Stop! Wait a minute! Fill my cup, put some liquor in it...oh wait, that's not right. Um...yeah, yeah, the chapter list. Here it is:
"Can't shut the front door," Grayson chuckles. "The horse has kinda bolted already."
Mixed metaphors aside, I can't help but laugh along with him. "My God. You're...y-you're the son of Batman?"
"Adopted," Grayson says.
"Why do you keep saying that?" Gwen asks. "You're making it sound like you're trying to distance yourself from him."
More ice cream melts out of Grayson's cone, and he's actually forced to lick his hand this time before the pink stuff drips onto the sleeve of his hoodie. He then blushes deeply and wipes his hand, as well as the edge of the cone, before continuing. "I'm not," he says, staring deep into the heart of the cone. "I just...I fell into the habit a long time ago. I mean, if you guys knew anything about Bruce Wayne, you'd understand."
"You said it yourself - he's a billionaire playboy," I remind him. "That's about all anyone knows, really."
"True." Grayson starts biting off parts of his cone so he can get at the ice cream pooled deep inside it. "So people might think he had some illegitimate kid or two - and that's why I always say I'm adopted."
Over our heads, someone shouts Grayson's name. I look up and see a lovely brunette waving at him from the edge of a railing on a nearby staircase. "I thought you didn't know anyone here," I say.
"I didn't say that." Grayson waves back at the girl, beckoning her over to our table. "I brought a friend with me, though." She comes down the stairs to our table and kisses him hello. "Peter, Gwen," he says with a goofy grin, "say hello to Olivia Miralo."
"Mucho gusto," she says, coming around the table and laying hugs on Gwen, then me. "Oh, and perfect timing - you're almost done!"
"I figured you'd come along before I could finish this," Grayson laughs, handing the cone to Olivia. She then bites off the bottom of the cone and starts sucking the pool of ice cream right out the bottom of it. "That's her thing," he explains to me and Gwen as Olivia enjoys her unusual way of eating the snack. "She prefers the cone to the actual ice cream, so that's how we share it."
"Mmm." Olivia smacks her lips, then says, "Try doing this with a Drumstick sometime, guys."
The cone gets dissected further for a moment, then Grayson says, "You remember my new assignment from Bruce, right?"
"Oh yeah," Olivia says, reducing the ice cream cone (or, more accurately, ice cream frustum) to half its original length. "Track Spider-Man, get to know him...wait a minute. No way! This Peter dude is Spider-Man?"
The smile on Grayson's face could light up all of New York for a month. "See, there's a reason why we went back to school, and these two are it."
Olivia's eyes boggle first at me, then at Gwen. "You've got powers too?" she asks her.
"Does brainpower count?" Gwen asks.
"Of course it does!" says Olivia as she matches Grayson's smile with one of her own. "I definitely count it for myself. Well, I should - I work in a library."
"Public or university?" Gwen asks.
"Public," says Olivia. "And that's where I met this lovely boy. But at the time, he was a bit of a lonely boy."
It doesn't take a psychic to predict Gwen's response. "Funny. I could describe Peter practically the same way."
The girls laugh together, and Grayson and I are quick to follow suit. "Careful now," I say, wagging my finger at the others. "Let's not start getting jealous of each other's amazing partners."
"Or begging to take the other guy's girlfriend home with him," Grayson chuckles. "Speaking of which..." He pulls out his wallet and counts up the money within. "Would forty bucks be enough to buy Gwen's company for the rest of the night?"
Appalled, Gwen glares at Grayson. Then she turns on Olivia and sees her pulling out her own money.
"I'll match that amount for your boyfriend," she says earnestly.
I can't believe this. Gwen and I have been in Central City for less than forty-eight hours and another couple's already pretending to buy us for a boyfriend-swap? Normally, that doesn't happen for at least seventy-two.
Finally, Grayson gives up the charade and says, "Yeah, if you two are anything like us - and I bet you are - your relationship is sacred to you."
With a solemn nod, Olivia concurs. "And far be it from us to interfere with what's sacred to others," she says, again in that phony earnest tone. She then ruins that tone by chomping on the last part of the ice cream cone, biting it clumsily in half. The other half, she gives to Grayson, and he eats it in one bite.
"Thanks," he says, wiping his mouth. He then walks over to a nearby trash can and uses the napkin to blow his nose. Before he can throw it away, though, I focus on the napkin for a split second and catch a small red fleck on it. Not pink like the ice cream, but red. It's probably blood - but from where?
I don't get much time to dwell on it, though, because before long, it's time for us to take the bus back to our hotel. During the trip down the hill and closer to the center of town, we talk more about a pretty wide variety of subjects. Ice cream (Olivia swears by this one place in Gotham called North Poles Apart, and urges Gwen and me to try it out should we ever visit), the most popular books at the Gotham and Midtown Science libraries (Olivia's disappointed when she learns that Twilight is still in our school's top five, and Gwen, a longtime fan, jokes that she's always checking the books out herself just to make sure it stays that way), etc.
Not once, though, does the topic of our superhero selves crop up. Grayson and I seem to be in an unspoken agreement not to talk about it in public. Even though, logically, it would be harder for people to overhear us in a crowded environment like the interior of this bus...but it's better not to take any chances. We took enough chances, I think, when we were talking about Nightwing and Batman at that picnic table.
However, I still resolve to talk to Grayson more about our secret identities when we get a chance to be alone. Which should be easy - by a strange coincidence, his room happens to be right next to mine.
Before we can go into the hotel, though, we're forced to wait in the lobby. Because of the whole black-hole incident, the hotel is being flooded with evacuees who haven't been allowed to return to their homes yet, and are being put up in any spare rooms the hotel has to offer. These evacuees are lining up in front of the elevators and stairs, effectively blocking them off with these massive, almost Disneyland-sized queues.
Grayson collapses onto a red sofa and takes off his hoodie again. "Are you sure it's a good idea to wear a Nightwing shirt?" I ask, nodding at the prominent logo splashed across his chest.
"Nobody's gonna recognize me in this, trust me."
"What about that guy?" Gwen asks.
I turn around and follow her gaze. She's looking at a tall guy on the other side of the room. So tall, in fact, he dwarfs the two people standing behind him. All three of them are looking at us pretty intently, setting my internal alarms off.
The alarms shut off, however, when I recognize the other two. They're the Flash's friends, the Latino nerd and the brunette girl. And then I recognize the Flash himself, boyish face and all. Why did I not realize how tall he was before? It's actually a little intimidating.
Grayson seems to recognize them too. He automatically crosses his arms and covers his chest, but only for a second. "Yeah," he mutters. "The jig's up." In a louder voice, he says, "Fancy meeting you here, guys."
"You wouldn't believe how hard it was to track you down, Grayson," says the Latino - it takes me a second to remember that his name is Cisco. And the brunette is Caitlin. But as for the Flash, I still don't know his real name.
The Flash delivers an awkward wave and says, "Hello again, Nightwing. And hello, Nightwing's entourage."
"What, you guys don't recognize me?" I laugh. "Must be hard without the mask."
Cisco barely stifles his laughter as he recognizes my voice. "Great, now we don't have to try and figure out who you are. Thanks for taking the challenge away from us, dude!"
"You're welcome," I say, raising my hand in an "I'd like to thank the Academy" gesture. "But what's got you guys looking for me? Seriously, does nobody trust me around here? I'm not a bad guy!"
"He really isn't," Gwen says. "But if you kill someone he loves, he'll go vigilante until justice is served on your ass."
"I don't do that anymore," I whisper, nudging her lightly.
"Any badass points you can get, use 'em."
The Flash laughs under his breath. "Well, I kinda needed to thank you for saving my life, Spider-Man. Or would you be okay telling me your real name?"
Why not? We masked superheroes have to stick together. "I'm Peter Parker," I say, standing up. "And you are?"
"Barry Allen." We shake hands. "And yeah, thanks for saving me. I didn't really wanna end this day as a smear on the pavement."
"Who does?" I ask.