when a tree falls in an empty forest
Batman himself comes to take Robin back to Gotham some nights.
"I'm goin' home!" Robin crows on his way out, tucked under Batman's cape as they make their way out of the cave. He keeps chattering happily to Batman in that annoying voice of his, and Batman nods absently as though he isn't really listening, and Connor watches from afar and wonders when Batman will tell his boy wonder to shut the hell up because if Connor was Batman then he would have. Batman never does, however, and Connor never quite understands why.
He thinks, sometimes, about what it would be like to have a home to go to at the end of the day, to be taken there and tucked under the cape of someone who will listen to his babbling without telling him to shut up. He tries to imagine it but he can't.
Wally tries to phase through the wall again and Superman is the first person by his side, stemming the steady flow of blood from the boy's nose. Black Canary tells them to keep moving, to keep with the drills, but Connor can't take his eyes off of Superman. For all his breadth and strength, he handles Wally with a gentleness that surprises Connor as much as it amazes him.
Superman looks up and catches Connor's eye, and before Connor can look away, Superman already has, telling M'gann to take Wally out of the training room. Connor wants to say that he can take Wally, but Superman has already retaken his placeby Black Canary, and is helping Robin with a new battle ready stance he's having trouble learning.
Connor punches a hole in the wall during the next set of drills, almost breaks Artemis's leg, and finally storms off to his room. He feels Superman's eyes on him the entire time and he hates it.
Connor can't fly, but he can jump pretty damn high.
When M'gann blasts his mind with her kind thoughts and her soft voice, he jumps.
When Kaldur orders him around with a calmness he himself will never achieve, he jumps.
When he sees the Flash race with Wally, sees them fall over each other in a fit of laughter, he jumps.
He's strong, using that strength to spring himself into the air until he's so high that the clouds are thin and the sky is white and he can see the stars twinkling even in the morning. He jumps until he's so far from the mountain and Happy Harbor and the whole world, all alone like he should be, up here where no one can find him.
It's only then when he allows himself to scream, so loudly that it scratches his throat and burns his lungs, that it makes his neck ache and his eyes water. He only screams when there's no one around to hear him.
And he only falls when he's sure there's no one around to catch him.
He doesn't get hurt, he gets winded. And some missions leave him so physically exhausted that he's stuck in the hospital bay for days recovering.
He gets visitors. M'gann brings him cookies he doesn't want to eat, Robin and Wally bring him jokes he doesn't want to hear, Batman and Red Tornado bring him reminders he doesn't want to see. Reminders of his own mentor (if you could call him that), of the fact that Superman should be here checking up on him, not Superman's colleagues. It bothers him more than he will ever admit, the reminders. Every glance in the mirror is a reminder of Superman. He had the same face, his powers, his everything. He was a piece of Superman. Why didn't Clark see that? Was he not good enough? Was that why Clark treated him like this?
He dreams himself awake in the hospital bay, machines buzzing and whirring and unable to help his Kryptonian body, foreign and alien and immune to human medicine. He thinks he sees Superman sitting at his bedside, his head bowed low over his clasped hands. Connor sees everything through a haze of exhaustion and closes his eyes but for a moment he thinks he hears a voice whisper, "I'm sorry."
Connor opens his eyes and what he thought he saw was gone. He wants to scream again but then everyone will come running and fuss over him. He closes his eyes. The sooner he gets better, the sooner he can jump again, away from all this.
He doesn't have the Superman hallucination again and is both relieved and devastated.
He ends up screaming anyway, burying his face into his pillow, gripping the sheets like a vise with those powerful hands that can't do anything right no matter how much like Clark's they are. The tree falls, hard onto the forest floor, and there's no one around to hear him, no one. But they can't imagine the sound it makes. They can't even imagine.