The Caped-Crusader Caper

by Geron Kees

© 2021 Geron Kees. All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction. All characters and situations are imaginary. No real people were harmed in the creation of this presentation.

Brief glossary:

Golden Age Comics - Started with Action Comics #1 and the appearance of Superman. 1938 - 1956.

Silver Age Comics - The resurgence of the superhero comic in updated form, shedding the WWII-era trappings. The rise of Fantastic Four, Spiderman, The Hulk, and many other more modern heroes. 1956 -1970.

Bronze Age Comics - An era of darker plots in the superhero world, with more trenchant story lines that touched on drug-use, poverty, pollution, and urban crime. The end of many first generation story writer's careers here, and the rise of new, younger writers with a different take on the world. It was during this period, especially, that some superheroes changed identities and costumes and started anew. 1970 -1985.

Modern Age Comics - Identified by the commercialization of comic book publishers, more psychologically complex characters, and deeper, more twisting plot lines. Anti-heroes and supervillians rise to prominence as central characters, and many new superhero characters introduced. 1985 - present

"This quiver is a pain," Speedy said, shrugging his shoulders slightly to reposition the annoyance against his back. "My right butt cheek is going to have a bruise on it, I think."

Next to him, Robin, the Boy Wonder, nodded, his eyes scanning the convention huckster room. "I told you it was too long."

"Yeah, about five times already!"

Robin grimaced. "Every time you complain about it! So stop, okay? You'll live! We're Teen Titans, remember? Suck it up!"

Speedy made a rude noise. "That's easy for you to say. You don't have all these arrows smacking against your butt!"

"Six times," Robin said under his breath, but didn't comment further. There was too much to see, too much going on, to be concerned about a too-long quiver.

Around them, other participants at the comic convention circulated among the tables, looking over the merchandise available for sale, getting things signed where writers or illustrators were present, or showing off their costumes to each other. Others were dressed for the street, a mostly older crowd, and carrying bags and boxes of things they had purchased, or simply looking tired while shepherding younger convention-goers among the many tables and stalls. The crowd was dense, and everywhere a line needed to form for something, it was long.

"There's the DC stall," Speedy said, using his bow to point. It was enough to divert his attention from the quiver, anyway. "What a crowd!"

"No use heading there," Robin decided, shaking his head at the throng. "One thing about being in costume, there's no pockets for anything. I'm glad now I didn't bring anything extra. Trying to get to one of the signings would be an all-day job." He cast a quick glance at his friend. "I think I like this traveling lean thing. It suits me." He patted the front of his costume at the belt buckle for emphasis. "Superheroes should travel light!"

The hand motions drew Speedy's gaze, and his eyes smiled behind his mask as they roved approvingly up and down Robin's front.

"Stop that!" Robin whispered. "It looks like you're undressing me with your eyes!"

"I can see where your junk is," Speedy offered, leaning closer and lowering his voice. "I never noticed Robin's junk in the comics!"

"Shh!" The other boy's eyes darted around nervously, but no one was paying any attention to them at all.

Speedy grinned. "Aw, come on! Someone would have to have superhearing to hear me. Relax!"

For just a brief instant Robin glared; but then he seemed to fall out of character. His serious look cracked, and a smile peeked out. "Shut up. Don't you know how bad it would be for me to get horny dressed like this?"

Speedy tossed his head back and laughed. "Yes!"

"Then stop it." Robin gave his hips a faint twist, and then pulled his cape a little closer to cover himself. "Now look what you did!" He closed his eyes, and his lips moved silently as he repeated the mantra that always calmed him down if he got horny in a difficult situation: "Grandma Iris is watching. She's coming closer. She's gonna kiss my cheek..."

Five times was enough. After a moment Robin sighed, and let his cape fall away from in front of him. "Don't do that again."

"Sorry. You just look so good!"

"You look pretty good, yourself," Robin conceded. "Except for the quiver. It's about two inches too long. It bumps up and down on your butt when you walk."

"That's what I just said!"

Robin leaned closer. "It's kind of sexy, actually. The way your butt makes it move around when you walk, I mean."

Speedy looked annoyed. "It's the way it looks in the comics. More or less."

Robin sighed. "It's the old Speedy. It's the price you pay for going golden age on me. I told you about that."

Speedy offered up a cross between a glare and a pout. "Can I help it if my granddad gave me his collection? I like that old stuff. Much better to be a cool Teen Titan than the drug addict Speedy became in the silver age stories."

His friend snorted. "Your character is too complicated, anyway, with Arsenal and Red Arrow, and all that. Roy Harper never knew who he wanted to be! I like Dick Grayson better. He just stayed Robin."

"He was Nightwing, too, remember," Speedy reminded.

"Only after he grew up and couldn't be Robin anymore!"

"Well, it was the same for Speedy! He grew up and became Arsenal, and then Red arrow!" Speedy grimaced. "And it shows what you know! Robin was also Nightwing when he was young, when him and Batman went into the bottled city of Kandor with Superman!"

"Old stuff!"

For a moment the two glared defiantly at each other, before Speedy let his gaze drop again to Robin's crotch. He smiled, and licked his lips, causing Robin to flinch. "Stop that! That's not fair!"

Speedy grinned, but nodded and looked away. "Fine. Just leave my Roy alone, and I'll leave your Dick alone."

Robin blinked at that, and then cracked a smile and laughed. He made a slight bow, and nodded. "Dick Grayson at your service, sir. Roy Harper, I presume?"

Speedy laughed. "The one and only." He hefted his bow, and shrugged his shoulders another time. "Let's go. Maybe some poor girl needs our assistance."

"Or boy," Robin added, under his breath, but loudly enough for Speedy to hear. The other superhero just grinned, and they moved off among the tables together.

There were a lot of others in costume, almost all young like themselves. There were as many supervillains present as there were superheroes, definitely a commentary of a sort on what different people gleaned from their comic book pursuits. The few adults present in costume really had good ones, their financial conditions speaking loudly among the group of mostly handmade costumes like their own. And if Robin's mom hadn't been so good with a sewing machine and willing to help out, the boys wouldn't look as good as they did!

Yet the adults in costume had other flaws that sort of mitigated the quality of their finery. Superman with gray hair around a bald spot, and Batman with a pretty ridiculous paunch, both stomped past them, and the boys had to pull out all the stops not to start laughing. The Batman cast a look Robin's way and squinted, as if there was something familiar about him, but not totally recognizing the costume. It really depended on what period in a superhero's history you followed, because for some of them costumes had changed more than once, especially among sidekicks. But the idea of Batman not recognizing Robin was sort of funny, and Robin smiled to himself for a full minute after the older superhero had passed.

They wandered along a line of tables, eyeing all the cool stuff for sale; but they had come this time to dress, not to buy. There would be other conventions in the city before the year was out, and money didn't grow on trees, after all.

"Ooh," Speedy said, stopping a moment. "Check that out."

Robin stopped and backed up. On the table before Speedy was a selection of comics, a number of them under glass. The other boy pointed at one of the latter, and Robin leaned closer. He frowned. "Isn't that...?"

"Uh huh. The Brave and the Bold, number 54. The first appearance of the Teen Titans. They weren't called that until later, but that's where it all started."

"Cool! Even if it is old!" Robin leaned closer to look at the price. "Five hundred dollars! No way!"

Speedy sighed. "That's actually pretty reasonable, and a lot of dealers run their prices up for conventions. I've seen copies in this condition on Ebay for eight hundred." He smiled then. "But I have one of these in my granddad's collection."

Robin made a dismissive sound. "I just read comics. I'm not paying all that cash to collect that old stuff."

"Yeah? You read my granddad's comics. Some of them are very old!"

"But your granddad collected comics all the way through the nineties. I can get along with the later books. You like those fifties comics!"

"Don't start that again!"

Robin suddenly looked contrite, and sighed. "Sorry."

Speedy nodded. "We always seem to argue when we're Robin and Speedy. We never do that when we're just Kyle and Justin."

Robin considered that, and nodded. "I'm sorry, Justin."

Robin hated to go out of character when he was in costume, and the brief acknowledgement of the real world was touching. Speedy could see the honesty in his friend's words, and sighed. He leaned closer, and lowered his voice to a whisper. "I love you, Kyle."

Behind his mask, Robin's face reddened. He struggled a moment, his eyes moving back and forth looking for someone paying attention, and not finding any takers. He gave a slow nod then, and his shoulders slowly relaxed. "Me, too, Justin."

"No more arguing?"

"Okay." Robin smiled then. "Not until we get back to your place, anyway. Let's go."

The afternoon wore on. There was just an amazing amount of stuff to see, on display, for sale or trade, or just there to be looked at and admired. Superheroes and supervillains were everywhere. They saw a couple of other Robins, their costumes different from Kyle's - either different eras of Robin, or different because precise reproduction was difficult - and none showed the talented hand of Kyle's mom. There was a Red Arrow present, too, the incarnation of Speedy as an adult superhero; but no others dressed as Speedy like Justin was, as he had been when he was first Green Arrow's teen sidekick. That made Justin proud in a way, while Kyle just thought it proved his point that his best friend was too far back in the comic realm to be relevant these days. But he didn't say that, remembering their agreement not to argue.

And, it was true, Justin was very sexy and cute as the retro Speedy, and Kyle let the idea go that the look was old, and held onto the idea that it was his. His friend. His boyfriend. He sighed, and felt good.

They had something to eat. Justin's quiver held other things than arrows. Their wallets and cellphones also resided there, the only place they had to keep things. Convention prices were always high, and extended to food as well as merchandise, and they grimaced at the price they had to pay for a hamburger and a Coke. But it was all part of the experience, and if you didn't get ripped off a little, it wouldn't be part of the fun. And the memories!

"We're coming back tomorrow for the costume contest, right?" Kyle asked, as it neared dinnertime.

"We said we would. Are you chickening out on me?"

"No. I'm just asking. Because if we're coming back tomorrow, I don't see any reason to stay late. Do you?"

Justin's thoughts leaped ahead to the evening. To the sleepover. Kyle's parents were out of town for the weekend, and Kyle was staying at Justin's apartment. In Justin's room! What might come of that...what would come of that...was suddenly quite clear in Justin's mind, and he grinned. "Are you ready to go? I'm ready to go!"

Kyle snickered, and then they headed back to the con room, where they'd left the suitcase containing their street clothes. There was a check table there, now attended by a weary looking older woman, who was totally unfazed by their costumes as they walked up.

"Nice," she said automatically, nodding at their outfits, but plainly not caring a bit. "Got'cher ticket?"

Justin squatted again so that Kyle could retrieve their claim ticket from his wallet. He handed the card over, and the woman glanced down at it and grunted. "Be right back."

"I'm looking forward to tonight," Justin whispered out of the side of his mouth, as the woman walked down one row of many cases and boxes set on the floor.

Kyle looked around quickly, but they were alone at the moment. He felt a delicious little shiver at the idea. "Me, too."

"Will it be like last time?"

"Hell, yeah. Even better!"

Justin grinned at his friend's confidence.

The check woman paused at a spot, looked all around, and then moved over a row to the right and looked in the same place. She reached the end of that one, and moved back two rows to look in the row to the left of the first one. Then she shook her head and walked back to them.

"You sure you didn't get this already?"

Both boys froze. "No," Kyle managed then. "We left it here at ten this morning, and this is the first we've been back."

"Yeah? Can you describe what I'm looking for?"

Justin leaned forward then. "It's a small black suitcase, with a white stripe around it. It has my name on the plate under the handle."

"Yeah? What'cher name?"

Justin looked briefly embarrassed. "Um...Speedy."

The woman's eyes widened, and she snickered. "I hope that ain't some poor girl's judgment, Jack!"

"Hey!" Kyle said, stepping forward. He was full-on in Robin mode now, and his face was serious. "Just get the suitcase, will ya?"

The woman's smile vanished. "Look, kid, I just work here, okay? I looked in the row on the ticket, and your case ain't there. I looked in the rows on each side, and it ain't there, neither."

"It's been stolen!" Justin exclaimed.

The woman raised a hand and waved it quickly. "Hush down, will ya? It ain't stolen. Someone's been here all day. I came on at noon, and I can tell ya for sure, no one has been back here but me...and..." Her eyes narrowed. "Uh oh."

"What uh oh!" Justin exclaimed.

The woman frowned. "You kids come and go, but a lot of the older people attendin' this convention thing got rooms here. They get tired of buying stuff and stashing it here and go upstairs to their rooms to party. They want their stuff from here at the check table, and one of the floor boys comes down with a cart and a fistful of tickets and gets the stuff. Been three or four of them down here already, collecting boxes and suitcases and what have you. One of 'em must have grabbed your case by accident."

Justin looked horrified. "But our clothes were in that case!"

"Relax, speedo." The woman dug in a pocket and pulled out her cell. "Let me call the desk, and we'll straighten this whole thing out."

The woman turned away from them and started talking into the phone.

"Shit!" Justin hissed, pacing quickly back and forth a single time. "This is not good!"

"It's just clothes," Kyle returned, shaking his head. "I'll miss my running shoes, but the rest is no great loss."

Justin ceased his private fret and turned to stare at him. "Are you serious? Is that all you're thinking about? Your shoes?"

Kyle grimaced, and then assumed a patient look. "They're just clothes, Justin."

The other boy leaned forward. "They're our street clothes. Comprende, mi amigo?"

Kyle's patient look turned stubborn. "Yeah. Okay, they're our street clothes."

Justin stared at him for several more seconds before realizing his friend still didn't get it. "How'd we get here, Kyle?"

"Duh! We walked."

"Uh huh. And how far was that?"

"Fifteen blocks."

Justin waited a moment, and then nodded. "And how long did it take us?"

His friend squinted a moment. "I think it was little over a half hour, wasn't it?"

"A little more. Say forty minutes. Out in public. On the street."

Kyle finally looked annoyed. "What the hell is your point?"

Justin's eyes widened, and then he grinned. "You wanna walk fifteen blocks, for forty minutes, in public, at rush hour...dressed like that?"

Kyle looked down at himself a moment, and when his eyes came up again they held a note of panic this time. "Oh, shit."

"Yeah, oh, shit! If this scullery maid can't find my case, we're walking back to my place as Speedy and Robin. In broad daylight, on the city streets!"

Despite the gravity of the situation, a smile tried to appear on Kyle's face. "Scullery maid? Where'd you get that?"

And, also despite the gravity of the situation, Justin couldn't help grinning. "I read it in Rip Hunter, Time Master. It's what they called a kitchen maid a few hundred years ago."

"Golden age!" Kyle said lightly, grinning. "Who's Rip Hunter?"

"He's before your time. Don't get started on that again!"

"Sorry." Kyle scratched his head, looked down at himself again, and then looked up at his friend, determination having replaced the panic. "Hell, I'm game."

Justin clapped a hand to his forehead. "That's because you're crazy!"

The two boys looked at each other in silence, and Justin could see the hurt in his best friend's eyes. He sighed then, and put a hand on Kyle's shoulder and gave it a quick squeeze. "I'm sorry, man. I didn't mean that."

Kyle shrugged. "It's just...if we have to do it, we have to do it. It's what a Teen Titan would do. They don't run away from the hard stuff."

Justin found a grin and let it out. "No, they don't. I...wait."

The woman had turned back to them now and was putting her phone away. "Um...complication."

Justin sighed. "That figures."

"Yeah, well, it ain't my fault, fella. It looks like your case probably went to the room of a guy named Carpenter. The floor boy what took it remembers it. Black case with a white stripe."

"That's it!" Justin exclaimed, feeling relief wash over him. "Can we go and get it?"

The woman actually looked a little sorry this time. "Well, you could, except this guy Carpenter checked out an hour ago and headed back to Syracuse. He took all his stuff with him, including your suitcase, I guess. The garage attendant what loaded his car remembers putting the case in the guy's trunk. Black with a white stripe."

Justin's jaw dropped.

"Wait, wait," the woman continued, before the boys could speak. "The desk already called this guy's house and told his old lady the situation. She's gonna have the suitcase shipped back here at the hotel's expense, and you should be able to pick it up in a coupla days. Sorry, but that's the best we can do."

"A...couple...of...days." Justin repeated.

"I just need some contact information, 'kay?" the woman handed them a pad of forms and a pen. "They'll call you when the case gets back here."

"Gee, thanks," Justin said, not in any way disguising the way he felt about that.

Two kids dressed as supervillains arrived then, towing a mom that looked tired and grumpy. The check woman told them to leave the pad on table when they were done and she would see to it after, and then obviously pushed them from her conscious thoughts and turned to the new arrivals.

Justin fumed as he filled out the claim form, while Kyle took a covert look at the two supervillains. They weren't DC villains, but Marvel villains, and he wasn't sure which two they were. Marvel comics were cool, but a guy tended towards one or the other, DC or Marvel, and knowing everything about both was pretty hard. That was without even considering all the different ages and eras of both comic universes. Supervillains bred like flies, and were on every wall you looked at. A good guy never knew who would appear next to try to do him in.

One of the two villains noticed him looking and smiled. He looked to be fourteen or fifteen, the same age as Kyle and Justin, and he filled his tight suit nicely. Kyle smiled back and gave him the thumbs up, but pulled his eyes away as Justin finished writing and pushed the pad of paper and the pen to the backside of the table.

"Come on. We might as well get started."

Justin grabbed his bow and they turned together and headed for the hallway. A short walk brought them to the lobby, where rush hour traffic crawled by outside. Exiting the hotel wasn't that hard. This was a big convention, and people were everywhere. Several signs on the sidewalk outside welcomed arrivals to the Comic Universe Con, and more than a few costumed people were there, sitting on the benches or just standing around talking. No one would pay attention to two more.


Even in the cars going by, no one was gawking. Drivers were too concerned with their own plight, crawling along at less than a walking pace, to worry about what was happening on the sidewalk beyond. The boys walked out among the others there, and looked off down the street, the way they would have to go.

"You ready?" Kyle asked, taking one gloved hand and punching it firmly into the other.

"I guess." Justin held up his bow, and stared at it sadly. He was actually pretty good with it, and would have felt better if the damn thing was strung. But carrying a strung bow along with arrows was the same as going armed, and in the city it just wasn't done. Even if it had been allowed on the streets, most conventions had moved years ago to limit the number of weapons carried inside by fantasy-clad barbarians, aliens, heroes, and villains. Once you'd tried to crowd into an elevator along with a coupla guys dressed as Conan and carrying a broadsword and an axe, you'd understand completely. No weapons allowed.

They started down the street, heading for home...and whatever else might come.

It was a warm evening, and they stopped at a street vendor only a block from the hotel. They had to do two blocks west before heading north, and Justin could already feel the dampness inside his costume. It would now have to be washed before he could wear it again the next day. Stupid hotel people!

The cart sold drinks. The old guy standing by the cart was calling out that fact, and looked hot himself. They'd observed him taking a swig off a dripping bottle of orange drink as they walked up, which was what prodded them to stop in the first place.

"What're youse guys supposed to be?" the man asked, shifting his cigar from one side of his mouth to the other. It rolled neatly beneath his gray mustache, and Justin thought the dexterity of the move pretty awesome. A tongue like that could be damn useful!

"I'm Robin, and that's Speedy," Kyle said, as he fished his wallet out of Justin's quiver.

"Yeah?" The vendor gave Kyle a once over and nodded. "Like Batman and Robin? Who'd a figured?" The man's eyes turned to Justin. "Who's this Speedy guy?"

"He was Green Arrow's sidekick," Justin said patiently, as Kyle pulled three dollar bills from his wallet and handed them to the vendor.

"Old school," Kyle added, smiling sideways at Justin. "Golden age."

The old man looked surprised, and then squinted anew at Justin. Again, the cigar rolled from one side to the other. "Hey! I remember that! Roy...Harper! Yeah! Roy Harper! Hey, I read about you when I was just a yonker!"

Justin's eyes widened, and then he grinned. "You're right!"

"Hey, they were some times!" The vendor nodded, and closed his eyes for a moment. "Sure, Green Arrow and Speedy! I remember when youse guys fought against the Clock King!"

That was a Silver age story line that Justin was familiar with from his granddad's collection, and he laughed. "That was a rough one!"

The old man opened his eyes and looked down at the dollar bills, and then handed them back to Kyle. "Hey, I can't take your money fellas. Here, this one's on me! What'dya have? I got Coke, Pepsi, root beer, Dr. Pepper, Sprite, that Zero stuff, Orange, and Mountain Dew. And I got the diet types of them drinks, too."

"We can't take them without paying!" Justin protested.

"Aw, sure ya can! Hell, youse guys is out savin' the world every day - who am I to begrudge ya a cold drink on a hot summer evening?" The old man flipped open the top of the cart and rummaged around inside, and pulled out two cold drinks. He grinned at them as the cigar magically rolled side-to-side once more. "Come on, fellas, what'dya have?"

Justin looked at Kyle, who just shrugged. "Coke."

"I'll take a root beer, I guess," Justin added.

"Comin' right up!"

Kyle returned the bills to his wallet and pushed it back into Justin's quiver. The vendor brought out the drinks and handed them over, and then smiled as they opened them and each took a long swallow. The old man clapped his hands together and chuckled.

"Yeah, those were some times, fellas. Me and my pal, Benny Brewster, we'd walk up to the emporium on Clarke Street and buy us a couple of them comic books, and then go back home and sit out on the fire escape and read 'em. Ten cents they cost! But they was worth every penny!" He shook his head, and then sighed. "Yeah, those were some times. I wonder where Benny is now?"

The boys simply waited, sipping their drinks and smiling. Whatever was going on with this guy, he had to finish it himself. The man remained lost in thought a minute more, and then suddenly noticed them again and laughed. "So where youse guys headin' next? Off to bust the bad guys?"

Justin smiled and pointed in the direction they had been going. "We're heading that way."

The man turned and squinted off into the distance. "Yeah? Bet there's all sortsa stuff goin' on that way, too. Lotsa adventures to be had." He turned back and smiled at them, and the cigar did its roll a final time. "You fellas be careful, you hear?"

"Thanks for the drinks," Kyle said, holding up his Coke. "That really hit the spot!"

"Hey, it's nothin'! Least I can do for Gotham's finest!" The old man winked. "Thanks for the memories. Go get em' fellas!"

The boys nodded, looked at each other, and then started off.

"What the hell was all that about?" Kyle asked, once they were out of earshot.

"I don't know. But it was kinda cool, really."

The crowd easily reabsorbed them with very little attention, just two more slightly odd elements of a city that understood odd all too well. The attention they had been expecting simply had not materialized. A few people smiled at them in passing, someone would laugh now and then; but otherwise they had been largely ignored. Being part of a crowd in the city granted an anonymity that few other situations could match.

And, their own initial feelings of drawing attention to themselves had caused them to look more closely at those around them, and it was with some surprise that they had seen that a lot of people they passed were pretty oddly dressed, themselves. So after a few blocks of causing less than a ripple in the crowd, they had managed to relax a little and simply concentrate on the task of walking.

"We go left up here at the next corner," Justin said after a while. He moved them toward the curb, out of the main flow of pedestrian traffic, and finished his drink and tossed the empty into a nearby trash can.

"I know." Kyle tossed back the last of his own drink, disposed of the can, and leaned closer to his friend. "We're being followed."

Justin sat hard on an impulse to turn and look back the way they had come. "What?"

"Yeah. Two guys. They stopped by that lamp post a ways back, right when we did."

Justin sighed. "That doesn't mean they're following us."

"Well, I saw them back by that drink guy. They were pointing at us. And they've been back there since we started walking again."

"It still doesn't mean they're following us."

"They stopped when we did."

"So? It's a free country, mostly."

Kyle looked exasperated behind his mask. "I tell ya, they're following us!"

Justin held up a hand. "Okay, don't get mad." He turned his head and looked on the way they had been heading. "Let's go to the corner and turn, and see if they turn, too."

They resumed walking, and edged back into the crowd. As they reached the corner they had to dart through people going the opposite way to make the turn, and a big guy in a business suit and wearing a cell phone headset stopped short to let them pass. He stared at them briefly, and then grinned.

"You'll never guess what just happened," they heard him say into the microphone. "Coupla caped crusaders just cut me off!"

And then they were around the corner, and it was a straight shot to home. Kyle turned to Justin, a big smile on his face. "You hear that guy? Caped crusaders!"

Justin had to smile himself. "Yeah. The Batman would be proud!" Justin turned then and looked down the street. "Come on. We'll get in that next doorway and wait to see if they go past."

They hastened to the next store, which had a recessed double doorway, and stepped around the corner of the display window. Kyle turned to the glass inside the cubby and peered through both panes at the stream of pedestrians they had just left. "Here they come."

Justin stood on tiptoe to peer over his friend's head. "Where?"

"Right there."

Justin squinted, but couldn't see two men walking together towards them anywhere. "I don't see any guys."

Kyle made an exasperated sound. "One's got a red shirt on, and the other has a blue one. They're almost here!"

Justin peered again...and then he saw them, and a short laugh escaped his lips. "They're just kids!"

The two boys, maybe nine or ten, were hustling towards them, heads leaned forward, their eyes searching. It was obvious that they were looking for something or somebody...but...

The two reached the doorway where the caped crusaders were lying in wait, and Kyle simply stepped out in front of them and raised a hand imperiously. "Halt! What are you up to?"

The two boys stopped suddenly, and both reflexively backed up a step.Their faces were painted with alarm now, and one turned as if to run, but the other snaked out a hand and stopped him.

"Are you following us?" Kyle demanded.

"No!" the runner said, defensively.

"Yes!" the other said at the same time, and then looked at his partner and frowned. "We are, too!"

The runner gnawed at his lips, his eyes on the two costumed figures before him. "You were following them! I was just following you!"

Kyle crossed his arms, looking stern. "It's not nice to follow people."

Justin snorted then, and moved to stand next to his friend. "What's up, guys?"

"Nothing, sir," the runner managed. "We'll just leave you alone now."

"We need help," the other said, and then glared at his companion. "Shut up, Nick!"

That seemed to break the runner out of his fright. "Who you tellin' to shut up?"

"You! It was your idea to follow these guys. Now shut up!"

Nick's face crumpled a moment, but then he just nodded. "Okay."

"What's up?" Justin repeated to the talker. "And what's your name?"

The first boy's head bobbed up and down. "I'm Andy, and that's Nick."

Justin nodded. "Okay, Andy and Nick. For the last time, what is going on?"

Andy looked them over and frowned. "You're superheroes, right?"

"I'm Robin, and that's Speedy," Kyle said, with just enough self-importance to cause Justin to smile.

"You fight bad guys?" Andy asked.

Justin would have counseled caution in answering that question, had not Kyle spoken first. "That's our business, yes!"

So Justin just held up a hand. "Wait a second. What sort of bad guys?"

"Bad ones," Andy answered.

"Real bad ones!" Nick added in.

Justin closed his eyes a moment. Just what they needed! All they were trying to do was get back to Justin's apartment. That was all. Very simple, very straightforward. Get home, eat some dinner, watch some TV, then go to bed.

He smiled. Bed. Bed with Kyle was another adventure, one Justin had come to love. Bed with Kyle at night canceled any of the small things that happened during the day that sometimes put a strain on their friendship. Their most unusual friendship, actually. Really, they were not very much alike. Justin was easygoing, and not too serious; while Kyle was often too serious, and sometimes overbearing.

Take this superhero stuff. Comics were fun, and cosplay was even better. It was fun because it had never not been fun. But sometimes Kyle went too far in his playacting at being a superhero. Sometimes he took it too seriously. Getting involved with real bad guys did not sound like fun at all...

Kyle prodded Justin with an elbow, and Justin opened his eyes. His boyfriend was giving him a worried sidelong inspection, one that said, Don't go all spacey on me now!

"Who are these bad guys?" Kyle persisted, turning back to the two boys.

"We were heading home," Justin reminded then.

Kyle held up a hand for silence. "We're needed." Like that should be enough.

It seemed to be enough for Andy. "They took our clubhouse."

"Yeah!" Nick agreed. "We made it! They stole it!"

"Who stole it?" Kyle asked, finally sounding a little exasperated.

"We don't know their names," Andy said. "They're from another neighborhood."

"Not ours," Nick agreed. "They came and saw what we had, and they swiped it!"

"They physically moved it?" Kyle asked.

Both of the younger boys shook their heads vigorously. "No, it's still there. But so are they. We can't get in. They won't let us!"

"Turf war," Kyle said, shaking his head. "Not good."

Justin gave his head a little shake. "It's just little kids fighting over an old crate or something!"

"It's not a crate!" Andy put in then, sounding mad. "It's a clubhouse, and it's ours. We made it. And these guys took it!"

"Where is this clubhouse?" Kyle asked.

Andy's eyes lit up, sensing some action might come from this after all. "It's over there!" He turned and pointed to the east of the direction they had been heading. Away from Justin's parent's apartment.

"How far over there?" Kyle asked, patiently.

The two smaller boys looked at each other. "Three blocks?" Nick asked.

"Four," Andy corrected.

Justin looked that way, and swore silently. People not used to the city always gaped when locals talked about walking everything in 'blocks' The city was very regular, gridlike, and the blocks were almost all the same. But they were not square, they were rectangular. Walking in a north/south direction, like the way they had come from Justin's apartment, you walked the 'street blocks', the short sides of the rectangle, and the rule of thumb was that sixteen of these blocks equaled about a mile.

If you walked in the east/west direction, you were taking the long side of the rectangles, the 'avenue blocks', and it only took four of these blocks to equal the same mile. So when Nick said their trouble was four blocks to the east, he was saying it was just as far as the walk back to Justin's apartment!

"We don't have time for this!" Justin whispered.

"Sure we do," Kyle countered. "It's only about five-thirty. It'll be light out until nearly nine o'clock."

Justin looked down at his costume, and then over at Kyle's. "I mean - we'll be out here dressed like this for hours!"

Kyle took a deep breath, and then put his hands on his hips and adopted his superhero stance. "No one has complained. Who complains about crime fighters?"

Kyle's manner was serious and demanding, but something in his eyes was pleading. Please? Let's do this!

It took Justin a moment to see it, but once he did he felt his resolve soften. His boyfriend sure could be a little nuts, but he meant well, and his heart was in the right place. Justin looked again at the two kids who had followed them, saw the hope and the need in their eyes, too...and caved. He felt his sense of reality slip a little, and realized that this was a matter of putting up, or shutting up. Superheroes did not run away.

Even when the mission was a little nutty!

Justin squared his shoulders and hefted his bow. "What sort of fellas are these bad guys?"

"Big kids," Andy said, a note of contempt - and fear - in his voice.

One of Kyle's eyebrows went up behind his mask. "How big?"

Again, the two smaller boys looked at each other. "Twelve?" Andy asked Nick.

"Naw. They gotta be at least thirteen!"

Kyle's eyebrow dropped. "Uh huh. How many of them?"

The two smaller boys replied in unison. "Three!"

A brief look of relief crossed Kyle's face, and then he smiled. "They sound mean, but I think we can handle them. Right, Speedy?"

Justin couldn't help a small laugh, but squared his shoulders and nodded. "Right, Robin!"

Kyle waved a hand at the two boys. "Lead the way!"

And so they were off.

It took them slightly longer than a half hour to get where they were going. Not only was their destination four blocks east, but it was also three blocks north.

"What were you doing so far from home?" Kyle demanded of their new companions. "You guys aren't old enough to be walking around town like that alone."

"It's just a few blocks," Andy protested, like it was no big deal.

"You're parents are probably worried," Justin put in. His parents would have been, and mad, if he had gone so far from home at the ages of these two.

"Naw," Nick replied, giving an emphatic shake of his head. "They ain't home from work yet. Dinner's at seven. As long as we're back by then, they don't say nuthin."

Justin squinted at the two boys now. " guys are related?" Andy was brown-haired and blue-eyed, while Nick was slightly olive-skinned and had black hair.

Andy laughed. "Half brothers. Same mom, different dads."

"Ah." Justin nodded, curious now. "Um, you two look to be about the same age."

Andy looked affronted. "I'm ten and a quarter! Nicky's just nine."

"Nine and a quarter!" Nick returned, haughtily.

Andy shook his head, dismissing that conversation entirely. "We're almost there."

Justin was glad of that. The neighborhood wasn't exactly a dump, but it was on its way there. In the part of the city where he and Kyle lived, there were no vacant lots, no boarded up buildings. Land was in demand, not somewhere to pile junk. Not that there were a lot of those here, either - vacant lots or boarded up buildings. But the place had a slightly rundown look, as if time had passed it by. Time, and money, both. Justin could see his dad now, and hear his voice, had he been standing beside him: "It's a working class neighborhood, son. The city is full of them."

Not that Justin and Kyle lived in the swanks with the wealthy, either. Their area was upper middle class, he supposed, though in the city these days that wasn't saying a lot. But his family did more than get buy, and one day, he knew, his parents planned to make a move to the suburbs. Justin had fretted about that once, envisioning being removed from Kyle's side - but he was old enough now to understand that any move his parents made in that direction would come after Justin was grown and gone from their two-bedroom apartment.

And, looking around, Justin realized what it was about this street that made it seem dreary. There were no trees, anywhere. Well, no...that was not quite right. Here and there were missing squares of sidewalk, through which scrawny trees poked their way skyward. They made it look like it was an effort, and that they'd just as soon be doing something else. The half-heartedness by which they made their way towards the sun just added to the generally old appearance of the buildings here. This part of the city was old, and had not had much in the way of the facelift that other parts had had.

But that didn't mean it was empty. There were people on the sidewalks and on the basketball courts, moms pushing strollers, oldsters walking slowly, people making their way to and fro. The foot traffic here was nothing compared to what they had experienced back by the hotel, but this was plainly a busy neighborhood, lived in, and happily so. People smiled at them as they went by, and a couple even told them how good their costumes were. The older folks, anyway. A few younger kids laughed and pointed, or whispered to each other behind masking hands, and a few older teens smirked at them, or even called stupid stuff, like, "Oh, look, its Superman!"

But no one really bothered them, and Justin had tuned them out mostly by the time they turned into a new block and started up the last street.

Andy stopped then, pointing as two boys his own size appeared on the sidewalk ahead, walking towards them. The two newcomers stopped suddenly as they spied the group ahead, and Justin could see their mouths agape from where he stood.

"Look too small to be the bad guys," Kyle whispered, frowning.

Andy raised a hand and waved furiously. "Hey! Over here!"

The two ahead overcame their surprise, and approached slowly.

"Who you got, Andy?" one of them called.

"Superheroes!" Andy returned, beaming. "They're gonna help us get the clubhouse back!"

The two ahead looked at each other, and then started running towards them.

"That's Noah, and that's Oliver," Nick said then, pointing them out. "They're our friends."

The two new boys drew up before them, and stood gaping at Kyle and Justin.

"Where'd you find them?" Noah asked, his eyes roving over the two superheroes. He was blond and curly haired, and missing a front tooth.

"Uptown." Andy grinned. "And you said we wouldn't find anyone who could help!"

Justin did a double-take at that. "Wait a were looking for superheroes today?"

"Sure," Nick said, nodding. "We saw it on the news, that there was a lot of superheroes meeting at some hotel uptown. We were going there when we saw you."

Oliver put his hands on his hips and frowned at Kyle. "Are you real?" He was slighter than the other boys, darker and more exotic-looking.

Kyle put his fists on his hips in the true superhero mold, and grinned. "Are you?"

Oliver looked surprised, but smiled. "Well, o'course!"

Kyle bent forward and smiled. "Well, so am I!"

That answer seemed to confuse Oliver at first, and then to delight him. He giggled, and then backed up a step, grinning. "You're funny!"

"I try." Kyle smiled at Andy. "Wanna show us where this clubhouse is?"

Noah raised a hand and put it on Andy's arm. "Me and Ollie were just there. Those boys are still inside!"

"Our clubhouse!" Oliver added, indignantly.

"It's just up here," Andy said, pointing up the block.

They resumed walking, while the four younger boys chattered gleefully, pushing and playing, and seemingly delighted that justice was about to be levied on the evil ones. Justin hoped that they could really help here, but had already allowed for the fact that they couldn't. An ignominious retreat would be hard on Kyle, and Justin really didn't want that to happen. He hefted his bow as they walked, and imagined for a moment he was imbued with the spirit of Ben Grimm, the Fantastic Four's Thing. Roy Harper as Speedy was cool, and Justin felt him a kindred spirit somehow, which was why he had chosen him as his own avatar. But Roy was also only human, and sometimes a guy needed to feel slightly superhuman to tackle the stuff that happened on a daily basis. Justin took a deep breath, feeling somehow that Ben Grimm was also seeping into him. Why be one superhero, when you could be two?

He grinned. It's clobberin' time!

"What are you smiling at?" Kyle asked, just a trace of nervous energy apparent in his voice now.

Justin tapped the end of his bow on the sidewalk as they walked. "I was just thinking I don't want to hurt anybody. But if these guys wanna fight, I say we give them one."

Kyle blinked at that, and then a smile came onto his face. "That's the spirit!" He leaned closer. "I can do anything with you at my side, Speedy."

Justin nodded at that, feeling the sentiment deeply. "Me, too," he whispered back.

Of course, there was the fact that neither of them was much of a fighter. Every kid in school fell into one of three categories: The bullies, the picked on, and the neutral.The bullies liked to push, and the picked on always seemed to give. Being neutral was the only way to be, really. That meant refusing to be bullied, and feeling sympathetic to those that were. Both Kyle and Justin had stayed in the neutral column throughout their school years, despite the fact that they were viewed as a little geeky by some of the toughs.

Kyle was a talented gymnast specializing in trampoline, and Justin had wrestled for two years. They both had moves, and were strong for their sizes, and Justin had taught Kyle some wrestling action, like how to take a guy down and pin him hard. Neither of them were badasses, but neither were pushovers, either. Kyle, especially, had a highly developed sense for aiding the disadvantaged, and had pulled Justin into a conflict more than once in the hallways at school. But they were a recognized team among their peers, and the knowledge that if you messed with one you had to watch out for the other was enough to make their lives at least reasonably trouble-free.

So far.

A building-sized opening presented itself between two other buildings, clearly once the home of some structure that had been razed. The lot wasn't terribly wide, but seemed very deep, and was knee-high in some sort of a weed pretending to be a grass. The area nearest the street was empty, but they could see a few things farther back, including a shipping container all the way back against the back wall of a building on the next block. The wall was a vast canvas of brick, unadorned by windows or doors, for once the two buildings had backed right up to each other, without even an alley between them.

The buildings to either side presented similar walls, and the net effect was like walking into a box canyon with no easy way out but back the way they came. It made Justin a little nervous, and by the look of him, Kyle didn't much like the landscape, either. At least the grasses weren't so tall that they couldn't see anyone hiding, or trying to hide, or even standing about with a potential to cause trouble. In fact, there was no one to be seen anywhere.

"They're all inside," Noah said, sounding anxious.

Justin realized then that the boy was looking at the shipping container. He turned to Andy then. "I thought you said you guys made this clubhouse?"

The other boy nodded. "You gotta start with something. You have to see the inside to know what we made. The door's on the other side, anyway."

They reached the shipping container, and Justin could see that the twin doors in the back were closed. Andy held a finger to his lips then and shushed them all, and they circled around the container towards the other side. It was then that the boys could see that the container was not set up against the wall of the building, but that a space of ten or fifteen feet separated them. This container had a side door, too, which was opened outward and appeared to be locked against the side so it could not be closed. They could hear the soft murmur of voices and laughter within.

"That's them," Andy whispered. "Get 'em!"

Kyle held up a hand. "Wait a minute. We need a plan." He looked over the area, nodded, and turned to Justin. "You and me will stand on this side of the door with our backs to the container. Andy, you and your friends walk over by the brick wall there, in front of the door, and when I wave to you, call to the guys inside."

Andy nodded, held his finger to his lips for silence, and motioned for his friends to accompany them.

Kyle patted Justin's arm. "When they come out, get between them and the door. If they want to get back inside, they'll have to go through us."

Justin just nodded, knowing it was too late to argue. They walked along the side of the container to the locked-back door and stood side-by-side beside it, backs to the container wall. Andy and the others reached the brick wall opposite the open door, and stood in a line with their backs to it. They were ready.

The voices inside were clearer now...

"..this thing was closer to home," one voice said, sounding slightly whiny. "This is a long way to come just to sit inna trailer."

"It ain't a trailer," said another voice, sounding irritated."And it's just two blocks. It's a place to hang, okay? They ain't none 'o that 'round where we live. Them places is all took."

"It smells," said a third voice, just sounding bored. "Someone took a piss in here once."

"Probably some drunk," Irritated replied. "It wasn't recent, and those bedbugs cleaned the place up real nice."

"It's too dark, too," Whiny went on. "This table needs ta be closer to the door."

"We'll bring a light," Irritated said, his annoyance growing. "Will ya shut up, already? Them bedbugs had a nice lantern. We shoulda made them leave it when we flushed 'em outta here."

"Shit," Bored said then. "And they'd be back wit' their old mans, too, wonderin' what went with their light. I don't like none o' this."

"God, youse guys is a pain! I get youse a place to hang out, and all youse can do is flap about it!"

Justin nodded, able to tell from their accents where these guys were from. You could often tell by the way people spoke what part of the city they lived in. Even a few blocks away could sound like a different world.

Kyle leaned close. "Ready?"

Justin nodded, and Kyle turned back to Andy and the others and waved.

Andy took an obvious gulp, nodded back, and cupped his hands around his mouth. "Hey you stinkfaces!"

The voices inside the container suddenly cut off.

"What the hell?" Irritated hissed. "It's them bedbugs again!"

"Told ya!" Whiny hissed back. "They probably brought their old mans wit' 'em!"

There was a clatter inside, the sounds of chairs being pushed back, and then the pounding of feet against the plywood floor.

Justin looked past Kyle's head and saw just the front of a face peer out the door. "They're alone." It was the voice of Irritated. "I told 'em not ta come back!"

Three boys burst through the doorway, spreading into a rumble line as they did, and only stopped as they caught sight of movement out of the sides of their eyes.

That being Kyle and Justin as they slid over in front of the doorway. Kyle swelled his chest and crossed his arms over it, and Justin held his bow at the ready.

The three bad guys swung about in a hurry to see what was happening behind them...and for a second, all action ceased.

Justin took the pause to appraise the others. They were fairly normal looking dudes in jeans and tee-shirts, all dark-haired and heavily tanned, maybe Italian in extraction. Irritated, who had led the charge, was the biggest of them, but still a half a head shorter than Kyle, who was himself half a head shorter than Justin. The silence drew out as they all stared at each other, until Kyle apparently couldn't take it any longer.

He grinned at the opposition. "Surprise!"

Irritated, who really wasn't bad looking at all, curled his lip at them. "What the hell is this?"

Kyle's grin disappeared. "You're being evicted. This place belongs to our friends over there."

The other boy let out a disdainful hiss, but his nerves were visible in his eyes now. The situation had gotten weird, and he obviously felt out of his depth. "You think youse guys frontin' in them outfits is gonna scare us?"

Justin already had the measure of the others. Irritated was the leader, either a bully or a guy with some mad-at-the-world in him. The other two were followers, not really looking for trouble. They had happened on the vacant lot and the container, come in and leaned on the little kids, and scared them off. But they didn't look like gang members by the way they were dressed, and they really didn't look like they wanted a fight. Just three guys looking for a place to be. Kinda sad, really.

But that was neither here nor there. Justin took his bow and slapped it into his other hand suggestively. "We don't like people who steal from our friends."

Kyle nodded and waved a gloved fist. "Why don't you come on back over here and we'll see what happens?" Kyle seemed to have appraised the three, too.

Whiny and Bored looked far less ready to do that than Irritated did, and even Irritated didn't look like he thought it was a good idea.

"They're too big," Whiny whispered to Irritated, his own fright making his voice too loud.

Kyle uncrossed his arms. "This isn't your turf, guys. Why don't you all go on back to the river where you belong?"

Irritated licked his lips, and shook his head. "This is nuts. Coupla guys dressed like Superman!"

Bored shook his head. "That's Robin and Speedy, Mikey."

Kyle flashed a grin at Justin, and then turned back to Bored. "Right you are!"

Irritated - Mikey, apparently - gaped at his friend. "Jeezuz, Vic! That comic book crap!"

Vic suddenly looked decidedly un-bored himself. "Ain't nothin' wrong wit' comics!"

Mikey closed his eyes and shook his head. "I'm goin' insane!"

Justin stepped forward. '"Look. It's real simple, guys. This clubhouse belongs to the neighborhood kids here. You had no right to move in and run them out. You get me?"

The other boy opened his eyes and spit on the ground. "It's a friggin' vacant lot! It don't belong ta them!"

"I'm outta here," Whiny said then, stepping away from the other boy. "We don't need this shit place, smells like piss. Come on, Mikey."

"I ain't bein' run off like no jit!"

Kyle gave a sigh. "There's no place in your own neighborhood to hang out?"

"Just our apartments," Vic said. "Too many clowns onna streets."

"You ain't gotta tell them shit!" Mikey yelled.

Vic cocked his head to one side. "What's your problem, Mikey? You jacked this trailer from the little kids, and you got caught. Don't feel very good, does it?"

A number of emotions worked their way across Mikey's face, the last one looking very much like desperation. "We need this!" he hissed. "There ain't nowhere else ta go!"

Vic sighed. "There's my place, and your place, and Carl's place. We done okay there."

"They ain't our places," Mikey returned. "Not like this could be!"

But Vic looked back at the container, and shook his head. "This place ain't ours, neither. Come on, Mikey."

Kyle took another step closer to the three. "Wait a second." He raised a hand and waved at Andy. "You guys come on over here."

The younger boys all looked at each other, but no one moved. And then Andy grabbed his brother's arm and started pulling him forward. Faced with being left behind, Noah and Oliver followed. The four circled warily around the three bad guys, and stopped beside Kyle.

"Tell 'em to go!" Andy whispered.

But instead, Kyle waved a hand at the container. "Why do you like this place, Andy?"

The younger boy looked startled by the question. "Huh? It's our clubhouse!"

Kyle nodded patiently. "I know. But why do you feel like it's special?"

The younger boys all looked at each other. "It's our place," Andy said, shrugging,

"No sisters!" Noah put in then.

"No brothers!" Oliver added.

Nick laughed. "No momma's, watchin' what we're doin!"

Kyle nodded, and swung his hand to the three older boys. "That's all they want, too. A place to be where they can relax."

"But it's ours," Andy said then, looking distressed.

"I know." Kyle looked over at Justin a moment, and then smiled at Andy. "Can you share?"

The little boy looked shocked. "With them? They're mean!"

Kyle transferred his gaze to the others. "You guys gotta be mean?"

Mikey looked hostile, but Vic and Carl looked at each other.

"I ain't mean," Vic said. "I gotta little brother o' my own."

"What about you?" Kyle directed at Carl.

"I ain't mean. I just wanna get along."

"That leaves you," Kyle said flatly, pointing at Mikey.

That boy glared. But then his eyes moved to the container, and then to the four youngsters that had made it into a clubhouse. He winced then, and dropped his eyes. "I don't wanna be mean. There's enough of that at home."

Kyle scratched his head. "Seems to me, the easiest way out of this problem is if all of you share this place."

"They're squirts!" Mikey blurted. "Buncha pains in the ass!"

Kyle watched him a moment. "How old are you, Mike?"

The other boy looked taken aback. "Thirteen. What's it your business for?"

Kyle smiled at Andy, and then back at Mike. "These guys are just like you were, three or four years ago. How would you have felt then if some older guys took something of yours?"

Mikey's eyes widened slightly, and he frowned at Andy and the others. In that second Justin was certain that Mikey had had things taken from him before. That he had been there, and done that. His sullenness and anger now were a direct reflection of what had been done to him. What had been taken from him.

The other boy nodded then. "Yeah."

Kyle turned to Justin. "What do you think, buddy?"

Justin smiled. "You're doing fine without me. Go on with it."

Kyle grinned, and beckoned to the three new boys. "Come on over here."

Vic smiled, and Carl looked amazed...and Mike looked resigned. But all three of them came over.

"This is Andy, and Nick, and that's Noah, and that's Oliver."

"Hey," Vic said, smiling.

Carl waved, and Mike just nodded.

Kyle turned to the younger boys. "And that's Mike, and Vic, and Carl."

Andy shook his head. "You're not gonna boss us around, are ya?"

"I won't," Vic said. He held up a hand. "Swear."

"Me, either," Carl added. "I get 'nuff'o that shit at the house!"

"What about you?" Kyle asked Mike.

Mike made a little hissing noise, and squinted at Kyle. "You do this shit everyday? Go around gettin' in other people's business?"

Kyle looked less than offended. "Superheroes help people," he replied. "We right wrongs. What makes us happy is when others are happy."

Mike looked amazed. "Hey, the corn is growin' tall here!" Again he shook his head. "This is nuts."

"Oh, well. Either stay and be friendly, or roll. Your choice."

Vic nudged his friend. "Come on, Mikey. It's a good deal!"

Mikey still looked like he couldn't believe the way things had gone, but he finally nodded. "Okay." He turned then, and offered a hand to Andy. "Mike."

Andy stared at the hand, looked at Kyle, who nodded encouragingly, and then stuck out his own hand. "Andy."

They shook.

Everyone moved back inside the container. There was a worn kitchen set, a table and six chairs, a large old stuffed chair that had definitely seen better days, and a variety of items that had the look of having been scrounged, possibly from other vacant lots. It was too dark, and the interior did faintly smell of something that might be old urine.

But it had been swept out, and the floor was clean, and there was a tattered but serviceable rug on the floor between the table and the stuffed chair.

"It's better with more light," Andy told them. "I'll bring my dad's lantern back, but he said I can't leave it here 'cause it might get took."

"We got some stuff we can bring," Vic said. "You guys like games? I got a lot of 'em." He smiled. "And comic books!"

"You got Spiderman?" Nick asked. "I love Spiderman!"

"Yup. I got a lot o' stuff!"

"I got a little TV I can bring," Carl said. "Runs on batteries. But I ain't leavin' it here, just like your old man's lantern. Someone might jack it."

"We got stuff, too," Oliver said. "This might be fun!"

Kyle turned to Justin, his eyes alight. "I think our work here is done."

He turned back to Mike. "Can we trust you all to get along? Give me your word of honor."

The other boy reared back a little. "Are you for real?"

Justin stepped around his boyfriend and glared. "Answer him."

Mikey took a step backwards. "Yeah, yeah, okay." He nodded. "You got my word on it." He looked over at the others, all of whom were happily engaged in conversation now. Their ages were not so different that they couldn't find plenty of common ground, and it certainly looked like everyone was settling in for the long haul, and that it stood some chance of being a trouble-free one.

Mikey turned back to Kyle and leaned closer. "Who are you, really?"

Justin didn't wait for his boyfriend to answer. "He's Robin, the Boy Wonder."

Mikey gave a little, amazed breath, and smiled. "Okay." He nodded. "We'll be okay here. I got the word. We'll look out for the bedbugs."

Kyle smiled. "You might begin by not calling them that."

Mikey laughed. "You're somethin'! Okay."

Kyle nodded. "We'll be leaving, then."

Andy heard that, and quickly dragged Nick over to them. "Thanks, Robin! Thanks, Speedy!"

Oliver and Noah came, too, and the four boys swarmed around Kyle and Justin and offered them a sort of confused group hug. Vic and Carl shook their hands, and Mikey walked with them to the door and stepped outside with them. For a moment they all stood there in silence.

Mikey licked his lips. "This comic book it all like you?"

Justin and Kyle looked at each other. "There's a lot to it," Justin said. "Heroes and villains - the dark and the light. And some in between, in shades of gray. It's about people, really. The stories are cool. They...they make you think." He shrugged. "They're about the world, and you'll get it if you look hard enough."

Kyle nodded. "If you're curious, I'm sure your buddy Vic can help you."

"Maybe. Thanks."

Kyle stuck out his hand. Mikey looked surprised, but shook it, and then turned to Justin. They exchanged a handshake, and then Kyle turned to go. But he stopped to look over his shoulder. "We're trusting you, Mike. Don't let us down."

Justin smiled, but held up a finger. "Yeah. Be good to those guys."

Mikey looked like he couldn't believe the whole thing, but smiled anyway. "Okay."

And then, they were gone.

"That was fun," Kyle said, after they had walked nearly a block back towards home.

Justin sighed. "You were amazing, Robin."

Kyle looked over at him and grinned. "All in a day's work, Speedy!"

Justin nodded, not saying the things he was thinking, because they still needed some sorting out. His friend really had amazed him today. That Kyle saw this superhero stuff as a way to do real things - good things - was clear now. It wasn't just make-believe to him. There was some reality in his cosplay, that actually had some effect on the world. They had gotten away with it today, and Justin was proud of the way that Kyle had handled things. could just as easily have gone sour, and someone could have gotten hurt. Justin saw that his own mission was clear now: He could go along with Kyle on these sorts of things, but he would need to be the clear-headed one, and watch for the pitfalls. He would be the one that needed to keep Kyle safe.

It was a lot to think about, and Justin found that he was not the only one doing the thinking. They walked along, block after block, mostly silent, until they heard a familiar jingle emanating from Justin's quiver. He quickly bent, and Kyle fished out the cell phone.

"It's your mom."

Justin took the phone and answered it. "Hi, mom."

"Justin? Where are you?"

"We're on our way home, Mom."

"You're later than you said you'd be. I was getting worried about you."

Justin sighed. "The hotel check stand lost my suitcase, Mom. Our street clothes. We had to go through a lot of stuff to find it. They gave it to some guy from Syracuse, who took it home with him. Kyle and I had to walk home in our costumes."

His mother's startled laugh made him smile. "Oh, my god! You're walking the streets of New York dressed like Robin and Speedy?"


" is that going? Any trouble?"

Justin gazed fondly at Kyle. "Oh, nothing we couldn't handle. We're about three blocks away now. Have you eaten dinner yet?

"No. It should be ready by the time you guys get here. Did you have fun at the con, otherwise?"

"Yes. We had a lot of fun."

"Well...okay. I'll tell your dad what happened. Oh my god, Justin, I just can't believe you had to walk all the way home in those outfits!"

"It wasn't bad at all, Mom. In was kind of fun!"

"To hear you tell it! I would have been having kittens, in your place!"

Justin grinned, knowing what his mom was like. "We'll be there in about ten or fifteen minutes, Mom. See you then."

"Okay. You guys be careful!"

Justin hung up the phone, and handed it back to his friend, who slid it back into the quiver.

"Was she okay?"

"Yeah. Come on. I'm hungry!"

They were fed, showered, and it was late enough to retire to Justin's room and close the door. And lock the door, though Justin's parents were not the type that would intrude. They had gone to their own room, and would be asleep sooner than later.

Gone were their costumes, washed and put away for the night. But Kyle looked even more appealing in a tee-shirt and underwear, and Justin had settled on the little two-seater sofa in his room and patted the cushion next to him. "Come sit."

Kyle put down the copy of Shadow of the Bat he was reading, smiled, and came to sit next to him. Justin wrapped an arm around his friend, pulled him closer, and kissed his cheek.

"What's that for?"

Justin shrugged. "I don't need a reason. But... I was really proud of you today."


"Uh huh. The way you handled that whole thing with those little kids and their clubhouse. Like a real superhero might have."

Kyle sighed, and leaned his head over on Justin's shoulder. "I just tried to do the right thing."

"It's what Robin would have done."

Kyle turned his head and smiled at him. "You really think? I was just making it up as I went along."

Justin laid his cheek against Kyle's hair and smiled. "I love you when you're out of character."

Kyle made a small noise. "And not when I'm Robin?"

"No, I love you then, too. I realized something today."

"What's that?"

Justin pulled back and smiled into Kyle's eyes. "That it isn't the costume that makes a superhero. It's the person in it that matters."

Kyle seemed to consider that, and then nodded. "I think you're right."

Justin sighed, and kissed his boyfriend again. "I know I am. Today, you were a superhero. But you would have been anyway, even without the uniform."

Kyle watched him a moment, all smiles, and then looked towards the bed. "It's sad to see it that way."

Justin frowned at the bed. "What way?"

"Empty." Kyle sat up and got to his feet, and offered a hand. "Coming?"

Justin scratched his head, already imagining what was to come next, and smiled. He took his boyfriend's hand, and stood.

"Lead the way, Boy Wonder."


This story is part of the 2021 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: A Grand Day Out". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 17 Dec ember 2021 to 7 January 2022 is when the voting is open. This story may be rated, below, against a set of criteria, and may be rated against other stories on the challenge home page.

The challenge was to write a story inspired by this picture:

2021 Inspired by a Picture Challenge - A Grand Day Out

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The Caped-Crusader Caper

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