Our Masks Always in Peril

Debra Fran Baker


I ...I'm not entirely innocent...

Batman watched the young man fly across the sky on a beam of emerald light.

"He's learning, Bruce." Clark stood next to him, impervious to the cold and the night. "He's doing fine."

"You think I'm hard on him." Batman turned to look at his best friend the alien. Don't ever forget that this kind and gentle man is an alien. And when you look at his dark blue eyes and raven hair, remember he's also married. "He holds the most powerful weapon in the galaxy on his hand. That means he has great responsibility. He has to know how to be a hero. A super hero."

"He knows. And if he didn't - he's an adult. It's up to him to learn how. He's not like those children of yours."

Batman froze at hearing those words. He turned back to the night sky. There was no trace of green left. "He's not...I don't..." He thought. "He is Dick's age."

"Dick is someone to be proud of. He's young, but he's a true hero." There was something significant in Superman's face, but Batman couldn't determine what it was.

"This is different. Dick has been a hero his entire life, and Dick doesn't have a ring. And he knows how to be cautious. But Kyle...he's...he's cocky. He'll go the way of Hal. And Ollie. And Barry. We've lost too many friends." Hal Jordan, who wore and disgraced the ring on Kyle Rayner's finger, and even though he'd died reigniting the sun, Batman still could not see him as a hero ever again. Barry Allen, whose nephew took on the mantle of the Flash after he died in that crisis no one could quite remember. Oliver Queen, the first Green Arrow, succeeded by the son he'd never known and now alive again, in what Batman would have called a miracle if he'd believed in them.

"And none of them as beautiful as Kyle." Now that handsome face held a full blown smirk.

"Clark!" This was nothing to joke about, nor did he appreciate Superman enjoying himself at Batman's expense.

"What are you surprised at? I'm a reporter. I see things. And I'm not entirely innocent. A lot more goes on in small towns than you would expect, city boy. And Kyle is beautiful, just speaking objectively. And he doesn't have the same...strings as..."

"What are you implying? I've heard those rumors, and Dick is myson. I can't, won't...no matter how he..." Batman shook his head to clear it of confusion. "Whatever I am, whatever I feel -- and I don't say it's true -- Kyle is...not interested, any more than...than you would be."

Clark smiled, and there was something in that smile that made Batman wonder what would have happened if there hadn't been a Lois. Or what happened before there was a Lois in that small town. "You might find out. He's very beautiful, and he thinks you hate him. The worst thing would be that you'll show him you don't hate him." Clark clapped him gently on the shoulder and flew off.

II ...taking his shadows with him...

Kyle stretched his back. "There is nothing happening today. Why are we even here?" He leaned back to watch the monitors again. "I just might fall asleep out of sheer boredom." Wally, who had been checking the other monitors at top speed, turned into a red blur. A moment later, he handed Kyle a hot cup of coffee.

"Sorry, dude. The Watchtower espresso machine takes too much time." He leaned back in his own chair, pushed back his co