"I"m sorry, Kyle. I was distracted." Kyle's beauty had distracted him. He'd been handsome with the mask obscuring those eyes and half of his face. Without it, he was nearly as pretty as...don't thing those thoughts. He fought the rasping voice down. "As Batman said on the Watchtower, it's purely social. And, please, I insist that you call me Bruce."
"I'll try." Kyle took another sip of his soup, and looked around the small, nearly empty bistro. His eyes were never still. He had hero's eyes, always on the alert. "You never asked me on a date before. Bruce."
"Date? What makes you think...I just thought it was time Bruce Wayne met Kyle Rayner. Our alter egos have worked together for so long, after all." He sipped his club soda. The rough pate in front of him really demanded wine, but he never drank.
Kyle put down his glass of mineral water and grinned. "I know a date, Bruce. I mean, we do know each other. We've fought next to each other for years."
"Batman knows Green Lantern." He thought that was obvious. "It's something different."
"Whatever." Kyle shook his head. "I don't know about you, but there's no difference between Lantern and me. We're the same guy. Me. Kyle. In costume or with a pencil. I'm still *me*." He narrowed his eyes. "But you're not. I'm really just eating with Bruce. Not Bats."
He didn't know how to answer that. "Is it because you use your artist's training for your powers?"
"Not really. I mean, yeah, sort of, because I do, or at least I use the same place in my brain for both my artwork and my constructs. But - it's just a costume, a mask. It doesn't change who I am." He hesitated. "No, that's not true, either. I'm not the same guy I was before, but it's the ring, not the mask. And maybe the ring just brought out a part of me I never knew before. And that part doesn't shut down when I wear normal clothes. I'm always Kyle Rayner, and I'm always Green Lantern. Does that makes sense?"
"You don't get down time, do you?" Neither do we. He willed that damned voice to shut up again.
"Part of the price." Kyle looked haunted as he said that. Haunted by the spectre of his predecessor, more than likely. "Why heroes burn out or..." He buried his face in his hands.
"It's..." He reached out awkwardly, and touched Kyle's black hair. It was coarse and not as dark as Dick, but it was still soft. "Groups help."
Kyle raised his head. "Why am I here? Why does Bruce Wayne want to know Kyle the artist?"
He swallowed and took his hand back. A couple of hairs clung to it. He rubbed them together. "Bruce can have all sorts of reasons. Wayne Foundation gives grants to artists, and you might..."
"I make my own living." Kyle stood up. "I'm not like...like Wally or Roy. I don't need handouts. And. I don't need or want to be your...boytoy."
"I'm not looking for a toy, boy or otherwise." He could only whisper, even though he wanted to speak up.
The bistro was empty. No one could hear them. "I can buy all the 'toys' I want. I don't want someone I can buy, or scare, or...need to protect. I want...an equal. I want a...a l-lover who understands what I am."
Kyle dropped down, the anger draining from his face. "I didn't know...Wally said, but I didn't believe...there's no one?"
He shook his head. "My...the other costumes here. They're friends or family. Or children. And the thought of children...and Bruce Wayne only exists for a few hours. He can't have...relationship."
"Why me?" Now Kyle was whispering.
"You're beautiful." He smiled for a moment. "And you're powerful enough to take care of yourself, but you're still human."
"I look like him. Like Dick."
"You could just as easily say you look like Clark. You don't. You have an accident of coloration and a similarity of age, but you're not Dick. You're Kyle, and. You're beautiful."
"What if I say no?"
"Then we continue as friends and colleagues, and I won't bring it up again."
Kyle stood up and walked around to his back, and put his hand on his shoulder. "You're beautiful, too. Bruce. Let's see where this goes."l