Shutting Doors

I stared down at the street. It looked like a stream of water, or a vein pulsing with life. It looked busy, even from this great a height. I felt myself leaning forward, unintentionally, towards that great rush of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, feeling myself reaching towards it, responding to the pull that was more than gravity, more than the swirling motions of the life below. It was the pull that always called to me when I soared.

I glanced upwards into the sky, wondering where the bar was that I only then realized I had expected to see. The bar that had always allowed me to defy that pull towards the earth. It wasn't there, of course. It hadn't been there in a long, long time. It had been replaced, as much as something like that could be replaced, with the wide black wings I kept tucked around my body.

These wings, they didn't understand. They held me up and let me fall with grace, speed, and control. They swelled out into the night and created the illusion of magic, or supernatural skills, or whatever it was the people saw when they looked up from their ground and saw me coming. These wings let me sail gently through the winds, through the air, through whatever I found myself in, sail slowly, falling to the ground.

The bar had never let me fall, it had always held me up, strong and firm. Bruce told me that I had learned to do so much more than I had ever before been taught to do; not long ago he had remarked that I had grown into a fine young man. He said I should be proud of the person I was becoming.

He didn't understand. With these wings it wasn't really flying. He thought it was; he said that everything I had inside me could send me soaring into the sky, into the future. As I leaned closer to the massed whirl of traffic below, I knew he couldn't understand. What is a slow fall to one who has soared upwards, flung himself through the air, never falling, knowing he would never, ever descend farther than the reach of a bar, the reach of a hand? Knowing he had the entire atmosphere to play in, live in, revel in... what is falling, to such a one? I had been taught to avoid falling, no matter how beautiful it may appear with black wings spread out from your back.

I saw the ground below, pulling at me. It always did, calling to me in that sometimes sweet, sometimes taunting voice, that it would grab me and I could never defy it. From the time I was four until only a few months ago, I had defied it. Now I wanted to leap, as my training bade me, in response to that call. Leap out, flying, truly flying, and grab that bar. I leapt.

There was no bar.

"Where have you been?"

I barely glanced up. For a change Bruce didn't sound like he was angry or anything, simply curious. It wasn't like he had any reason to be upset with me -- I didn't have a curfew. Hell, I was nearly 18. "Just out."

Bruce looked up; he was sitting at his desk going over more paperwork. "I found your beeper in the den."

I sighed to myself. I didn't have to look at him to see that accusatory expression on his face. By now I had it memorized. "I forgot. I'm sorry. But it isn't like I wouldn't have seen the signal, if--"

"That isn't the point, Dick. True, if the Commissioner needed us you'd have seen the signal. But that's not the only time we're needed. I asked you--"

"To wear the beeper. I know, I know. I'm sorry. I won't leave it behind again." I walked over and held out my hand; Bruce gave me a second appraising look as if trying to decide if I was sincere, or something. Then he gave me the stupid beeper and didn't say anything else. I clipped it to my belt right there so he could see me doing it, and left the room. Once I got to my own bedroom I slipped the jeans off and put on sweats. Kicking my shoes into a corner, I wondered what the hell I was going to do now.

It was late, and I wasn't tired at all. I was used to staying up 'til nearly 2 in the morning and sleeping all afternoon. That's what I had been doing until Bruce discovered that before he could arrange to send me off to college I had to have a legitimate high school diploma. I'd argued with him for hours -- days -- about it. My parents had tutored my brother and me, as had Matt and Jenny and several other of the circus people. Maybe they weren't an accredited educational institution but they were smart folks and they cared, and I had learned a lot of things. I had yelled that exact phrase at Bruce, right before he'd told me I was wasting my time because he had already made arrangements to send me to school. Apparently as long as he was responsible for me I was going to get my diploma. It wasn't the first time he'd done something with my life without telling me first and I kept telling myself I wouldn't let it happen again.

I stood in the middle of my room and stared at the walls. Sometimes they inspired me, sparked a bit of interest in me for a task to occupy my time for an hour, or several. Sometimes I just ended up staring at my walls for hours, searching for something to do. Something to fill my time, my mind. Usually I headed down to the gym, when all else failed. Not tonight. I didn't want to see the gym, see it full of every piece of equipment a multi-billionaire with an interest in staying in shape could afford. I had never told him there was a piece missing.

It wouldn't have made any difference, anyway, because flying alone just wasn't the point. It wasn't really flying. You had to have someone else in the air with you to get the second bar swinging, or to help fling you into the air, or to catch you when you come down. Whenever Batman and Robin sailed through the air in our bat-caped wings, I never felt more than a ripple of air from the fall of the person beside me. Never felt that reaching out, the straining, that certainty that someone would be holding out a hand to catch me or to be caught. We always flew alone when we flew side-by-side in those wings. If you could call it flying.

I fell back on my bed, and stared at the ceiling. Still nothing came to mind. I was so bored. I could read, listen to some music, log onto the net, or simply stare at my walls but there was nothing to motivate me towards any of it. I hated this feeling. I felt so... something. I couldn't even be moved to figure out how I felt. Useless? What was there to do, that would be worth my while to do? It wasn't like I had any plans.

Back in the circus I had never questioned what I did. It didn't matter so much whether we had an audience, because flying was the best end in itself. I would have flown had no one ever been there to see. It was part of my nature, I told my brother in those times we talked about whether we'd ever pull up and leave the circus and create new lives for ourselves. He sometimes wanted to do something else, but he never really knew what. I had never wanted to be anything else but a bird.

I rolled over and pulled the blankets around me, ignoring my shoes, leaving the lights on, and with my teeth unbrushed and all those other little going to bed rituals adults said were so important left undone. I was comfortable and warm, so I closed my eyes and tried to recapture the sensation of flying, so I could sleep.

I got through the rest of the weekend without too much trouble. I had homework to distract me, which gave me an excuse to sit at my desk and stare out the window for hours on end without anyone bugging me. The view from my window never changed. I wasn't used to seeing the same thing, day after day, out there past the boundaries of my home. Even though the circus followed the same circuit, visiting the same towns every one to five years, the view had never been the same. The towns always changed, flickering like the frames in a movie, held together by the reassuring solidity of the bright tents and trailers and people who created my home. Just one more reminder that I was no longer home.

Sunday night I had figured out why I had been so out of sorts lately, thinking so much about what I'd left behind. The first reason was that Haley's was coming through Gotham City again the next month. The second was something I hadn't figured out how to deal with and wasn't too crazy about facing. Even without thinking about it, it was distracting me. I threw my books in my backpack, still somewhat disbelieving that tomorrow morning I would look and act like any other high school senior on the planet. Sometimes I loved being so normal; sometimes I hated it.

Right now that wasn't my problem. I went downstairs to look for Bruce. I found him in the study, working on one of his crosswords from hell. He smiled when I walked in, and waved me over. He was always trying to get me to help -- I could never convince him I didn't like crossword puzzles. I walked up to his desk, suddenly feeling like an eight-year-old boy. I stared down at the desktop, at the dark grained wood polished by caring hands for more than two hundred years. I wondered what I was going to say, how I was going to say it. Why had I come down here, anyway?

"Dick?" I heard Bruce set his pencil down and push his chair back. "What's wrong?"

Before I could say anything coherent I started crying. Bruce was out of his chair and around the desk in a flash; I found myself in his arms, crying into his chest. He didn't say anything, he just held onto me. I felt like I used to, when my dad would hold me... when he would reach out his hand and catch me, flying through the air.

When I stopped crying, I heard Bruce ask in a very soft voice, "Is it about the circus being here next month?"

I nodded, still unsure of what to say. I didn't know if I wanted to stay away from them, or spend the entire three days with them while they were here. I didn't know what I wanted, but I knew I needed something. This hurt and I didn't like it.

Bruce didn't say anything else; he waited until I moved away, before he let go of me. I walked over and sat down in one of the thick brown chairs by the fireplace. I tried to get comfortable and when that failed I just tried to look up at him.

"I don't..."

Bruce crouched beside the chair. "I understand, Dick. I... I know how hard it can be.

I turned my head towards him, letting my face ask the 'how', 'why' and all those other questions I'd never asked him about his own parents' death.

Bruce looked away, then told me. "Every year I visit the theatre where they were murdered. I lay two roses there, to... remember them by. Sometimes when I have to go by that alley I feel like I can't do it -- I can't go in there, can't bear to look at the place where they died. But sometimes I have to. And it always hurts... it always hurts like hell."

I realized that right now he was hurting almost as much as I was, and for some weird reason it made me feel better. Not that he was hurt, but that I wasn't the only one. "How do you... how can you go back there?"

He sighed, and seemed to look for the answer, as if he'd never asked himself the question before; or had asked it a thousand times and never found the answer. "Because I have to. Because otherwise it would be like forgetting them. When it isn't... the anniversary of their death and I have to go through that alley I tell myself that it's just another alley. That everything, and everyone has moved on and that their ghosts aren't waiting for me down there."

"Does that work?"

He almost smiled. "Not really. But I found out that it's because I carry their ghosts inside me, all the time. The alley... doesn't really matter. Going into that alley doesn't make them haunt me... they always haunt me." He didn't sound quite as haunted as his words made out. It was like he was kinda glad they were haunting him.

"Sounds like a good reason to lock yourself in your bedroom for a few years and hide under the bed."

He laughed. "I have definitely thought about it. Something always draws me back, though."

"Al," I guessed, knowing how tenacious the old man could be.

Grinning, he nodded. "Sometimes. Sometimes it's just knowing how much I have to do. How much I want to do. I have too much to do, to spend my time hiding under my blankets behind locked doors." Bruce glanced over at me. "Dick.. if you want to visit the circus when they come to town, let me know. I'll go with you if you like. If you don't, that's all right. You don't have to--"

"I think I will. I'm probably going to change my mind a hundred times before it gets here. I'll... let you know." He nodded, and stood up.

"I understand." For a moment he just stood there looking down at me. I felt like a little kid again, all curled in the chair. Well, not quite -- but what I did feel was the thing I didn't want to think about. "If you want to talk about it again, I'm always here."

"I know." I was pleased to find I did feel better. "Thanks."

"You're welcome. Now, why don't you go on to bed? I'll send Alfred up with some hot chocolate, to help you sleep."

I smiled. I had never told Bruce about my pre-bed hot chocolates, but apparently Al had. Either that, or Bruce simply noticed that they had been going through a lot more hot chocolate mix since I'd moved in. It felt nice, that he'd noticed. I pushed myself out of the chair and headed for the door. Before I got there, I stopped and turned around; Bruce was sitting back down at his desk. He looked up, curious.

I stared for a moment, then quickly stammered, "Good night."

He smiled. "Good night, Dick."

I turned and headed upstairs to bed, trying not to wonder what my dreams would be like. After drinking my hot chocolate, I lay down to find out.

Monday was, well, typical. School. Walking the halls with my backpack slung over my shoulder, watching people going here and there filling up the corridors with sounds and motions and energy and everything else teenagers are full of. I went to my locker and emptied my pack, grabbed my English book. I had tried telling Bruce I didn't need this; I still wished he'd let me take the GED and be done with it. He'd insisted on my actually taking a year of high school.

Though I wouldn't tell him unless the Penguin himself had me dangling upside down over a vat of acid, he had been right. I knew a lot of stuff, but the things I knew didn't always translate into what high school thought I should know. I was way behind the other students in English, and math. I was way ahead in history and most of the sciences. The first was Old Gregor's fault, he was a history buff -- had a story for each one of the thousand tattoos he had on his body. He was always happy to tell them and with such a vivid reminder of the stories he told, I'd learned a lot of history. The second was my mom's fault. She was always taking my brother and me to the museums when we were kids, science museums and planetariums and all that. I had soaked it up like a sponge, not just because it had delighted my mother.

The first month of school I'd tried to hide just how well I was -- and was not -- doing from Bruce. Apparently the school sent reports home; the first time I'd failed an English test he'd shown up with a tray of snacks and a firm warning that I couldn't leave the chair until I'd read the entire book I'd been assigned. He'd even left Robin home, when the Commissioner sent the signal into the sky.

The book had been okay.

Today I wasn't worried about English. Not that I didn't have a reason to be -- Mrs. Matthews had a tendency to give us pop quizzes, when she thought we weren't keeping up with our reading. It wasn't that I hadn't read the chapters, I just had so much on my mind. I kept thinking of reasons not to go visit the folks I'd known all my life, then I'd come up with even more reasons to camp with them for the entire three days they'd be here. Then I'd remind myself what I really wanted to do and I'd be distracted all over again.

I did manage to survive until swim practice. I was on the swim team partly because it was an easy way to spend an hour of school doing something athletic, and partly because I'd never done much swimming before. I certainly wasn't going to join the gymnastics team. No way.

I thought back to the first week of school when the coach had put us all through our paces in order to fill out those little forms the government gave the schools to make sure their next generation wasn't too lazy and slow. Thirty of us guys had been standing around the gym, all wearing identical shorts and T-shirts, muttering comments ranging from 'why the hell do we have to do this' to 'I bet I can do more pushups than you can'.

I hadn't known a soul, and had been standing off to the side, trying not to feel nervous or conspicuous. The first thing we did was run laps, timing our half-mile. I didn't outrun everyone, but I came darn close. I did beat out everyone on the pushups and sit-ups, though. Maybe my generation was a little slow, because a lot of them weren't even close.

The second day we had more tests, and by that time a lot of guys knew my name. All the tests were simple, testing us on those things I had been doing all my life in one form or another. Jumps, lifts, hanging from bars. It wasn't until the last day, though, that I made my mark. It wasn't even my fault...

The coach took us into the gym, like he had each day before. I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw it. So far no one had really made the connection of who I was, or at least they hadn't said anything if they had. But today it was going to change, I could tell. The gym was decked out in a variety of things... all gymnasium equipment. I didn't know whether to grin, or groan. I settled for saying nothing as the coach had us line up.

The first was a balance beam. All we had to do was walk down it, one after another. See if we had any balance at all. Luckily there was a guy right ahead and behind me, so I couldn't be tempted to do a flip, or walk down it on my hands. Then it got fun -- the rings were next. The coach said all we had to do was pull ourselves up. A kid named Davy asked if we could do anything more than that; I got the feeling he was being a smart aleck. When he pulled himself up easily and swung his legs up into a pike, I knew he was. I grinned.

When my turn came I pulled up and swung into a handstand. I'd been doing these last night when I should have been reading my physics book. I held the handstand for a minute then dropped. Davy gave me a high-five, and that was the first time I felt like I was going to have friends. Next we went over the horse -- both Davy and I turned a flip over it.

Then we got to the highbar. Coach said we had to pull ourselves up again. By this time I'd realized that all the guys here could do at least the minimum asked, and a few could do more. Davy, however, was a gymnast and I was... well, I was a lot of things. All of which led me to believe I could get away with a little showing off. It might help with some of those "new kid" rumors I'd overheard. I'd never spent this much time locked up with kids my own age but I had the feeling they were being vicious just out of tradition. I watched as Davy pulled himself up and spun once around the bar. When it was my turn, I jumped up and grabbed the bar, pulled my legs forward and swung around the bar the opposite direction that Davy had. I got into a handstand on the bar, and held it. And held it. And held it.

When the guys starting laughing, coach told me to come on down and stop fooling around. Davy gave me another high-five, and the coach told us that we should take this a little more seriously, since the worst was yet to come. I had been worried for almost a minute until I saw what the next thing was.

The rope. I wanted to start laughing. The coach timed everyone on their climb up; some guys didn't make it all the way but that was expected, or so Davy said. The coach left Davy and me for last, then told us to take the rope. I gave Davy a grin; when the whistle blew I paused for a couple of seconds. Davy was squirreling up the rope, legs wrapped around it and arms pulling fast. Before the coach could yell at me to get going, I had the rope in my hand and was climbing... with just my arms, legs piked out in front of me beside the rope. I gained and passed Davy in seven feet. I beat him to the top by nearly a minute and hung there. I decided to indulge myself with something else I'd been doing instead of homework at night. Those kids down there might be getting better grades than I was, but I knew none of them could do this.

I wrapped my leg around the rope, and let myself fall a ways down. I played on the rope for several minutes, things I'd done while playing and working on the rope for fifteen years. The coach was glaring at me by the time I'd dropped to the ground. He started yelling about playing dangerous games and what if I'd fallen and all those other things people say when they have never learned to fly.

I just shrugged and told him I'd been doing that since I was three. He still glared, but didn't say anything else. That's not to say I didn't get an earful when I got home. Bruce had been pissed. He'd gone on about it for half an hour -- much more tenaciously than the coach had. I had tried to brush him off by explaining that it hadn't been dangerous and finally all he said was if I did it again Robin would be staying home for three weeks.

What kind of sidekick gets grounded? I'd glared at him and asked if I was supposed to be 'Dick Grayson, wimp and all around dweeb' at school. He'd looked at me seriously and asked if that was more important than being Robin, hero. I ended up doing my homework, and going out that night with Batman.

The upside to all of it was that now, when I got to swim practice, Davy pulled me to the side and began filling me in on the weekend gossip. He's a better swimmer than I am, too.

When school was over for the day I found myself standing by my locker, putting books in my pack. I was hit by a sudden feeling that this was all wrong, that none of this should be happening, and I should be somewhere else, doing something else. I should not be here, acting like a high school student. I should be someplace high above the world, hands stretched out to touch the stars. I should be wrapped in green and crimson, snug in the familiarity of a world I'd always known and never dreamed I would lose. I shouldn't be thinking of Wuthering Heights but living them.

I slung my backpack over my shoulder and strode out of the building, searching for something to remind myself of who I was, and who I was supposed to be. Before I got to my bike, Davy found me.

"Hey, Dick... can I cadge a ride?"

For a moment I only stared at him, not quite sure I'd heard or understood the words. Then I nodded slowly; I had given Davy rides home from school often enough that Bruce had given me an extra helmet. Davy gave me a weird look, though, and didn't move towards the bike. "Dick, are you ok?"

"Yeah," I was surprised to hear my voice sounded normal. "I've just got stuff on my mind." I wasn't too sure I wanted to tell Davy about my family, the circus coming to town, and I wasn't sure I could explain how much I felt out of place and out of sorts. How I felt like I had been transplanted into a pot I had no business being in. Instead I climbed onto my bike and waited for Davy to climb on behind me.

"Hey, instead of heading home, why don't we head out to the park?" Davy's suggestion wasn't surprising, he made it at least once a week. I nodded, and turned the engine on. I liked the park, and I enjoyed our trips there. I didn't really know why, I'd never been much of a trees and flowers guy. But something about our trips to this park was nice. I suspected it was just hanging out with a friend. Sometimes I hated having to lie to him about most of the important things in my life.

I pulled into traffic and headed down the road. For a moment I had a vision of the road as seen from the tops of the buildings, just as I'd seen the other night, swirling far below me. Then it cleared and I saw it all from the ground, from the seat of my bike. It wasn't quite flying, but the wind felt almost the same. I leaned into it, and may have sped a little getting to the park.

Davy walked away from the bike, heading at a jog for his favorite spot, a circle of trees around a pond. I locked everything up and followed more slowly. I had a feeling I was going to have some time to relax here, which would only lead to thinking about things I didn't want to acknowledge. I watched the ground under my feet as I headed after Davy. I heard him say something to himself, or to the trees, or perhaps he was talking to the ducks. I looked up and found him smiling at the world around him.

Why was he in such a good mood? I didn't say anything though, and fell into a sitting position under the trees, surrounded by trees and bushes and flowers. I felt so calm that I figured it wouldn't take much for me to start crying again. I heard Davy sit down beside me, then his hand was resting on my arm.

"What's wrong, Dick?"

Feeling everything that was wrong didn't make it any easier to figure out what to say. I shook my head, staring at the jumble of things in my head that presented themselves, things I needed to understand. I rested my head in my hands, staring at the individual blades of grass and wondering how they could possibly be happy stuck here in the mud.

Finally I said, "I keep thinking about my parents, my brother. The circus... it's coming back here next month. I keep thinking... wondering if I want to see everyone again."

Davy didn't say anything. He knew the whole story -- well, half of the whole story -- about my family. He put his arm over my shoulders and sat quietly beside me. When I began crying again, I decided I needed to say the more, to someone, even if I could never say it all.

"I keep thinking about how right my life seemed with the circus. Everything was just like I wanted. I loved my life, what I did. It wasn't anything like a normal life, but it was all I knew and it was exactly what I wanted. Now I find myself in a completely different life, trying to be just a normal guy, and sometimes all I can think about is that I had to give up everything I loved. I used to fly, Davy. And now I can barely walk."

There was nothing at first but the sound of the birds around us. I felt a stab of anger that these ducks and geese should be here to remind me that there will always be those who fly. Their calls to each other taunted me, telling me I had no business flying, no reason to miss what shouldn't have been mine, human as I was. Then Davy was whispering how sorry he was, and holding me against his shoulder. I left the words alone and let myself remember.

It hurt just as badly now as it had the night they died. It wasn't fair that I'd had to lose everything I'd loved. Everyone I'd loved. I wanted to scream out, yell that it was all Bruce's fault, because it was still because of him that Two-face had done it all...

That reminded me that I wasn't the only one who had lost everything. It didn't stop me from crying, but I didn't yell. He didn't need me blaming him, on top of everything else. He would have died in their place if he could have. I knew that. Sometimes I couldn't decide if I was glad that he hadn't.

I didn't realize I'd stopped crying until Davy spoke. "Are you gonna be ok?" He sounded like he hadn't a clue how to help. He also sounded like he desperately wanted to do something if he could only figure out what.

"I... I think so." I didn't feel it, not really, but I had a feeling I would be okay. Eventually. I stayed where I was, though, with Davy's arm wrapped around me. Unfortunately I still had something to deal with.

When I had calmed down and stopped crying and sniffling, Davy leaned back a little and looked at me. I knew that look, I had been seeing it a lot in the last month or so. I knew exactly what it meant. I felt my stomach tightening and wondered how I was going to get out of this.

Davy brushed my face with his fingers and when I didn't move, didn't react, he leaned forward. I don't know why I let him; maybe I was glad he was there, listening to me. Maybe because he was my friend -- one of my only friends. Maybe because I wanted to know how it felt. But I let him kiss me, without pulling away.

I guess he read my face well enough when he leaned back. He looked so disappointed; I wanted to hold him in my arms and tell him it wasn't true. He frowned, and asked glumly, "Why did you let me, then?"

"I'm... I'm sorry. Davy, it isn't..."

He shrugged, and started to stand up. I grabbed his arm and held him next to me. "Look, Dick. I know you think we'd better talk this out and get things... straightened out. But not right now, ok?"

He sounded miserable. Exactly the way I felt... I kept a hold on his arm. "Davy, would you listen to me for a minute before you run off? It isn't... I didn't..." It was frustrating, trying to explain something to him that I hadn't yet explained to myself. "It isn't that I don't want to. It's just... there's somebody in particular I want to do it with, and I don't think he ever will."

I was almost as surprised at my words as Davy looked. He stared at me for a moment, then nodded. "I know exactly how you feel."

I smiled, then I started laughing. "Yeah, I guess you do..." After a moment he laughed too, and I was glad because it meant we hadn't ruined our friendship in spite of a double case of unrequited love.

He put his arm back around me, and I leaned against him as he settled back against a tree. "So are you going to tell me who?" His voice was light, but my heart froze at the question.

"I don't think--"

His hand on my arm was the only reply I got. Down by the pond the ducks were still calling to each other, but their tone had changed. It almost sounded like they weren't making fun of me anymore.

I slammed the front door behind me, but not on purpose. The wind had caught it as I pushed it shut, and the resounding slam echoed through the house. All the way through the house. I looked up sheepishly and saw Alfred peering over the stair railing at me. "Oops...." He just laughed and went back to whatever it was he was doing. I headed for my room to shuck my stuff and get on with having the whole evening off.

No homework. At least, none Bruce would know about. I sometimes felt really silly trying to hide my homework assignments from him. I mean, here we were, two crimefighters who went through all kinds of crap together, saving the world and the city and damsels in distress. I had defeated all sorts of evil villains, and I was sneaking around like a school kid, hiding report cards and tests from my partner. It occurred to me that if any of our nemeses wanted to get the upper hand he or she could just send my report card home before I had a chance to look over it.

Not that I'd ever changed it. I would never do that. But I did need time to come up with some story to explain my grades in English and math.

I left my pack on the bed and changed into my workout clothes. I really needed to beat something up tonight. I didn't see Bruce or Al again, on my way to the gym. Just as well. I wanted to get myself under control before I saw them at supper. I kept thinking back to Davy's kiss. Kept thinking about how nice it was, and how great it would be to kiss someone else...

I stopped along the way to the gym to pound my head against the wall. I honestly didn't know why I felt this way, but I knew I'd better stop soon. Otherwise I would drive myself nuts. Luckily a good long workout usually has the effect of clearing my mind and exhausting me until I sleep so soundly I don't dream.

I always feel disoriented when I walk into the gym. It's large enough hold a circus in. The high walls stretch up, windows surrounding the ceiling bringing the light in. I felt a tightening in my throat -- it was more than big enough to hang a couple trapezes in. I brought my eyes down to the ground level, and left the thought unvoiced. I had never asked, and was never going to. Besides, who did I have to fly with?

The words had repeated in my brain so many times I barely noticed as I thought them again. No one to fly with. I settled into the first of my stretches, trying to focus my thoughts on my breathing, relaxing, and feeling my body move the way it was supposed to.

Except I was supposed to be up there... I kept looking upwards as I went though my warm-ups and exercises. Every time I realized what I was doing I wrenched my gaze down again, but before long I would find myself gazing up again, seeing something in the rafters that wasn't there. If I closed my eyes I could almost hear the whisper of the ropes the slight squeaking as the bar swung free, both of them calling to my soul and asking me why I was standing there on the ground when I belonged in the sky. I stopped halfway through my Long Form and listened to them call me, ask me why I had left them, ask me to come home...

"Leave me alone!!!!"

I hadn't realized I'd yelled it aloud until I heard the reverberations of my voice off of the walls. I turned around in a circle, looking around me for something -- I didn't know what. I suddenly knew I couldn't stay where I was, not in this room which only reminded me I couldn't have what I needed. I heard someone cry out as I ran from the room.

I ran from the house; the gym opened up to the side of the yard closest to the woods. I didn't stop running as I hit the treeline; instead I settled myself into a long, hard run going just as damn fast as I could. My attention was focused on the woods directly in front of me, leading me around the trunks and ducking under the branches. I began to enjoy the sensation of going at top speed, dodging, weaving, and floating around the trees and other obstacles of my flight. I never slowed down, and my heart began beating hard and fast, carrying me along as I ran. I knew I could run forever.

The woods were dark -- not so dark I couldn't see but dark enough to hide everything that might have been beyond the woods. I couldn't see the sky, nor even much sign of the sun, only patches here and there passing in a flash as I sped by. I didn't know how far I'd gone, and I didn't care. I was running, not away and not towards, only running, using my entire body to propel myself onwards, forwards, into the air as if the sky was waiting for me someplace ahead, ready to catch me when I flung myself away from the ground.

So I ran. With each step for a moment I was airborne, both feet off the ground, moving forward with a speed only birds could achieve. I knew I would be crying if I had the energy to spare... or maybe I was and I hadn't noticed. I could still see, so it didn't matter. The trees kept opening a way for me, so on I went.

I wasn't sure how or why I fell, but suddenly I was lying on my side on the ground. I lay there, panting for air, and let my surroundings form into something recognizable. When I realized where I was, I felt something inside me gibber. I crawled forward to peer over the cliff, down at the water almost half a mile below.

I was very, very glad I'd fallen. "Oh shit..." I shook my head and leaned back, lying on the patch of grass and stared up at the darkening sky. I wondered how I'd known to stop, and remembered a sudden flash and pull at my ankle. I looked over and saw it, floating in the air beside me, its single camera lens staring at me accusatorily.

I knew that on the other side of that camera Bruce was sitting at the control panel in the cave, either swearing at me or glaring, or both. He used those remote cameras to keep guard around the grounds. I felt myself getting royally pissed that he'd spied on me... then I ducked my head and said aloud, "Thanks."

I didn't want to hear the lecture I would get, when I got home. After enjoying lying perfectly still listening to my heart pound from running and the adrenaline of seeing the cliff appear before me, I rolled over and stood up. My legs were still shaking as I took a step closer to the edge. I peered over, wishing not for the first time that the drop was not so high -- I was struck by the urge to cliff-jump everytime I stood here. I knew Bruce would strangle me at the very mention of it, though, even if I was dumb enough to think it wasn't too high. I left the cliff alone, and turned towards the house.

I had a feeling it would be a long walk back. I also had a feeling I would enjoy not getting back too soon. The later I got home the later I would see Bruce and the later I would have to hear his lecture. I rubbed my forehead, sighing, and kept walking.

The woods were a lot darker than it had been when I'd run through it. I had to duck invisible branches that suddenly became visible two inches from my face, and sidestep plants that grew instantly before I set my foot down. I didn't question the luck -- or skill -- that had directed me through this woods at top speed without hitting anything. I wondered whether Bruce was going to bawl me out, or if he would sit me down for another one of those talks.

Truth be told, I preferred one of those talks. They don't make me feel like a little kid, and sometimes Bruce can be reasoned with when he's talking calmly. Maybe I could distract if he looked like he wanted to yell. I watched the ground and the space before me with a careful eye as I walked. All I needed now was to trip and hurt myself.

Suddenly the roar of the batcopter was heading my way. I went to the nearest clearing and reached up just as the rope fell to the ground. I wrapped my arm around it and began climbing, even as the copter lifted up and began sailing away.

I could feel the adrenaline building again; Batman was in costume and we were headed for the city. I hauled myself up hand over hand, holding back a yelp at the exhilaration. When I plopped into the seat beside Batman I found my costume waiting. I edged into the back part of the copter and changed quickly. Batman didn't say anything; I figured he was still pissed but ignoring it for now. I wondered what was up, but didn't ask.

He'd just say something like 'if you had been home you would have found out'. Sometimes he treats me like a kid and I hate that, especially when he would turn around and treat me like a partner, almost an equal, and like his best friend. It frustrated the hell out of me.

I jumped into the seat next to him, and stayed quiet. I couldn't keep the excited smile off my face, though. At least not until I remembered that somewhere someone had to be in serious trouble. Much as I loved being Robin, Boy Wonder, I didn't like the necessary requirement that someone be in trouble. People got hurt, too often and too seriously.

He didn't say anything the entire time it took us to fly down to the harbor. I stared out the window silently as we headed out over the water. The Commissioner had updated us on the search that was already in progress. I'd kept my mouth shut so he wouldn't know I hadn't known why we'd been called, but I quickly found out two young kids had gotten themselves a boat and set sail -- out into the sea, with a storm coming up. It was apparently a little wooden rowboat, and from what their hysterical parents could figure the kids didn't have lifejackets, or a radio, or supplies of any kind.

Batman and I were simply joining the rest of the able-bodied sailors and pilots going out to search the night sea. I saw some of the vehicles had "Wayne Industries" logos emblazoned on their sides. Batman handed me a pair of infrared binoculars as we flew out to search our assigned section of waters. With a storm coming up there wasn't any time to spare.

As we flew out over the water I thought back to the parents of the missing kids, holding each other too tightly to breathe, whispering to each other, letting the police lead them and reassure them. I saw the mother's face, how terrified she looked, not knowing where her kids were, whether they were safe or injured or dead. I saw the father, trying to look brave, trying to hold his wife and be strong, but it was so obvious he was close to breaking down himself. I had an image of the kids, probably laughing as they took the boat, excited about their great aventurine.

They probably didn't realize anyone would be worried -- they knew where they were, what was the problem? Typical kids. I felt a knot in my stomach. I glanced over at Batman -- he was programming the copter to fly itself through a search pattern over the waters. I held my binoculars tightly, returning to them to scan the sea below. I watched, my eyes on autopilot like the copter itself, as my stomach froze and my mind churned. Finally I swallowed, and tried speaking.

"I'm sorry... about earlier. I should have been watching where I was going."

I didn't hear an answer, so after a minute I risked another quick look at Bruce. He was staring through another pair of binoculars. He was acting like he hadn't heard me, so I guessed he was still angry and wasn't ready to accept an apology. I felt something inside me begin to shake. I tried taking a deep breath and concentrating on looking for those kids.

After a little while I decided I couldn't just sit here and not say anything about it, and if he was going to stay quiet I had a chance to get it out. It felt weird, both of us staring in opposite directions; it was almost like he wasn't really there, wasn't really listening. That should have made it easier to say. It didn't.

"I know I've been doing some things lately that I shouldn't... I've got a lot of problems on my mind, and some of them... I just don't know what to do about 'em. I keep thinking I'll figure something out but then I can't take it anymore and I have to get away from it. I know... that's not a good reason for being so distracted, for getting into trouble. But I just..." I took another deep breath and said the rest of it.

"It's just that I used to... this is gonna sound dumb, but I used to be able to fly. And now its like I'm always stuck on the ground, or just falling. I feel like I've lost everything I was, everything I knew, and it's been replaced by things that I'm not sure how they fit me... I'm not saying I don't appreciate everything you've done, and I'm not saying I want to leave. It's just that I... I don't know. I miss it. I miss flying."

The sea looked very cold, and very empty. No sign of the kids so far, no calls on the radio other than those saying "nothing yet". I watched in silence, and waited. I tried to keep myself calm, because if my eyes were filled with tears I couldn't see. I chewed on my tongue and wondered if Bruce really wasn't listening.

"I understand."

His voice startled me; I hadn't expected an answer, hadn't expected this one.

"You miss your family, your home... there's nothing to apologize for."

When he fell silent again I glanced back. He was staring out at the waters, not moving, and it looked like he wasn't going to say anything more. I didn't know if I was glad he'd said he understood, or mad because it was all he'd say. I knew I had a lot more I needed to say but I wasn't sure if he wanted to hear it right now. He's understood me, sure, but he hadn't sounded very... I don't know. Interested. Like my mood was just another mystery to be solved.

I kept looking through my binoculars, part of me wondering if those kids were ok, hoping to god they were. Part of me was desperately trying to decide what to do, what to say, whether to say anything more. I needed to reach out, and quite honestly Bruce was one of my best friends. I had never doubted 'til now that he would be available for me. I wrestled with needing him to listen, and wanting to give him the space he seemed to be asking for.

Finally I could only ask. "Can I... tell you about it?" I had never heard my voice shake so badly. I'd said it so quiet I couldn't be sure he'd heard me; I licked my lips, ready to ask again louder.

"Of course." He sounded surprised. I glanced over and saw him watching me. I turned back to my post as he did, watching for those kids in the midst of it all.

Now that I knew I could, I wasn't sure I knew what to say. I jumped in at what seemed like a beginning. "When we would practice we would go out to the bars that were hung up... my dad would climb up and get to swinging, and he'd call out to whichever one of us was going to work on something that he was ready. Sometimes the others would be there, watching or helping. When I was trying to learn a new trick, I remember how my dad would talk me through it, even as I was standing there with my hand on the bar, ready to go. I would be standing there, watching him, and I knew that no matter what I did he would be there to catch me.

"When I did it right, his hands would be holding mine and I'd feel like I could never fall. I spent my life letting him or my brother hold me like that... pushing me off into the sky and catching me. I grew up flying, sailing through the air, knowing that even if the ground pulled at me once in a while and I fell into the net, I would be right back in the air again, flying, as if nothing had ever gone wrong. I felt like... like I belonged there, flying under the tent, throwing myself into the air like a bird.

"I can't do that anymore. I feel like I've had my wings clipped, and I have to sit and watch everything from the ground level. When I do manage to climb up someplace and look down, knowing that I could fly if I wanted... there's no one waiting to catch me. If I start to fall, I'll keep falling... all the way down."

I had to stop and wipe at my eyes, quickly pressing the lenses to my eyes again. Bruce didn't say anything, but suddenly I felt his hand on my back. I didn't move, didn't say any more. All I felt was his hand.

"I see them."

"Where?" Batman was next to me, and I pointed. Everything I'd been saying was pushed back as I gazed down at those kids, huddled together in the boat. Batman circled the copter, shining the searchlight on them, while I radioed the Search and Rescue base. I kept my glasses fixed on those kids, as if by seeing them I would prevent them from disappearing into the ocean.

We landed right next to them, and I grinned at them as the door slid open. The boy was holding his arms around his sister, they both looked thrilled -- whether it was just for being rescued, or because of who was doing the rescuing I couldn't tell. It didn't really matter, though. It just felt damned wonderful to step into the boat and lift each of them up to Batman and watch him settle them safely into the back of the copter.

As we spun back towards the docks, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked back and saw the girl smiling shyly. "Can we get your autographs?"

I heard Batman stifling a laugh. I just smiled and dug into the side compartment for pen and paper.

Two days later I came home from school with my math test in hand. I wasn't planning on taping it to the fridge, but I was going to leave it out on my desk... just in case anyone wanted to look at it. Not that I suspected anyone of going through my things, but just in case. I laid the paper carefully on the top of several other papers and books, tilted it enough to make it look causal, then made a move to head for the kitchen for a snack.

The red 'A' caught my eye as I turned away, and I tried not to smile. A knock on the door startled me, and I looked over as Bruce peered in. "Hey, got a minute?"

"Sure." I walked over as he stepped back into the hallway, and followed him downstairs. "What's up?"

"I have something I want you to see. Tell me what you think of it."

"Ok." Seemed harmless enough. Probably another batcontraption that he wanted to test out. I didn't say anything, keeping my guesses to myself. Bruce led me outside instead of down to the cave, and I saw two dirtbikes sitting by the garage. I glanced over but Bruce didn't say anything. He got on one bike, and waved me towards the other.

"Where are we going?"

"I told you. I have something I want you to see."

Apparently it wasn't at the house. Duh. I climbed on the bike and strapped on the helmet. Bruce gunned his motor and took off; I followed without the chance to ask where the hell he was going, as he didn't follow the drive down to the road. We followed a dirt track through the woods, headed towards the cliff. I wondered briefly if this was going to be an object lesson. He hadn't mentioned my blind run at the cliff the other day, not even to tell me not to do it again. Granted, I'd figured that one out already.

When we reached the cliff face I stopped my bike and stared. I'm sure my jaw was hanging open but I didn't care. I stood up, barely aware as I propped the bike up and dropped my helmet. Bruce was watching me as I walked forward, staring, totally amazed. I walked right up and laid my hand on the edge of it, testing to see if it was real, fingering the smooth fabric before turning back to Bruce. He was smiling at me.

"What do you think?"

"I... They're beautiful." I looked back at the glider nearest me, mesmerized by the bright stripes of color in its wings, the black sheen of the frame, and I realized I could feel a wind just strong enough.... I knew why he'd done this, and I tried to tell him I was grateful.

He laughed when I just gaped at him. I was still trying to figure out how to say it when he asked me, "Have you ever been hang-gliding before?" I nodded. "Then come on. Let's get strapped in and go, so we can be back in time for dinner."

I watched as he headed over to the other glider, whose wings were not as bright, but rather made of sharp, strong patterns of dark colors. I felt like I was in a trance as I moved forward and rested my hand on the bars. A thousand words, questions, and gratitudes played through my head. Then I let them go and stared out at the sky. Here I come, I called out to it.

I could have sworn it called back, that it was ready.

We glided for what must have been hours. It seemed like forever, anyway. The sky was clear and the winds were strong and the wings kept up afloat like they were a part of us. I only yelled in delight two or ten times; mostly I just immersed myself in the sensation of flying again. When we finally landed I couldn't stop grinning. As soon as Bruce got himself free of his harness I was on him, grabbing him in a bear hug and squeezing too tightly.

"Hey, easy there! All right, I'm guessing you enjoyed that?"

Bruce laughed, and didn't try to push me away.

"Thank you!" It was the only thing I could think of, but it was enough. It was exactly what I meant. He'd given me back the gift of flight... For the first time in many months, I felt alive again. I felt happy. I kept my arms around him, still soaring on the sensations of being carried by the wind. Bruce returned my hug then started to let go. When he realized I wasn't ready to let him go, he put one arm back around me.

"I'm glad you enjoyed it, Dick. I only wish..."

"It was enough. It was perfect! Oh, Bruce, it was wonderful!" I felt like jumping up and down. I looked up at him, feeling my grin splitting my face open, knowing that I probably looked pretty goofy pumped up as I was. But it didn't matter because Bruce had the same expression glowing in his eyes. I didn't know how much he'd flown before but he knew what it was like, and he knew how wonderful it was. I yelped one more time. "When can we do that again?"

"Well, if the winds are strong enough we can go tomorrow. But--" He looked stern and serious. "You have to get your homework done. You can't spend all your time on the hang glider."

Slowly I nodded. "I know. I promise, I won't ignore my work." I sighed, because I felt so light that gravity could never hold me down again. I felt like I could, well, fly. I laughed. I could!

Bruce shook his head at me, probably not sure that I would ever calm down again. "Come on, then. We've got to drive up and collect the bikes then get back to the house before Alfred sends the dogs searching for us."

I laughed again and repeated, "Thank you." I hugged him again, wanting to tell him exactly what this meant to me, how much it meant, how I now felt like I could do anything anyone ever called on me to do because I knew that I could fly. I knew now that I was still the Robin that leapt into the air without a glance at the ground.

I let go of Bruce and stepped towards the truck that was waiting. "Is there a double harness on one of those? I want to bring Davy out here. Teach him how to fly."

"Yes, I got one. I didn't know if you knew how to fly a glider." Bruce slid behind the driver's wheel and looked over at me. "Fasten your seatbelt."

"What? Oh, right..." I grinned again. My face was gonna hurt.

I dreamed about him again. I knew I would, I had been at least twice a week for a month. The dreams were getting more intense, more... interesting. Which was making real life more difficult. I made up for it, though, by spending every free moment I had working out in the gym or flying my glider, sometimes with Bruce and sometimes with Davy on a third glider Bruce gave us. Davy had teased me once about subverting hormonal energy. When I'd just stared at him guiltily he'd shut up. I hadn't told him whom I was thinking about but he was nice about it anyway. Even offered to help me take my mind off my troubles.

I'd smiled and told him I would keep his offer in mind. I knew how he felt about me. Heck, I knew exactly how he felt. The only difference was, his object of affection/lust/distraction knew how he felt and was willing to consider the matter. Mine probably hadn't a clue and would freak if I said anything. The more I thought about Davy, though, the more I realized I would have been happy taking him up on his offers if I weren't already in love. He made a great friend and he was drop dead cute. If the frustration built any more, I might have to tell myself to face reality and stop dreaming.

But until then I would keep dreaming. The latest one involved him and me sitting at the top of the cliff, watching the birds fly by. We were side by side, our shoulders and knees touching. We'd been talking, but I couldn't remember about what. Perhaps the dream had actually started after we'd fallen silent. I watched the sky, full of birds and clouds and sunshine.

He placed his hand on my arm and pulled me around to face him. I opened my mouth to say something, ask him what he was doing, and he placed his finger on my lips. Whatever words I'd had faded away at the touch of his skin. I wanted to kiss that finger, caress it with my lips and work my way to other parts of his body. I didn't get the chance, though, as he moved his finger away.

Before I could feel more than a first stab of disappointment he leaned closer and laid his lips on mine. I closed my eyes and let him put his arms around me, holding me close as our bodies pressed closer together. I felt like I was on fire, and I reached out to grab at him, draw him to me. He leaned me back to lie on the ground and laid himself carefully on top of me.

I moaned, feeling the warm delicious weight of his body on mine, feeling his hands on the sides of my face, holding me as he kept kissing me, drawing my tongue into his mouth, pressing his own inside mine. I could feel the firm pressure of his cock against my leg and knew he could feel mine. I drew my legs up on either side of him, wrapping my arms around his back and pulling him closer, as he moved faster with more intensity, devouring my mouth with his as we lay locked in the embrace I'd always wanted.

Just as he'd moved his hands down to my waist, to open my clothes and answer my prayers, I found my eyes opening and saw a dark bedroom form in the shadows of the woods at the top of the cliff. It was a dream, of course. I knew it, knew it was all I could ever get, more than I could hope for... knew that I wouldn't be able to sleep for a long time. I stayed in bed long enough to deal with the effects of my dream, rubbing myself under the blankets alone even as the phantoms of the dream swirled inside my mind. I wanted it to be his hand that was moving on my body.

But since it wasn't, I did what I could and then got out of bed. I wrapped a robe around myself and padded downstairs to make a mug of cocoa. A middle of the night ritual, by now. So far no one had caught me and asked what I was doing and shouldn't I be in bed asleep. I took the mug back with me to the study I used most often, especially at night when I couldn't sleep. I sat down at the desk and snapped on a small lamp, and turned the computer on.

I loved the net, because it was up at all hours, waiting for me. I could hide myself as much as I wanted, immerse myself among a dozen faceless strangers and faceless friends. I logged onto my main account, the one that identified me only as Richard Grayson, simple resident of Gotham City. I had another that was through Wayne Industries that made it a little easier to know who I was, living at the Wayne Manor. Then there was my anonymous account, the one I used when I wanted to fly the net as Robin.

I loved going to the Batman groups from that account. I didn't know if Bruce knew about that or not, although he had been the one to assure me no one could trace the anonymous account. I had spent many wonderful, hilarious, and frustrating hours interacting with people as Robin. It was fun, even when I swore I was going to trash the account and never do it again. But then I'd remember that some people were glad to see me... well, a virtual Robin anyway. I'd usually go back after a while and find that I enjoyed it again.

I didn't want to play with that right now, though. I didn't want to read my personal mail, either, which would be on my second account. No, what I wanted right now was a balance between reality and anonymity, a way to ask some questions and be treated with basic respect, without dealing with the intricacies of friendships.

I found the group I wanted, and settled in to compose my message.

> I have to start by saying I don't know what is happening. I don't know if I should call it love, or
> lust, or something else entirely.
> I just don't know what to do, because I keep dreaming about him...

I ended up working on it for half an hour, writing and rewriting, trying to decide how much to say and how to say it. When I finally sent it off I sat back and told myself it would be days before I would get replies. I decided to distract myself, and sat back to read through the accumulated posts on the group. I even replied to a few.

When I was thinking I might switch accounts and read my personal mail, I realized I had been yawning fiercely for some time. I shook my head, recalling Bruce's warning that if I got addicted to the net he would tie me up and drag me outside, stake me to a tree and leave me breathing fresh air until I screamed. Or was it 'stopped screaming'? I couldn't remember. But I didn't want to test it, and I shut off the computer and headed back upstairs.

I fell asleep as soon as I hit the pillow.

The dishes clinked softly as I laid the dry plate down on the stack. I was helping Al -- not because I'd gotten into trouble but because I still felt weird about having someone do all my chores for me. Besides, it was nice to stand around and talk to the old guy. Reminded me a little of Stern, the head clown who used to treat all us kids like his own grandkids. I wondered if he was still traveling with the circus, if he could still do those cartwheels and hand springs. He'd been getting a little stiff when...

I wiped another glass dry and let myself remember for a moment. Stern had been a great guy. He'd loved being in the circus; he'd joined Halley's when I was little, having quit his rat race to have some fun. His wife had died two years before, and his two kids had only come to see him perform when I was nearly ten. He'd been so grateful for being given a second chance.

I turned my thoughts to other problems. Beside me, Al had his hands in the soapy water all the way up to his elbows, apparently unconcerned that I hadn't said a word since we'd started. Usually I don't shut up. I set the glass down carefully.

"Al... can I ask you about something?"

"Of course, Master Richard."

Someday I was going to ask him not to call me that, though not until I could figure out what he should be calling me. "I was... I mean, I've been..." This wasn't going to be easy. I leaned forward against the cabinet, twisting the towel in my hands. "What do you do when you're in love with someone and they don't love you back?"

Al didn't say anything for a moment; he handed me another plate to dry. Calmly he asked, "Are you certain your affections are not returned?"

I nodded quickly. "I know h--" I stopped, then figured there was no harm in just saying it. "I know he doesn't. He... couldn't."

"Because he doesn't like men." Al's tone told me not only was he not concerned with my admission, he wasn't terribly surprised. Someday I was going to find something he didn't know.

"Yeah." I breathed it out, feeling some of the tension drain with it. Now at least I knew I had someone to talk to about it. Sorta. As long as I didn't name names.

"As I said, are you certain he doesn't feel the same way?"

His leading tone made me wonder what he thought he was talking about. "What do you mean?" Did he know something I didn't? I felt my heart skip. No, surely that was impossible. Granted, Al would know if anyone did, but still...

Al kept washing dishes, and said, "I believe, Master Dick, from what I have observed, that were you to broach the subject of your feelings, you would be pleasantly surprised."

He had to be talking about something else. Some one else. If this were true... If Al was right, why hadn't Bruce said anything himself? Why hadn't-- "How do you know?"

"I've seen the way he looks at you, when he's here."

When he's here? But that wouldn't... I knew what he meant. I relaxed, but also felt hugely disappointed. "You mean Davy?"

Al turned at my tone. "Why yes... isn't that who we're discussing?"

I shook my head. "I know that Davy likes me. He told me, last week, in fact." I smiled, remembering that kiss. It had been nice. It just wasn't who I'd wanted it to be.

"You're in love with someone else," Al observed.

"Yeah. Which makes it worse, because if I wasn't then Davy and I could be together and I wouldn't have to worry about anything. Well, except for the usual things two guys together have to worry about." Sometimes Batman and Robin got called, to find a gang of bashers roaming the neighborhoods near the gay bars. I particularly enjoyed beating up those guys. I set another dry plate on the stack and continued. "But I can't do that to Davy. I'm in love with this other person and he's..."

"Definitely not so inclined?"

"If he is, he does one damn good job of hiding it." I shook my head. "That isn't all, though." My voice dropped. There was a lot more to it, but I knew I didn't want to say it all. Now that I'd started, though, I couldn't stop.

"What is wrong?" He said it gently, and I had the feeling that I could say it all and not only would I have a sympathetic ear, and good advice, but he wouldn't tell a soul. Heck, I knew how good Al was at keeping secrets.

But I wasn't ready yet. "He's older than me. So even if he was interested in guys he wouldn't be interested in me. And I don't even know--" I cut myself off. These particular thoughts hadn't occurred to me before.

"What?" he prodded gently.

I felt kinda amazed, as I said the words as they'd just occurred to me. "I don't even know if what I feel is real, or not. I've never felt like this before. I've dated people, slept with a few... but this might not be what I think." Now that made me feel miserable. It was bad enough being in love and knowing I couldn't do a thing about it. But to think I wasn't really in love... that was worse.

I looked over to get the next dish, and found they were all washed and dried. Al took me by the arm and led me over to the table. I sat down, staring glumly at the tabletop.

"Why would it not be love?"

I liked that he sounded as if it would be. I'd heard too many people say kids my age couldn't really fall in love. They called our feelings 'crushes' and hormones and disregarded them all over the place. I rubbed my hands over each other, trying to put it into words without spilling the beans. "It's possible that I just like him. That I love him but not that way. That I feel... grateful to him. Instead of what I think I feel."

"Isn't it possible, that you feel all of those things?"

I looked up at him. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that feelings do not cancel each other out. You may feel grateful, you may love him in a non-romantic sense, you may consider him a good friend. And you may also love him romantically. There's nothing wrong with it... although it can be quite confusing."

"You're telling me." I smiled. I thought about what he'd said for a minute. "You know, that sounds right. But that makes it harder, because all those other things he could deal with. But how could I ever tell him how I feel and make him understand?"

Al gave me the fisheye. "I was under the impression you did not want him to know how you felt."

I shrugged. This whole thing was making my head spin. "I don't know. I wish I could tell him and find out he felt the same way. But since I can't... I guess it would be better not to say anything. I don't want to freak him out. I don't want him..."

"Deciding he no longer wants you around even as a friend?"

I nodded. That would be the worst. "I suppose I shouldn't do anything. Thanks for listening, Alfred. I really appreciate it." Oddly enough I felt better, even though I'd come to the same conclusion that had been making me miserable.

"You're welcome, Master Richard. Perhaps you should go upstairs and get some work done. Math is good for distracting from affairs of the heart."

I laughed. "Yeah, right. You're just trying to trick me into doing my algebra."

Al smiled at me. "Of course, sir. I'll bring you up some tea and scones." His eyes twinkled and his good humor made me feel warm all over. Like this really was a place I could call home.

I grinned slowly as I headed upstairs for my books. Bruce had teased me for weeks upon discovering I liked tea and scones... something about putting on airs, and that next I'd be eating caviar and champagne. I'd ignored him but down deep it had hurt. Not much, but enough that I was careful when I asked for them. But Al knew... he always knew. I headed upstairs thinking I might actually do my homework for a change.

Something else I don't tell Bruce about. My teacher told me my grades would automatically improve a lot if I completed my homework every night. But sometimes it wasn't my fault -- Robin couldn't ask the criminal element to constraint their activities to the weekends. Even when I was home I often had too much else to do, too much else on my mind. Sometimes it was simply that algebra still confused me. It was easier to ignore.

I found Bruce standing outside my door, arms crossed, glaring at me like I'd done it again. I stopped, and swallowed. "Hey, Bruce." I didn't sound as casual as I'd hoped.

"Dick, what's this about your grades?"

I groaned, inside. "Look, I was gonna tell--"

Bruce grinned. "Nice job. Al wanted to tape it to the fridge... I told him that might be a little embarrassing. But congratulations."

I stared at him, then it dawned. "Thanks." I smiled, glad they'd noticed, glad it wasn't about my English grade.

"Keep up the good work," He patted my shoulder as he walked past.

"Yeah..." Yeah right.

That night I had another dream, and ended up spending the wee hours of the morning on the net, exchanging mail with people who had answered my previous post. A lot of them knew how I felt... and most of them said nothing would ever come of it except a lot of pain. I went back up to my room and wrapped myself in blankets.

The bag swung backwards. Before it could begin its forward swing I spun, foot lifted high. I felt the resounding slam of the ball of my foot against the smooth canvas. The bag swung backwards. I spun again, foot kicking high.

Each movement was performed in utter silence except for each muffled thud as my foot made contact with the bag. I made no noise when I landed, when I spun; the bag made no noise as it swung. I leapt again and felt the reassuring smack of the canvas against my foot. As I landed I knew exactly how long before I had to jump again, exactly how hard I'd hit the bag, exactly how fast it would swing.

I couldn't see the bag at all. The lights were on, and my eyes were wide open, but the tears were streaming so fast and so hard that all I could see were the waves of light broken into unrecognizable patterns. I jumped again, knowing the kick was right, rewarded by resounding contact with the bag. I didn't even hear my breath as I somehow kept it slow and calm.

I never thought it would hurt this badly. With that thought I stumbled, missed the timing for my jump, and fell forward into the bag. I grabbed it and held on, letting it hold me up as the noise of my grief struggled to break through.

Finally I slumped to the floor and held myself in my arms as best I could. The circus was going to be here tomorrow and I was going to visit old friends and family, people I'd known for years and missed so terribly. But they weren't all going to be there.

A harsh cry filled the room, echoing off the walls, bouncing back towards me like the punching bag. At first it was incoherent noise, then as it continued on and on filling the room and my mind it began to take form.



It became a wailing, over and over, until it was all I heard, capturing my awareness like the motions of the kicks had earlier. Everything else vanished and I was left listening to the cries as they echoed off the walls.

Something touched my arm, and I flinched away. That touch encircled me and I was pulled into someone's embrace. I found myself sitting against someone, being held and rocked gently back and forth while I just kept screaming for my family. A voice crooned softly, whispering that it understood, that it knew and I should go on and scream and cry just as much and as loud as I needed to. A hand held my head against something soft and warm and as I drew in a shuddering breath I heard the beating of a heart. I grabbed onto whatever had taken me, and prayed it would not let me go until the pain had gone away.

Gradually the room re-formed around me. My eyes cleared as I had no more tears to lose, my throat let go of the last cry as the rawness strangled my voice. I recognized the arms around me, and pushed myself closer to him. Bruce shifted his grip, to hold me tighter. I turned my face towards him, buried in his chest, and tried to let the rest of the grief out. But my body couldn't cooperate, it was exhausted and hurting and needed a rest. Shallow sobs pounded inside me, and all I could do was try to catch my breath.

I felt Bruce's hand on my head, holding me close, sheltering me from whatever might come. I felt the strength in his arms, the warmth of his breath on my neck and in my ear as he whispered again. I held him close, and knew it was just a dream. He couldn't hold me this tenderly when I was awake. I turned my head, drew in another breath and felt like I could breathe again. I kept my arms around his body, soaking up the feel of his firm muscles under my fingers. He leaned away and looked down at me, concern and sadness masking his eyes.

"I am so sorry, Dick." His voice was still soft, edged with his own grief at my pain. I saw his lips as they moved, and I felt so safe, so loved, and so scared at the depth of my hurting. I leaned forward and brushed his lips with mine, wanting to fill my heart with love instead of fear, wanting to fill my ears with sweet nothings instead of cries for people not so long gone. Wanted to fill my body with cherished touches instead of the hard flat pounding of a foot against an unfeeling bag. I held him close, kissing him and knowing that nothing else could come so close as pure delight, on the heels of such excruciating agony.

He pushed me away from him, and suddenly I knew this was no dream. Every drop of blood rushed from my face, spilling into my stomach. I scuttled away out of his lap, staring, shocked, at the look on his face. I tried to mutter an apology but I couldn't find the words to say what I felt, because what I really wanted to say was 'take me upstairs and love me'.

"Oh god," I breathed, and clambered to my feet and took off running. I headed for the side door, headed for the woods again. My heart started pounding again as I tried not to think about the ramifications of what I'd just done. He knew -- he knew and he had been so shocked. Had that even been a trace of disgust on his face? I wasn't sure but it didn't matter because I'd done something I had told myself I could never do. It was horrible, he had been giving me comfort that I'd so badly needed and I'd forced my feelings on him, forced myself on him.

If I hadn't been so spent I would have started crying again. As it was all I could do was try to outrun it. I wiped my face on my sleeve and told myself I had royally screwed up.

I tripped and went sprawling. The ground slammed the breath from my lungs, and I rolled over and tried desperately to pull air back into them. My stomach ached, and I grabbed the dirt with my fists and closed my eyes. My life had fallen down around me, and lay scattered on the ground. If I thought before I'd lost my wings, it was nothing compared to now, with them torn off and shredded, lying bloodied at my feet.

"You have a bad habit of running away from your problems."

I rolled over and tried to sit up, but my stomach spasmed and I stayed where I was, holding it. I looked over and saw Bruce standing not far away, back along the path I'd come. I realized he'd tripped me, pushed me down. I saw the bike behind him, and knew how he'd gotten ahead of me to ambush me.

"Wha..." I tried to breathe again; this time my stomach was more accommodating.

Bruce just stood there, staring at me. His face was a mask, and it occurred to me that it might be to spare my feelings. I pushed myself into a sitting position and found I couldn't look at him anymore. "I'm sorry." I sounded as miserable as I felt. I wasn't surprised he'd followed me, but wasn't sure I could handle it.

When I moved to stand up, Bruce walked forward and held out his hand. I took it and let him pull me to my feet. I still couldn't look at him, and I wondered if there was anything I could say that could erase what I'd done. Erase how I felt.

He pulled my chin up with his hand, and made me look at him. He looked rather calm. He looked at me, saying nothing, then he shook his head and asked, "How long have you felt this way?"

My voice was still shaking. "I don't know... a month, maybe. Maybe two." Maybe three.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I thought... I know you don't like men, and I didn't want to make you uncomfortable to be around me. You're one of my best friends, and I don't want... you to freak out on me." I wanted to sound cool, mask the sound of my heart gibbering and threatening to break.

He started to say something, then he backed off a bit and looked at me, thinking. "You must have been going through hell this last couple of months. No wonder you've been so distracted."

I nodded. With this, the circus coming back, and my schoolwork going to hell in a handbasket (which meant teacher conferences, letters home, study hall and probation from the swim team) the only high point of my life was flying my hang glider. Even my rides to the park with Davy were colored with the regret that he still wished I could return his affection. He said his feelings were fading, but I knew they weren't.

Mine certainly were not.

"Dick, I'm sorry."

"For what? It isn't your fault... I promise I won't do that again." I said it quickly, to reassure him and try to make up for some of what I was afraid I'd destroyed. I didn't need him thinking I was one second away from jumping him, even when I felt like I was.

Bruce shook his head. I couldn't understand why he was acting so calm... then I realized that if he was calm, it meant I hadn't ruined anything. If he was willing to ignore it, I could pretend as well.

"Can we just let it go, and pretend it didn't happen?" I offered.

Bruce stared at me quietly for a moment, then nodded. "If you want. Dick... it doesn't bother me. As long as you know I don't feel the same way."

I nodded. "I know. I... that's why I wasn't going to tell you. I didn't want to bother you."

Bruce smiled. "You should have told me. Then you wouldn't have spent the last two months worrying so much about my finding out. I thought..." his voice faded then he said it matter-of-factly, "I thought it was about your family. About it being my fault they died."

"It wasn't your fault." I said it without thinking, and surprised myself. I hadn't realized I'd stopped blaming him. The look of gratitude on Bruce's face made me glad I'd said it.

"Thank you, Dick."

"You're welcome." I tried to sound calm, but sniffling sorta ruined that. Bruce held out his hand.

"Shall we head back to the house?"

"Ok... but Bruce?"


"Could you let me drive?" I really didn't want to sit behind him, legs on either side, holding onto him... He looked at me, confused for a moment, then he smiled.


I managed to smile back.

When we got back to the house I decided I needed something else to worry about. Al was right -- math homework was good for distracting me from other problems. Didn't mean I did any better on my math tests, though. I headed for my usual study, and ran into Al on the way.

"I took the liberty of putting a tray in the study," Al inclined his head, indicating where it was waiting for me.

"Thanks, Al. But I'm studying in here." I pointed to my usual room. Why would he put the tray in the wrong room?

"Yes, sir, but I believe you'll find the light is better in here."

He was definitely steering me into the other room. Well, okay. I never knew Al to do something without a reason... and it was usually the right thing, right reason. I went into the study he'd left the tray in. He simply nodded and went on.

I saw the tray he'd left -- apricot scones and iced tea. I grinned and sat down in the large chair next to the table. Kicking the ottoman closer, I propped my feet up to make a desk with my knees and opened the book. Math. Bleah. I ignored the question of Al's actions, figuring it would either make sense eventually or not.

For a while I stared at the book, seeing only Bruce's face. Sighing, I let myself indulge. Couldn't hurt... any more than it already did. Bruce hadn't said anything more about it after we got back to the house, and he seemed willing to completely forget about it. Part of me wished he'd been more upset, just so we could have talked about it. But I didn't want to fight with him and I didn't think he needed to hear what I really wanted to say. Leaning back in the chair I gazed up at the ceiling. What was Bruce doing now? Where in the house was he? Could I go find him, casually join him wherever he was, whatever he was doing...?

I laughed at myself. That was not the way to convince Bruce that I wasn't going to bother him. Following him around like a puppy would only annoy him. Better to keep my desires to myself.

"Will there be anything else, sir?"

I looked up at Al's question, but he wasn't there. Confused, I looked around the room. Empty. Was I hearing things, now? Had I gone completely nuts?

"No, Alfred, thank you." It was Bruce's voice. Oh god, that voice. I wanted to... I shook my head. I couldn't and that was all there was to it. I really had to work on getting over him. Either that or buy a new punching bag to replace the one I was going to wear out.

"Very good, sir."

What was going on? I got up and prowled the room, wondering how in the hell I was hearing their voices.

"Alfred? Was there something you wanted?"

As Bruce spoke again I found it. The intercom system was switched on. I moved to flick it off, not wanting to intrude on a private conversation -- even if it wasn't about anything important. Then it occurred to me that this might be the reason Al had sent me in here. What was he up to? I decided I could listen in a bit more, and if it wasn't something I needed to hear, I could always turn the com off.

"I was wondering about Master Dick."

Yup, definitely a private conversation I shouldn't hear. Which meant now I had to listen. If the com was on by mistake, I'd just pretend I hadn't heard.

"What about him?" Bruce sounded concerned and I was not pleased to find myself melting a little. One little mention of my name, and he sounds concerned. Well, OK, it was a little more than that.

"I was simply wondering if everything was all right." That surprised me. If he really wanted to know, he'd have asked me.

"You mean this afternoon? I think he'll be fine. It's not surprising he broke down like that. With the circus in town, all the memories of his family--"

I closed my eyes. With everything else, I still had that in me. I held it back, though, because Al was talking again.

"I didn't mean that, sir. I was referring to the other matter."

"What other...? Oh." Bruce sounded nervous. "It's nothing. I mean, I told him it doesn't bother me. He'll get over it soon enough."

I bit my lip. He sounded so sure, so... cavalier. I didn't want to get over it. I reached out to flick the switch off. I didn't want to hear this.

"That isn't exactly what I meant."


"What do you mean, Alfred?" It sounded like Bruce was confused, but not... really confused. Almost like he knew what Al was going to say. I hoped Al'd say it anyway, because I had no clue.

There was silence for a moment, and I realized after he spoke that Al had been trying to figure out how to say it nicely. "I was asking about your feelings for Master Dick."

"My feelings? Alfred, I care about him a great deal. He's one of my two best friends." I felt a lump form in my throat. "He's my partner, my friend... how am I supposed to feel?" I could hear the mask in his voice even as he said more than I'd ever heard before.

I leaned against the back of the sofa I was kneeling on. Bruce had never actually told me he cared about me. I'd known he considered me a friend. But best friend? I found myself smiling. It wouldn't be so bad, I realized, to be in love with a best friend. Somehow I knew it meant he would forgive me any indiscretions, any slips of showing how I truly felt. I whispered a silent thanks to Al, for letting me hear this.

"Master Bruce, and forgive me for saying this quite so bluntly, but are you sure you don't love him as well?"

Every blood vessel in my body froze. I knew I wasn't breathing, I was going to fall over in a dead faint and they'd find my body stiff as a brick, lying on the floor. What on earth was Al talking about?

"What on earth are you talking about?"

For a second I thought I'd spoken aloud, then I recognized Bruce's voice -- half strangled in a shocked whisper. Then he laughed. "What makes you think I love him? Alfred..."

"I realize it is not my place to say, sir," I half-choked, knowing that tone and knowing full well it was Al's right and privilege to say anything he darn well pleased. He did, too, if he thought it needed saying. That thought stopped me. Al was up to something, I'd already figured that out. Now I was beginning to get an idea of what he was up to. Al continued. "But I have seen you and Master Richard together... and, more importantly, I have seen you when he is not around. Especially when you are unaware of his whereabouts."

"So I worry about him. That doesn't mean I love him. Not that way. I do... I do... care about him." Bruce's mask slipped -- I heard regret in his voice. What did that mean?

It was interesting that he couldn't say it, even after making it clear what he meant. I was feeling some warm fuzzies that I hadn't felt very often at all, in the last year.

"Perhaps not. But you do behave like someone who is in love."

I wasn't sure my eyes could get any wider. I checked to see if I was still breathing. Nope, I wasn't.

"I what?" He didn't say it as sharply as I'd thought. As sharply as someone who knew it was wrong. It was more like someone who'd been found out... I tried to stop holding my breath. I didn't want to pass out and miss any of this.

Al said the next very gently, as if he knew Bruce was probably going to deny it all. "Master Bruce, I know that you have never admitted to having feelings of this sort." I figured he meant being attracted to guys. He'd had plenty of girlfriends before. "But the fact remains that you act as though you love Master Richard. It would behoove you to discover the true nature -- and depth -- of your feelings. Before you cause any more unnecessary pain to the young man."

I wanted to curl up and cry. I wanted to run in and hug Al. I wanted to run in and demand to know if it were true. I stayed where I was. If it was true, and Bruce did love me... there was an awfully good reason why he wouldn't admit it to himself, or me and Al.

"Alfred... why are you saying this? Why do you think that I--" Bruce's voice died away, but Al didn't say anything. "Alfred. It just isn't possible."

I smiled. I had heard this tone before. He didn't want to admit it. That meant he knew. That meant it was true.

"Why not?" Al asked.

"Because I've never... I've never been attracted to men. Why would I suddenly change? Why would I suddenly fall in love... and with someone who's only 17? Besides, he's my ward! I can't be in love with him."

Neither said anything for a while. I chewed on my hand, wondering, hoping this would turn out the way I hadn't thought possible.

"Perhaps, sir, because you trust him." I heard Al smile then. "Besides, I've never felt that age was an obstacle to falling in love. He is a legal adult -- technically he is not your ward."

I sat up straight at that. Legally I was my own guardian? Ha! Meant I didn't have to do my homework when he told me. Heh... "As for being attracted to him, well, the ways of the heart are mysterious, aren't they?" He sounded like he was caught up in the romance of it all. It sounded like he was teasing Bruce. Part of me was happy, because Bruce sure needed it. Part of me wanted to run in and tell Al to leave him alone -- I wanted to defend him from facing something that could be pretty painful.

Man. I had it bad.

"Alfred... I think I'd like to be alone for awhile."

"Of course, sir."

I sat down on the sofa, staring at the walls around me. He loved me? He might actually possibly love me? I wanted to scream. Instead I flicked the intercom switch off, and tensed every muscle in my body for five seconds. When I relaxed, I still felt like screaming. I jumped up when Al entered the room.

"Al! What... is he going to... will he... what..." Al held up a hand. I took a breath and asked, "Do you really think he loves me?" I suddenly felt as if my entire world was resting on the answer to that one question.

Al smiled, "I believe so. The question is, will Master Bruce think so, as well?"

I nodded. I knew that some people didn't like admitting they could be attracted to someone of the same sex. I knew how much trouble it was, how hard it could be for a person to finally come to terms with their feelings. I told myself I could be patient. I told myself again. I looked up at Al, pleading, "What do I do?"

"Be patient, Master Dick. But not... too patient."

I grinned. "Do you have any ideas?"

"Perhaps..." He smiled suddenly and I still felt like screaming.

"Thanks, Al. You have no idea what this means."

"I think I do, sir. I couldn't possibly watch the two of you any longer, making yourselves miserable."

"Miserable? Bruce never looked miserable to me." I knew how I'd felt. Miserable was a good word.

"Perhaps. Why don't you finish your algebra and not worry about it for tonight?"

"And tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow will be another day." Al gave me a crafty, innocent smile and left the room. I settled down to my math book again, and saw only Bruce's face. He loved me. Now if only we could convince him.

The house was quiet -- not unusual, in a house this large, for it to be so silent. Noise tended to die out within a few feet of the room the noise was coming from. There weren't enough people in the house to make noise.

I missed the circus. So many people, animals, going about being themselves -- the noise level was often strangling. Even at night there was something making noise, whether it was the elephants shifting in their leg chains or the late nights of cards or other boisterous activities, or the trains roaring by our campsite by the rails. I had never told Bruce how hard it had been to fall asleep in my room on the third floor along the front of the house with its insulated walls and distinct lack of anything living within a hundred yards. Sometimes I lay on my bed, staring out the windows, wondering if anything was stirring, nearby.

Of course I now I had other reasons to lose sleep. When even all those memories and fears and hopes and worries were quiet, my room would grow still and silent. I would be tempted to turn on my radio just to be able to fall asleep. I remembered the night Bruce had banged on my door at midnight, to tell me it was late and I should be asleep and to shut that thing off. I didn't tell him I had been asleep, nor that once I snapped it off I'd lain awake for an hour in the silence.

There were so many things I never told him about. So many things I still couldn't get used to, so many things I didn't think he'd understand. I was damn glad Al was there. He understood it all, even when I never said a word. He was the one who gave me a tape to play through headphones -- specially engineered to let the beeper sound over the noise in case Robin needed to be somewhere. I had no idea where Al had found the tape -- when I'd asked he simply smiled and changed the subject like he was so good at. It sounded like a recorder had been set down in the middle of a circus camped for the night.

Sometimes I even imagined I could recognize voices...

Tonight the house was quiet, and I wanted it that way. I wanted to be able to hear my heart pounding, hear the soft whisper of breathing, hear the whisk of skin on fabric... I wanted to hear everything that was created in this room, tonight. I felt my heart singing, and the rush in my groin.

I held Bruce's face in my hands and stared into his eyes. He was nervous, and didn't try to hide it. That made me feel better -- he felt comfortable enough to not hide how he felt. He didn't move, didn't flinch or even blink as I leaned forward and kissed him gently. I kept it short, my mouth closed for this first tender kiss. When I looked up at him again he was just starting to smile. He put his hands around my waist, loosely, and when I leaned in again I opened my mouth ever so slightly.

He opened his mouth and met me. I felt his lips pressing against mine, brushing against my mouth, ever so hesitantly flicking his tongue out to touch mine. I let him explore slowly, not pushing although my passion had been boiling over since the moment before I touched him. I didn't want to scare him, didn't want him to shy away from something I wanted so badly. I wanted to feel his hands touching me everyplace.

For now I was content to stand in the middle of the room, fully clothed, kissing him. Because I was finally kissing him, and he was kissing me back, and it was beginning to feel as if he enjoyed it as much as I. He pulled my tongue towards him, and I must have moaned out loud because he suddenly pulled away and looked at me.

"Ooommm... Bruce... do you mind if I throw you on the bed, now?"

I felt his answer as he began pulling my shirt off. When his fingers brushed my skin along the ribs I felt my legs tremble. I couldn't believe it -- every minute touch between us was making every nerve fire. The briefest contact of a fingertip on my chest and I was ready to explode. Somehow I held myself back from grabbing him and fucking him just so I could get relief.

When my shirt was lying discarded on the floor Bruce leaned forward, and I tensed as I saw his face descend towards my chest... I could anticipate the feel of his tongue, and I was ready, willing, oh so eager...

My room was dark and empty. The blankets were strewn onto the floor, and my shorts were strained as the effects of my dream pressed against the fabric. I bit back a scream of frustration, and let my head fall back onto the pillow. I reached down and pushed my shorts down roughly, grabbing myself and closing my eyes, trying to recapture the sweet agony of the dream, of the waiting, of the tiny touches that made me shiver and moan. The images were too elusive to recreate with any degree of clarity, making me want to cry out that it wasn't fair. It wasn't fair that I had to wait, be so patient and nice and understanding when all I wanted was to throw him down -- or let him throw me.

I rubbed myself hard and fast, bringing myself off within moments. The arousal didn't fade though, and I wondered if this was some new form of torture one of our enemies had discovered. Maybe someone had sprinkled me with fairy dust and made me fall in love knowing I would never get satisfaction. I thought serious thoughts about shredding my pillow but I found my sanity in time and knew it wouldn't help.

Neither would a cold shower. Nothing would help except the warm circle of Bruce's arms around me. I wanted to lean into his hold, close my eyes, and let the world fade away. I told myself I didn't even need to have sex with him, I would be happy to just be touched. He hadn't even come near me during the last two weeks. Never closer than a foot, never within arms' reach if he could avoid it. When he touched me accidentally he always flinched away and apologized.

Al told me I was being very good to hide my devastation from him when he did it. I got the impression from Al's tone that he thought maybe I shouldn't. But I didn't want to hurt Bruce. No matter what he did to me, he had good reasons for acting this way and I didn't want to add to his difficulties by making him feel guilty for how I felt. I wanted him to be happy. I wanted to take him in my arms and tell him everything was going to be all right, that he could take his time and that there was nothing wrong with discovering a new side to yourself. I wanted to hold him and make his fears and doubts go away.

It made me think that maybe I was desperately in love. Now if only Bruce would do the same we'd be great.

One good thing out of all this was he stopped bugging me about my schoolwork. No doubt he didn't like the thought of being in love with a high school kid, and one he was responsible for, as well. I tried hard to act like the adult my parents had almost always treated me as, to help Bruce forget. It was difficult when I had to get Bruce to sign a release form for my return to the swim team when I'd come off probation in time for the state meets. I'd wanted to ask him to attend; the first of the races was this Saturday but I was scared he'd say no. I didn't mind as much his avoiding me at his own prerogative. But to find that he would even when I asked him not to...

I kept the schedule to myself, well, mostly. I told Al I would be gone all morning Saturday and Sunday. I'd arranged to meet Davy at his house, and ride to the pools with his folks. They were pleased as punch -- I got the impression they approved of Davy's choice. Too bad I couldn't choose back. He'd apparently come to terms with it, but his mother was another story. She kept after him to ask me over to supper.

If Bruce kept on, though, I was going to have to take Davy to the park and fuck his brains out. I'd told Davy that once and he'd leered at me.

The morning of the meet I found myself wide-awake half an hour before my alarm went off. I crawled out of bed and headed for the shower, glad not for the first time that I was down the hall from anyone who might be disturbed. I headed back to my room and tried to remember why I hadn't packed last night so I could sleep in this morning.

"Is there a reason you don't want us to attend the swim meet?"

I looked up from throwing clothes into my bag. I glared -- here it was, barely past four a.m., and Bruce looked wide-awake, dressed, and displeased. He isn't a morning person -- he's a 'never sleeps' person. I shrugged. "I wasn't sure you had time. Or interest -- you've never sounded very interested in these kinds of things." It was true. He'd never done more than ask 'how was practice' or was the pool OK. We had an indoor pool with an adjacent Jacuzzi. I'd had the swim team over a few times and they'd made Al an honorary member, more for his prowess at lemonade than his ability to swim.

"You thought I wouldn't want to watch you compete?" Bruce sounded more surprised than angry... not to say he didn't sound angry. I wanted to throw my bag at him. What right did he have to be angry at me? He was the one avoiding me, not the other way around.

"Come if you want, then. Doesn't matter." I tried to sound nonchalant. I wasn't sure I succeeded but Bruce didn't appear to notice.

"Aren't you any good?" A bit of humor softened his words, as did the half-grin. God, it was so nice to see him smiling, that I almost dropped my bag and stared. I glanced around to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything, instead.

"I do OK." I hefted my bag, full of everything I needed. As I walked to the door and past Bruce, I added, "You never asked if I was any good, before."

He followed me down the hall, sounding honestly confused. "I just assumed you were."

Normally I would have greatly appreciated the compliment, but this morning I was sick of tiptoeing around, acting like nothing was wrong, as well as being nervous about the meet. Besides which it was 4.15 in the morning. I wanted to be in bed. I even wanted to be asleep. I didn't answer as I walked past him.

Bruce followed me downstairs and Al met us with a light breakfast. He looked like he was going with us, too. He was awake and cheerful too. It wasn't fair. Morning people should be kept away from normal folk. I managed to eat a bagel and some fruit before we left. I called Davy on the way and told him we'd give him and his folks a lift. We took the limo, the one big enough to stretch out in and nap. Good thing, too.

Davy's mom and dad were hard pressed to act like they weren't thrilled to meet Bruce. Davy and I hung out in the other room, peering around the corner every once in a while, and whispering. Davy was approving of my obsession and asking if he could help. I didn't need to hear him say that if watching me wandering around in my swim trunks didn't convince Bruce nothing would. I wanted to punch Davy for that one -- because I didn't need to embarrass myself by showing off my erection to a hundred friends and strangers.

"Hey, how long til we have to leave?"

"We have to be at the pool at 6:30. So we'll leave in about 45 minutes." I looked again; Davy's dad had managed to calm down enough to invite Al and Bruce to sit and drink coffee. I snickered at the picture of Davy's mom serving Al.

"Great. Come on, Dick -- I wanna show you something." He tugged at my jacket so I'd follow him, and he headed for his room.


Davy turned and smiled. "Well if you don't want to embarrass yourself... I thought you could get rid of it now. You can use my bathroom, or..." He smiled, like he was teasing me. But there was still that hope, that lust in his eyes. And I suddenly realized that I wanted to do it with him. Despite everything Bruce was putting me through I wanted Davy. Or maybe because of everything he was putting me through. It didn't matter. I smiled, and saw a huge happy grin appear on Davy's face.

I laughed. "Can you keep quiet?"

He frowned, then shook his head. "I won't tell Bruce, nitwit. Do you think--"

"No," I shook my head. I stepped closer to him. "I mean... you don't scream, do you? They're gonna hear us otherwise."

He laughed. "Relax. They won't hear a thing." He grabbed my jacket and kissed me. When he pressed up against me I realized I wasn't the only one who needed relief before putting on a swimsuit. It took us about two seconds to take off all our clothes and grab each other again. There was no need or time to look at each other's bodies; we'd seen them often enough in the locker room. Right now we needed something very specific and we wasted no time getting to it.

Davy's body was slim and smooth, skin pale white and warm. I ran my hands up his sides, then devoured his mouth with mine. He met me with an intensity that made me whimper. To have waited so long for someone to want me, so long for someone to touch me -- I wondered how long I could hold out. Davy grabbed me and began rubbing. I groaned, his fingers around my cock felt so damn good. I stopped asking myself how long it had been -- it had been too long.

He rubbed me, pressing himself up against me, kissing me and pressing his other hand into my back to hold me steady. I kept my panting quiet, knowing I have a tendency to be loud. I gulped air as Davy brought me up, closer, and then just as he leaned down to bite my left nipple I grabbed his shoulders and dug my fingers in.

I ejaculated all over him, pushing my body back and forth against his hands. I closed my eyes, sighing in sheer relief. Then I kissed him, because it had been more than pure physical release. Davy was a good friend and I was glad we could trust each other with this. I wanted him to know because he'd been depressed for days after I'd told him about Bruce. Davy kissed me back, and I was happy all over to see the smile on his face.

Then I took his cock in my hand and began rubbing. I maneuvered Davy backwards, to lay on his bed. I knelt between his legs, still rubbing, and smiled at the questioning look on his face. Davy brought his knees up some, and I let him lick my fingers. He did so quickly and eagerly, knowing now exactly what I had in mind. He began breathing heavily even before I touched him, then I put a finger inside him and stroked. I knew the spot I wanted, and when I found it he arched his back and bit his lip to keep from screaming. I was impressed, but not surprised at his control -- it is really embarrassing to have your parents hear you having sex.

I fucked him until he came in my hand, hips bouncing up and down; he holding onto the blankets like he was going to bounce off the bed. When he finally went limp I leaned forward, over him. He reached up and grabbed me by the neck, and pulled himself up to kiss me.

He grinned. "So... I guess we'd better get cleaned up. Ten more minutes and someone's gonna come looking for us."

I followed him to his bathroom -- thankfully it opened into his room. We washed up and got dressed. After a couple quick kisses and gropes ('to make sure it worked') we headed back downstairs. From the looks we got I realized they knew what we'd been doing. His mom looked happy, his dad was pretending he didn't know. Al was doing a nice job of not smiling. It was Bruce's expression that got me, though. For a split second he looked at me, and I saw him almost look hurt before he smiled and became polite and friendly again.

I didn't yell at him and tell him what a jerk he was and remind him I had a life and feelings and needs and wasn't going to hang around just waiting for him to make up his mind. I didn't yell, because that almost hurt look stabbed through me and made me want to cry. Davy squeezed my hands as we left the house; his eyes said he knew, and he was sorry. Not that we'd done it, but that it had hurt Bruce and hence me.

I wanted to tell him just how much I loved him, how much I appreciated his friendship. I put my arm around his shoulder for a quick hug, and showed him to the middle of the limo. The thing had three sections, Bruce and Davy's parents in the back, me and Davy in the middle, Al in front driving. We put the privacy windows up, and I told Davy quietly how glad I was we were friends.

When we got to the pools, they headed to the stands and Davy and I headed for the locker rooms. Davy's dad pulled me aside briefly and when everyone was out of earshot he told me he was concerned. "It may be none of my business, Dick, but I get the feeling Mr. Wayne doesn't care too much for your interest in Davy. I just wanted to tell you, his mother and I approve. And if you need someone to talk to, you can always come to us."

I looked at him for a moment, wondering how Davy had lucked into parents as cool as his. Mine had been cool, too, but then circus people have always been fringe. "Thanks, but I think I can handle it. Besides, it isn't... exactly that, that bothers him. But I appreciate your concern."

He nodded, and went to join the others. I went to find Davy and told him what his dad had said. "You tell him why Bruce was upset?"

"Are you kidding? Bruce would kill me, I think. Either that never speak to me again."

"Heh. Give him time, Dick. He'll come around. You may have to start helping him, though." As we stripped to our suits I was pleased to notice our early activities had indeed worked. Absolutely no sign of erections. Now if only I could avoid thinking about it for a couple hours.

"Al thinks so, too. I just don't know how to 'help' him."

"Goof. How does anyone convince someone they're in love? Flowers, chocolates, tickets to see the Gotham Panthers..."

I rolled my eyes. "I'm trying to not scare him off. I think a dozen roses would do that. Besides which he already has season tickets."

Davy hit me with a towel, then sat us down and said in a serious tone, "Dick... you have to do something. You have to show him how you feel. Right now he's thinking about himself, about his own feelings and how much he doesn't want to deal with them. You keep telling me how he avoids being near you -- well you've got to remind him how much you want to be near him. It isn't like you're going to seduce him. You just gotta show him how you feel, remind him that there's someone else involved than just him. Give him flowers. Give him cuff links! Tell him you love him. Go with him places, and invite him along with you. Spend time with him, let him see you staring at him like I know you do when you think he won't see you."

"I don't stare!"

"Then you aren't human." Davy grinned.

I thought about hitting him with the towel, then sighed. "What if he decides he can't deal with it?"

"Then at least you'll know, right? Won't that be better than waiting forever for him to make a move?"

"I guess... you know, Davy, this isn't really getting me in a good frame of mind to swim."

"What are you talking about? Sure it is! Now you're all revved up to take action! What better way to start than impress him with your physical prowess?" Davy gave me one of his outrageous smiles and squeezed my biceps.

That time I did hit him with a towel. Then I followed him out, more or less ready for the meet to begin. I tried not to look around to spot Bruce and Al, but I couldn't help myself. I didn't wave, though. I wanted to look dignified. I couldn't help the feeling, though, at seeing two of the people I cared most about, sitting in the stands to watch me race. I wanted to make them proud.

That darn Davy was right -- I wanted to impress Bruce. Even if he was pissed off at me for what I did with Davy. I wondered briefly if making him jealous would serve a useful purpose, urging him to make his move before he lost me. That, or he'd be relieved I'd found someone else.

I wanted to hit myself on the forehead. This was getting extremely complicated. Maybe I should stick with buying magazines. At least those don't talk back. Or walk away mad. Or play mind games. Or... Davy nudged me; we were ready to begin. I was actually able to forget about Bruce and my feelings for a while as I swam and cheered on my teammates.

There were five of us in the locker room when they came in. Ricky and Michael tried to run and were shoved back; Davy grabbed my arm and Bryan just stood stock-still. I sized them up and decided that at the moment I had no chance. Maybe once they were closer -- but those were semi-automatics they were holding.

I heard a small part of my brain say it was glad I'd gotten dressed. It just wouldn't have felt right to be taken hostage and fight my way free, wearing only swimshorts. I didn't worry about that part of my brain, however. I was more worried about the men with the guns and what they were planning to do.

They herded us up against one wall. One man came forward and looked us over. "They'll do." He nodded, and the four armed men waved those guns, telling us to walk slowly and carefully and make any sudden moves and you're dead. I didn't make any sudden moves, because I didn't want to get my teammates killed. I told Michael to shut the hell up when he said we should try to overpower them.

Not to say I wasn't keeping an eye out. When we got into the hallway that led off to the pools, parking lots, and to the other locker rooms I glanced around. No one else was around. I worried for a second, then leapt into the air, spun into a kick and yelled, "RUN!!"

I took two out and jumped for the others, hoping to just keep them down or off-balance long enough for the others to get away, out of range of those semi-automatic bullets. I prayed they wouldn't try to act like heroes, or worse yet, freeze in panic, and make my effort wasted. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Bryan heading for me, when Davy just grabbed him by the arm and dragged him away, down the halls and through the nearest door. I whirled like a berserker, keeping them focused on me until I figured -- hoped - the others had gotten far enough away. The few seconds of chaos worked: my teammates got away before the men with guns could figure out what had happened.

Then, of course, I was in serious trouble. Two men grabbed me, held me by the arms. Another pointed his gun at me to make it perfectly clear that I should hold still. The fourth started down the hall, to catch my friends, but the fifth, unarmed man told him not to bother.

"We have to get out of here, before they can notify anyone."

I hoped like hell they notified Bruce. Not just because I loved seeing him in that suit. I had a feeling I was going to need rescuing in a serious way.

I had to let them drag me away, after they tied a gag around my head and cuffed my wrists. I thought about reminding them I had feet, too, but knew that would probably get me killed. They took me down the hall and out of the building near the back entrances where they threw me into a van, and we sped away. I watched them closely, still trying to figure out what they wanted.

I didn't think they'd be so kind as to tell me.

We arrived someplace, somewhere, three hours later. I'd tried to keep track of where we were going but after the thirtieth turn I lost track. The van was well insulated so that I heard nothing of the city outside. Fortunately it didn't make any difference that I had no clue, because I had hit the homing switch on my watch/phone. Bruce would find me no matter where I ended up. Ten minutes after we stopped, two of the men dragged me out and down into a basement where they threw me in a small room with no windows and no furnishings beyond a cot, a sink, and a john.


Before they untied me they stripped me of my watch, wallet, shoes, even my earring and neckchain. Then they ungagged me and with one guy carefully aiming a rifle at my head, uncuffed my hands. He kept aiming at my head until they had backed out of the room and slammed the door shut. I heard a very big lock click shut, and then there was only an eerie silence.

I made a quick search of my room. No windows, no possible openings, nothing that could be used to strangle a guard. I could possibly use the cot as a weapon, but it was rather flimsy and wouldn't do more than distract them. I kept it in mind, though. Sometimes a distraction is all you need.

I checked the door and discovered the lock was a very good one. If I'd had any tools I could have opened it but my fingernails just weren't going to cut it. It looked like I was going to have to wait until they came for me, before I could make an escape. I went to the cot and sat down, to rest up for my chance.

It might have been evening when I woke up. For a moment I didn't know what had woken me, then I heard the scraping. I looked around and saw what -- or rather who -- was making the noise. A rat was searching the floor for crumbs. I watched it to see where it went and how it got in and out of the room. I didn't think it would be a space I could crawl through, but it made me feel better knowing I wasn't in an airtight room. Maybe I could tie a note to the rat's neck. I grinned. A homing rat. That's what I needed.

The rat made its way around the perimeter of the room, not caring that I was in there. It crawled under the bed, I leaned over to watch its progress. I flinched when two red eyes peered up at me, then I stuck my tongue out at it. "I ain't afraid of no rats!"

It went back about its business of searching my cell. Then it scuttled away to the sink and slithered out through a hole where the pipes went through. I waited for it to get on its way, then jumped up and checked the pipes. They didn't move very far, just enough to let a rat in and out. Too small to be of use to a robin. I went back to the cot and sat down. Eventually my captors would have to do something with me.

A couple of hours later someone came to the door. My rat friend had returned earlier, and now was just sitting by the wall. The man at the door stuck something through the small barred window and tossed it down. A sandwich hit the floor. Apparently the rat had been expecting this, since it beat me to the food. I pushed it away with my foot, then tore off a corner and gave it to him. The rat ran off, no doubt muttering that it would have been happier with the whole thing.

I sat down on the cot to eat.

I woke up strapped to a chair. I looked around, groggy, and realized with dismay I had been drugged. Poor rat. I tried to focus my eyes and saw three figures standing some distance away. They were talking, and I tried to make out their words. At first I was worried that my brain was not functioning properly, then I realized they were speaking another language. I had no idea which one, even though I knew a few languages -- Romanian, Greek, a little Polish. This just sounded like gibberish.

I watched the men closely, trying to deduce their intentions. I tugged at my bonds and received a poke in the back of the head for my trouble. Looking over my shoulder, I saw a muzzle. A small, round, metal muzzle which, if I annoyed the man holding it, would probably put a small, round, bloody hole in my anatomy. I stopped tugging.

One of the men walked forward, and gestured to me. He was still talking, it sounded like he was trying to convince them of something. I decided to take some initiative. "What do you guys want?"

I got poked again, but the men talking ignored me. This was getting me nowhere. The man in front of me kept pointing and gesturing, and I suddenly felt like a car, or prize horse being shown. The other two guys were looking at me appraisingly, and I got a very sick feeling. The police had recently asked Batman to help them find a group of slavers, who had taken to kidnapping young men and women and selling them overseas.

I suspected I'd found them. I hoped Batman found me before I was shipped off somewhere. With my watch gone he might not be able to find me, at least not before I ended up in some rich pervert's mansion, locked in a room and taken out only to look nice for the guests. A couple of the kids who'd been kidnapped had been found dead, washed up on two different countries' shores. Another had escaped, and lived for almost a week before dying of injuries inflicted during a "party". Her stories had been plastered across the newspapers and 'net, making almost everyone who read them sickened and infuriated.

Batman and Robin had been spending almost every night searching for clues and leads but we hadn't found anything. I smiled grimly. Until now. I thought it ironic that Bruce had nixed my suggestion that I try to serve as bait, although one of his reasons had been a good one -- the kidnappers had no pattern for choosing their prey. No part of town, no general description. Just kids, ages 15 to 21. There had been no way to ensure they would find, much less pick, me.

I thought of the girl again, and hoped Batman would hurry.

Days passed. At least it seemed like days. If I counted by the number of times they'd fed me I'd say I had only been here two days, though. But I had a feeling I'd been here four and they were only giving me and Mr. Ratman a sandwich twice a day. I still had to race Mr. Ratman to the sandwich even though by now he should have known that I would share it with him. Maybe he just wanted the whole thing. Rats can be like that.

I spent a lot of time wondering where Bruce was. I had figured that he'd found my watch long before now; apparently the Bad Guys had tossed it away someplace else. Either that or they'd beaten Batman...

I shook my head and let those thoughts die away. Couldn't happen. Well sure it could but it wasn't likely. I would have heard something, gloating that they'd defeated the Bat or even a guard making snide remarks about a failed rescue attempt. I had to hope Bruce was still out there somewhere, looking for me.

I knew he would be. I told myself, in those long stretches of hours when I didn't have Mr. Ratman to talk to, that Bruce would never give up until he found me. It didn't matter how he thought he did or did not feel about me; I was his friend, his partner, and his responsibility. He'd keep searching forever if that's what it took. Batman gets a little obsessed that way.

Of course I rather hoped it would be sooner than forever. I looked over and saw Mr. Ratman leaving. I told him it had been fun, and if he felt like finding someone and leading them back to my cell that would be okay with me. I wasn't proud, I was willing to be rescued by a rat. I watched as he disappeared down the pipe hole, and felt a stab of jealousy. He could leave any time he wanted, go anywhere, and yet he kept returning to this lousy cell. Granted it wasn't a cell, to him. He could leave whenever he wanted. But why on earth would he come back? Well, d'uh, Boy Wonder, the food.

I sighed, and got up off the cot. Now that there was no chance of stepping on or scaring Mr. Ratman, I could distract myself with some exercises. I was getting rather good at my Yang Long Form, able to hold the Wu-Chi position for what felt like a half hour. I began my breathing exercises and ignored that scared little voice inside me that said that keeping in shape might increase my chances of being purchased quickly by someone interested in a young healthy body.

Or it might make my captors deem me too dangerous. I let the voice wail silently, then let it fall silent as my thoughts cleared and subsided. I began my warm-up. Sometimes in the midst of my tai-chi chuan here in this damp grey cell, I felt at peace, even relaxed. Almost unscared.

It had been several days since they'd thrown me down here. Where was Bruce?

My guards took me out to the viewing room two more times. Once it was an elderly woman who seemed quite taken with my obvious attributes. She finally decided she wouldn't be able to control me, after looking me over. I heard her telling the man in charge that her two trained attack dogs might get hurt if I tried to escape. Apparently she'd had that problem before and was back here getting a replacement.

I heard what had happened to the first, and my stomach turned. I liked dogs, I really did. But after hearing how she had let them bury his arms and legs, gnawing the bones... I began hoping fervently that Batman would crash through the door Right Now and save me. The image of dobermans eating a human was going to haunt me for a long time.

The second customer was a well-dressed man who hardly said a word as he looked me over. I'd been tied to the chair again, safely immobile, while they inspected me. I was beginning to get used to this, and wondered how long it would be before I was sold into slavery and shipped out of Batman's easy reach. We were pushing our luck that I would still be around by the time he got around to saving me. If he had to search the globe it could take months. Maybe I was better off trying to save myself. That girl had done it. Surely I could.

Granted, she'd been torn up by bullets and machetes. And she'd died. But still...

I couldn't tell if the last man wanted me or not -- I saw him nodding and shaking hands with the head Bad Guy but after he'd looked me over I was dragged back to my cell, hopefully to rot. Mr. Ratman was nowhere to be seen, so I practiced my back flips. If I stood with my toes up against one wall, I could do a flip without hitting the opposite wall. If I was too far out from the first wall I ended up nearly slamming my legs into the concrete slab before falling to the floor.

Not fun, but it broke up the monotony. Just as long as it didn't break anything else I was great. I also amused myself thinking of ways to overpower two armed guards and maneuvering my way through an unknown maze, past an unknown number of armed guards to freedom. If I'd only had a penknife and some chocolate bars I might have stood a chance. As it was I merely kept Mr. Ratman amused. He seemed to find it hysterical that I was trapped here. 'Course he might not have cared.

I did have a chance to thoroughly examine my situation. Not my 'trapped in a building being sold as a slave' situation, but my situation with Bruce. I'd talked it over with Mr. Ratman, and he agreed with me that I had to either get serious about pursuing him and convincing him he loved me, or let it go and concentrate on falling in love with Davy. I knew I could, if I wasn't so head over heels with Bruce. Davy was wonderful -- fun to be with, cute as hell, and he lusted after my body. Heck, even his parents liked me. At 17 I figured I shouldn't be asking for more than that.

Except I was asking for Bruce. I was asking for a man who had everything he could want, who had his life (both of them) in complete order, to cast aside everything he believed about himself and fall in love with me. I was asking to spend the rest of my life with him. I was asking that he spend the rest of his life... It wasn't that I didn't have a lot to offer him. We were great friends, worked well together, and most of all I could give Bruce the two things he needed most. Another person to love him, and someone to make him smile more often.

It probably wouldn't matter. If I got sold and eaten by dogs then my life wasn't worth squat. Maybe Bruce would rescue me, take a chance, then in a month decide he was wrong and let me go. Would he keep me on as his partner, then? Would he send me off to college and slowly forget about my love for him?

Maybe we'd settle down, adopt some kids, and have a whole bat family, all running around calling Al 'grandpa' and making messes all through Wayne Manor. Then again, maybe I was getting a little stir crazy. Mr. Ratman voted for the kids and grandpa. A lot of help he was.

Finally I settled on vigorously pursuing the object of my affection and either convincing him he loved me, or getting him so damn annoyed he threw me out of the house. With a smile on my face I leaned back and plotted. Roses, sure. Maybe those little chocolate creams he loved and rarely ate (gotta watch that figure -- those suits are hell to alter!). Maybe some massage oil... edible massage oil. OK, maybe that should wait until after I'd seduced him. Maybe I should stick with a jar of gourmet jelly. Or maybe I could fix that other Harley for him. Or... How can you seduce a man who can buy anything he wants? Tickle him?

I also constructed a bunch of poems which I would never in my life show him. They sounded nice enough, but showed me that I was probably a) a romantic, b) really, really in love, and c) not going to earn my living as a poet. Mr. Ratman was nice and didn't snicker when I tried some of them out on him. Then again his mouth was full of peanut butter and jelly.

I was almost glad I'd had a chance to sit back and spend a few days contemplating my circumstances when the guards came for me again. This time he said he'd take me, and I watched as money changed hands right in front of me. I looked around as the guards escorted me to another part of the building. It was nice to see new scenery. It was scary to see the lascivious leers I was getting from the man who'd bought me.

Who'd bought me. The phrase rang in my head, spinning and coming to rest firmly in the middle of my thoughts. Bought me... this guy was going to treat me like he owned me, like he could do whatever he wanted, use me in god knew how many ways. The images of dogs and machetes flashed again, and for the first time in forever I felt frozen in fear.

The guards shoved me as I stopped walking, and I went tumbling along the hallway. It occurred to me that if I was going to die escaping, I'd rather it be before my new owner had a chance to so much as touch me. I continued my stumble forward and began running, ducking low around the corner ahead. Shouts followed me and I put on a burst of speed. I kept a sharp look for anything I could use, any route that might take me away from here safely.

I heard myself whispering for Batman, and clamped down on my tongue. I didn't need to give them another way to find me by tracking the sound of my prayers. I grabbed a bar high on the wall as I sped by, jerking my arm nearly out of my socket but pulling myself into the small entranceway that had presented itself. It turned out to be a service tunnel of some kind. Too big to be air venting, but I didn't have time to figure out exactly what kind it was. I crawled along at top speed, keeping silent and hoping they would not think to look up but continue down the hall.

I wondered at the luck which had prevented them from getting enough of a view of my disappearing figure to fire at it. Gulping air, I pushed myself into the next junction of the tunnel, heading upwards. The roof. I was going to head for the roof. They would expect me to head for the ground floor, to get out of the building. They wouldn't expect me to think I could get away by the roof.

I hoped I could get away by the roof. I pressed my hands and feet against the metal walls and climbed. I could hear shouts echoing below me, echoing from what seemed to be every direction. I knew I was dead if they caught me. One bullet and my brains would be all over the floor.

Normally that kind of thinking makes my adrenaline run and gives me a crazy, determined grin (at least according to Batman). Right now I just felt scared. My legs would have been trembling, but I needed them to hold me up. I pushed myself farther upwards, moving as fast as I could to be out of sight when they discovered I'd gone into the tunnel. Another junction came along and I took it away from the hall. I was at least two floors higher than where I'd started.

It occurred to me to pray that I didn't come across any junctures opening into a hallway framed with large angry men with guns. I felt like a rat in a maze. I hoped Mr. Ratman didn't mind me not giving him food anymore, but he was probably used to sudden disappearances of his human companions. First thing I did when I got out of here was bring Batman back and wipe these guys out of business.

The tunnel opened upwards again and I scrambled into it. This one opened onto a catwalk. I shoved the grating to the side and peered out. Nothing moving, so I carefully crept out. The catwalk didn't rattle as I moved -- my second huge stroke of luck. All around me the place was dark, with only strips of light shining across the railings, walls, and floorways. I had no idea where I was, what part of the building I was in. I wanted to be outside where at least I could get my bearings and make a concentrated effort at escape.

Every slight sound made me freeze and wait for the noise to coalesce into a guard. When it didn't, I slid farther along the catwalk wondering where the hell the door to the roof was. A click and a slamming of metal against metal made me freeze again. Then the lights came on, and far down below me I saw figures scanning around them, holding rifles and semi-automatic weapons whose bullets could reach me without losing any appreciable velocity. I quickly searched the area above me for a door, any escape, but for now held still so they wouldn't notice the rush of motion until I knew where I was going.

The rattle of gunfire spurred me into running even as I spied the door. I leapt across a space to another catwalk, grabbing the railing and landing firmly in the middle of the floorway. I kept running more or less towards the door, sacrificing speed for avoiding a direct and therefore predictable route. I heard a rush of air past my ear and told myself that later I would collapse, shaking, at the near miss. I was almost to the door.

Something hit my heel as I jumped the catwalks again to the one which led right to the door. Just as I reached for it the doorknob turned and it swung open, towards me.

I saw a large, metal muzzle pointing at me. My hands went up of their own accord, for I knew surrendering wasn't going to buy me anything. I asked god, or somebody, to keep an eye on Bruce because he wasn't going to take this well at all. Then my knees collapsed and I hit the catwalk. I'm sure I heard laughter.

What they say about your life flashing before your eyes is true. It must be quick, because I sure didn't have more than one second between the time I felt my knees buckle and the metal grating crash against my knees. But in that time, inside each micron of motion downwards, I saw pictures flashing, one after another, framing my descent in the long line of my life.

I saw Harry laughing, nearly doubled over, barely able to breathe as Gerry and I, each of us three years old, ran around wearing clown's shoes and makeup and maybe we were in suits as well, I don't know. All I saw was Harry, laughing, and I felt so happy that we'd made him laugh, made him happy. I didn't even know what we'd done, but it never mattered. From then on I'd always known how to make Harry happy.

I saw the first trapeze swinging towards me, and I reached out for it. Somebody's hands were around my waist, holding me up. It wasn't my father, for he was across the way hanging from another trapeze, watching me. I grabbed the trapeze and felt the smooth round bar in my hand, felt for the first time the thrill of going out into the sky. My first flying lesson. All I did was hold onto the bar and let it carry me back and forth, towards my father's grinning face and back again into someone's waiting arms.

My father and several others cheered, and I squirmed around in the man's grasp -- Uncle Eric?-- and I heard my child's voice crying, "I wanna do it again!" I would have stayed there all day and all night if my father hadn't finally called a halt to it so the other members of the troupe could practice. My mother tousled my hair, and said I was a true artist. Then she picked me up and tossed me casually off the platform; I laughed and screamed as I went sailing into the net far below.

I saw the town kids, standing in a pack, staring over the fence that surrounded our campsite. They were pointing and talking, and I had recognized for the first time the awe on their faces. Amazed at things I thought were normal, everyday, plain and usual. These kids, these kids who paid to watch us perform then got to go back to their neighborhoods full of kids and fields and dogs and baseball, were amazed at it all.

I walked up to the fence to talk to them, and they ran off. I stood there, grabbing the links of the fence, staring after them. It was a very long time before I understood why they'd run. And why they'd been so amazed.

I saw another group of kids, standing around in a tightly knit pack, casting glances at me and my brother. We had been given permission to inspect the creek nearby -- another town, another state, I had no idea where we were. I hardly ever did, despite my mother's best attempts to give me some idea of geography. My brother was old enough to keep me out of trouble, so they said, and we had run off to be kids for an afternoon.

We'd spent an hour following the creek when we'd come across a water hole. There were about a dozen kids there, playing and swimming. They all stopped and climbed out, though, as we approached. One came forward, and the others stood back watching. The kid who came forward asked my brother who we were, and when he told them they laughed, called us liars and threatened to beat us up. We had climbed the tree and done flips and swings off the tree branch to prove them wrong, prove we were members of the Flying Graysons, real trapeze artists.

After we'd shown them, they said they didn't need strangers and circus freaks invading their water hole, and chased us back towards the camp. It was a long time before either my brother or I asked to leave the campsite to explore the area. I think I was six.

There was the frame of my life that showed the girl who'd come up to me after a show, and given me something -- I couldn't now remember what. For days afterwards everyone had teased me about my first fan, about being the object of the girl's first crush. I remembered feeling confused, and not understanding why they were so amused. My father told me when I was older and started noticing girls I would understand.

My first kiss. Of course that would be one frame of the story of my life. Timmy, one of the kids who worked with us when we planted ourselves in one spot for the winter. He helped clean and fetch and carry, and at night he and I would run off to watch the stars and talk. One time I asked him if I could kiss him, and he'd said yes. After that, we'd run off at night and watch the stars and kiss.

Until my mom found out and informed me that I was too young to be unchaperoned. So we stayed around the camp in the evenings, where a hundred watchful eyes could make us paranoid and exasperated. When that month was over we made our goodbyes, and I never saw him again. I noticed that my family started treating me a little differently. And of course I got 'that talk'.

I saw my first successful single flip. I saw my first successful double flip. I saw a thousand times my father's hand grabbing my own as I flew through the sky. I saw a dozen kisses with half a dozen boys. I saw the boy I'd first made love to, awkward and scared and nervous and stupid and sweet. I saw the boy I'd first fallen in love with, awkward and scared and stupid and sweet. I saw the girls my brother had dated, the one I'd found him kissing behind the tent, the one he'd paid me five dollars to find and tell he was interested in meeting.

I saw a single, frozen frame of my family standing together, laughing. A frame of us on the platform, waving to the crowd below. The frame of them lying on the ground, dead. A frame of their funeral, a frame of me scattering their ashes into the sky.

I saw Davy, leaning forward to kiss me. I saw Al bringing me a cup of chocolate. I saw my room as I stayed under my blankets not wanting to crawl out of bed and face another day. I saw Bruce, sitting by the fire reading the paper. I saw him walking down the hall, away from me. I saw him telling me to study, telling me to be home before midnight, showing me the bike I could fix, bringing me home after a fight had gotten the better of me, holding me when I cried for my family, throwing kicks at me during practice, standing in my doorway, cheering for me as I swam, smiling at me, frowning, yelling, waiting, crying, grieving...

The muzzle followed me down, pointing carefully and consistently at my forehead. The man behind the muzzle smiled, and I made my decision. If I was going to die, it was not going to be at the hand of a slaver's guard. I pushed myself to my feet and jumped sideways, over the railing. I looked away from the armed guard, and for a moment I was flying.

I felt exhilaration in my soul, the freedom grasping me as I flung myself into the air. They could still shoot me, and probably would, but at least I had made my own choice. I stretched my arms out and for a second I could not feel the cling of gravity.

Then something hard slammed into me and I was sailing sideways. Instinct made me grab on, and as I heard the rattle of gunfire following us I recognized the batsuited person who had caught me. My arms went around his torso, holding on tightly. He was holding onto a rope, swinging us across the open space between the catwalks.

"What timing."

Batman didn't answer. I saw below us the billowing swirls of green smoke and the sprawled figures of men who'd been gassed. Batman fired something at the man in the doorway, and he, too, was taken out of action. Within seconds the building was silent, then the sirens pierced the place and the shouts of cops swarming in replaced the thunder of bullets. I didn't have a chance to ask where we were going, for we'd reached the top of the rope's arc, and then we crashed through a glass window I hadn't noticed before.

I let go and rolled along the rooftop. A part of my mind asked if I had noticed the window earlier; maybe I could have escaped on my own. I told that part of my brain to shut up and stop second-guessing myself. The room had been completely dark, I reminded it, and I couldn't have seen any windows. Oh yeah, it said. Never mind, then.

I caught my breath and lay on my back, looking up at the sky. Then I heard a frantic voice saying my name, and suddenly Bruce was pulling me up and asking if I was ok. I looked at him, and nodded. I wasn't sure the adrenaline had ebbed enough for me to speak. He'd saved my life before, but never like this. I'd never chosen to die and then gotten a second chance. It had never been quite so close.

I realized I was shaking, and then Bruce was kneeling beside me, pulling me towards him and holding me. He squeezed me against his chest and I heard him crying and whispering my name. I closed my eyes and leaned my face against the cool smooth surface of the suit, knowing that beneath was hot, sweating skin and a fiercely pounding heart. I put my arms around him and we held each other; I listened to Bruce's shaking voice say he'd been so afraid he'd never find me in time. That he wouldn't catch me in time.

I held onto him and tried not to think the same thing. Then I felt his fingers in my hair, and looked up to see him staring down at me. His eyes were wet, and there was something behind that sheen of tears that I couldn't identify. Not until he pulled me towards him again, and kissed me.

I wanted to collapse. This is what it took? Gee, if I had known I would have arranged a kidnapping earlier. He pulled back, and in spite of everything I smiled. Before I could say anything I heard the police coming onto the roof. Batman stood up and helped me to my feet. I stood back, remembering to look like a kid who'd just been rescued from death, or fate worse than. It wasn't hard.

"We have everyone in custody, Batman. We couldn't have done this without you. Thanks a lot."

"My pleasure." Bruce sounded brusque, and only I knew it was because it was hard to talk when you'd been crying and then kissing the person you loved.

"We better get this young man home." One of the cops came towards me. Batman turned.

"I'll take him home."

The cops nodded and headed back down to cart away the prisoners. One cop had taken my name, and said I'd have to come into the station to make my statement, but that I could wait until morning. Then they vanished, leaving Batman and me alone.

He looked at me; I waited patiently. "Are you sure you're all right?"

"Yeah. Nothing a warm bed and some hot food can't cure."

He smiled, and the bat mask was back, hiding the fear I'd seen so clearly before. "I think we can arrange that. Come on." He walked to the edge of the roof and looked down. He glanced back at me and smiled, then fastened a cable to the rail and held out his hand. Really, there was no point in doing this, there were perfectly good stairs inside. I took his hand and stepped into his arms, and we pushed off, sailing away, flying down to the ground.

First thing I did, when we climbed into the car, was pick up the phone. I called Al and proved to him I was alive and well. Next I dialed Davy's number and spent several minutes calming him and his folks down. When he finally believed I was fine and I'd promised to see him tomorrow, I hung up the phone and leaned back in the seat. I stared out the window, letting the reactions fall away. I was safe, now, and I could get the shakes later if I still needed to. I had seen but didn't understand Bruce's expression, when I had spoken with Davy.

When we got home Al was all over me, making sure I wasn't injured, asking me what I wanted for supper, directing me to take a shower. I did so, while Bruce changed and showered as well. I put on my sweats and a T-shirt and stood in the middle of my room for a moment, just appreciating how wonderful it was to be wearing clean clothes. 'Course it was also nice to be home. It was wondrously amazing that Bruce had finally kissed me back. But it was nice to be wearing clean clothes. I left my room, heading down for the kitchen.

We talked while we ate. I told them about the pleasures of Slavery Central; they informed me I'd been missing eight days, and gave me a sketchy version of how they'd searched for me, after finding a bag of my stuff (including my watch) buried near the river. Batman had finally tracked down one of the leaders of the slavery ring and located the warehouse I'd been held in. Bruce stared at me throughout the meal but I wasn't ready to call him on it. Right now I just wanted to enjoy being home. When I had eaten all I could hold, I pushed my plate away and said I was headed for bed.

I headed upstairs. When I was standing outside my bedroom, I heard Bruce call my name. I stopped and looked over, watched him walk towards me. He looked uncomfortable and upset. "What is it?" I nudged, when he didn't say anything.

"I... I'm glad you're home. I'm glad you're all right."

I grinned. "That's gotta be the twelfth time you've said that, Bruce."

"Yeah, well." He looked down at the floor.

Tired as I was, I decided I might as well ask him now. "Bruce... did you want to talk about that kiss, earlier?"

For a second I thought he was going to say yes, then that damned mask fell down and he shook his head. "That was just... reaction. I was just glad to see you were all right." He stepped away from me. "Have a good night's sleep."

He got three steps away from me when I found I'd had enough. I slammed my fist into the wall. He turned, startled, and I finally, finally let him have it.

"Will you stop doing this to me? Making me think one thing, telling me another! When I think you're finally ready to accept the fact that you love me you get all weird again and make me try and guess what the hell is wrong! I have had it! If you don't want to be in love with me then fine, that's your problem! But STOP MAKING IT MINE! I am sick of waiting, sick of pussyfooting around, sick of avoiding telling you how much it hurts to be in love with someone who tries to pretend you barely exist! You kissed me, damn it, and if that wasn't because you love me then tell me so and let me get on with my life!"

I had been ignoring his shocked and frightened look during my tirade. When I was finished, I simply waited. I actually felt a lot better, which surprised me. I watched him try to find whatever words he wanted to say. I didn't dare pray they were the ones I wanted to hear.


"Yeah?" The anger showed in my voice, but not the hope, not the fear.

The mask faded a little and I saw his resignation. I wanted to scoop him up in my arms. "Does it matter how I feel? You've already gone and replaced me, you're seeing Davy. Why does it matter whether I love you or not?"

I wanted to collapse. Or beat my head against a wall. Or beat his head against a wall. I had totally forgotten about mine and Davy's morning before the swim meet, and forgotten about Bruce's jealous, quickly hidden reaction. I settled for apologizing. "Bruce... Davy is one of my best friends. What we did that morning was just something between friends." I half-smiled. "We had to do something to avoid embarrassing ourselves in those swimsuits. I know how he feels about me... but I don't feel the same way about him. I'm in love with you, Bruce. I have been for a long time. I probably will be for a long time to come. I have been waiting -- god, patiently! -- to hear... whether you were going to let yourself love me back."

He didn't say anything, but I watched his face change as he listened to me and realized the impact of everything I'd said. Then he stepped forward, almost within reach. "I'm sorry." He stood still for a moment, then I watched him fight himself for the courage to make the next move. I knew better than to make this one for him. I waited, calmly, and finally Bruce took one more step and raised his hand to cup my cheek. I strained to keep my delighted grin contained in a soft smile -- didn't want to scare him off, not yet.

Bruce stared at me for awhile, and I was beginning to seriously wonder if he was ever going to. Then he whispered, "Yes, Dick. I love you." Then he kissed me.

Now I could collapse. Instead I held onto him and kissed him back. It was a lot better than any of my dreams. His lips tasted so much better than I'd dreamed.

I smiled at him when he leaned away. After a second he smiled back, and I could tell that he was nervous as hell. I wanted to laugh, because I knew it was going to be all right. But I didn't. Instead I let my hand fall and take his. I guided him after me, heading down the hall.

This time I wasn't going to ask. I wasn't going to wait for him to make up his mind, decide if he was actually going to do this, whether he was really truly in love. If he was going to back out now he was going to have to do it himself. I took him into his room and led him inside. I turned towards him and kissed him again.

Every muscle in his body was tense; I could feel him vibrating wherever I touched him. I knew he was completely capable of saying the word 'no' so I continued kissing him, and touching his shoulders, his arms, gently with my fingertips. I held back from holding him, not because I thought I could stand the tension of making this last, but because I didn't know if he was ready to feel physical evidence of how much I wanted this. I was completely hard but I needed to wait to let him decide he was ready to touch me. I didn't want him freaking out on me now that I finally had him in my grasp. I put my hands on his face, feeling the soft skin and wanting to feel nothing else but the curve of his cheek and the brush of his slight beard. I saw the glint of his eyes as he watched me, wondering how much and how far he would trust me.

He raised his hands and placed them carefully on my back, for a moment doing nothing but holding them in place. Then he slowly pulled me forward into an embrace, holding me close. I slid my arms around him; the tension in me broke and washed over me as I felt the excitement filling me. Every fiber in my body was singing, and I knew if I wasn't careful I would have him down and finished in ten seconds. I tried to take a deep breath and found myself devouring his mouth.

My hands roamed up and down his back, pushing him against me, digging at the fabric of his shirt, wanting to pull it away and feel his warmth against my hands. When my fingers brushed the top of his pants I felt him freeze, just barely, just for a moment. Then it was as if he forced himself to relax because every other part of him stopped moving. I was still kissing him, still pushing my tongue against the inside of his mouth but for a moment he wasn't returning my explorations. Then he slowly began moving again, touching me, pulling me close. I kept my hands on top of his shirt and continued kissing him.

All of a sudden he stepped back and looked at me and I could see the uncertainty in his eyes. I felt a pang of regret, then one of sympathy for him and realized I should give him the respect I'd demanded.

"Bruce... would you rather wait?" I didn't want to, but he'd know that. I knew if he didn't want to do this, if he wasn't ready, then he would eventually decide it was all some horrible mistake. I would much rather be patient with him than lose him.

He looked at me for a moment, his face unreadable. Then he quietly answered, "No. No I don't. I just... am not sure of what I should be doing." He smiled, shyly.

Oh god, whatever I have done, thank you.

I smiled at him. This was going to be fun. I traced the curve of his cheek, looking into eyes I hoped to see staring at me like this for the rest of my life. He loved me, he trusted me, and he wanted me. I could never ask for more. "All you have to do is relax and tell me what you want. If I do something you don't like, say so. If you want me to do something, say so. It's really simple."

He looked at me a tad dubiously. "That wasn't exactly what I meant."

"I know. But I'd give you the same answer." I kissed him softly, with my lips closed. I felt him relax, and I placed my hands on his back again, holding him close. "May I remove your shirt?"

He nodded. "Yes." He stood still as I pulled the fabric loose from his waistband, not touching his skin any more than necessary, then pulled the shirt carefully over his head. He stood very still as I put one hand on his chest, then gently let my hand fall, caressing his torso, learning the feel of the body I desired. He quivered as my hand drew near his waist. I moved my hand to touch his back, briefly, then I removed it to take off my own shirt.

I waited quietly as he placed both hands on my chest, touching me hesitantly, carefully, as if he were afraid to show how much he wanted to touch me. He leaned forward and kissed my shoulder, and I held back a gasp. He kissed me again, halfway between my shoulder and nipple, and then he moved his kiss closer. After two more kisses he leaned back and touched his finger to my nipple, softly tracing a circle around it.

He looked up at my intake of breath -- and when he smiled at the expression I knew was on my face I wanted to yell. He left his hand on my chest and placed the other on my side, brushing his fingers delicately over my nipples as he moved. I was about to rip the rest of his clothes off.

Instead I pulled him to me for another passionate kiss, and placed my hands cautiously at the top of his pants. When he didn't tense I began unbuttoning them. I worked my hands inside the waistband, touching his waist, pulling him against me, and I heard the way his breath caught and shuddered. The sound made me shiver. I pushed the pants down to his hips and put my fingers inside the band of his underwear, along his hips.

He grabbed me, suddenly enraged in arousal. He pushed me back, and I fell onto the bed. He lay down on top of me, and it was as if something inside him had finally clicked that he did know what he was doing, did know what he wanted and how to get it. He drew his hands down along my torso, and pushed my sweat pants down. I lay mostly still, helping him only to get the pants out from under my buttocks, as he undressed me fully. He knelt on the bed, looking down at me, and I felt an unreasonable flash of relief that I had worked out all my life, so he could enjoy the sight he beheld now.

He looked at me, saying nothing. I wanted to wriggle in delight, seeing him stare at me that way. I lay still, though, trying to maintain some decorum until he knew me a little better in bed. I didn't want to scare him by screaming too early... He stepped back off the bed and removed the rest of his clothes and it was my turn to stare. I sat up, drinking in the sight of the gorgeous body that encased the man I loved. I saw a myriad of places I wanted to touch, kiss, and explore. I wanted him so badly... he climbed back onto the bed, kneeling before me, and kissed me.

He leaned me back, lying on top of me, and for the first time I felt him touching me in all the thousand places new lovers discover when they press their bodies together. I shivered, and Bruce responded by kissing me again, trailing his tongue down my neck, onto my chest. This time he touched his tongue to my nipple and I gasped.

I lay there while he explored my body with his hands and tongue, working his way over my chest and face, until I could stand it no longer. I pulled his head up to mine, kissed him softly, and put my hand on his. Gently I pushed it lower, watching his face, his eyes, letting him know this was what I wanted and that he could stop me at any time. When I had moved his hand to my groin, I kept my hand over his and he slowly closed it around me and brought his hand upwards.

I may have whispered a prayer, or a thanks, or some entreaty to whatever god was responsible for this. His touch was light, touching me in a way he'd never handled another man before. I squirmed under his touch, and I knew it wouldn't be long... I pushed my hips up towards him, and grabbed onto him, wanting to hold him against me as I came. I wanted to feel him, touch him everywhere, and he lay down on me, slightly to the side, and pressed himself against me as he rubbed faster, harder, responding to my body language. Or maybe it was the way I was moaning.

I wrapped one leg over his as I pushed myself into his hand, and I came in a sudden, violent orgasm. I heard myself screaming (in Romanian, my first language. I forgot to warn him about that.) I screamed his name, digging my fingers into his back and throwing my head into the pillows. I felt my entire body tremble, and then I was lying limply beneath him, feeling his mouth covering my chest and neck again, gently.

I moaned, and leaned up to return the kisses. I followed the same pattern he had covered me with, guessing he had simply done to me what he himself enjoyed. I lay beneath him, kissing his chest, and when he groaned I pushed him over, rolling him onto his back. I moved swiftly over his body, kissing him not just on the chest and neck but working my way down his stomach. I touched his legs, the inside of his thighs, getting closer and closer with both my hands and my tongue. I touched him carefully, with one finger, stroking him up and down.

His eyes were closed, and his breaths were coming in gasps. I kept a careful watch on his face -- mostly because I adored seeing the reaction to what I was already doing, I couldn't miss his face when he felt this next. I leaned down and kissed the very tip of his cock. I was rewarded with the most amazing expression of desire I had ever seen. I placed my lips on him again and slowly brought my tongue down the shaft; I could feel the muscles in his legs jumping under my fingers.

I quickly and expertly brought him flying, licking him and caressing him with both tongue and fingers. Before long he was writhing at my touch, and when he came he was almost completely silent, with only a soft moaning escaping his lips. His entire body froze, then only his hips moved as he thrust himself into my fist.

I watched as his body went entirely limp, and after a moment of silence he smiled. He raised his head and looked at me, and I wanted to scream again, or cry. I couldn't believe the look of happiness he gave me. He sat up and took me in his arms again and kissed me, wrapping his arms around me and I wondered if I would ever want him to let me go. Eventually he did let me go long enough for me to get a towel to clean ourselves off. Decorum, remember? Waking up covered in dried semen was not dignified.

Finally Bruce leaned back, drawing me down with him, and held me tightly. I didn't bother hiding the yawn that came, and I heard him laugh. I moved sideways as he pulled the edge of the blankets down, and we scooted underneath them. I felt him kiss me on the forehead, and I felt as if I was flying. I fell asleep smiling, my head resting on his chest.

I woke up in his arms.

Next Story: Shutting Doors II