Diversions & Digressions | fanfiction by mara

The Secret Thoughts of a Man

The Secret Thoughts of a Man

by Mara

Summary: “John thought this might explain some things about Flash, because Batman-baiting was better fun than he’d exCONTINUITY: Takes place after “Hereafter” but contains no spoilers for it.

NOTES: This is a sorta kinda sequel to “Secrets, Societies, and Truths,”
containing some spoilers for the episodes “Secret Society” and “A Better
World.” The title is from a quote by philosopher Thomas Hobbes: “The
secret thoughts of a man run over all things, holy, profane, clean,
obscene, grave, and light, without shame or blame.” My deepest thanks to
Wyzeguy for his beta. Yo, man, *this* is why we made you our designated
guy. Any remaining girly verbosity is entirely my fault.

The night was oppressively dark and frigid. If not for his ring’s
ability to transfer power into heating his uniform, John was sure his
teeth would be trying to chatter their way out of his mouth. He glanced
over at Batman–who seemed impervious to both the cold and the dark–and
thought about just how aggravating the man was. He had enough macho
attitude it even made a former Marine wince. The man was just lucky that
Wonder Woman *liked* attitude.

Yep, John thought as he rubbed his eyes, boredom was guaranteed to make
his mind wander into areas he really didn’t want to consider, and
tonight was no exception.

There they were, stuck on a rooftop, watching the rear entrance to the
Central City Museum of Art, waiting to see if some new supervillain team
arrived to steal a priceless artifact from the Mesopotamian exhibit. Ho
hum. Another object of power, another supervillain.

It might be a sign that he needed a vacation if he’d just thought “ho
hum” and “another supervillain” in close proximity. Simply thinking the
words “ho hum” was probably a bad sign.

Batman looked right at home, blending into the sooty brick and stone of
the bank building. John sighed and looked down at his uniform, which
practically glowed in the dark. Maybe Batman had the right idea–being a
living target wasn’t *always* the best way to go. Too bad Katma hadn’t
met Batman–they’d have probably gotten along famously. Maybe he should
think about developing a stealth uniform.

Frowning down, he focused on the ring asking it to make the white parts
of the uniform morph into dark gray, but that still glowed too brightly.
All black with dark green just made him look…odd. Maybe dark green
with the lantern in black? The tiniest whisper of sound made him glance
up–Batman was looking over his shoulder at him, face totally blank.

With a sigh, John shifted his uniform back to its normal configuration.
Batman turned back to the binoculars. Right. Maybe he should leave the
fashion question for later.

Denied his uniform ruminations, John went back to pondering his
mysterious teammate, who stared through binoculars that looked like they
doubled as a supercomputer.

The night got darker and colder. The short wall behind which they
crouched was still blank and uninteresting.

This was really boring, John thought, yearning for some action–he was
going to fall asleep if he didn’t come up with something to keep himself
occupied.

Oh, what the hell. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

“You don’t like me, do you?” John asked. It was worth it just to see
Batman turn and give what was probably a world-class glare. Glaring as
an Olympic sport. Except that Batman would take the gold every time.

Batman didn’t respond, just went back to looking through his binoculars
at the street below. John grinned as he noticed for the first time how
the gloved hand holding the binoculars shielded what little was visible
of Batman’s face. Good grief, but he was secretive.

“I don’t really care if you like me or not,” John went on, “but it gets
in the way of getting things done.”

That made Batman’s head turn rather faster. He started to say something,
but instead closed his mouth into that thin line that meant he was
really annoyed.

John thought this might explain some things about Flash, because
Batman-baiting was better fun than he’d expected. It might also be
considered reckless and/or suicidal, but hell, he had the most powerful
weapon in the universe on his finger. He’d probably survive. “What?” he
asked, all innocence.

“You want to talk *now*?” Batman growled.

“You got a better idea? We may be here while. And we don’t even know if
they’re gonna attack this location or one of the others.”

“I know how they think. They’ll be here,” Batman said.

You had to admire that kind of confidence. Batman was a human among
metahumans and aliens and such, and yet, his certainty never seemed to
falter. It helped that the man was damn brilliant, probably ten times as
smart as the rest of them. And he did have the best technology. Where
did he *get* it? It was tempting to try and find out but…it all came
back to the suicidal thing.

John sighed and went back to looking for approaching villains. Another
few minutes went by, John sneaking looks over at Batman, who appeared to
have turned to stone like one of Gotham’s gargoyles.

Batman was infuriating, John thought, especially the way he refused to
step up to the plate. Despite refusing full membership in the League, he
was its leader and everyone knew it. Everyone but Batman, apparently. He
insisted that Superman was in charge, while at the same time
orchestrating plans, ordering people around, and fixing the Watchtower.

Sure, John forced them to train together, but that just made him the
drill sergeant, not the boss. And Superman deliberately played the part
of a figurehead, allowing Batman to stay in the background. The Boy
Scout was aiding and abetting a dereliction of duty, which was unlike him.

It all came back to Batman’s desire to stay in the shadows and his
distrust and dislike of teamwork–just one of the attitudes that John
had trouble understanding. In the military, your unit kept you going,
made you try harder, saved your ass when the chips were down. The
Justice League pretty much had a handle on that part, up to and
including the snappy banter.

Your unit was supposed to be your family, though, and that was where
John’s mind came to a screeching halt–because if the League was his
family, it had to be the most fucked-up family *ever*.

A brief image flashed through his brain: Flash playing ball in the
backyard, Wonder Woman in the kitchen pulling muffins out of the oven,
and Batman seated in an armchair reading the newspaper with a pipe in
his mouth.

John squeezed his eyes shut and mentally groaned. Not only did he need
that vacation, but apparently he needed serious psychotherapy. Time for
a distraction before he went noisily insane on this damn rooftop.

“Maybe we *should* talk,” he said, glancing over at Batman.

A long pause. “About what?”

The tone was noncommittal and less adversarial than he’d expected. Had
he hit a nerve with his previous comments? Or was Batman bored too? Did
the man *get* bored? Somehow John had always figured he spent moments
like this planning new ways to frighten bank robbers or something.

“Teamwork, maybe,” John said.

Batman didn’t answer, turning back to his binoculars with shoulders hunched.

John crossed his arms. “Our teamwork could be better.”

“Well, I think we could be more efficient, but we’ve seen where that leads.”

John stared, trying to decide if that was supposed to be a joke.
“Sharing information and better coordination isn’t going to make us the
Justice Lords.”

“Are you certain?”

“Yes.”

Batman managed to give the impression of a shrug and disdainful sniff
without ever actually moving. How did he *do* that? John leaned his head
back and stared at the sky, hoping for inspiration from the twinkling
stars. “I didn’t like what I saw when I looked at them either. But we
have a chance to be different.”

“Hmm.” It was less a thoughtful noise and more an annoyed one.

John leaned forward, wanting to shake the man until he saw sense. “We
tried splitting up after Grodd hit us. And it didn’t work. As the
Justice League we have the chance to do greater good, save more lives,
react faster to threats.”

“And the chance to do greater evil.”

Only years of training kept John from knocking the man on his ass with a
giant green fist. “Then why the hell are you still part of the League?”

Batman turned around long enough to smirk. “You said ‘hell.’ Goodness.”

“I was a Marine. I can say ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’ too, but don’t change the
subject.”

Back to looking through the binoculars, Batman’s voice was quiet.
“Superman asked the same question.”

“And what did you tell him?”

Batman had his back to him. “No comment.”

John took a deep breath. “You’re an aggravating bastard.”

“You always say the nicest things, Lantern.”

“I give up.”

“So soon?” The sarcasm was so thick, you could have cut it with a knife
and made a sandwich.

Rubbing the back of his neck, John stared down at the museum, marble
steps gleaming in the moonlight. Silence fell on the rooftop, broken
only by occasional motorcycle roars and train whistles in the distance.

Why the hell was he even bothering with this? Trying to have a
conversation with Batman made pulling teeth sound like a party game.

Some kind of industrial plant puffed occasional smoke in the distance
and John considered how dangerous boredom really was. He made a mental
note to not get bored again. Unfortunately, now that he’d begun this, he
felt the need to finish it.

“Batman…” He paused, running through various options in his mind.
“Don’t give up on the League. You told me trust could be earned over
time–tell me how we do that. You’ve never trusted us, and seeing the
Lords’ universe has made you distrust us even more.”

Batman hunched further over the binoculars. “Perhaps…” He paused, and
John held his breath. “I don’t trust myself.”

John leaned against the brick to consider this revelation in the silence
that it deserved. I guess, he thought, each of us has been thinking
about our own counterparts and not everybody else’s. So, what about that
other Batman? Well, he’d certainly been a genius of the same caliber.
Obviously he’d developed the technology that had allowed the Lords to
travel into their alternate universe. And the prisons that had held them
until Flash tricked the other Batman.

Damn it. He just didn’t know enough about Batman–who he was when he
took the cape off–to work through this. Time to take a giant and
dangerous leap.

“If you don’t trust yourself, maybe you better get out of the superhero
business.”

For a long moment, Batman didn’t move at all and John couldn’t decide if
that was better or worse than the man trying to kill him.

“We are *not* discussing this.” The words sounded like they were forced
through clenched teeth.

“Why not?”

“If I wanted a therapist, I’d have found one on my own.”

John stifled a grin at the image of a scowling Batman lying on a couch
in some psychiatrist’s office. “Who can you talk to other than another
member of the cape and tights crowd?”

“I have no desire to talk about it with anyone. Can we concentrate on
what’s important?”

“This *is* important. We can’t go around second-guessing every move we
make.”

Batman put down the binoculars, but didn’t turn. “We have to. Or we’re
going to find we’ve crossed that line without ever knowing it.”

“You just don’t get it. That’s part of the team thing. We watch each
other’s backs and we keep ourselves honest. Just like you and Superman
did to defeat the Lords.”

“We set Luthor free.”

“But we’re gonna stay on this side of that line. Even if it kills us. I
think the Lords forgot why we do this: to protect people. They lost
track of their humanity.”

In the dark it was hard to see, but it looked like Batman was shaking
his head. “In case *you’ve* lost track, three of us aren’t even human.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I don’t think I do.”

“They forgot security without freedom is worthless.”

“And how will you feel when Flash dies?”

“We don’t know it’s inevitable.”

“You’re the one,” Batman said, “who said ‘even if it kills us.'”

John glared at him. The man was really infuriating. Batman lifted his
binoculars and John sighed at his back. “All we can do is try. But you
have to trust in the team.”

“Ah,” Batman said. It was barely even a word, more a long breath, but it
caught John’s attention. His head snapped to the side and he saw the
edge of a coat swoop around the corner below them.

It took only an instant for him to snag both of them in a force bubble
and speed downward toward the museum as Batman signaled the rest of the
League. The opening of the bubble and Batman launching himself toward
the building were simultaneous; John wondered what Batman would say if
he pointed out later that it was a result of them training together.

As he came through the door just slightly ahead of his teammate, John
was already putting up a shield, arcing it over their heads, certain
that these guys would be prepared for their arrival. Batman, batarang in
hand, scanned the room as a small black object hit the shield.

Batman cursed under his breath and snapped a mask over his face as the
object began to hiss and emit some kind of gas. John threw up a quick
and impermeable bubble around his body, pushing through the cloud.

A quick glance at each other and Batman began to circle to the left,
while John went right. Teamwork. He nodded happily.

The shadowy shapes of exhibit displays were tall and menacing, in a
strangely familiar kind of way. How many times had they done this, in
how many museums and factories and warehouses?

Wait, there, just behind that reconstructed temple, a flash of something
that didn’t belong. Where the hell were these guys? They’d thrown a
smoke bomb and just vanished. It was especially annoying trying to find
them in here, since the exhibit was filled with statuary, particularly
that of human figures of various shapes and sizes.

Batman, he knew, would be lurking along the edge of that far wall,
weapons ready, so John edged his way around a gigantic winged bull,
leaning his head out far enough to see deeper into the museum. The power
of the ring was like another heartbeat, speeding up in anticipation.
Soon, he thought at it. We’ll get all the action we could want soon.

There it was again. Someone or several someones were on the move, but
they were fairly stealthy. The object they were likely looking for
wasn’t far now, so it was time to stop them. With unknown powers in
play, there was no sense in letting them get their hands on the thing.

Hopefully Batman would follow his lead. John stepped into the open and
used his best drill sergeant voice (augmented by just a bit of power):
“Stop right there!”

His only answer was a bolt of red light aimed at his head, and John
ducked and ran forward, throwing up another shield in front of him–his
mind automatically forming something like the rectangular shields of the
statues around him.

He couldn’t see anything to his side, but trusted that Batman was pacing
him. “Give up now!” John shouted, making as much noise as he could.
Giving the ring just a bit of a push, he created a green searchlight,
sweeping the room in front of him for any sign of the people he pursued.

Bolts of light hit his shield and he absorbed the energy, grit his teeth
harder, and pushed on. As long as they were shooting, he knew where they
were. And every shot that hit his shield was one that wasn’t shattering
priceless statues…or Batman.

Looked like they were five of them, if he was reading the situation
correctly.

John dodged right, pushing a tendril of power out to smash the closest
villain, a dog-headed humanoid. He turned his dodge into a roll, getting
behind the sturdiest wall he could find, taking out the next villain
(ape-like) with a well-placed shot to the chest.

A third villain collapsed to the ground, tentacles wrapped in Batman’s
bolo. The fourth snarled through fangs as he turned to find the new
attacker, but was taken out by a batarang to the chest.

The fifth, all three eyes wide with fear, dropped his gun and held up
his hands. Batman stepped out of the shadows as John wrapped the
three-eyed one in a web of green light.

“Whoa, you can have it if you want it that badly,” the villain stuttered.

John growled. “We’re not here to take it. We’re here to protect it from
you.”

His eyes widening an improbable amount more, the creature stared. “Do
you know what this can do?”

“We don’t care,” Batman said, scanning the room.

“It’s pure power. Don’t you want power?”

“No. I want justice.” Batman turned, a batarang snapping into his hand
almost magically. He threw it and somewhere in the shadows something
went thud.

John nodded at Batman. “Nice.”

“Thanks.”

Distant sirens were overwhelmed by the sounds of their backup
approaching. Superman and Hawkgirl swooped through the open front door,
looking relieved to see their teammates standing unharmed.

“The police are on the way,” Superman said. “Why don’t we take these
outside?”

“Be my guest,” Batman said. He stalked toward the wall, bringing back
the last member of the gang–who was just starting to come around–and
dumping him on the ground.

Superman and Hawkgirl each scooped up two of the villains and flew out,
John grabbing the other two with a green claw. He was about to follow
his teammates when Batman called him.

“Lantern?”

“Yes?” He turned, startled.

“I don’t know that I like you, but I trust you all. With my life. And I
haven’t given up on the League.” With a swirl of his cape, he was out
the door–gone by the time John made it outside with his captives.

John grinned. You couldn’t predict the man, could you? Well, it sure
kept life interesting.pected.”

The Secret Thoughts of a Bat

CONTINUITY: Takes place after “Secret Society.” Spoilers for “Secret
Society,” “Hereafter” and especially “A Better World.” Includes some quotes from the latter episode.

NOTES: So, I started pondering what Batman might have been thinking
during my fic “The Secret Thoughts of a Man.” It might also help to have
read my earlier story “Secrets, Societies, and Truths.” Thanks again to
Wyzeguy for the beta 🙂

* * * * *

Between the winter air that made breathing painful and Green Lantern’s
incessant fidgeting, Batman was finding it unusually difficult to
concentrate on the mission. He seriously considered pulling out a
tranquilizer dart and shooting his teammate–surely this mission didn’t
need both of them.

Batman closed his eyes for a moment and wished for Nightwing or Robin,
both of whom he’d trained into stillness. Then he wished for a stakeout
someplace a bit warmer, someplace that wasn’t in the middle of the
coldest winter since 1896. It shouldn’t have felt this cold, but the
wind chill was reaching through even the best insulation he had, finding
every gap, every edge.

His sigh–as ever–unvoiced, he continued to peer through his
binoculars, waiting for the new gang he’d been tracking to make their move.

Instinct said tonight was the night and this museum was the place. They
couldn’t resist what was on display, not with everything he’d read about
it. And he’d read everything.

The brand new exhibit of Mesopotamian artifacts from the eighth century
contained quite a few irreplaceable things, including a 16-foot-tall
guardian figure (an Assyrian winged bull, to be specific) and a
collection of rare lapis cylinder seals. There was also one piece that
very few people could identify properly, a bronze staff covered in very
un-Mesopotamian designs. Several curators had described strange events
that seemed to occur when the object was in residence. Not all that
surprising when you factored in what the occult community had had to say
about it.

An odd but familiar sound–a kind of quiet…whoosh–behind him made
Batman freeze. He looked over his shoulder at Lantern, who was frowning
mightily as he changed the colors of his uniform.

How extraordinarily odd, Batman thought.

Lantern looked up and saw him watching, then shifted his uniform back to
its normal configuration, his expression a bit embarrassed. He seemed
about to say something in explanation, but Batman turned back to his
binoculars with another internal sigh. The man was spending too much
time with Flash, obviously. Either that or he’d utterly lost his mind.
He’d better keep an eye on him, just in case. You could never be too
rich or too paranoid, after all.

Now, if the other man could just keep still for a little while, he could
finish planning for a new–

“You don’t like me, do you?” Lantern asked.

Batman turned slowly, certain now that Lantern had lost his mind. What
was he supposed to say in response to *that*? He finally decided nothing
was the only possible answer to such an absurd question, and turned back
to the binoculars. It was unlikely his face would reveal anything, but
best to be certain.

“I don’t really care if you like me or not,” Lantern went on, “but it
gets in the way of getting things done.”

What was that? Batman couldn’t help turning to look again, but pursed
his lips together to make certain he didn’t respond. Whatever game
Lantern was playing, he was on his own.

“What?” Lantern asked, trying (and failing) to look innocent. Definitely
too much time with Flash.

“You want to talk *now*?” Batman growled. What did the man think he was
doing? Maybe this was some subtle plot to drive *him* insane. If so, it
was working admirably.

“You got a better idea? We may be here a while. And we don’t even know
if they’re gonna attack this location or one of the others.”

“I know how they think. They’ll be here.”

Batman went back to his lookout for villains, resolute. Unfortunately,
the street was emptier than the Gotham town square just after the Joker
had arrived–which didn’t provide much in the way of distraction.

That left his mind enough time to wander. Time to think about Lantern’s
comments. Did he *like* him? Who the hell knew? Between life as Batman,
protecting Gotham and the rest of the planet, and trying to keep up his
identity as Bruce Wayne, he didn’t have a lot of time to think about his
teammates. A traitorous portion of his mind provided a visceral reminder
of his dance with Wonder Woman, but he banished it with practiced ease.

Certainly he respected the abilities of his colleagues in the Justice
League, and he had learned a great deal from them–Superman’s “death”
had reminded him of that. But with the fate of the world at stake on a
regular basis, it didn’t seem constructive to discuss this fact.

There had been that moment of weakness when he doubted his own knowledge
that Superman was alive, but he was only human. That didn’t mean the
Justice League should be turned into a touchy feely encounter session.

Tensing at a blur a block away, Batman relaxed when it turned out to be
a stray dog sniffing at a cafeteria dumpster. He let out a small puff of
air that immediately condensed on his cowl’s lenses. Forcibly
restraining himself from growling, Batman reminded himself that physical
discomfort was supposed to be irrelevant, even if the cold was making
his bones ache. He made a mental note to upgrade the insulation on
several of his costumes.

He continued to scan the surrounding area, looking for any signs of
mischief. Or even signs of life. The business district wasn’t precisely
a destination spot for late night revelers; the streets were quiet, no
music from clubs, no drunk partygoers, no pedestrians…

A thought occurred to Batman: Had Lantern been talking to Superman about
him? After Grodd’s little mind game, Superman was the one who cornered
him in the control room, insisting the League were his friends whether
he liked it or not.

Damn, but the man knew how to get under his skin. Friends? Who’d asked
for friends? All he wanted was a team that knew what they were doing and
could take care of themselves in a battle.

That was all he needed. Why was he even thinking about this?

Apparently Lantern could get under his skin as well, and that was
irritating. Friends were nothing but trouble. Friends could be used
against you as leverage. Friends could get hurt or killed.

“Maybe we *should* talk,” Lantern said, his voice nearly startling
Batman into a wince.

Batman spent a long moment staring past his binoculars, debating. “About
what?” he finally asked, hoping for some innocuous topic he could quash.

“Teamwork, maybe.”

Batman hunched his shoulders. Not *that* again. Damn it, he’d been
training just like the man wanted. Wasting precious time running those
idiotic drills, when he could have been busting heads in Gotham. He
wasn’t even a full member of the League!

Behind him, he heard a scraping sound, probably Lantern fidgeting again.
“Our teamwork could be better,” Lantern said.

“Well, I think we could be more efficient, but we’ve seen where that
leads,” Batman growled, realizing too late that Lantern would follow the
thought–the man wasn’t stupid, after all.

Lantern snorted and shot back. “Sharing information and better
coordination isn’t going to make us the Justice Lords.”

The voice of that other Batman: ‘The problem with democracy is, it
doesn’t keep you very safe.’ “Are you certain?” Batman asked Lantern.

“Yes,” Lantern said, his voice deep and assured.

He was so damned naive, Batman thought, still so certain of his own
righteousness, even after what they’d seen. Batman didn’t bother to answer.

Lantern’s earnest voice again. “I didn’t like what I saw when I looked
at them either. But we have a chance to be different.”

“Hmm.” The noise was nearly yanked out of him by his annoyance and he
heard Lantern shift behind him.

“We tried splitting up after Grodd hit us. And it didn’t work. As the
Justice League we have the chance to do greater good, save more lives,
react faster to threats.”

“And the chance to do greater evil,” Batman said. In his mind, the other
Batman’s voice goaded him: ‘You can’t be subtle, you’ve got to step into
the sunlight, take over.’

“Then why the hell are you still part of the League?” Lantern asked.

Why did everyone keep asking him that? What business was it of theirs as
long as he got the job done? He deflected the question, turning around
to smirk. “You said ‘hell.’ Goodness.”

“I was a Marine. I can say ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’ too, but don’t change the
subject.”

Lantern’s arms were crossed and his demeanor had gone from curious to
pissed. Of course, Batman thought, there was no way he was going to
answer him. “Superman asked the same question.” And if he hadn’t
answered the big guy, he sure as hell wasn’t going to tell some military
man with a magic ring.

“And what did you tell him?” Lantern’s eyes glowed that annoyingly alien
green.

Batman leaned against the brick wall, concentrating on the feel of it
through his uniform. “No comment.”

Behind him, Lantern took a deep breath. “You’re an aggravating bastard.”

“You always say the nicest things, Lantern.”

“I give up.”

“So soon?” Finally, he’d get some peace. Batman relaxed as silence fell
and he was able to regain his focus, banish the images of that other
universe. Within moments, every sound was being categorized and filed
away, every movement evaluated for possible threats. Nightwing would
call it zen, this ability to take in everything at once, assess it
automatically. Batman called it his job.

Usually Lantern was a good partner for these tasks. Usually he had the
same kind of single-minded focus. Impossible to tell exactly what was
going on in the man’s mind that made tonight different, but it was
unfortunate.

Unfortunate because he’d somehow transferred whatever it was to Batman,
who found his mind drifting again.

A puff of smoke from a distant factory reminded Batman of Gotham. The
other Gotham and how clean it had been. He wanted that Gotham, wanted it

so badly he could taste it in every decision he made.

In his memory, the other Batman spoke again, his voice harsher, harder,
hungrier. ‘I just chose peace and security instead.’

Peering over the edge in a cave just like his own, adrenaline pounding
in his ears: ‘You grabbed power!’

‘And with that power, we’ve made a world where no 8-year-old boy will
*ever* lose his parents because of some punk with a gun.’

And with that, just that, he’d given in. None of the others had turned,
but he’d been inches away from betraying his team, his world,
everything. Of course, he’d come to his senses but the simple fact that
he’d faltered–

“Batman…” Lantern interrupted his thoughts, then paused. “Don’t give
up on the League. You told me trust could be earned over time–tell me
how we do that. You’ve never trusted us, and seeing the Lords’ universe
has made you distrust us even more.”

Batman hunched further over the binoculars. “Perhaps…” The words
clogged his throat like thick bile. “I don’t trust myself.”

What had possessed him to say that? Fuck. Fuck.

“If you don’t trust yourself, maybe you better get out of the superhero
business.”

His hands tightened on the binoculars, muscles tensing as if for a
fight. To hear his own deepest worry echoed in that way…He managed to
grind out a coherent sentence. “We are *not* discussing this.”

“Why not?” Lantern sounded entirely reasonable.

“If I wanted a therapist, I’d have found one on my own.” When hell froze
over, pigs flew, and Flash became a diplomat, he didn’t say.

“Who can you talk to other than another member of the cape and tights
crowd?”

“I have no desire to talk about it with anyone,” Batman growled. “Can we
concentrate on what’s important?”

“This *is* important. We can’t go around second-guessing every move we
make.”

Batman put down the binoculars, but didn’t turn. How could the man be so
blind? So trusting? “We have to. Or we’re going to find we’ve crossed
that line without ever knowing it.”

“You just don’t get it. That’s part of the team thing. We watch each
other’s backs and we keep ourselves honest. Just like you and Superman
did to defeat the Lords.”

Eyes widening behind the mask, Batman turned. “We set Luthor free.” He’d
thought they understood the consequences of that decision.

“But we’re gonna stay on this side of that line. Even if it kills us. I
think the Lords forgot why we do this: to protect people. They lost
track of their humanity.”

Batman shook his head, astounded. “In case *you’ve* lost track, three of
us aren’t even human.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I don’t think I do.”

“They forgot security without freedom is worthless.”

Angry at the platitude, Batman struck out. “And how will you feel when
Flash dies?”

“We don’t know it’s inevitable.”

It had been a palpable hit, though, making Lantern pause before
answering. “You’re the one,” Batman said, moving in for the victory,
“who said ‘even if it kills us.'”

Lantern didn’t answer, just glared at him, eyes glowing and the ring
pulsing on his finger. Batman held his gaze long enough to be certain
his point was made, then turned around, lifting his binoculars.

“All we can do is try,” Lantern said. “But you have to trust in the team.”

Trust in the team? He flashed back to another mission, shouting at
Etrigan that he trusted J’onn with his life. In the end, J’onn had
justified his faith, but how could–

Wait, over there. That flash. They’d gotten into the building already!

“Ah.” Batman breathed out the word, but it was enough. In an instant,
Lantern snatched him up with a ring construct and the two of them
hurtled toward the museum *almost* as fast as if he’d jumped himself. He
subdued the irritation, reminding himself it was better tactics to enter
together.

Lantern opened his ring-generated bubble and Batman jumped down, already
scanning for the enemy as Lantern went through the door an instant
before him.

A green shield slammed over their heads just in time to deflect a
cylinder hurled at them. Cursing, Batman had his gas mask on even before
he’d consciously recognized the threat, his other hand wielding a
batarang that just needed a target.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the green glow around Lantern
that meant he was protecting himself from the gas. They looked at each
other and Batman knew what they needed to do. He slid to the left side
of the museum, hiding himself in the shadows while Lantern played
target. It was a tactic they’d used successfully a number of times.

As he blended into the darkness, searching for any sign of their
opponents, Batman spared a moment to grudgingly admit that some of their
training together had actually been useful. Not that he’d admit it to
Lantern, of course. The man was too smug as it was.

The room was perfect for an ambush, which had all of Batman’s senses on
alert. The high ceilings with odd rafters and hanging panels, the
randomly placed statues, pillars, doorways, everything in this main
entryway was a possible threat. He slid the gas mask back into its place
on his utility belt.

In the back corner, there was definite movement, but it was too far away
for Batman to be certain what he saw. And he was in exactly the wrong
place, damn it. Lantern should be almost directly opposite him, and if
he’d seen that movement, he should be making his way…Yes, there he
was, behind the winged bull statue.

Automatically, Batman picked several possible routes across the room,
depending on where their opponents were, how many there were, and how
they attacked. He continued his slow stalk against the wall, trying to
get far enough back that he’d have a clear shot when Lantern made his move.

Which he could do any day now. Really.

At that moment, Lantern stepped out from behind the bull, a green
glowing ‘shoot me now’ target. “Stop right there!” he yelled.

Batman dove behind an animal motif stele, taking route number four
toward the back corner of the room. Laser beams whined through the air,
and Batman winced at the damage they would probably cause, making a
mental note to get the museum a grant from the Wayne Foundation.

“Give up now!” Lantern yelled, and Batman used the cover of the noise to
get closer.

A green light shot out from Lantern’s ring, illuminating the intruders,
and Batman took his shot. The tentacled creature who was nearest
definitely called for a bolo, and the weighted ropes took him down as
Lantern knocked out two others with the ring. The batarang finally found
a target in something that looked like a dog.

Four down, one dropping its gun and looking terrified. As well he/she/it
should. Lantern had him with the ring, so Batman stepped out from
concealment, the glare that had terrified a thousand villains firmly in
place.

“Whoa, you can have it if you want it that badly,” the three-eyed
creature said, shrinking back.

“We’re not here to take it,” Lantern said, sounding disgusted. “We’re
here to protect it from you.”

“Do you know what this can do?”

“We don’t care,” Batman said, turning to scan the room. Something was
wrong, something was off.

“It’s pure power. Don’t you want power?”

“No. I want justice,” Batman said. There! Almost faster than thought, he
threw a batarang at the shape he saw in the shadows. The shape fell over
with a deeply satisfying thud.

“Nice,” Lantern said with a nod.

“Thanks.”

Superman and Hawkgirl flew through the door at that moment, ready to
join the battle; when they found they were too late, Hawkgirl looked
disappointed and Superman relieved. With the arrival of backup, Batman
felt the wrench of adrenaline wearing off and he suppressed a shiver as
his body reminded him of the cold air pouring in through the building’s
open doors.

“The police are on the way,” Superman said, looking pleased at the
uneventful end to the mission. “Why don’t we take these outside?”

“Be my guest,” Batman said. He went to retrieve the last creature he’d
knocked out, dumping him roughly with the others and moving his hands
underneath his cape to hide their shaking. This was always the worst
part–keyed up for all those hours of waiting, bursting into action and
then…stopping.

Superman and Hawkgirl each scooped up two of the villains and flew out,
Lantern grabbing the other two with a green claw. Damn it, Batman
thought, he couldn’t…he shouldn’t…

“Lantern?” Batman heard himself call, cursing the weakness that wouldn’t
let him leave without doing this.

“Yes?” He turned, startled.

“I don’t know that I like you, but I trust you all. With my life. And I
haven’t given up on the League.”

He stalked out before the other man could respond. It wasn’t a
conversation he wanted to have, but Lantern deserved to know at least
that much. He didn’t want to be saying it to Lantern’s grave someday
with a stomach full of regrets.

It was easy enough to slip past the chaos outside, police cars squealing
to a stop, photographers blinding everyone with flashes, as Lantern,
Hawkgirl, and Superman handed off their prisoners. Nobody noticed a
shadow slip around the corner, and Batman took advantage of that to make
his way to the Batmobile.

‘What are you hiding for?’ his other self sneered in his memory.

‘I do my best work in the dark.’

‘I used to think that, too. But what have you ever accomplished from
there, aside from scaring a few punks half to death and putting a few
more in jail?’

Batman paused, leaning one hand on the hood of the Batmobile, anchoring
himself to that familiar and solid surface. “It all adds up,” he
whispered. “And I can live with myself the next day.”

Write a Comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

 

Essentials