If I Never Knew You
Summary: As an intern in the Daily Planet, Jon was tasked to accompany his parents to a Wayne masquerade gala. There, he met a certain enigmatic young man with green eyes who renewed his interest in the dead Robin.
Entry 1 for DamiJon/JonDami Week 2018 (Prompt: Middle school AU/High school AU/Uni AU)
Disclaimer: I don't own Batman, Superman, or any of the characters in either franchises.
Jonathan Samuel Kent fiddled with his Daily Planet press badge, feeling distinctly out of place among the wealth and opulence of Gotham's prominent socialites.
The eighteen years-old teen glanced around the great hall, looking for his parents as discreetly as possible without—hopefully—seeming to desperate. It was difficult for him though to find them among the merry masked mass, who were all talking and dancing and drinking the night away. Unlike his father, Superman, Jon didn't have any super powers, so he was forced to rely on memory, intuition, and the limited human capabilities.
As last, he spotted them with Bruce Wayne, who wore a midnight-blue feathered mask bejewelled with tiny diamonds that glittered under the light of the chandeliers. Around him were his three sons—or at least that was what Jon assumed—all dressed as impeccably and refined as him. There was Richard Grayson-Wayne, the eldest, smiling under a bright blue mask as he shook hands with his mother. Jason Todd-Wayne, with his red mask, stood next to his older brother with his arms crossed, as if he was forced to attend the masquerade. The shortest, Timothy Drake-Wayne, wore a yellow mask and smiled as he greeted Jon's parents.
(There was supposed to be a fourth son too, one who claimed blood relation with the Prince of Gotham, but it had been years since the media last heard of him.)
"Jon!" His father called him over. "Come here. Let me introduce you to Bruce Wayne and his sons."
Smiling nervously, Jon walked over to them, quickly raising a hand to fix his sky-blue mask. As he approached them, the teen wondered how his parents seemed to be good friends with the scandalous Bruce Wayne. He heard of the rumours of course, of how generous and charitable the patriarch of the Wayne family was, but he also knew how infamously foolish and scandalous he was. Bruce Wayne once spilt wine on a foreign dignitary and accidentally insulted a king, not to mention all the rumoured orgies with models and movie stars of both genders.
Why would his parents be friends with a guy like that?
(Unless Jon's suspicions were true and he was…But his father told him—when he revealed himself as Superman to Jon—that the other heroes had their own reasons to keep their personal identities secret, and that it would be an invasion of privacy to unmask them without their permission, and so Jon never enquired about the other heroes' secret identities.)
Clark patted his back, smiling at Mr. Wayne as he said. "This is my son, Jonathan Kent."
"Please call me Jon, Mr. Wayne," Jon said nervously, smiling slightly as he extended his hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
"Just call me Bruce!" Mr. Wayne laughed, shaking his hand. His grip was strong, which surprised Jon initially, but on further thought perhaps it wasn't shocking for someone who reportedly made a hobby out of extreme sports. "Mr. Wayne sounds old. And these are my sons, Dick, Jason, and Tim."
Each of the three brothers introduced themselves in turn, smiling as he shook hands with them, though Jason's expression was more neutral than happy. After introductions were over, Dick grinned and asked. "So Jon, what do you do? Are you working on the Daily Planet as a reporter like your parents?"
"Ah, no…" Jon blushed slightly in embarrassment. "I'm just interning there. I'm actually still studying in Metropolis University."
"I see! You're just starting out?"
Jon nodded. "Yeah, I'm taking English Lit there."
Mr. Wayne, who had been listening, arched an eyebrow at his father. "He's just starting uni? How old is he now?"
"Eighteen," replied Clark.
For some reason, Dick's bright smile wavered briefly. "Eighteen, huh?" He mused quietly. "Three years younger than…"
The former trapeze artist fell into a melancholy silence. Jon shifted quietly on his feet, feeling slightly uncomfortable.
Three years younger than what? Or rather, who? Was it the youngest Wayne child that no one ever spoke about?
Jason slightly jabbed Dick's side, shocking him out of his stupor. The red-masked man then crossed his arms as he faced Mr. Wayne. "Hey, if there's nothing else we have to do, we're gonna be at the buffet table."
"Sorry about that," Dick grinned at him as his younger brothers began to drag him away, but the smile was forced. "I hope we'll see each other again."
Jon blinked as they disappeared into the crowd, easily blending into the mass despite their near-celebrity status. Then he looked back at his parents, who were smiling sadly, and Mr. Wayne, who looked pensive.
"Well," Mr. Wayne laughed awkwardly, trying to dispel the strange atmosphere that had fallen on them. He smiled, but it was as fake as the one Dick gave. "Why don't you go on and enjoy the party, Jon? Have fun, dance, and eat while your parents and I talk about boring adult stuff."
Confused, but nonetheless willing to escape the strangeness the Waynes brought with them, Jon nodded. "Ok, Mom, Dad." He said, "I'll see you later."
They smiled at him as he turned and walked away from them, not exactly certain where he should go now. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Mr. Wayne led his parents to somewhere more private. Curiosity pricked at him, but Jon tamped it down. If his suspicions were right and Mr. Wayne really was Batman, then they may be talking about superhero stuff; things Jon shouldn't be involved with for his own safety.
(But if Bruce Wayne was Batman, then who was Robin? Was the one who last wore that mantle years ago the missing Damian Wayne?)
Jon shook his head, picking the opposite direction from them to walk to . He wasn't a superhero. He wasn't even a Super, despite his dad's alien genes in him. He was simply human, and a teen on top of that. Teenage non-super powered heroes didn't last long in this world.
(He used to think otherwise until Robin…until he was…until the all-too human superhero disappeared eight years ago…)
(Disappeared…as if he wasn't…as if Robin wasn't…and on live television too…)
In the end, Jon found himself out on a secluded balcony, looking over the glittering, sprawling sight of Gotham City.
He slumped over the railings, frowning slightly as he removed his itchy mask and placed it in his pocket. Bringing his Daily Planet badge to his face, Jon wondered why he was here. Sure, he loved reading, writing, and investigating the truth like his parents, but there was an itch within him that couldn't be satisfied with dreams of being a reporter. As his gaze moved from the badge to the glittering city down below, Jon wondered, for the umpteenth time, how many people were suffering.
On the streets that seemed to sparkle like stars from his view, how many were being mugged? Beaten up? Killed?
How many could he save if he had powers like his father?
How many could he save if he was a superhero?
How many could he save if he was like Robin?
(Brave, courageous, valiant Robin, who died from swords and arrows, who was struck down before he could truly take flight, whose life had been sacrificed in the never-ending war against crime.)
(Robin, who was Jon's first inspiration…and his greatest warning.)
It doesn't matter, Jon bitterly thought as he slouched against the railings, I can never be a hero.
Stuck in his pensive thoughts, Jon didn't notice the young man approaching him. Not that he could though without his father's superhearing, and even then he would have to strain himself to notice the preternatural grace the man carried himself with. Unnoticed by him, the young man leaned against the railings, a glass of champagne in one hand as he looked down at the city.
"It's a pleasant night, isn't it?"
Startled, Jon nearly dropped the press badge in his hand, but a tanned hand grabbed it before it could fall hundred of feet down. The hand moved, showing him the badge on an open palm. Jon's blue eyes travelled up from the palm, to an arm clad in black, up to a collar that was slightly unbuttoned, and to a face framed with a green mask.
The man before him smirked, viridian eyes gleaming behind his mask, and all Jon could think was:
"Hello?" The young man tilted his head, eyes gleaming with amusement as if he knew how he made Jon's heart race. "Your badge?"
"Uh, wha—oh, yeah. My badge. The press badge. Um…" Blushing, Jon forced himself to stop stammering in front of this attractive stranger as he took his badge. His fingers brushed against the man's palm as he took it—and was it his imagination, or did the other's fingers brushed against his wrist too? Whatever the case, it was enough to send pleasant shivers down Jon's spine.
The other man glanced at the identification tag Jon wore. "Jonathan Kent, is it?" He said, Jon's name rolling off his tongue with a foreign tilt that sounded musical in Jon's ears. "Clark Kent's and Lois Lane-Kent's son?"
"Ah, yeah…"He nodded, blushing as he asked. "How did you know?"
"I read your parents' works," the young man smirked, bringing the glass of champagne to his lips. "They were a riveting read, but a touch too optimistic for my tastes."
Jon frowned, revising his opinion of this strange, enamouring man. "I say we need a little optimism now."
He chuckled condescendingly. "Spoken like an idealist."
"So you're a pessimist?" Jon shot back.
"No." Again, the man smirked. "I'm a realist."
He turned away from Jon, placing his drink on the railing. Leaning against the railing, the man gazed down at the night-cloaked city, the bright lights of street lamps and neon signs reflecting off the sequins of his mask. "Tell me, when you look at this city, what do you see?"
Jon frowned, not quite certain what the other was up to. When he didn't elaborate further, Jon leaned against the railings too and looked down.
"I see the city," murmured Jon, "Bright and gleaming and glittering like stars, but…"
"But it's just a facade. A mask," Unbidden, he thought of the mask in his pocket, of the mask the other man still wore. "The city…it's suffering. There are so many people suffering, and even with Batman's help, even with everything he and the others tries to do, it's still suffering."
Even with Robin's death…
"Very good." The masked man smiled. While it was charming, the smile was far from comforting. "I think the same too. This city, Gotham, it is beautiful, but it is also wicked and corrupted. Batman…he tries to cure it, but all he and the rest he calls 'family' are only prolonging the inevitable. They do not address the root cause: the people themselves."
Jon swallowed. Something about this conversation reminded him of the way his father told him of how villains spoke. He wanted to leave immediately and find his parents, but they may still be busy with Mr. Wayne and his not-Batman business. He didn't want to disturb them.
But more than that however, he was caught by the green eyes gazing into his blue ones, patiently waiting for an answer.
"I…don't think it's true." Jon finally said. "It's not just Batman that helps this city, but the Waynes too. They opened charities, fund orphanages, free clinics, and scholarships to everyone. They also accept reformed criminals to work for them, offer them therapy and rehabilitation, and generally everything a person needs to avoid falling to crime. Maybe it's slow, but the root problems are being addressed."
"The Waynes!?"The man laughed mockingly. His smirk was sharp and knowing. "They're part of the problem. They vainly, futilely continue trying to save this dying city, when they know it is far better to let it burn, and from its ashes, rebuild the city anew."
The gleam in the other's green eyes was near-maniacal. Jon slightly shifted away from him, now certain he was dealing with one of Gotham's crazy villains. He should have ran to his parents when he had the chance.
"Did I scare you?" The other questioned, voice suddenly soft. His smile however, lost none of its mocking edge. "I apologise, it seems I got carried away."
He chuckled, extending his hand. "Perhaps we should start again?"
Jon looked at the offered hand warily. On one hand, he wanted to leave immediately, on the other, his parents taught him to always be as polite as possible to everyone, and it would be rude to simply go. Moreover, if he stayed a bit longer, he may find out more about this mysterious person.
Reluctantly, Jon shook his hand. "You know my name," he said, "But what's yours?"
The young man smiled, sharp as a knife and yet somehow beautiful. His green eyes glinted behind his mask.
"My name," he answered, "is Tallant al Ghul."
"Tallant…al Ghul?" An Arabic name? Still, his surname seemed a bit strange even for an Arabic person, though Jon admitted he wasn't an expert on it. He should ask his mother later if it was odd. For now though, he asked. "Is that your real name?"
'Tallant' smirked but didn't answer.
"Alright…'Tallant'…" Jon crossed his arms, a determined look on his face. "What do you really want? Why did you come here and talk to me?"
"What, is it a crime now to talk to a handsome young man like you?" 'Tallant' replied smoothly, grinning wickedly when Jon blushed brightly.
"I'm just joking," 'Tallant' chuckled, and Jon really shouldn't, but somehow that made him feel dejected. By the smug look on the other man's face, it seemed that he noticed. "To be honest, I was curious about Superman's son."
Alarm bells instantly rang in his head. He knows! Jon panicked, staring at him with eyes wide and mouth agape. "Uh, I don't know what you mean." He lied, wincing at how unconvincing he sounded. "You must be thinking about someone else. Superman doesn't have a son."
"Of course not," drawled 'Tallant', rolling his eyes. "Spare me the unnecessary lies. I know all about the secret identities of the Justice League."
If possible, the alarm bells in his head rang louder. "Right," Jon said, quickly moving away. "It's nice talking to you, Tallant, but I really should get going now."
'Tallant' grabbed his wrist, stopping him in his tracks. Jon inwardly winced at the strength he used to grip his wrist.
"Wait." He said, and was it just his imagination, or did his voice suddenly sound softer, more genuine? "I didn't come here to threaten you or your family. I need your help."
Jon looked back at him, completely unconvinced, but his resolve wavered at 'Tallant's expression. There was a plea in his green eyes, his smug smirk suddenly gone. It was possible that 'Tallant' was a good actor, but Jon could only see someone who needed his help.
"I'm not a hero," murmured Jon regretfully. "I'm sorry. I can't help."
"That's fine. I'm not looking for a hero," 'Tallant' replied, staring at him resolutely. The grip on his wrist didn't loosen. "What I need is someone to investigate something for me. Someone low profile enough to escape the notice of the major powers in this city, but connected enough to get direct information from this city's heroes."
Jon gulped, caught in his piercing green gaze. "What do you need?"
'Tallant' gaze at him, as if trying to sear the importance of this mission with his eyes.
"I need information on the last Robin, Damian Wayne."
Tallant al Ghul — So, after looking through some Wikia and TvTropes page, I stumbled upon an interesting tidbit. Apparently in some Elseworlds comics, Damian is named Tallant al Ghul instead. Hence why I use that name in this fic.
(He used to think otherwise until Robin…until he was…until the all-too human superhero disappeared eight years ago…) — In this fic, Damian was killed by the Heretic when he was 13 during Leviathan's take over of Wayne Enterprises. The takeover was televised live, so news of Robin's death quickly spread across the country. Note: The 'televised' part is inspired by the last couple of pages in Batman Inc 8. I don't know whether it's actually televised in-universe, or if those last pages served as a 'recap pages' for all the major going-ons in the N52 era, but in this fic I'm gonna assume the former.
A major headcanon I have is that the first hero Jon looked up and was inspired by is Robin, not Superman. Before he turned 10 and gained his powers in Canon, Jon thought he was a normal kid, with a normal family, living a normal life. That was why he looked up to Robin instead of Superman, because Robin was a regular kid like him. He was around Jon's age, didn't have any superpowers, but can still kick ass and save people. Robin made Jon believe that even regular little kids like him can be heroes.
(Now imagine this: Clark taking 8 or 7 years-old Jon to a toy shop and is pointing at all the Superman merchandise, but Jon is like 'No, Superman isn't cool! Robin is!', and Jon proceeds to beg him to buy a Robin action figure, and while he plays with his new toy, Clark texts Bruce, 'Why doesn't my son think I'm cool? T^T' )
(And imagine this: For Halloween (before he learns his dad is Superman), Jon wants to dress up as Robin, and he wants his parents to join in and dress up as Batman and Batwoman. Lois laughs and tells him that Batwoman is Batman's gay cousin, and if he wants her to dress up as 'Batman's love interest, she should be Catwoman. Clark tries to persuade him to wear a Superman costume, but Jon is like 'No, I want to be Robin. You can be Batman', and in the end Clark has to borrow one of Bruce's old Batsuit. Bruce laughs and is smug about it for a week, but Clark got to borrow the Batsuit and one of Damian's old Robin suit too. Damian is absolutely oblivious to all this.)
Anyway, in my headcanon, I imagine that a lot of the vitriol between Jon has towards Damian in Canon isn't just because Damian kidnapped him and was generally a jerk during their first couple of meetings, but also because Damian unknowingly ruined Jon's childhood expectations of Robin. Before he met him, Jon was seriously looking forward to meeting Robin. After all, his dad is Superman, and he works closely with Batman, so their meeting must be inevitable, right? And he was nervous and excited at the thought of meeting his childhood hero. He wanted to make a good first impression on Robin really badly.
But then, well, the whole kidnapping thing happened, and Jon learnt that Robin isn't as great as Jon originally thought he was, and it really disappointed Jon. He hid his disappointment by arguing and generally being aggressive with Damian during their first few meetings. Jon thought his childhood hero was ruined, and worse of all, Damian has absolutely no idea and Jon refuses to tell him because it would be so embarrassing, and he really didn't want Damian to mock him further.
But then as they worked together and slowly became friends, Jon saw that, yes, while Damian is definitely selfish and a paranoid jerk with an inferiority-superiority complex, he's also selfless, driven, incredibly kind, loyal, and devoted once you get to know him. And without him realising it at first, Jon started to like Damian more—not Robin, an important distinction.
Because for all that Robin was an inspiration for him as a kid, Jon didn't really know him. He knows Damian Wayne however, the moody, selfish prick that likes to adopt 12839 pets and hides his insecurity with a facade of superiority, and while it may have started out rough, his feelings towards Damian became more genuine than his former feelings towards 'Robin'. So it's kinda like, at first he falls for the mask, but then he slowly starts to like the person behind the mask.
But in this fic, Robin 'died' when Jon was 10, and he never developed any super powers, so Jon never knew Damian. Since he saw Robin's death on TV, Jon rethought his desire to be a child hero, eventually deciding that being a hero without powers or special abilities is incredible dangerous and decided not to do it. Clark is torn on this: on one hand, he's glad that his son wouldn't get himself into danger, but on the other hand, there's a matter of Superman's legacy.
I'm sorry, I know the actual prompt is 'Middle school AU/High school AU/Uni AU', but I kinda got carried away and made this instead. Hope you guys don't mind…? :)