster and pull myself up a fire escape latter and begin to climb toward the roof.
Once I'm up there I rip off my mask and hooded cape. They feel so ridiculous here. Here where I remember that dirty little girl named Kate.
It's dark up here. The power is out all over the city and only a few stars light the sky. And it's surprisingly quiet.
I curl up and continue to sob, my small voice echoing across the rooftops. I hit my forehead against the roof. Light at first then harder and harder. It's not fair. It's not fucking fair.
I squeeze my eyes shut tightly and scream.
And I feel a hand touch lightly on my back.
In a rage I leap up and kick out catching Robin solidly in the chest. He falls backwards but immediately picks himself up. He peels his mask off and starts to walk toward me, his blue eyes shining with compassion.
"Stay the fuck away from me," I spit at him as take a step back. My legs are shaky.
He stops. "No," he says quietly as he starts toward me again.
I'm shaking my head and continuing to move backwards. But I've run out of room. I'm standing at the edge of the building and he's still walking toward me.
He embraces me firmly and pushes his face into my hair.
I am such a weak little fool. I clutch at his cape and sob into his chest. "It's not fair. It's not fair." I keep repeating over and over. My legs are trembling and suddenly they can't hold me anymore. I slide down his body and he bends with me. He holds me as I cry.
And suddenly I feel trapped. With his body pressed against mine I can feel the muscles of his arms bulging. He's stronger than me. If he wanted to, he could keep me here.
"The Zee Moores should have been the first to burn," I hiss as I clench my teeth shut.
He pulls away and holds me at arms length, his blue eyes wide with shock.
"He should have died. He should be infected. I should go down there and slit his throat right now," I say as my breathing speeds up.
He's staring at me, clearly horrified. "What are you talking about?"
"Tom Hunter, the hero of the Zee Moores. My father," I say. I've stopped crying and I have a hollow, empty feeling spreading across the pit of my stomach.
And in the span of three seconds I see him snap from confusion to understanding to pity. He's not like Wonder Girl and Superboy, he's been down these dark alleys, looked in these windows, he knows what can happen here.
"Do you really want to kill him?"
"No, but I want him to be dead." I remember the very first night he came into my room. I was so tired, so confused. I didn't understand what he was doing. He told me not to cry. He told me to be a good girl and to do what he said. Be a good girl and listen to your daddy, Katie.
I push myself away from Robin, bile rising in my throat. I feel the acid burn as I twist my body around and vomit. Heaving out everything in my stomach. I spit and wipe at my tearing eyes.
"Fuck," I mumble as I shudder, suddenly cold. I spit again, trying to get the sour taste out of my mouth.
He reaches out his hand and brushes against my wet cheek.
I spit again. "So, I guess this means that you probably don't want to kiss me to make me feel better," I say with a small laugh.
"Don't do that," he says with a shuddering breath.
"What," I say as I turn back to him.
"Don't ignore this," he says.
"Why do you care?" I ask. Because, why should he care? What the hell does it matter to him?
He looks shocked that I would even ask such a question. I've always thought of him as such an adult, so together and grown up. But he's just a kid.
He's not answering. And every second he remains silent it stabs into my chest. Why does anybody care? Why does Ollie let me live in his house? Why does Conner teach me to meditate? Why does Dinah hug me? Why do people love me now?
Why didn't anybody love me then, when I was screaming in the middle of the night and stealing cat food so I wouldn't starve? Why didn't anybody hug me when I was sleeping in dumpsters to hide from rapists and picking pockets so I wouldn't have to sell myself?
Fuck, I'm crying again.
He reaches out and hugs me again. "I'm sorry," he murmurs against my neck.
"Not your fault," I say, even though I know it's not what he means.
"I know, but I'm just sorry," he says again as he pulls me tighter.
"Okay," I say, sounding like a little kid.
We stay like that for a long time until finally I pull away. I sigh and wipe away the remainder of my tears. I walk to the other edge of the building, overlooking the medical tents. He follows and stands beside me.
"So now you know why I do it," I say as I pick up my mask and cape, securing my secret identity. "I do it because of him."
Robin shakes his head, slipping his own mask back over his face, "You do it because of you."
I watch him and wait.
"You're a good person, Mia. You're smart and you're fierce. You're funny and beautiful. Don't ever let him make you think otherwise."
It's the same shit I've heard before, from Ollie, from Conner, from Dinah, from Roy. "Yeah, I know."
He turns his head toward me quickly. "No, you don't know."
I swallow hard and look away.
"And I know you might not believe me right now, but I do care," his face softens and he lays a hand on my shoulder.
I nod and remember the look in his eyes, "I believe you," I whisper.
"And anytime you want to talk about anything…"
"Yeah, okay," I look down at my feet, knowing that I'll never talk about it again, but appreciating the fact that he offered.
He nods and points with his chin toward a rising column of smoke.
"Let's, go Mia, we have work to do."
He leaps off the roof and I follow.