Title: Kid Stuff - added April 18, 2005
Author: Lacey McBain
Summary: At the end of the JLU
“Kid Stuff”, they don’t immediately turn back into adults ...
Disclaimer: If I owned them, everyone
would have a Baby Etrigan.
Comic-verse - mix well and enjoy. Kind of an AU of Shadows
of relationships or previous relationships, but that's about it on the
Draws on: JLU "Kid Stuff", Robin:Year
Justice "Sins of Youth", Bruce Wayne:Murderer, and probably other
storylines, but you should be able to follow along even if you haven't
Morgan Le Fey appeared before the members of the Justice League who had
succeeded in seizing control of the planet from her wayward son.
All the adults had been returned to their rightful places, and their
memories had been corrected when the spell was broken.
Well, almost all.
Morgan looked down at the superheroes--changed into children in order
to fight a child-god--and spoke: “My power has been drained aiding you
in the battle against Mordred. There is nothing I can do right
now to change you back into your adult forms, but be assured the
effects of the spell will subside in a matter of days. You need
only be patient. Thank you for returning my son to me.”
With that, she disappeared in a flash of light and smoke leaving
Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern staring in
disbelief. Baby Etrigan cooed softly and rubbed his face against
Wonder Woman’s shoulder leaving a streak of drool behind.
A nine-year-old Bruce Wayne looked at his colleagues through the lenses
of his cowl.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” he said.
Superman touched down gently on the roof of Wayne Manor, and stepped
back as Bruce wriggled free from his grip. For the first time in
a long time, Clark actually felt tired, and he wasn’t in any mood to
deal with Batman. Even a pint-sized version.
“You didn’t have to hold me so tight,” Bruce said in his nine-year-old
voice. He pulled the cape around him and hunched slightly as the
wind caught the tail end of it.
“You’re heavy and you’ve got more armour in that suit than a Brinks
truck,” Clark snapped back. “My powers weren’t even developed
when I was this age. What if they stopped working? I didn’t
want to drop you.”
Okay, so dropping Bruce had been the least of his worries on the flight
from Metropolis to Gotham. Clark had been more concerned about
getting airsick, and he didn’t think he’d ever live it down if he threw
up while flying. Nothing in his body was working the way it
should right now, and Bruce had an extremely long memory.
“Okay, okay, you don’t have to get mad. This isn’t fun for any of
us.” Bruce turned around and cocked his head. “A sensor
will’ve gone off indicating a rooftop intrusion. Alfred’ll be
here any minute. You should get going. No need for both of
us to be humiliated.”
“Here,” Clark said, handing a wrapped bundle across to Bruce. He
was met with a scowl.
“Couldn’t someone else have taken him?” The bundle made a wet
“He’s your friend.”
“But he really liked Diana. Why couldn’t she have--”
“Bruce, it’s only fair that you take him.”
Clark didn’t think he’d ever actually heard Bruce whine. It was
as amusing as it was disconcerting. Clark folded his arms over
his chest, out of habit more than anything. He had a feeling he
looked about as intimidating as a kid in a Halloween costume. The
bundle squirmed as Bruce set it lightly on the ground, and a miniature
Etrigan rolled over, snoring loudly.
Clark checked his watch. Lex would be leaving the office about
now. “At least you don’t have to deal with Lex. Maybe I
should just go to the Fortress until this wears off.”
Bruce suddenly looked horrified. “You can’t tell Lex.”
“He’s going to notice, Bruce! I’m four feet tall and my voice
hasn’t been this high since ... well, I’m not sure it was ever this
high. I can’t exactly hide this from him.” Although the
possibility was certainly tempting. Maybe he could hide all the
cameras before Lex got home. Yeah, and maybe The Flash would give
up iced cappuccino.
Bruce put his hands on Clark’s shoulders and stared at him
pleadingly. Even without his x-ray vision, Clark could see the
fear in the eyes hidden behind the cowl. “You can’t tell
Lex. He’ll never let me live this down.”
Clark laughed, surprised at how light it sounded, as if the sound were
being made by someone else. “Come on, Bruce, at least you knew Lex when you were this
age. It wouldn’t be so bad.”
“You can’t tell him, Clark! Promise me--”
“What exactly are you playing at, young men?”
Alfred stepped from the doorway, shotgun cocked and ready. Clark
knew the gun only contained rubber bullets or tranquilizer darts.
It was no secret how Bruce felt about guns.
“It’s us, Alfred,” Bruce responded, and Clark couldn’t help but admire
the note of command in Bruce’s voice despite it being an octave higher
than normal. No matter what age he was, Bruce would always be
“Master Bruce?” Alfred choked out, eyes flickering between Clark and
Bruce in stunned disbelief. Bruce tugged back the cowl and looked
up into the face of his valet, the man who had raised him after his
parents’ tragic deaths. Clark had never realized how tall Alfred
was--or maybe it was just the whole world felt gigantic right
now. He wasn’t sure if he could get used to looking up at people
who weren’t gigantic monsters or super-tall killer robots.
“It’s me. There was a problem with--” The rest of Bruce’s
words were muffled as Alfred dropped to his knees and pulled Bruce
tight against him, embracing him with a level of feeling Clark had
always suspected but never seen exchanged between the two. He
felt as if he were intruding, but couldn’t seem to look away as Bruce’s
dark head dipped onto Alfred’s shoulder, murmuring an explanation for
his sudden return to childhood.
Clark’s hearing caught the words “oh, my dear boy,” and there was a
tightness in his chest that he remembered from when he was small and
his parents had thought he was lost in the fields behind the farm
house. When they had found him, his father had knelt and held him
just like that, exactly as Alfred was now holding Bruce, arms solid and
warm around him, and Clark understood what he had always known deep
inside--Bruce hadn’t been a child in a very long time. Clark
turned away and waited.
“It’s temporary,” Bruce murmured, trying without success to extricate
himself from Alfred’s embrace. It was embarrassing. He was
certain Alfred had never been this demonstrative, even when Bruce was a
child, and he didn’t understand why his sudden reversion to his
childhood self was causing such a reaction in the older man.
“You look exactly as you did when you were a boy.” Alfred’s voice
was full of awe as he carded a hand though Bruce’s dark hair.
Bruce squirmed with as much dignity as he could muster and managed to
“Morgan Le Fey changed us into children to defeat her son, but she
didn’t have enough strength to reverse the spell.” Bruce
shrugged. “It’ll take a few days until everything’s back to
“You have no idea how much good it does an old man’s heart to see you
like this again. Sometimes I forget you were ever this young,
Bruce blushed and tried to look angry, but he couldn’t manage it.
The truth was his feelings were at war inside. It wasn’t just
that his adult consciousness had been transferred into his
nine-year-old body, but his nine-year-old self was present too, with
all its emotions and fears. Bruce wasn’t entirely sure he liked
being a child again. It made him feel vulnerable.
He heard Clark shuffle his boots awkwardly on the roof. Alfred
turned and took in the other diminutive superhero.
“Hey, Alfred.” Clark turned towards the butler and shrugged his
shoulders in a gesture of resignation. “We had an interesting
Alfred hid a smile. “I can see that, sir. Will you be
staying with us until this ... um, condition, rectifies itself?”
“No, I’m flying back to Metropolis. I have to face Lex sooner or
“Clark, please?” Bruce repeated his earlier plea. “Don’t tell
Clark pushed off the rooftop and hovered a few feet in the air, his
cape fluttering behind him. “I’ll do my best, Bruce, but you know
me. And Lex. I can’t promise anything.”
Bruce felt Alfred’s arm slip gently around his shoulders again as they
headed to the rooftop entrance, and Bruce didn’t have the heart to
shake it off. Besides, it felt kind of nice.
“Master Bruce, I’m sure Superman will not divulge your new status to
Master Lex if at all possible.”
Bruce glared at the rapidly retreating blue dot. “Only one
“Clark is quite possibly the worst liar on the entire planet.”
There was a loud snuffling sound from behind them and the blanket
shifted and rolled. Alfred stepped in front of Bruce
automatically. “What is that?”
“Clark’s idea of justice for all,” Bruce said darkly, as he picked up
Etrigan with a scowl.
“Master Etrigan! Please, I must insist you leave that alone,”
Alfred pleaded, wrenching a silver-framed photograph from the demon’s
hands. Green eyes peered up at Alfred as its lower lip started to
“Now, now, none of that.”
Alfred caught a glimpse of red hair and a toothsome grin staring back
from the picture. He remembered when it had been taken: a
month after Master Bruce had started at Excelsior, and no one had been
more surprised than Alfred when the boy’s not-so-subtle suggestions
about returning to Wayne Manor were more often replaced with excited
accounts of what was happening at school. And particularly what
his red-haired roommate was up to.
Etrigan reached for the photograph again, a plaintive cry accompanying
his outstretched hands. Alfred bent down and showed him the
“This is Master Bruce when he was a boy,” Alfred supplied. Of
course, Etrigan had known Bruce a long time, but Alfred wasn’t sure how
much knowledge co-existed between Jason Blood and the demon Etrigan
that he could transform into. The creature pointed at the
“That is Lex Luthor. I’m not sure if you’ve ever met him, but
he’s been friends with Master Bruce a very long time. Even longer
than you. Of course, Master Lex has considerably less hair now,”
Alfred added, setting the frame back on the mantle. When he
turned around, Etrigan was once again curled in on himself like a
particularly large cat, sleeping heavily, fingers wrapped around the
edges of the Persian rug. Alfred sighed and draped a blanket
around the demon’s shoulders, closing the door quietly behind
him. With any luck, the creature would continue to sleep until
the spell lifted.
If only Master Bruce were as easy to appease.
“What’s this?” Bruce said, taking the bundle of clothes Alfred handed
to him. He had retreated to the safety of the Cave, but it seemed
larger and darker than he remembered, and the bats were particularly
restless tonight. He felt like he was being watched. He
sank further into his chair.
“I took the liberty of locating some of Master Dick’s old things that I
thought might fit your present condition, assuming--”
Bruce glared. He didn’t want to deal with any of this. He
swung back towards the console of the computer, annoyed that he could
only reach the floor with the very tips of his toes. With just a
slightly stronger push, Bruce bet he could make the chair spin around
completely. He wondered how many times he could get it to go
around before he felt dizzy. He might have to ...
“Master Bruce, I am not speaking for my own edification!” Bruce
stopped, and he could feel the blush creeping out from behind the mask,
which he’d pulled on when he’d come down to the Cave. Somehow it
had made him feel braver.
“I’m sorry, Alfred. I’m having a bit of trouble adjusting to this
Bruce felt a hand on his shoulder, and he could already see Alfred’s
mouth softening into a smile. “I know, my boy. But it won’t
do to have you hiding behind that cowl until the spell lifts.”
Alfred’s fingers slipped gently under the mask and pulled it
backwards. “Besides,” Alfred fingered the cape, “I suspect this
needs a good cleaning.”
“Just don’t shrink it,” Bruce said, rewarded with a laugh and a ruffle
of his hair. He found himself leaning into the touch. It
had been years since Alfred had ... no, if he were honest, it had been
years since he’d allowed such familiarity. It was his own fault
for pushing them all away. Bruce felt a stab of loneliness press
against his chest, and he wondered if this was how Lex had felt when
he’d had asthma.
He reached for the red sweatshirt on top of the pile.
“Dick wore this all the time.” Bruce fingered the soft fabric,
and caught a whiff of cedar. “Didn’t figure you for the
sentimental sort, Alfred.”
“I simply hadn’t gotten around to giving the items to charity,” Alfred
said, slipping the cape from Bruce’s shoulders with an efficiency born
of years of practice. Bruce reached for the catches to release
the armour, and let Alfred take the weight from him. The red
sweatshirt was warm and soft against his bare skin and it reminded him
of the big cedar chest his parents had kept at the foot of their
bed. He breathed deeply.
“Master Timothy phoned to inquire as to the plan for the evening.”
Bruce stopped with one leg still tangled in his tights. “What did
you tell him?”
“That you were unwell, and would not be patrolling this evening.”
Bruce closed his eyes. Tim was unlikely to believe that
considering they’d been patrolling when Bruce was recovering from
broken ribs, gunshot wounds, and worse.
“And his response?”
“After informing me that ‘Bruce never gets sick,’ and insisting on
coming right over--”
“--I decided to forego the subterfuge and presented him with the only
thing I felt would dissuade him from immediately descending upon the
manor to ascertain the state of your well-being.”
“Yes?” Bruce kicked off the tights and pulled on a fresh pair of
shorts, and brown corduroy pants that were surprisingly too long on
him. He cuffed them at the bottom.
“I told him the truth. That you had been turned into a child by a
sorceress’s spell and should be back to normal in a few days.”
“And Tim’s response?”
“Curiously, all Master Timothy said was ‘oh, that again.’
Anything you’d like to share with me?”
Bruce grinned and shook his head. At least this time he didn’t
have to wear the Robin costume. He flushed at the memory.
The costume had been tight in all the wrong places. That had been
embarrassing, especially considering he’d been a bigger teenager than
Tim was ever going to be. The adult Tim hadn’t managed to fill
out the Bat suit, but Bruce was sure if the time ever came, Tim would
be more than capable of filling his cape. And yes, he’d been
grateful that Tim’s version of the Robin suit involved neither
short-shorts nor pixie boots. What on earth had he been thinking
when he’d let Dick design his own costume, anyway? Looking back,
he was surprised half the criminals hadn’t fallen down laughing--but of
course, being underestimated had always been one of Dick’s strengths.
Bruce glanced at Alfred suddenly. “You haven’t talked to Dick,
“No, sir, but I can call him, if you’d--”
“I think it would be best if we kept this as quiet as possible.”
Bruce wondered if he sounded as desperate as he felt. Dick would
never, ever let him forget this. There would be pictures, and
hair ruffling, and ...God, knowing Dick he’d be tossed around like a
football. He remembered how Dick had treated Tim. Tim, who
looked small enough to break, but who was fast and smart with a kick
that could break your arm in three places before you could blink.
Dick had pushed past Tim’s every attempt to be treated like an
adult--even though he was only thirteen when he’d come to them.
Dick reminded Tim that he was allowed to be a teenager. A
child. That he didn’t have to have everything figured out.
Sometimes Bruce forgot what it was like. Being a child.
His eyes darted towards the glass case, its single light casting the
costume in shadow. Dick hadn’t had much of a relationship with
Jason, which wasn’t surprising. There was too much anger
then. Too much bitterness. Sometimes it felt as if he’d
done everything wrong with Dick, and trying to correct things with
Jason had just led to even greater disaster. Bruce felt his
stomach tighten, his eyes suddenly hot, and he wondered what Alfred
would do if he crawled under the computer and refused to come out.
“Master Bruce?” A hand on his shoulder, the grip telling him that
things would be okay, somehow everything would be all right.
“Sorry, Alfred,” Bruce said, and settled back in the chair.
Sometime in the last few minutes, Alfred had gathered up all the
accoutrements of his uniform and had neatly folded them into a
pile. A small pair of slippers had appeared beside the console.
“The floors are terribly cold down here. Won’t you come upstairs
for a bit of supper?”
“I’ll just stay here a while.” He swung back towards the console,
manoeuvring the chair as accurately as he could with legs that didn’t
quite reach the floor. He could almost picture Dick sitting on
the edge in the same clothes Bruce was now wearing, swinging his feet
and sprinkling crumbs across his keyboard. Unintentionally, of
“Is there anything I can do for you, sir?” Alfred asked, and Bruce knew
Alfred was making an effort to treat him like an adult. To not
hug him. To not simply carry him upstairs and insist that he
eat. Or sleep. Or play. Bruce felt ashamed that even
now he couldn’t be the child Alfred had always wanted him to be.
His stomach growled, and the noise sounded like a rocket blast in the
silence of the cave.
“Maybe a sandwich?” Bruce said sheepishly. Alfred smiled and
nodded as he headed for the staircase.
“Very good, sir.”
Another growl, louder, and Bruce felt his mouth moving before his brain
had registered the request. “You know those sandwiches you always
made for Dick when he was a kid?”
“I believe I have the ingredients for those on hand. Might I
suggest you try a nap--um, a short rest--while I’m preparing
supper? You must realize a child’s body tires more easily than a
man’s, and you’ve already had quite a full day.”
Almost on cue, Bruce yawned. “I’m fine. Really.”
Alfred’s footsteps grew quieter until the only sound in the cave was
the fluttering of bats and the steady hum of the computer. Bruce
tucked his feet up under him in the leather chair. It was soft
and warm. He leaned his head against the armrest and tried to
concentrate on the information on-screen. They’d been tracking a
drug cartel working out of the docks for the last few weeks, and
something big was going to happen soon. He just hadn’t been able
to figure out what yet.
He yawned again. Maybe after he’d had something to eat,
everything would be clearer. He closed his eyes and waited for
Alfred to return.
Dick parked his motorcycle in the woods near the secret entrance to the
cave. He hadn’t planned on being in Gotham tonight, but the thugs
he’d been following had led him to the docks. He knew Bruce and
Tim were tracking a drug cartel, and it looked like his guys might be
part of the same outfit. It was best to check with Bruce.
He certainly didn’t want to be accused of stepping on anyone’s toes, or
worse, of messing up some plan only Bruce knew about.
He tossed his helmet on the back of his bike and made his way down into
the cave. He could’ve gone in the front door--that would’ve been
the polite thing to do. Chat with Alfred, grab a snack from the
kitchen. It’s what he would’ve done before. But these days,
the manor didn’t feel as much like home anymore. Bruce was
spending more time with the League, and even Tim seemed wrapped up in
his own stuff. Come to think of it, it’d been a while since he’d
called Dick asking for advice about Steph or Arianna. Or even
about dealing with Bruce.
And Bruce seemed content to leave Bludhaven to him. It was rare
that he asked for his help in Gotham, although Dick wouldn’t have
minded. Not at all. It would’ve been nice to be called on
for assistance, but he guessed he couldn’t have it both ways.
“Yeah, Grayson,” he said to himself. “He calls you and you accuse
him of checking up on you. He doesn’t call and you feel
ignored. Make up your mind.”
Dick located the secret panel and keyed in his code. At least it
still worked. There were days when he was certain he would show
up here and find himself locked out of everything. Hell, there
were days when he almost expected Bruce to disappear off the face of
the earth. He’d never thought that was possible until Vesper
Fairchild and the murder accusations. Bruce had done his best to
leave his life behind, and Dick still wasn’t sure how he felt about
that. What it meant for him. The boy who’d grown up under
Bruce’s care. He’d accepted Bruce and Batman were pretty much
different men, but he wasn’t prepared for an either/or situation.
He needed both of them in his life--not the Bruce who dated ditzy women
and was more comfortable with silk sheets than spreadsheets. He
wanted the other Bruce, the one he wasn’t certain even existed
Except that he did.
Bruce seemed to think there were only two sides, as separate and as
different as Harvey Dent’s coin. But it wasn’t true. It
wasn’t the playboy who’d sat beside his bed when he’d had the measles
when he was twelve, who’d rushed him to the hospital at three in the
morning and demanded help. Dick remembered being hot and itchy,
the pounding of Bruce’s heart against his cheek, the deep
reverberations in his chests when he was angry. And in the night
there had been a cool hand pressed against his forehead and a familiar
voice calling him ‘son’ and somehow he’d known things would be okay
because Bruce was there.
Bruce. Not the hapless playboy. Not Batman, and Dick had
known him long enough to know the difference. Better than anyone.
He made his way into the cave. It was still and silent.
Unusual. According to Oracle, Bruce was spending the night in,
although there’d been no other explanation. Still, it wasn’t
entirely unheard of when Bruce was working on something. Barbara
had said Tim was planning a quick sweep of the north end and an early
night to study for his algebra test. Dick smiled. There
were definitely some advantages to being home-schooled, although he
suspected Bruce and Alfred had been far stricter than the public school
system could’ve ever been.
A flash of red caught Dick’s attention and he was suddenly alert.
He moved closer to the main computer. A small bare foot hung over
the side of the chair.
Dick stopped breathing. Using every ounce of skill he’d ever been
taught, he approached the console. Curled in the chair, dark head
resting on the arm was a young boy of about ten or eleven, dressed in
Dick’s old clothes. Sleeping.
“I’m going to kill him,” he whispered under his breath. “I’m
seriously going to kill him.”
A hand clamped around his mouth, and Dick felt a mouth pressed against
“Hold your tongue,” Alfred whispered, and Dick stopped the arm that was
already reaching to immobilize his attacker. Alfred released him,
and gestured for him to follow. Dick glanced back at the sleeping
child and felt the anger burning in his veins. There was no way
he was going to let Bruce do this to some other child.
They were barely through the grandfather clock opening when Dick
exploded. “What the hell does he think he’s doing? He’s
brought another one home? What, Tim not measuring up?
Batman needs a new Robin? God, Alfred, what the hell is going on?”
“Lower your voice.” Alfred’s tone was the one Dick remembered
from when he was a child. The voice that said ‘don’t do
handstands on the railings’ and ‘don’t drink the milk from the
bottle.’ In a household with very few ‘don’ts’, Dick knew when
Alfred was being deadly serious.
“Alfred, please tell me it’s not what it looks like.”
“Because it looks like another dark-haired young boy is down in the
Cave, and we all know how well that usually turns out.” Dick was
aware that he was yelling, but he didn’t care. Maybe it would be
for the best if he woke up whatever juvenile delinquent Bruce had
dragged home this time. He caught sight of the tray of sandwiches
and milk Alfred had obviously settled hurriedly on the side table when
he’d become aware of Dick’s presence in the cave. “There’s a kid
downstairs asleep in Bruce’s chair, and I can only assume that means we
have yet another addition to this already dysfunctional family,
although I have to say I didn’t expect him to go so far as to dress the
kid in my clothes.”
Dick grabbed one of the sandwiches and took a bite. “Peanut
butter and marshmallow creme. My favourite, Alfred. What
the hell is he trying to do? Bruce doesn’t even seem to want me
around, and yet he’s got some kid here that by all appearances he’s
trying to turn into me.”
“No, Alfred, I’ve had enough. Nobody wants to tell him when he’s
crossed the line, when he’s gone too far. But this is it.
Wasn’t Jason lesson enough? I won’t let him do it to somebody
Alfred’s eyes went wide, and Dick realized they were looking beyond
him. Behind him. He whirled around in time to see a
white-faced kid give him a rueful smile. There was something
familiar about the kid’s eyes.
“You don’t have to worry,” the boy said, and Dick adjusted his
assessment of his age. Maybe nine or ten. Tall for his
age. The boy thrust his hands into his pockets and leaned against
the doorframe. “And for what it’s worth, I’d change it if I
could. What happened between us. What happened with Jason.”
The kid’s voice cracked a little and Dick felt the hairs rise on the
back of his neck. The eyes. He knew those eyes.
“Bruce?” Dick’s voice came out as a hoarse whisper.
The boy gave a crooked smile, but it didn’t reach his eyes. Eyes
so dark and familiar he would’ve known them anywhere.
Oh God, Dick thought. What have I done?
“So why don’t I remember any of this?” Dick asked, accepting the cup of
tea Alfred handed him. Bruce was sitting on the couch by the
fireplace, his feet tucked underneath him, balancing a tray on a pillow
in his lap. Between mouthfuls of sandwiches and milk, the story
of Bruce’s return to childhood had come out.
“Everyone’s memories were reset with the spell. As if it never
happened. Only the four of us from the League retained our
memories. And Etrigan.”
“And when will you be back to normal?” They were carefully
avoiding not talking about Dick’s earlier outburst, which Bruce had
clearly heard most of.
“A few days at most. Bruce Wayne will have a bout of the flu and
have to cancel his golf date with Lucius, and Batman will do what he
can from the Cave. I trust you and Tim can handle anything that
arises.” It wasn’t a question.
“Well, yeah, but--” Dick stopped. It was so strange to see Bruce
this way. He’d always been a grown-up, even though he hadn’t been
too much older than Dick was now when he’d taken him in. Dick
couldn’t imagine having the responsibility of looking after someone
else. A child. Looking back, it was surprising the courts
had allowed Bruce to take him at all, but he was grateful they
did. He couldn’t imagine what his life would’ve been like without
Bruce. Or Batman.
“Say what you were going to say, Dick.”
Dick took a breath. “It’s just that not everyone gets to be a kid
again. Maybe you should ... I don’t know. Do
The eyes that met his were all Batman. “I’m not actually nine
years old, despite all appearances to the contrary. I have all my
adult memories and skills. Do you really think my time would be
best spent indulging in ... fun?” Bruce made it sound like
something bad. A rare incurable disease. Certainly nothing
he would want to be involved with, and hadn’t that always been the
problem? Dick sighed. He didn’t know why he expected
“I just meant--never mind. I forgot who I was talking to.”
Dick drained his cup and got up to leave. “Thanks for the tea,
He wasn’t sure he could ever get used to Batman looking out at him
through nine-year-old eyes. Maybe he’d never really understood
what it had been like for Bruce as a child. He was beginning to
suspect he didn’t have a clue what Bruce’s childhood had been like.
“Why did you come by?”
Right. Because he had to have a reason to come home these days.
“Your drug cartel. I tracked a shipment from the ‘Haven down to
the docks. Figured it might be part of your case, and I just
wanted to check in. Didn’t want to interfere.”
Bruce nodded, setting his tray beside him on the couch. He tugged
absently at the edge of one of the throw pillows. “Coordinate
with Tim and Oracle. Something big is coming, but I don’t have
all the pieces together yet.”
Dick nodded and headed for the door.
He wanted to say he was sorry for what he’d said earlier. Wanted
to run a hand through Bruce’s hair and tell him he was a cute kid and
hug him til he hugged him back. Wanted to pick him up under his
arm and spin him around like he used to do with Tim.
Most of all he wanted to take back what he’d said. Go back and
change the hurt he could see in Bruce’s face. The way the mask
slipped into place even when he wasn’t wearing one.
He wanted to see him smile. Like a kid. Just once.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered to no one, and kept walking out the front
door into the darkness.
Alfred picked up the tray of dishes and shook his head.
“One day the two of you are going to have to talk.”
“We talk,” a petulant nine-year-old said from the depths of the
couch. As soon as Dick had left, Bruce had gathered all the
pillows on the couch around him like a personal fort, exactly as he had
done when he was a boy. Alfred wondered if he even realized he
was reverting to childhood habits. He wondered if he should have
stopped the boy from building walls around him when he still could
have. It was too late now.
“No, Master Bruce, he talks. More often, he yells. You
occasionally yell back, but usually you participate as much as a stone
“He can’t forgive me. For replacing him. For what happened
Alfred settled a hand on Bruce’s shoulder and squeezed.
“I don’t believe it’s Master Dick who is unable to forgive.”
He remembered everything about that night. The silver clash of
swords as Zorro defeated the banditos and escaped into the night, his
black cape rippling behind him. He could smell the heavy buttery
scent of popcorn, and the lighter scent of lavender that was his
mother. His father was a solid presence beside him, the rough
wool of his jacket rubbing against the red velvet upholstery, leaving
patterns on the arm of the seat.
He remembered being excited, dragging his parents to the closest seats,
relenting when they pulled him a few rows back, promising the view
would be just as spectacular. He didn’t think he closed his eyes
once during the film. Not even to blink. There was too much
to take in, to remember. Every daring move, every leap from
rooftop to rooftop, every swing of his whip. Bruce wanted to
remember it all.
And then the credits were flashing by, the house lights coming on, and
in a flurry of jackets, they were plunged into the evening
darkness. He couldn’t stop talking about the film. Did you see when he leapt onto the
horse? Yes, Bruce. But
did you see how he held off six men with only his sword?
Yes, we saw. And the mark he
left behind? Like a giant zee? So everyone would know it
was him? Yes, son. Yes.
He talked and talked as if they hadn’t seen the same movie with him, as
if by talking about it all he would never forget it, not even one
moment. A night at the theatre with his parents was too rare an
occasion to forget. He wanted to remember every detail.
Then the man was stepping from the alley. The silver flash of a
gun in the moonlight, demands for money like the banditos from the
film, and his father, brave as Zorro, refusing. Gunshots loud as
thunder and his mother falling, pearls pulled from her neck by grabbing
hands, the string breaking and scattering the pearls across the
street. Some of them rolled into the gutter, and Bruce watched
them disappear. He could hear them falling into water. His
father on his knees, reaching for him, and the ground was wet and
sticky around him. He held his father’s hand, colder than usual,
as running footsteps faded away, and he knew he would never forget
anything about this evening.
Not the movie. Or his parents. Or the way the alley seemed
black-and-white like the film they’d seen. Or the way pearls
sounded like teardrops as they tumbled into the sewer. Or the
sound of gunshots that were so much louder than the ones from the movie.
He would never, ever forget.
“It’s okay. You were having a nightmare.”
Bruce sat up in bed, sweat beading on his skin. He wiped his face
with the tail end of the pajamas Alfred had dug up from some storage
trunk, and stared at Dick sitting on the bed beside him. He was
no longer dressed like Nightwing.
“What time is it?” Bruce asked. He couldn’t help but
shiver. The dream seemed so close, as if it had just
happened. It took everything in him not to put his head in his
hands and cry. He missed his mom and dad. He missed them so
much he ached.
“About three. Here, put this on.” Dick stripped off the
sweatshirt he was wearing and handed it to Bruce. It was like
wearing a blanket, it was so big, but it was warm and smelled like
Dick, and he was too tired to care what he looked like anymore.
He wrapped the sleeves around himself and pulled his knees up to his
chest. The pillows were within easy reach and within a minute he
had a respectable wall around him. Dick raised an eyebrow, but
“I didn’t know you were coming back tonight.”
“I wasn’t planning to, but ...” Dick trailed off. He
scrubbed a hand through his dark hair and glanced at the window.
“I felt bad about what happened earlier, and well, I just thought I’d
look in on you before I called it a night.”
“So you just happened to be here?”
“Yeah, good timing, I guess.” Dick wasn’t a much better liar than
Clark. Bruce was afraid to ask how long Dick had actually been in
his room, sitting in the chair beside the bed, watching him
sleep. He suspected it had been a while. It wasn’t an
uncomfortable thought, but still ... he wasn’t entirely certain he
liked this role reversal.
Silence stretched between them, but it wasn’t uncomfortable.
Bruce felt his eyes starting to close again. He hadn’t been to
bed before three in a long time, but he’d been exhausted when Dick had
left earlier. After checking on Etrigan, who mercifully was
sleeping like the dead, he’d decided there was nothing to do but go to
bed. He remembered being upset with the ten o’clock curfew they’d
had at Excelsior, but he hadn’t remembered sleeping this much
then. He’d have to ask Lex sometime. Maybe he’d slept more
than he’d thought.
“The pajamas are cute,” Dick said finally.
Bruce glanced down at the parade of cowboys and Indians that adorned
his sleepwear. “Um, Alfred apparently kept everything. Just
“Well, I brought you some Batman pajamas just in case.”
Bruce’s head snapped up. “You didn’t.” It was pure childish
instinct to grab the closest pillow and throw it at Dick’s head.
Dick caught it and swung, but Bruce had already grabbed a second pillow
and was able to block his blow. He got to his feet on top of the
mattress, but the long arms on the sweatshirt were hampering his swing.
“So, it’s a fight you want?” Dick jumped onto the bed with enough
force to topple Bruce backwards into the nest of pillows he’d
created. A muffled swear word rose up from beneath the
pillows. “Alfred will ground you if he hears you talking like
A pillow flew up and caught Dick on the chin. Before he could
react, he felt Bruce’s legs connect with his ankles, and then he was
falling backwards, a pajama-clad Bruce scrambling onto his chest and
pinning him down. Dick didn’t know why he was surprised at the
strength in the boy’s hands. He was more surprised when Bruce
found the ticklish spot on his side and attacked him with a ferocious
“Hey, hey!! No fair,” Dick laughed, trying to dislodge Bruce
without tossing him across the room. Bruce may have been
physically smaller, but he certainly knew every trick Dick knew and
more. Breathless with laughter, Dick finally just gave in and let
himself be tickled into submission. “Okay, I give up, I give
up! No Batman pajamas.”
Satisfied, Bruce slid off onto the bed beside him, flushed and looking
pleased with himself. They shared a smile until Bruce seemed to
remember he wasn’t actually a kid. Dick reached out and grabbed
“Don’t do that,” he said, watching Bruce’s smile slip away.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a kid. Even if you are an adult. I know it’s
tough.” Bruce pulled a little harder, trying to extricate his arm
from Dick’s grip, but Dick held on. “God, Bruce, I know it’s
almost impossible for you to be a kid because you weren’t one for very
long, but,” Dick plunged ahead, even as Bruce struggled to get
free. He wrapped his arms around him and held on. “You
don’t have to keep punishing yourself for living. Your parents
died. Jason died. But none of that was your fault.”
Dick pulled Bruce against his chest and held him tight, threaded a hand
through his hair and held on. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I was
such a jerk earlier. I just ... I got scared. For you, for
me, for Tim. None of us wants to lose anyone else.”
Bruce was nodding against his shoulder, and Dick held him
tighter. It felt so strange to be holding him like this,
something he’d never, ever done in his life. He could almost
count the times they’d hugged since he had grown up, and when he was
little, it was more often Alfred who would wrap his arms around him and
wipe away his tears.
“I don’t want you to be mad at me,” Bruce whispered in a voice Dick had
never, ever expected to hear, even if he had been able to imagine a
nine-year-old version of Batman. He didn’t think it was possible
to hold Bruce any tighter without crushing something vital, but he
tried anyway. Neither of them said anything for what seemed like
an eternity, and then Bruce started to shift uncomfortably. Dick
let him go.
“Alfred thinks we don’t talk,” Bruce said, not meeting Dick’s
eyes. Dick nodded. That wasn’t exactly a revelation.
Bruce had never been one for long heart-to-hearts.
“Alfred probably thinks we don’t have pillow fights either.”
Bruce couldn’t hold back a grin. “We don’t have to tell him that
“It’ll be our secret.” Dick rolled off the edge of the bed and
got ready to go. “You’ll be able to sleep?”
“I think so. Are you staying?” The question sounded casual,
but Dick knew it wasn’t. It was more an invitation than a
“Yeah. I think I’ll just crash in my old room for the
night. If that’s okay.”
“Dick, it’s still your room. And this will always be your
home. If you want it to be.” Dick turned back and looked at
Bruce. He seemed so small in the midst of the king-size
bed. “And if you even think of hugging me again tonight, I will
knock you unconscious.”
Dick grinned. “See you in the morning.”
He closed the door quietly and made his way down the hall.
Bruce spent most of the day in the Cave sifting through the information
they’d gathered about the Molina cartel. The new players from
Bludhaven weren’t any real surprise. Penny-ante suppliers,
nothing more, but the amount of heroin flowing through Gotham’s dock
area had doubled in the last two months, and Bruce suspected it was
about to double again. It still wasn’t clear who was bankrolling
the operation, though. The Molina family had resources, sure,
money made from a string of funeral parlours they kept adequately
supplied with customers, but they were new to the drug trade.
Someone else had to be helping them get established, and that was what
was worrying Bruce.
At 2:00, Alfred kicked him out of the Cave, threatening to take
pictures if he didn’t at least attempt to enjoy the sunshine. He
was returning from the graveyard when he ran into Dick.
“Want to toss a ball around?” Dick said with a grin. “Go to the
zoo? Visit the penguins?”
Bruce stopped suddenly and glanced up. “Is Cobblepot up to
“Not The Penguin. The penguins. Little fellows with black
and white suits that wobble when they walk?”
“Oh, never mind. Alfred kicked you out of the Cave, huh?”
“Yes. Did he send you out here to play with me?” Bruce
kicked at a rock in the path. He couldn’t seem to stop doing
things that a child would do. Impulsive things like saying what
was on his mind. Running. Laughing. It was ...
“No, just to tell you that Etrigan is wreaking havoc in the south wing
and Alfred would appreciate your intervention.”
“Ah, and that’s certainly incentive to go back to the manor.”
Bruce jumped, but he couldn’t quite reach the lowest branch of the
apple tree. The fruit would be ready for picking soon. He’d
have to let Alfred know.
“Want a boost?” Dick was already lifting him up onto his
shoulders, so Bruce could reach. He scowled down at him.
“Not like you gave me a choice,” he said, dropping an apple into each
of Dick’s outstretched hands. Bruce grabbed onto the tree branch,
pulling himself off Dick’s shoulders, and somersaulting to the ground.
“Not bad, kid, but your dismount needs work.” He tossed the
apples to Bruce, leapt for a slightly higher branch, and somersaulted
around it until he was sitting on top. In one neat motion, he
sliced through the air, turned twice, and landed on his feet without
raising so much as a puff of dust. “Now that’s how it’s done,
“Show off,” Bruce muttered, taking a bite of his apple. He felt
an arm snake around his shoulders and pluck the second apple from his
hand. They headed back to the manor together.
The phone was ringing when they walked into the study through the
garden doors. Dick grabbed it.
“Wayne Manor … Hey, Lex, it’s Dick. ... Not bad. ... Yeah, pretty
freaky, huh? ... Sure, he’s right here.” Bruce shook his head
vehemently as Dick held the receiver out to him. He backed away
from it as if it were a cobra about to strike.
“I don’t want to talk to him,” Bruce whispered loudly. “Tell him
I’m not here.”
Dick covered the receiver with one hand and glared. “He’s your
best friend. He’s known you since you were ... this age.
What’s the matter with you?”
“I don’t want to talk to ...” Dick thrust the receiver into
Batman glowered at him and cleared his throat in what was clearly an
attempt to make his voice sound lower. It failed. “Hi, Lex.
... Yeah, it’s me.”
A conversation consisting mostly of “uh-huh” and then a sudden shriek
of “No! No, Lex. Definitely not. NO!” Dick
could hear the dial tone even before Bruce had moved the phone away
from his ear.
“Bad news?” Dick asked as Alfred stepped into the study. Bruce
hung his head dejectedly.
“There’ll be two more for dinner, Alfred. Clark and Lex are
“You cannot stay down in this Cave all evening. Master Clark and
Master Lex will be here any time, and it will not do to be found down
here sulking like a child.”
“But I am a child, Alfred,
right? That’s why Lex is coming. So he can have a good
laugh about it.” Bruce crossed his arms over his chest and
pouted. He knew he was doing it, and still he couldn’t seem to
stop. He didn’t even glance at Dick who was smirking in the
“Be reasonable, Master Bruce. Master Clark is in the same
situation you are.”
“Not exactly, Alfred,” Clark said, coming down the stairs. “Hi,
Bruce leapt to his feet and stared up at an adult-sized Superman.
“Apparently there are some benefits to being non-human. Diana and
I are both back to normal.”
“What about John?”
“Lantern’s still a kid, but he seems to be having a blast. He and
Flash were having a movie-fest and pigging out on ice-cream, but I
don’t think that’s much different from what Wally does most of the
“Great, just great.”
“What about Etrigan?” Clark asked.
“Last I saw he was still a diminutive demon. That was about,”
Alfred consulted his pocket watch, “ten minutes ago.”
“The spell wore off maybe an hour ago. Still,” Clark said,
patting Bruce on the shoulder sympathetically, “that probably means it
won’t be much longer.”
“It can’t be soon enough,” Bruce said. His ears caught the sound
of another footfall on the stairs, and he realized Lex had stayed back
in the shadows. Clark stepped aside, and Lex moved across the
space between them. He stopped a few feet away.
Bruce looked up at him. He’d known Lex for so long and they’d
been through so much together. This should be nothing. He
wasn’t even sure what he was worried about.
“Don’t laugh,” Bruce said softly, meeting the familiar blue eyes.
“I’m not going to laugh,” Lex said seriously and took a step
closer. He was staring at Bruce with what looked like
wonder. As if he were the newest sports car on the lot, or the
most beautiful girl. Or boy. Lex had looked at him like
that a lot when they were teenagers. As if he were the only
person in the world.
“I’ve had a bad week.” Bruce knew it sounded lame, but it was all
he could think of. Somehow he figured Lex would understand.
There was a knowing nod.
“Worse than when we blew up the chem lab?” There was a soft
chuckle from the shadows. That was definitely Dick.
“Worse than when I threw up in the Batmobile?” Lex took another
Bruce gave a weak grin. The smelled had lingered for days.
“Worse than having to tell Alfred you got a C- in home ec?”
An indignant sound from Alfred. “Master Bruce never got such a
mark in ...”
Bruce blushed and Lex knelt down in front of him. “I never told
him, Lex. I--I forged the report card.”
“Oops. Even worse than when my dad caught us--”
“Lex!” Bruce said, but he felt lighter than he’d felt in a long
time. God, it was good to see Lex again. Clark was a lucky
“I’m going to hug you now, okay?” Lex asked, and then there were arms
around him and he was breathing in silk and cologne. Bruce
wrapped his arms around him and didn’t let go. When Lex finally
pulled back, the Cave was empty except for the two of them.
“You look exactly the same, you know,” Lex said, getting to his
feet. “Even your voice. I would’ve known you anywhere.”
“It’s weird because sometimes I feel like I’m a kid, but I have all my
memories and feelings of being an adult too. It’s strange.
Everything seems so much closer to the surface than it has in a long
Bruce nodded. “It’s like it all just happened, and yet I know it
was years ago. This must be even stranger for you and Clark,
though. How’d you handle that?”
“Well, after I stopped laughing and he stopped threatening to destroy
the camera, things more or less went back to normal.” Bruce
glanced at him. “Except Clark slept in the spare room. I
mean, I’m not that much of a pervert. It’s nice to have him back
“I wish I were back to normal.”
“Hey, and make me miss the opportunity to revisit my childhood?
No way.” Lex ran a hand through Bruce’s hair, ignoring the Batman
death-glare. Lex had always had a thing for touching his
hair. At least since he’d lost his own.
“It’s my childhood you’re
revisiting, not yours.”
“Me childhood es su childhood, remember?”
There was a crash and a yell from somewhere upstairs. “I suppose
we should go see what that’s about,” Bruce said reluctantly. It
wasn’t so bad being a kid with Lex around. Lex knew him when he
was this age, knew him and loved him anyway. It would be better
if they were both kids, though. It felt strange to have to look
up to Lex.
Lex threw an arm around Bruce’s shoulders as they headed for the stairs.
“You know, this is the only time in my life I’ve ever been taller than
you?” he said. “I think I’m going to like this.”
“This is absolutely unacceptable behaviour,” Alfred said, sweeping up
the broken dishes in the kitchen. A chastised Etrigan sat weeping
in the corner.
Dick just stared. His life had always been strange–stranger than
most–but right now there was a miniature demon crying in his kitchen,
Alfred was shoving the remains of a dismembered pot roast into the
garbage container, and Superman was flipping through the phone
directory in search of good take-out.
“You feel like Chinese?” Clark asked, pushing his glasses up on his
nose and ignoring the demon snuffling at his feet.
“Yeah, sure,” Dick said. “Ming’s is good. Really good egg
Lex and Bruce came up from the cave around the time Clark was trying to
convince Alfred that he might as well let Etrigan have the rest of the
roast anyway, and Alfred was steadfastly maintaining that you did not
reward children for inappropriate behaviour. Dick wondered if he
should point out Etrigan wasn’t a child at all, but the fiery belch
that set the nearest tea towel on fire was adequate proof for everyone.
After they’d put out the fire, Etrigan had been given the roast, a
stern lecture, and a handkerchief. There was almost a second fire
when the demon caught sight of Lex and started to jump up and down and
“What’s the problem?” Lex said with some alarm, but Dick noticed he’d
pushed Bruce behind him. Of course, Bruce had promptly kicked him
in the calf and said something unrepeatable, but Dick thought the
gesture was sweet nonetheless. And really, what had that been
about in the Cave when Lex had said his Dad caught them ... doing
what? Dick really needed to know what the hell that was about
because he’d known they were friends, but ... he hadn’t thought to ask
if they were more.
Alfred sighed and patted Etrigan none-too-gently on the head. “He
saw the picture of the two of you when you were young. I believe
he was quite taken with Master Lex’s red hair. Probably
recognized a kindred spirit since demon children were often believed to
have auburn tresses.”
Lex grinned. “Is that a comment on the kind of kid I was, Alfred?”
“Of course not, Master Lex. I wouldn’t presume.” Alfred
ushered Etrigan through the door and pointed him towards the staircase.
“Sure you would, Alfred. You grounded me a hell of a lot more
than my parents ever did. I mean, for God’s sake, you’re the one
who gave me the big talk after you found out ... ow, what was that
for?” Dick suspected Lex was going to have a bruise on his calf
exactly the size and shape of Bruce’s foot.
“Or we could get Italian,” Clark interjected loudly. “It doesn’t
have to be Chinese. I could just pop over to Rome and--”
“Yeah, Bruce, what was that for?” Dick asked.
An expression of panic flitted across Bruce’s face. “Chinese is
fine. Clark, did you find someplace to order from yet?”
Clark was making out a list that looked like it would easily feed a
small army of small carnivorous demons.
“You’re changing the subject,” Dick pointed out.
“Master Dick, this is perhaps not the time or place for--”
“You never told him?” Lex turned to look at Bruce
incredulously. Bruce simply turned towards the wall and banged
his head against it softly.
“I think I’ll go get the food,” Clark said suddenly, and there was a
whoosh of air and the sound of a door closing. Alfred sighed
loudly and left without a word. Dick was left staring back and
forth between Lex and a Bruce, who looked liked he’d been caught
sampling Alfred’s homemade cookies without permission.
“You never told him,” Lex repeated and this time it wasn’t a
question. Lex looked royally pissed off, and Dick was beginning
to think he had a pretty good idea exactly what Lionel Luthor had
caught the two of them doing when they were teenagers.
“No, Lex, I didn’t tell him. It was over years before Dick even
came to live with me.”
“And you don’t think he needed to know?”
Bruce whirled around, and his dark eyes flashed with anger. It
didn’t matter in the least that he barely came up to Lex’s chest.
“When was I supposed to tell him? When he was a kid? Like
that wouldn’t have sent him running faster than dressing up like a
giant bat? I wanted to keep him, Lex. Give him the help
nobody gave me. I didn’t think it was wise to start blabbing to
the world that I’d had a relationship with my male roommate at school!”
“So, you’re gay?” Dick interjected. It seemed like a stupid
question. He’d seen Bruce with women, lots of women, and if
there’d ever been a question he didn’t think he needed to ask that was it, but apparently he’d
been wrong. Wow. Bruce and Lex. A lot of things made
a hell of a lot more sense now.
Bruce glared at Lex, and Dick wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d
kicked him again.
“I can’t believe you never figured it out, kid,” Lex said, leaning
against the wall so his shins were protected. “I mean, we kidded
around about a lot of stuff.”
“Yeah,” Dick said, “but I always thought you were just joking.
Friends do that.” He was beginning to think he was the most naive
person on the planet. Obviously Alfred had known, and
Clark. Well, of course Clark would’ve known, and Lex had
certainly never made a secret about his sexuality. So why had
“Lex, you want to give us a minute?” Bruce said. Lex squeezed his
shoulder in what could only have been an apology, and left the two of
them alone. Dick hoisted himself up on the counter and watched
his feet swing back and forth.
“Wow. Guess you think I’m pretty dumb. I just never
“There was no reason for you to know. It was over years
ago. Before we were even twenty. Before Clark met
Lex. And there really weren’t a lot of others after him.
Not men, anyway. Lex was kind of the exception to the
rule.” There was a note of fondness in his voice. He laid a
hand on Dick’s knee. “I’m sorry. It’s not something I talk
about much. Lex’s always been important to me. We’ve been
friends for so long, I sometimes forget we were more. I wasn’t
planning to keep it from you. There just never seemed to be a
reason to bring it up.”
“It doesn’t change anything. You know that, right” Dick said
softly, looking up. “You trained me, you raised me.
Nothing’s going to change that. Or how I feel.”
Bruce just nodded, his mouth moving as if he wanted to say something
but didn’t know how. Dick slid off the counter and caught him in
a hug. From somewhere close-by there was the sound of a door
slamming and a gust of wind flung open the swinging door.
“That would be Clark,” Bruce said, pulling away. “We’d better get
out there before there’s nothing left. He eats almost as much as
The Flash. Especially when he’s nervous.”
“I can’t believe he didn’t tell Dick,” Lex said, laying back on the bed
in one of the guest rooms. It wasn’t the room he usually stayed
in, but since that one had been taken over temporarily by a
fire-burping demon, Lex figured it was for the best.
“You know how private Bruce is. And Dick was pretty young when he
moved in. He probably didn’t want to scare the kid off.”
“Yeah, and dressing up like a giant bat and teaching the kid to rappel
down buildings somehow seemed like a better idea.”
“What are you really upset about?” Clark asked as he changed into his
Superman suit. He was going to do a city sweep with Dick and Tim
since Bruce still wasn’t able to go out as Batman.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Clark sighed and rubbed at the bridge of his nose as he took off his
glasses and laid them on the dresser. “This has nothing to do
with Dick. This is all about you.”
“What? You’re out of your--”
“Lex, I’ve known you a long time. You’re hurt because you feel
like you weren’t important enough for Bruce to tell Dick about, right?”
“Come on, Clark. It was a teenage thing. It wasn’t a big
deal. I just think he should’ve been honest with Dick. The
kid’s practically his son.”
Clark sat on the edge of the bed, tucking his cape around him. He
reached for his boots. “I know how much you care about
Bruce. I work with the guy, Lex, and believe me, he’s not Mr.
Honesty. Even with his family. Maybe especially with his
family. He works damn hard at keeping them all at a distance and
thinks he’s protecting them. I don’t know why you expect him to
“Because you don’t know him like I do,” Lex said a little too loudly,
and stopped when Clark stared at him. He took a deep
breath. “You’re probably right. I just figured it was as
important to him as it was to me. Maybe I was wrong.”
Clark stood up and gathered Lex into a tight hug. “Does it really
matter that much, Lex? I mean, it’s been a long time.”
“You’re right. It doesn’t matter,” Lex lied, and hugged him back.
Etrigan snuck through the hallway on little demon feet. White
Hair was angry at him. Still. He talked in the same way
that The Sorceress did. The way her son did. The accent was
the same, and though he knew White Hair wouldn’t hurt him, somehow felt
sorry for him, he didn’t entirely trust him.
The Batman was the only one he could trust. And even though The
Batman was now a dark-haired boy, he still felt safe with him. So
when he heard him cry out in the night, he watched. He had seen
the Long-Haired man watch as well. Quietly.
Respectfully. The bond was strong between them, like father and
son, and Etrigan knew The Batman would be safe.
Then the Flying One had returned. He was a friend of The
Batman. He gave Etrigan food when White Hair wasn’t
looking. He talked to him softly in words that he could almost
understand. He called him Jason, and Etrigan knew there was
something he should remember. He felt incomplete. There was
something missing, but he didn’t know what.
The Bald One was a mystery to him. He knew he was the same person
as Red Hair, in the same way that The Boy was the same as The
Batman. There was a bond there as well. One so strong he
could see it even in the photograph, an aura clinging to their
faces. Happiness imprinted on paper. That kind of bond was
rare, and even though the aura surrounding them was different now, it
was still strong. Palpable in the air around them.
Maybe he could do something to make their bond shine again. As
brightly as it had in the picture. He would watch. And
wait. And listen.
Magic tingled in his veins like blood.
Lex had pulled out his laptop and was running the LexCorp monthly
figures when he heard a tap at the window. He slid off the bed
and went to let Clark in.
“That was fast. I didn’t expect you for at least a few hours yet.”
Clark floated through the window. “I’m not actually back.
Dick just wanted me to check on Bruce.”
“I’ve been keeping an ear open,” Lex said. “He gets nightmares.”
“Yeah, that’s what Dick said.” Clark cocked his head, and Lex
knew he was listening. “Bruce sounds a bit restless. Maybe
“I’ll look in on him.” Lex didn’t know why Clark was being
difficult about this. He was certainly capable of looking after
Bruce; he’d been friends with the man for years. More than
friends. A lot more.
Lex was at the door when Clark’s hands caught his shoulders. “No
one’s disputing your right to be here, Lex. Certainly not
Dick. Everyone’s worried about Bruce. All of us care about
Lex hung his head and turned back towards Clark. “I’m
sorry. It’s just--”
A child’s scream ripped through the air. “Go,” Clark said without
“I love you.” Lex kissed him hard and fast, and then he turned
and ran towards the screams.
“I love you too,” Clark said to the empty room.
Lex almost collided with Alfred in the hallway outside Bruce’s
room. The screams were louder, harsher, as if they were being
ripped out of Bruce’s body, and Lex didn’t hesitate as he pushed open
the door and gathered Bruce into his arms. He caught his flailing
hands and pinned them against his chest, as he’d learned to do when
Bruce was his roommate. He’d gotten more than one fat lip and
black eye before he’d figured out how to avoid Bruce’s fists in the
night. Bruce had always been bigger than him and it was strange
he could hold him so easily now.
“Wake up. Come on, Bruce. It’s Lex. You’re okay.”
He muffled the screams against his chest, held him tighter, one hand
straying into Bruce’s hair. His fingers clutched at the thick
strands and he pressed his lips to Bruce’s ear.
“Wake up, Bruce. You’re safe. You’re home.
Everything’s okay. Come on, Bruce. Come back to me.”
The screams had stopped, replaced by a quiet moaning against his chest
that formed itself into the same phrase repeated over and over.
“It’s not okay.”
Lex felt like his heart was breaking. He saw Alfred close the
door quietly, leaving them in darkness. Bruce was crying now,
tears dripping through Lex’s shirt in wet patches. He held Bruce
tighter, pulled him into his lap and rocked him gently.
“Shh,” he whispered. “I’m here, Bruce. It was just a dream.”
But it wasn’t just a dream. Lex knew what Bruce had seen, the
same thing he’d seen night after night all of his life. The same
alley, the gun flashing in the moonlight, the pearls tumbling into the
gutter. Blood and bullets and death. Lex had heard it so
many times, he almost felt as if he’d been there, kneeling beside
Bruce, watching his parents die. He almost knew what it felt like
to experience that crippling loss over and over again.
He felt Bruce take a deep shuddering breath and bury his face against
Lex’s chest. Lex held back a smile. “It’s not that bad, you
“Fuck, Lex, I just cried all over you. How is this a good thing?”
“It’s just me.” Lex lay Bruce back on the pillows propped against
the headboard. “Back to building pillow forts, I see.”
“Huh?” Bruce swiped at his eyes awkwardly and glanced around him.
“You used to do that when I first met you. Stack the pillows
around you when you were feeling vulnerable. I didn’t know you
still did it.”
“Neither did I,” Bruce answered honestly. He took the
handkerchief Lex handed him and blew his nose. “I wish this damn
spell would lift already. I feel like my emotions are all about
an inch away from the surface. I can’t deal with much more of
“Can you sleep less?” Lex leaned against the headboard beside
him. It was almost laughable how much longer his legs were than
Bruce shook his head. “Usually I can go on very little sleep and
meditation, but I can’t seem to do it with this body. It insists
on sleeping. Stupid body.”
Lex reached out an arm and pulled Bruce closer, settling his head on
Lex’s chest. “Go back to sleep. I’ll stay with you.”
“You can’t, Lex. What about Clark?”
“He’s patrolling with Robin and Nightwing. He’ll understand.”
Bruce made something that sounded decidedly like a snort. “Yeah,
sure he will. He’d beat me to a bloody pulp if he thought I was
still interested in you.”
“You’re saying you’re not?” Lex tried to feign a hurt expression,
but realized he didn’t have to try very hard. Maybe Clark was
right. Maybe he was a little hurt Bruce had never told Dick about
Lex looked down into dark eyes, still bloodshot from crying, but
intelligent and thoughtful. Eyes that always looked straight
“You think I didn’t tell Dick about our relationship because it wasn’t
important to me. You’re wrong, Lex. It was the most
important thing in my life. You kept me sane during high school,
and a hundred times since then.” Bruce reached up a hand and
touched Lex’s cheek. “Me not telling him had nothing to do with
you, and everything to do with not wanting to push him away. What
young boy wants to be adopted by a strange single man who starts off by
telling you he likes men? The Batman thing was enough for him to
“That’s been years, Bruce.”
“And nothing’s changed. He hasn’t been an adult for that long,
and honestly, Lex, it’s hard to think of him as a grown-up. He’s
still the little boy I brought home from the circus. The one I
trained to be Robin. The one the state could’ve taken away from
me at any time. I didn’t hide it from him. I just didn’t
think to tell him, and he’s known you and Clark for so long. It
wasn’t the fact we had a relationship. I didn’t think he’d have a
problem with it, but the timing, Lex. The timing never seemed
right, and then--”
“Then it didn’t matter anymore,” Lex finished.
“You say that like it didn’t ever matter, and you know that’s not
true.” Bruce studied Lex’s eyes carefully. “‘Cause if you
don’t know that’s not true, I’m going to have to kick your ass and we
both know I can. Even with this body.”
Lex smiled. “Yeah, well, you really don’t want to upset my
“I have Kryptonite,” Bruce said casually, and Lex laughed at how
foolish he was being. God, Clark had pegged him exactly
right. Insecure and stupid. “You know how I feel about you,
Lex. Or at least you should.”
“Yeah, I know,” Lex said, and he pressed his lips lightly to the side
of Bruce’s head. “Now go to sleep, Bat-boy, and I’ll keep the
dreams away. Deal?”
“Deal,” Bruce murmured through a yawn. His eyes were already
starting to close. “Lex?”
“Hm?” Lex felt himself starting to drift as well, the weight of
Bruce’s head against his chest warm and familiar.
“Sometimes I wish we could both go back. Be kids again.”
“I wish that too,” Lex said honestly, and held Bruce a little tighter.
“Lex, wake up.”
“Five more minutes,” Lex murmured, and pushed down further into the
“Lex, dammit, wake up!” God, Bruce sounded particularly pissed
off this morning. Lex decided it was best to keep his eyes
closed. They couldn’t possibly be late for class yet.
“This isn’t funny, Lex. Wake up!” Suddenly there was a
tugging at his head, and Lex’s eyes flashed open.
“Jesus Christ, Bruce, that hurts. Let go of my hair!” Lex
blinked in the pale morning light, staring into Bruce’s dark
eyes. Bruce was nodding, and Lex had a feeling he was missing
something really important.
“Your hair, Lex,” Bruce said
and gave another tug.
“Hair,” Lex repeated, and sat up straight in bed. The events of
the last few days came flooding back to him as he took in the sight of
Bruce exactly as he remembered him from childhood. Lex looked
down to see that he was dressed in the same shirt and pants he’d gone
to sleep in, except they seemed to have shrunk. In fact, all of
him seemed to have shrunk. Except his hair, which had apparently
Lex ran a hand through his hair and screamed. “Holy shit!”
He turned to Bruce in amazement. “It’s red, isn’t it?”
Bruce grinned back at him. “Oh yeah. Luthor red.”
“Well, now what do we do?” Lex said, amazed that the voice coming out
of his mouth sounded like something from a distant memory.
“What we always did when we got in trouble.”
“And this is how I found them this morning,” Alfred concluded, pointing
towards the end of the dining room table where Bruce and Lex were
working their way through a short stack of pancakes.
“Do we have any idea what happened?” Dick asked, already knowing there
wasn’t an answer to the question, but feeling the need to say it
anyway. He couldn’t stop staring at Lex’s hair. Dick didn’t
think he’d ever seen hair quite that vibrantly red, and he finally
understood why Lex hadn’t been upset at its loss. He’d been
facing a lifetime of being mocked regardless.
“I’m afraid this is my fault,” Jason Blood said, emerging from the hall
outside the dining area. “Or more specifically, Etrigan’s.”
“Jason,” Bruce said. “You’re back to normal.”
“Yes, my friend. The two are again one, but unfortunately my
transformation was not completed until this morning. I tried my
best to keep Etrigan asleep during the past few days, but the demon is
strong and has a will of his own.” Jason took a seat at the table
beside Lex. “Master Luthor, I’ve heard much about you from
Bruce. I apologize for my part in putting you in this situation.”
“What happened, Jason?” Clark asked.
“You may have noticed a certain fascination Etrigan had with the
photograph of Bruce and Lex as boys.”
“My word, yes,” Alfred said, setting a plate in front of Jason.
“I had to keep wresting the picture from his possession.”
“Etrigan is a creature of magic, and as such, can see things others
cannot. He’s also a bit of a romantic,” Jason said with a smile.
“Meaning?” Bruce’s voice was all Batman.
“Meaning he sensed the bond between the two of you, a bond forged
through tragedy and love. A bond formed in childhood. One
of the strongest bonds known to Man. Yet, even with the bond, he
needed permission to perform his magic on you.”
“Permission?” Clark asked suspiciously. He’d been shooting
confused looks at Lex since they’d gathered together, and Dick was
beginning to see why. Apparently it wasn’t enough to know that
Bruce and Lex had had a relationship when they were younger, but now
they’d apparently had a bond strong enough to wish themselves back to
childhood. Together. Dick could only imagine what Clark
must be feeling.
“Oh God,” Lex murmured into his coffee. Alfred had balked at
giving him coffee, but under the circumstances had decided it wasn’t
worth a fight with a pint-sized Luthor this early in the morning.
“Just before we fell asleep, you said you wished we could go back to
“And you said you wished that too,” Bruce added.
“Permission,” Jason confirmed. “It was enough.”
“But we didn’t mean it that way,” Lex protested, his voice rising with
frustration. “It’s just something people say.”
“Etrigan did not see it that way.”
“I don’t care how the fuck Etrigan saw it,” Lex started, standing up to
his full height, which was about four inches shorter than Bruce.
“Lex, it’s as much our fault as his. Calm down.”
“Calm down? I woke up with hair, Bruce! I haven’t had hair
since I was nine years old!”
“I know that.” Bruce’s voice was tight, and Dick could sense an
argument about to explode. Time to intervene.
“So can you fix it, Jason?” Dick asked. He threw another pancake
on Clark’s plate and nudged him with his elbow. It wouldn’t do
any of them any good to let Alfred’s pancakes go to waste.
“When Morgan Le Fey’s spell lifts from Bruce, Lex will return to
adulthood as well. Their auras are sufficiently joined to allow
this to happen.”
“Well then, there’s no harm done,” Dick said.
“As long as they both wish to return,” Jason added. His statement
was met by absolute silence.
“What does that mean?” Clark ventured, looking across the table at Lex
It was Bruce who answered. “It means if we wanted to remain as
children, the bond would allow us both to do so. We both have to
want to return to adulthood for it to work. Right, Jason?”
“You are correct, my friend.”
“Well, then that’s not a problem either.” Dick grinned. So
far, it seemed as if disaster had been successfully averted. So
why did everyone continue to look so grim. “Is it?”
“Not if everyone wants to go back to the way things were,” Clark said
softly. He was staring at Lex. Dick didn’t quite understand
what the problem was.
“I’m not hungry.” Clark pushed away from the table. He was
gone before anyone could blink. Lex leaned his head against the
table, and Bruce looked at him sympathetically.
“Damage control time,” Bruce murmured, as Lex went after Clark.
He shook his head. “It’s a damn good thing we’re this age and not
seventeen or Clark might’ve actually had a reason to be concerned.”
“He doesn’t have a reason to be concerned, does he?” Dick asked as
Jason and Alfred excused themselves quietly.
“No, he doesn’t. You’ve always known Lex was my friend.
Whatever else we were was a very long time ago. I have no desire
to interfere in what Clark and Lex have together. I’m perfectly
content with the life I’ve chosen.” Bruce looked at him across
the table. “The people in it.”
“I’m glad,” Dick said, and he meant it. Gotham needed Batman, and
so did he.
“Things okay with you and Clark?” Bruce asked.
“Yeah, we had a chance to talk before he left for Peru. Mudslide,
I think.” Lex said as they walked along the border of the estate.
The sun was just starting to slide over the horizon. “Who knew we
were all so bloody insecure about our relationships?”
“And that’s probably why I don’t date a whole lot. I’ve got
enough issues just dealing with my family.”
“Yeah, but Dick worships the ground you walk on. Always has. And
Tim does too.” Lex laid a hand on Bruce’s shoulder. He
didn’t have to mention Jason Todd. “They’re good kids.”
“We were good kids too,” Bruce said with a smile. “Most of the
“Yeah. I guess we should enjoy our last night as kids.
Etrigan seemed to think we’d be back to normal in another day.”
“So what do you want to do?”
“Race you to the manor,” Lex said and darted off across the lawn, red
hair bouncing in the wind.
At 12:15, Nightwing and Robin had missed two check-ins and Barbara was
getting nervous. She knew something was up with Batman--something
no one wanted to tell her, and that was perfectly fine if they wanted
to keep things to themselves (stupid all boys club)--but now she was
getting worried and she needed help. Dinah was off with Green
Arrow and Wildcat somewhere in South America. Huntress was out of
commission with a busted wrist, and the JLA was tied up with a natural
disaster in Peru. There’d been a report of Superman being in
Gotham, but he was definitely not here now. Even Alfred was
unavailable. Barbara knew better than to interrupt one of his
rare evenings with Dr. Thompkins.
There was no one else close whom she trusted.
“Batman, Priority Alert. Contact Oracle immediately.”
Bruce and Lex were in the middle of a Scrabble Death-Match when Bruce’s
beeper went off.
“Quixotic, triple letter score ‘Q’, double word score! Beat that,
Bat-Brain!” Lex said triumphantly as he tallied their scores.
Bruce pushed back from the table and ran for the grandfather
clock. “Something’s wrong, Lex.”
“Why exactly does the damn Bat Signal always go off when I’m
winning?” Lex followed Bruce down the stairs.
“Oracle wouldn’t have called if it wasn’t important. I’ve got to
check in.” Bruce’s tone was as grim as a nine-year-old could be.
“What do you need me to do?”
“I don’t know. Just stay close, okay?” Bruce flipped a
switch on the computer. “Batman to Oracle.”
The monitor flashed with a computer-generated face. “I’m getting
audio only, Batman, and your voice is being filtered. Anything
you want to tell me about?”
“Bruce Wayne got a pimple?” Lex hadn’t known a computer-generated
voice could smirk.
“Do I know her? Is she cute?” Lex whispered, as Bruce elbowed him
in the stomach.
“Oracle, I believe you know Lex Luthor. We’ll follow code
protocols unless you want to tell him who you are.”
“Nah, let’s keep The Bald and The Beautiful guessing, shall we?”
Lex turned to Bruce with a puzzled grin. So, he did know her, and
obviously she had good taste. He started mentally running through
a list of women they both knew who might have the brains to pull off
the information-gathering system Oracle was famous for. No one
immediately came to mind.
“Your call, O. You had a Priority One?”
“Possibly. I didn’t know who else to call. N. and R. were
tracking separate parties, but somehow they ended up at the same
warehouse. R. was following Molina’s people; N. was tracking a
connection from the Haven. I’ve lost all radio contact with
them. There’s been no communication for almost an hour.”
“What was their last known location?”
“Warehouse 2, Dockside Ave.”
Bruce frowned and tapped a few keys on his computer. “O., wasn’t
“Two steps ahead of you, Batman. Formerly owned by Gemini Real
Estate Holdings, used to be a club called ‘Two to Tango’. And
before you ask, I haven’t been able to track down anything on
Harvey. Not even confirmation he’s in town, so if he’s involved,
he’s been quiet about it.”
“It’s Two-Face. It’s got to be.” Bruce looked at his
watch. “That probably means we’ve got until 2:00 am before he
actually does anything, but still, I don’t want to take the chance.”
“N. said you were unavailable. Have circumstances changed?”
Oracle’s computer-generated voice was neutral, but Lex somehow knew she
was more concerned than she was saying. Even he knew Two-Face was
extremely dangerous, deciding people’s fates with the toss of a
coin. Lex still remembered what Two-Face had done to Dick during
his first year as Robin; he’d never seen Bruce so close to the edge.
Lex noticed that Bruce merely ignored Oracle’s question. He
supposed it should be some comfort that Bruce apparently did that with
everyone. “If Two-Face is the money behind the drugs flowing into
Gotham, then this isn’t going to end well.”
“What do you mean?” Lex asked.
Bruce started assembling items in front of him, even as he explained:
“Harvey Dent was a lawyer who got fed up with a system where justice
seemed arbitrary. Now he uses the coin to make his decisions for
him. If he’s been pumping money into the drug system, it’s not to
turn a profit. Harvey hated it when drug runners got out of the
system so easily. This is about revenge.”
Bruce reached for the folded Bat-suit Alfred had left on the table
downstairs. It was the smallest suit Lex had ever seen. If
he wasn’t positive Bruce was about to put it on and ride to the rescue,
he might have actually laughed.
Oracle’s voice cut through again: “Someone’s been setting up
interactions between dealers in Gotham and the Haven. Looks like
most of the major players from both sides are in Gotham.”
“So he’s going to join them into one organization?” Lex asked.
“More likely he’s going to get rid of both groups at once. Take
the drugs and the drug runners off the street in one blow. No pun
intended.” The computer-generated voice was humourless.
“But that doesn’t make any sense if he was helping fund them in the
first place,” Lex said to the faceless screen. “He’s just as
responsible for the drugs hitting the streets as they are.”
“It doesn’t have to make sense to us, Lex,” Bruce said softly.
“Two-Face is insane.”
“You know, Two-Face may not be the only one who’s nuts.” Lex
stared at Bruce, now dressed in miniature cape and cowl. “I’ve
seen mimes that looked more threatening than you.”
“Tim and Dick are in trouble. There’s no one else.”
“What about the computer lady. Oracle?” Lex gestured
vaguely to the darkened screen.
“Not an option. If she’d had any other available operatives, she
would’ve informed me. No, there’s no one else.”
“I’ll call Clark. I’ll--”
Bruce put a hand on his shoulder. “He’s needed where he is.
I can handle this. Really.”
“Well, you’re not going alone! I’m coming with you.”
“Lex, I appreciate the gesture, but--”
Even with the cowl on, Lex could see Bruce was looking at him as if he
were out of his mind. And maybe he was out of his mind, but he’d
known Dick since the boy was ten and he’d be damned if he’d let
anything happen to him, or Tim. He’d seen the aftermath of
Jason’s death, and none of them were going through that again.
Lex put his hands on his hips and prepared to argue like he’d never
“I said I’m coming with you. Bruce, you need--” Lex hunted around for
an argument that might persuade Bruce that this was actually not the
worst idea he’d ever come up with. “Batman needs a Robin,” he
said with certainty.
Bruce burst out laughing, startling the bats from their roosts.
“You want to be Robin?” Bruce’s mouth twisted into an evil
grin. Lex was beginning to wish he’d had more time to think
through this idea.
“Well, not literally. I mean, who ever heard of a red-haired
Bruce walked towards him slowly, his smile growing as he made a slow
circle around him, eyes studying him from head to toe. Lex
“It might work,” Bruce said. “It just might.”
“Um, Bruce, I was speaking metaphorically, not--”
“If you’re coming with me, you have to be disguised.” Lex could
tell it was already too late. Bruce was rummaging through some
cabinet, tossing out equipment and muttering to himself. There
was a triumphant sound, and a red and yellow wad of fabric hit Lex in
“Put that on. Welcome to the team.”
“You didn’t have an extra Nightwing costume?”
“Too big, Lex.”
“Are you sure Dick’s not gay?” Lex asked, catching his reflection in
the glass case.
Lex tugged at the green shorts. They were shorts--he refused to
think of them as anything else--but he couldn’t seem to stop them from
riding up, and he didn’t know what was up with the frills down the
“With this fashion sense, he really should be. Who puts a yellow
cape with green pixie boots?”
“He was ten, Lex.” Bruce was busy outfitting both utility belts
with an assortment of lethal-looking batarangs, capsules, and other
“You weren’t,” Lex retorted. “You could’ve given him some
direction, you know. Suggested--oh, I don’t know--long
pants? Boots that don’t scream ‘I want to be an elf’? And
what the hell did the kid do in winter?”
“Froze his ass off usually,” Bruce said, folding a de-cel line into a
hidden pocket on his cape. “Are you done criticizing the uniform?”
“Don’t you have any of Tim’s old costumes around?”
“Sorry,” Bruce said a little too quickly. Lex glared
suspiciously. He was going to have to check with Alfred when this
was all over--assuming they lived--and if Bruce put him in green
panties and pixie boots when he could’ve been wearing pants and a cool
black cape, he was going to inflict some serious damage on his oldest,
Lex took the utility belt Bruce handed him and clipped it to his waist
as if he suited up every day. He slipped the mask on, and pulled
up the gauntlets. The leather felt cool against his skin.
“It’s not too late to back out, Lex.”
Lex put his hands on his hips and tossed his cape over his shoulder.
“To the Batmobile!”
“This is going to be awkward,” Bruce said, resting his head against the
“You need another pillow?” Lex asked. He’d already made two trips
up to the study and even with the seat as far forward as it could go,
it wasn’t quite enough to be able to touch the pedals and see through
the windshield at the same time.
“No,” Bruce growled, hitting keys on a miniature keyboard that had
dropped down from the dash. “I’ll just reprogram the autopilot to
take us to the address across the street from the warehouse. It’s
the best I can do. From there we’ll just scale the building,
swing across to the roof of the warehouse, assess the situation, and
then decide how best to rescue the boys and subdue Harvey with the
least amount of bloodshed.”
“Oh, is that all?” Lex settled into the passenger seat. He
couldn’t see over the dashboard either. Well, at least if they
were going to die in a fiery car crash, he’d never see it coming.
“You don’t have to come,” Bruce said again.
“I’m already dressed for the part. But, Bruce, aside from getting
the boys out, would it really be such a bad thing if two groups of drug
dealers did away with each other? I mean, isn’t Harvey doing you
Bruce’s jaw twitched, his lips forming a tight line. Lex
recognized it as the same look he’d seen on Superman’s face a thousand
“We don’t kill. Justice has to be allowed to take its
course.” Bruce glanced across at him. “I’d think living
with Clark all these years would’ve taught you that.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” Lex reached across and squeezed
Bruce’s arm with his glove. The armour of his suit didn’t even
give. “I’m just worried.”
“I won’t let anything happen to you. Just do what I tell you, and
everything’ll be fine.”
Bruce pressed a red button on the control panel and the car’s jet
engine flared to life. Lex grabbed onto the seatbelt with both
hands as the car roared down the exit ramp into the night.
“You do remember how to use one of these, don’t you?” Bruce asked as he
swung his grappling hook towards the building’s rooftop.
“Well, it’s been a long time. You know, if Clark had been my
roommate, the whole flying thing would’ve made sneaking out of
Excelsior a hell of a lot easier.”
“But since I was your roommate,” Bruce said, “I’m assuming you still
know how to rappel up the side of a building in the middle of the
“Come on, I used to be able to do it drunk and blind-folded.”
Bruce just glared. “Is that a yes?”
“I’m sure it’ll come back to me.” Lex tugged on the rope to make
sure it was solidly anchored, then following Bruce’s lead, he began to
When they reached the top of the building, Bruce retrieved the rope and
tucked it into some secret pocket on his cape. Lex had given up
trying to figure out where Bruce kept all his gadgets. He just
trusted there were some secrets of the universe that even he could
“Okay, we’re going to swing across to the roof of the warehouse, and
use the skylight to see what’s going on. From here on out, you do
exactly what I tell you. No names. I can’t tell you how
important that is, Lex. If you have to call me something, use
Batman. I’ll call you--”
Lex wondered if Bruce could see him glaring through the eye mask.
“We don’t want any confusion. And stop glaring at me.” Lex stuck
out his tongue instead. “Real mature. I’m going to link us
back to Oracle now. She’ll be able to monitor our voice
communications and contact the police when it’s necessary.”
“If your communicators are built into the suits, why can’t she contact
Nightwing and Robin?”
The grim set of Bruce’s mouth made Lex wish he hadn’t asked the
“Their communicators have either been turned off deliberately, removed
forcibly, or destroyed. There’s no way to know for certain until
we get a look inside that warehouse.” Bruce reached across and
touched a button on Lex’s utility belt.
“Oracle. We’re on-line across the street from the
warehouse. Do you have our location?”
“Yes, Batman, but I’m reading an old communication signature from--”
“I have a temporary partner, O. You can call him Red. Will
keep this line open.”
“Good luck,” Oracle said. Lex stepped to the edge of the roof and
immediately regretted it. He closed his eyes.
“Still not crazy about heights?” Bruce asked, a hand on his shoulder.
“You could say that.”
Bruce looped an arm around his waist and pulled out the de-cel line
launcher with the other. “Put your arms around my neck.
Don’t let go, and don’t look down. It’ll be over in a minute.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.” Lex tightened his grip.
Impulsively he kissed Bruce on the cheek. “For luck,” he
“Thank you, Princess Leia.”
Bruce stepped off the edge of the roof. Lex closed his eyes and
The skylight was covered with the grime of a thousand city
nights. Lex was fairly certain it had never felt the touch of a
“Thirty men, heavily armed, split into two groups. Likely to
shoot first and ask questions later. Edgy and getting more so
every minute. He’s been making them wait.”
“And Two-Face?” Oracle’s voice was a whisper in Lex’s ear.
Apparently the mask seemed to support some sort of communication
device. He blushed when he realized she’d likely heard their
exchange on the rooftop, but between short-shorts and the boots, Lex
didn’t really think he could get any more embarrassed.
“He’s running the show, two of his own men, also armed. Probably
“Any sign of our lost birds?”
Lex peered through the skylight, but the dirt was too thick.
Bruce was using a pair of goggles that could apparently cut through
years of city grime. “Both accounted for. Conscious and
apparently uninjured. Tied.”
“That would’ve been too easy. Opposite sides of the warehouse.”
“Off. Harv’s no idiot.”
“He’s going to be expecting you, you know,” Oracle said.
“Even if he is,” Lex ventured, “I think we still have the element of
surprise on our side.” He was willing to bet his fortune that no
one would be expecting a four-foot tall Batman and Robin.
Harvey Dent was pacing. He walked each side of a perfect square,
twenty-two steps per side, flipping his coin on every second step.
Dick knew. He’d counted.
He also knew there were thirty-two armed men spread out around the
warehouse, two million dollars worth of heroin stashed in two
containers behind Harvey’s perfect square, and his head was hurting
like he’d been hit with a set of brass knuckles. Twice.
Across the building he could see Tim slouched awkwardly against a
support pillar. He hadn’t moved in at least ten minutes, but
stillness was never an indication of Tim’s condition. The little
bastard had taken to Bruce’s meditation program the way Dick had taken
to the trapeze. No doubt he was already formulating some kind of
plan in his own silent, Tim-like way. He wasn’t ready to count
the kid out.
So, he was left here tabulating the number of panes of glass in the
filthy skylight (26), the empty bottles of chianti that had already
been drained by both sides (48), and trying to surreptitiously cut
through the ropes with the razor embedded in his gauntlet. So
far, he’d only managed to cut himself (twice) and hadn’t made so much
as a nick in the rope (rubber-coated steel core). He could feel
the blood drying on the inside of his gauntlet.
“Hey, Bird-Boy.” Dick looked up as one of the men nudged Tim with
his foot. “Wake up, little bird.” A hard kick to Tim’s
thigh, and if the kid was playing possum, he had a lot more control
than Dick ever did.
“Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” Dick yelled across the
room. The man wobbled towards him, sucking back the last of the
chianti, which dribbled down his chin in a thin, red line. 49
empty bottles, Dick corrected mentally.
“What are you, his big brother?”
“Something like that.” The man leaned close enough Dick could
smell the liquor on his breath. He gauged the ratio of possible
damage inflicted to the likelihood of giving himself a concussion and
decided against a headbutt.
“And where’s daddy?” the man slurred. “Huh?” He kicked at
Dick’s leg. “Where’s the Big, Bad Bat?”
A dark shadow loomed over them.
“Leave him alone,” Two-Face said in a voice like a rockslide. The
drunken man stumbled back to his friends, grabbing another bottle of
chianti on the way. “The Bat’ll be here. He won’t let his
little birdies down. Two birds with one plan. And just
between you and me, Former Boy Wonder, I’m looking forward to finishing
what we started all those years ago.”
His laugh sent cold shivers down both of Dick’s arms. Two-Face
had beaten him almost to death with a baseball bat. While Bruce
watched. It had almost ended his career as Robin before it had
Dick swallowed. Harvey was waiting for Batman, and that just
wasn’t going to happen. If it had been even a semi-normal week in
Gotham City, Bruce would’ve already been here, but Dick knew they
couldn’t expect rescue this time. Bruce probably didn’t even know
anything was wrong. They were going to have to get out of this
Harvey leaned closer. “Of course, that’ll have to wait until my
other business is concluded.”
“It’s not too late to call this thing off,” Dick whispered.
The rumblings among the drug lords was getting louder every minute, and
he’d pretty much figured out Two-Face didn’t have anything like a
merger planned. More like a massacre. From what Dick had
been able to glean, both sides had been promised the heroin–all of
it–and control of both cities. Neither was going to be happy with
less, and Dick suspected Harvey was quite prepared to let them settle
it the old-fashioned way, letting them kill one another off until there
was a clear winner. Then it was probably a matter for the coin
whether anyone would be walking away with the heroin in the end.
Harvey knelt down and cupped Dick’s chin in one hand. “The coin’s
already decided, kid. Nothing to do but wait for the appointed
As he walked away, Dick caught a glimpse of his watch. Almost
two. Dick ignored the pain in his fingers and the blood in his
gauntlet. He started working on the rope again.
“I thought you said they weren’t injured,” Lex whispered directly into
Bruce’s ear and hoped Oracle couldn’t hear him. He’d managed to
clean a small spot on the corner of the skylight with the edge of his
cape, and though he couldn’t see Dick’s face from this angle,
Tim’s was bloody and his eyes were closed.
Bruce flicked something on his cowl. “It’s not important she know
that right now. Besides--”
Oracle’s voice cut through. “B, your communicator’s off.”
“Besides,” Bruce continued. “Blood’s dry. Robin’s posture
suggests he’s awake. Nightwing’s working on the ropes, but he’ll
never cut through in time and he’s not carrying acid or he would’ve
used it already.”
“Batman.” Oracle’s tone was insistent. Worried. Lex
nodded. He was just going to have to trust that Bruce knew what
he was doing.
“We’re getting ready to move, O.”
“We are?” Lex squeaked.
“Yes.” Batman looked at him appraisingly. “You still know
how to pick a lock?”
Lex nodded and took the set of picks Bruce produced from somewhere
beneath his cape.
“Here’s what we’re going to do ...”
Lex watched the rope disappear up the side of the building. Bruce
gave him a wave from the roof and then there was nothing. Lex
figured now wasn’t the time to complain that if Bruce could’ve come up
with this plan in the first place he wouldn’t have had to be risking
his neck rappeling up and down buildings all night.
The first wire pick found its mark, and Lex slid the second one into
place, twisting the metal as he listened for the sound that would tell
him he’d connected with the locking mechanism.
Lex smiled to himself. Some things you never forgot.
He counted off the seconds as Bruce had instructed, then slipped inside
with absolute silence. Maybe these pixie boots weren’t such a bad
idea after all. He couldn’t even hear his own footsteps as he
worked his way through the side door and into the shadowy corner of the
warehouse. Only the main area was lighted. Lex moved
towards the first pillar and assessed his position. Three pillars
between him and Nightwing. He was to free Nightwing first, who
would be able to release Robin. Then Lex was to either remain
hidden in the shadows, or if possible, return to the Batmobile and the
safety of its bulletproof panelling.
Bruce had been right that they wouldn’t be expecting anyone to come
through the door. There were no guards. “They’ll be
expecting a rooftop incursion,” Bruce had said just before he lowered
Lex over the side of the building. Lex hadn’t had time to ask
exactly what that meant.
Suddenly, the skylight shattered, falling glass sending drunken goons
scrambling for cover. A black shadow fell across the room and Lex
heard shouts of “The Batman! It’s The Bat.” Lex smiled,
even as he took advantage of the confusion to move towards
Nightwing. He didn’t think he’d ever get tired of Bruce’s
entrances. So much more dramatic than Clark’s. A smoke bomb
burst in the middle of the room.
Lex slipped the vial of acid from his belt. “You okay?” he
whispered as he poured a steady stream onto the juncture of the knots,
exactly where Bruce had told him to concentrate. A thin wisp of
smoke began to curl upwards. Lex jumped as machine gun fire
started ricocheting around them. He could hear the solid sounds
of leather hitting flesh, the screams of men hit by either stray
bullets or armoured boots.
“Lex?” Dick’s voice was just above a whisper.
“Call me Red.” The acid was starting to tear through the ropes,
and Lex could see Dick flexing his muscles to speed things along.
“My ankles,” Dick said, and Lex moved around the pillar and located the
knot. Another tendril of smoke started to rise. The room
was still ringing with frightened shouts, and Lex wondered how long it
was going to take for the men to realize the Batman they were fighting
was about two feet shorter and about a hundred pounds lighter than
“He wants you to--”
“Get Robin. Get the bad guys. Get out.” The ropes
holding Dick’s hands fell apart, and he broke the last strands holding
his ankles. “Thanks, Red. Now get the hell out of
here.” Dick squeezed his shoulder once and disappeared into the
chaos of smoke and men.
Lex reached backwards for the pillar, trying to get his bearings as the
smoke got thicker. He could hear something that sounded like
heads being smashed together. He edged towards the door.
“Not so fast, little bird,” a deep voice growled. Lex lost his
breath as someone picked him up by the collar. He was going to
have to tell Bruce there was a flaw in the costume design. If he
didn’t choke to death first. “Three Robins weren’t part of my
plan, kid.” Two-Face held Lex in one big hand, dangling him as
easily as a worm on a hook. Up close the damage to Harvey’s face
was enough to make Lex cringe. He hoped the mask hid his reaction.
“Then why don’t you just let me go,” Lex suggested.
Harvey laughed. “Funny. Where does he keep finding you
“Boarding school,” Lex muttered breathlessly. Robin had always
been a chatterbox, after all. He had a reputation to live up to
when he put on the suit.
“Kinky. But maybe you’re exactly the bait I need to catch a Bat
tonight.” Lex saw the flash of silver as Harvey caught the coin
in his other hand. “Yes, I think you’re exactly what I need.”
Dick knew he just had to follow the sound of laughter, and the almost
immediate thud of a body hitting the floor. You didn’t laugh at
Batman. Even if he was only tall enough to look you in the chest.
Through the haze of smoke, he could just make out the yellow-and-black
swirl of Tim’s cape. The kid was doing all right considering he’d
taken some hard hits to the face, but he was tough. And he’d
found his staff. Dick heard the familiar crunch of a kneecap
shattering. The pun that followed was equally excruciating.
Dick grinned. The kid had definitely learned from the best.
“Need a hand?” Dick asked, as he swung hard, knocking another goon to
Some nights, he absolutely loved this job.
“Where’s Harvey?” Bruce asked as the smoke started to clear. He
was fighting back-to-back with Tim.
“You’re how old?” Tim was doing his best to compare their heights
while still dispatching his opponents.
“About nine. Harvey?”
“You were this tall when you were nine?”
“Robin, focus. Where’s Two-Face?”
Bruce sent another man down to the floor with a swift boot to the
mid-section. He was exhausted. Even though he knew all the
moves, this body simply didn’t have the stamina or the muscle-tone to
carry them out with his usual level of skill. He’d be so happy
when things got back to normal.
“I don’t know where he is. I haven’t seen him.”
From somewhere off to the left there was a burst of gunfire, the sound
of breaking metal, and then silence. Bruce and Tim stood in ready
positions examining the room for other possible attackers. Even
through the smoke they could see the room was all but empty.
Those who remained were unconscious or dead, although Bruce hoped there
were few of the latter. He finished zip-stripping the last two
men he’d knocked out. He glanced back to see Tim doing the same
with his men. Nightwing limped towards them through the smoke.
“Are you hurt?” Bruce asked, trying not to let his emotions get away
from him. All he really wanted to do was hug Dick and Tim, and
take them both home to Alfred for hot chocolate and bandaging.
Dick shook his head, rubbing at his thigh as he did so. “Not
really. Took a case of chianti to the leg. I just need to
shake it off.”
Dick bent down and looked him over, running a hand over Bruce’s
cowl. “What about you? You okay? I couldn’t believe
it when I saw Le--”
“Red. Call him Red.”
“Huh?” Tim asked.
“You’ve got some competition, little brother,” Nightwing said
jovially. “Batman brought a new partner.”
Tim raised an eyebrow, and Bruce shook his head. This was no
place to try and explain what was going on. “Speaking of Red, I’m
assuming he got to the car?” Bruce glanced through the
dissipating smoke, but couldn’t see anything that looked like a
“That’s where he was headed when I left him.”
“Oracle, can you locate Red?” Batman said into his cowl.
“No point,” Tim interrupted. “That won’t work in here.
Jamming or something. Once inside the building, communicators
“Those aren’t the only things that are dead,” a voice said from across
the room. The three stared as Two-Face stepped out from behind a
pillar, holding a semi-conscious Lex Luthor by the collar. He was
struggling weakly in Harvey’s grip.
“Let him go, Two-Face,” Bruce yelled, reaching for a batarang.
The angle Harvey was holding Lex at was making it difficult to get a
clear shot, and Bruce wasn’t even sure if his throw would be accurate
over the distance. He wasn’t used to the adjustments he had to
make for his new height and weight. The batarang was a dead
weight in his hand; he couldn’t risk hitting Lex.
Harvey laughed, and Bruce remembered how he must look. What had
Lex said? As threatening as a mime. It must seem like a
particularly bad joke.
“And who would you be? Bat-Boy?”
Nightwing laid a hand on Bruce’s shoulder, holding him back. “Let
him go, Harvey. You don’t want to do this.”
“Oh, but I really do, Nightwing.” Harvey shook Lex roughly.
Lex made a raspy sputtering sound, fingers clutching uselessly at
Harvey’s huge hand. “You see, I had a perfect plan.
Two-fold. Lull the dealers into complacency and let them wipe
each other out with their own greed. It was so simple and so
perfect. I was doing you a favour, but you just couldn’t leave
well enough alone, could you? Had to stick your nosy little beaks
into things that didn’t concern you?”
“Starting a gangland war over drugs is no way to bring about justice,
Harvey. And the stuff’s gone.” Bruce gestured to where the
containers had been broken open and stripped of their contents by
retreating dealers. “You just ended up putting more heroin on the
Harvey smiled an insane smile. “Yeah, but those junkies will
serve as an example. The stuff’s pure poison, sweet and
deadly. They’ll never know what hit ‘em.” His laugh was low
“Robin,” Bruce said. “Get to the car and tell Oracle. We
can’t let that heroin hit the streets.”
“I’m on it,” Tim said, shooting a line towards the shattered skylight.
“Better call the Bat,” Harvey called as Tim disappeared skyward.
“He’s got two minutes to get down here if he doesn’t want to bury
Dick stepped forward, his hands open in a gesture of
conciliation. Bruce knew Dick was assessing what series of
movements would allow him to take out Harvey without risking Lex’s
safety. “Harvey, don’t hurt the kid. We can work something
“Quite frankly, Boy Wonder, I don’t think you’ve got a leg to stand
on,” Harvey said, and pressed a flat switch he’d had concealed in his
“Move!” Bruce shouted, already rolling for cover as the floor exploded
underneath where Dick was standing. He saw a flash of blue and
black spinning backwards and away, then his view was obscured with
smoke and concrete dust. Bruce could see Harvey grinning
wickedly, one thick arm now wrapped around Lex’s neck as he dragged him
“Nightwing!” Bruce called, moving towards the crumpled heap. His
uniform was torn in several places, skin smudged grey with dust and
smoke. Blood edged several of the cuts.
“I’m fine,” Dick murmured, trying to smile. “It wasn’t the full
blast.” Bruce knew if it had been, Dick would’ve likely lost a
leg. Two-Face may have once been a friend of his, but those days
were long past, and Bruce was getting tired of playing.
“Stay still.” Bruce pressed a hand to Dick’s shoulder grimly
before standing to face Harvey through the haze.
“This isn’t a game,” Two-Face growled. His arm tightened around
Lex as he talked, and Bruce could see Lex was almost unconscious.
Every once in a while, his eyelids fluttered as if he were trying to
hang on, but clearly he was fighting a losing battle.
“I’m Batman,” Bruce said in a voice that never faltered.
“Yeah, kid, that’s rich. You’re a real comedian.” Harvey
laughed. “I don’t know what your game is, but playtime’s over.”
“Playtime’s been over for years,” Bruce whispered under his breath as
he extricated a fresh batarang from his belt. He waited for an
Harvey’s face was an open challenge as he reached back and held up a
baseball bat. Bruce didn’t need to see the stains on it to know
it was the one he’d used to beat Dick all those years ago. Just
the thought of it--that Harvey had kept it as some sort of gruesome
souvenir--made his stomach recoil.
It was time to end this once and for all.
“A bat for a Bat,” Harvey said, swinging the baseball bat casually with
one hand. Bruce could hear the sound of it cutting through the
air, remembered the solid sounds of it striking flesh and bone.
He pushed down his memories. “Batman’s two minutes are up.
Guess you’ll have to do, little one. After I break his
neck.” Harvey looked meaningfully at Lex.
“Think again,” a deep voice interrupted as Batman and Robin descended
through the skylight. Bruce wasn’t entirely sure, but he didn’t
think he saw “Batman” using a line. Great. He hated when
Clark borrowed his stuff.
Tim dropped into a crouch beside him. “Check on Nightwing,” Bruce
murmured, and Tim was already moving.
“Batman, glad you could drop in.” Two-Face’s grin was flat and
shiny as a coin. “The party was just getting started.”
“Let the boy go,” Clark said in an eerie imitation of Bruce’s
voice. He was standing with his hands on his hips, though, and
Bruce was seriously going to have to talk with him about that.
Maybe Alfred could give Clark a few pointers on acting.
Bruce moved to Clark’s side and almost immediately there was a large
hand on his shoulder. “You okay, chum?”
He wondered if Clark could feel how close he was to having a piece of
Kryptonite shoved into his skin.
“Fine,” Bruce muttered through clenched teeth. As soon as they
were done with this, Batman was going to sue the pants off the
producers of that vile television show for misrepresentation. He
didn’t care if it took every penny of Bruce Wayne’s fortune.
Enough was enough. What the hell kind of dance was a Batousie,
“It will go easier for you, Two-Face, if you just let the boy go,”
Clark said. Bruce had known him long enough to hear the worry in
his voice. “The police are already on their way.”
“But the fun’s just starting. You see, the best games take two to
play. Like baseball.” Bruce didn’t like where this was
going at all. He shot a glance towards Tim and Dick. Tim
had wrapped his cape around Dick’s leg, staunching the worst of the
bleeding. Dick looked pale and exhausted, and they both looked
“In baseball,” Harvey continued, “you’ve got a pitcher and a catcher,
someone who runs and someone who tags the runner, a batter and a
fielder. Everything happens in symmetry, especially in the
double-play. You’re familiar with the double-play, aren’t you?”
Bruce could see Clark’s brow furrowing under the mask. He was
used to being able to use his strength, and if he’d been alone in this,
he probably would’ve already swooped in and knocked out Harvey.
But this was Gotham and the criminals were always substantially more
insane than they were in Metropolis, and he was waiting for Bruce to
give him some kind of a sign. Bruce wished he could see what
Harvey was planning. Right now all he wanted was to go home.
“A double-play,” Clark started.
“--is typically when the runners at first and second are put out in
succession,” Bruce finished, feeling triumphant. Take that!
He was sure Clark hadn’t expected him to know anything about
sports. He glanced up to see Clark grinning at him beneath the
“Don’t look so surprised, and for God’s sake stop smiling,” Bruce
mouthed so quietly that only Clark would be able to hear. “I know
a lot about sports.” Of course, he wasn’t about to tell him the
knowledge was more theoretical than practical.
“Just ‘cause you can incapacitate someone with a ping pong racket or a
lawn dart, doesn’t mean you know a lot about sports.” Clark
replaced his grin with what was clearly his idea of a suitable
frown. It wouldn’t have frightened a skittish accountant.
“Someone had a normal childhood, after all,” Harvey said sarcastically,
and Bruce felt himself flinch as if he’d been slapped. “But my
version’s a little different.” Bruce steeled himself for whatever
horrible twist Harvey had managed to concoct in his fevered
brain. “I’ve placed bombs on two of your team members.”
Bruce could see Clark was already x-raying. “I’ve come in contact
with three of you tonight, so it’s a toss-up which two are set to
Clark was shaking his head slightly, and Bruce had to assume that he
wasn’t able to detect anything. Maybe the devices were made with
lead components. Considering the way their luck was running,
Bruce wouldn’t have been surprised.
“What do you want, Harvey?” Bruce asked.
“Patience, Bat-Boy, you’ll get your chance to step up to the
plate. Here,” Harvey tossed the bat towards him and Bruce caught
it in one hand. “I’m sure your mentor remembers that one.”
Clark was nodding grimly, and Bruce did his best to ignore the brown
stains embedded in the wood. Dick had been so small in his arms
then; so small and broken. He hadn’t been sure he would survive,
and if Dick had died, Bruce wasn’t sure what he would’ve done.
Tim was holding Dick around the shoulders now, doing his best to make
him comfortable. Wheezing under Harvey’s enormous forearm, Lex
was unconscious but alive. Clark was growing restless for action
beside him, and for the first time in a long time Bruce wasn’t sure
what to do. He wanted someone else to be the adult here, to be
responsible. He didn’t want to do this, didn’t know how to
protect them--all the people he loved.
Bruce turned and slammed the bat as hard as he could against the
floor. Again. And again, until the sound of wood shattering
was the only sound in the room. He threw the broken pieces aside.
“We’re not playing by your rules any more,” he said. “Robin, get
Nightwing out of here.” Tim was already moving, Nightwing leaning
heavily on him as they headed for the door.
Harvey looked stunned. “I’ll blow them sky high. I’ll crush
your little Redbird’s throat,” he said, the last of his words drowned
out by a large gauntleted fist around his neck.
“And I’ll break your arm,” Clark said, finally sounding like
Batman. “Now let him go.”
Bruce was right there to catch Lex, pulling him free and loosening
the collar. He heard him take a deep breath, and Bruce
collapsed onto the floor a few feet away, Lex half on top of him.
Harvey was still threatening, but he’d lost some of his fire with
Superman squeezing his windpipe.
“Batman,” Bruce said, trying to catch Clark’s attention. “I think
you can let him down now.” Clark finally seemed to realize he was
holding Harvey half a foot off the ground. He let him fall to the
ground, and hurried to Bruce’s side.
“Is he okay?” Clark whispered, stroking a hand through Lex’s red hair
and squinting at him with x-ray eyes. Bruce rubbed his chest
gently and hoped Lex’s asthma hadn’t been resurrected by the
spell. He remembered listening to Lex’s wheeze as he struggled to
breathe. He didn’t need to hear it again.
“Fine,” Lex rasped, eyelids fluttering weakly.
“This isn’t over.” Two-Face pulled twin automatics from his
jacket. Clark just sighed resignedly and used his body to cover
Bruce and Lex. Bruce could hear the impact of each bullet on the
armour of the suit as they crumpled into useless bits of metal,
deflected by the aura of invulnerability that surrounded Superman.
“You know, usually I try to avoid the bullets,” Bruce muttered, his
mouth close to Clark’s ear, Lex tight against him. Bruce wasn’t
taking any chances.
“Think of it as helping your reputation.”
“Great, then the next nutcase will want to test the ‘Batman is
bulletproof’ theory. I’m going to have to upgrade the Kevlar
because bullets don’t bounce off my skin. Even with the armour, I
“I can let him go back to trying to shoot you, if you want. Lex
and I can go home.” Bruce heard the distinct sound of a clip
being reloaded in frustration.
“No, but while he’s reloading might be a good time to actually get him
to stop shooting at us.”
“Right.” Bruce saw a black blur of cape, and then Two-Face was
stretched out unconscious on the floor. “I hate guns,” Clark said
grimly, and crushed the handguns to dust.
“So, how did you know he didn’t actually have bombs on them?” Clark
asked when they were on their way.
Nightwing was stretched out in what passed for the backseat of the
Batmobile, with Tim, Bruce and Lex piled in the front. Clark was
flying the whole thing back to Wayne Manor.
Bruce didn’t even bother to speak up, knowing Clark’s hearing would
catch what he was saying. He concentrated on getting some colour
back into Lex’s face, rubbing his arms and pressing a canteen of water
to his lips, encouraging him to drink.
“The suits are alarmed against intrusion, and Tim or Dick would’ve let
us know if the suits had been breached. Plus there would’ve been
“You know, I always thought people were joking when they said you had
the Robin suits alarmed, Bruce.”
“All the suits are alarmed, and I don’t joke about safety.” He
didn’t bother to add that he didn’t particularly care what the locker
room gossip around the Watchtower was either. He’d heard it all,
and he didn’t care. It wouldn’t stop him from keeping them all
safe. His family. “Any explosive device would’ve had to be
put on the outside, and you would’ve been able to detect it. The
chances of Harvey using lead was pretty slim, so I figured he was
“That was taking quite a chance, wasn’t it?”
“Not really. You would’ve noticed lead as a blocked spot on the
suit. The odds were in our favour. The only one I was
really worried about was Lex. I know the rest of you know how to
take care of yourselves.”
“Gee, thanks,” Lex muttered against his shoulder. Bruce just gave
him a squeeze. “You should think about reinforcing the collar on
this thing, you know. Less chance of being choked to death.”
“Mine has a reinforced--”
“Did you check in with Oracle, Tim?” Bruce cut in, ignoring Lex’s
suspicious glare. If he found out Tim kept extra uniforms at the
manor, Lex was going to strangle him, and given what had almost
happened, Bruce might just let him. The temptation of seeing Lex
in those short-shorts and boots had just been too strong to
resist. He figured he’d throw himself on the mercy of the court,
if it ever came up. He had a feeling it would.
“Yes. Gotham City PD swooped in and carted off the goons we’d
tied up. They also rounded up most of the others trying to leave
town with the heroin.”
“And the drugs?”
Tim shook his head. “No way to be certain if they got all of it,
but the shelters and clinics are putting out word to heroin users to be
cautious. There’s not much more they can do right now.”
“What happens to Two-Face?” Clark yelled from outside.
“Back to Arkham.” Bruce absently rubbed at the blood on Tim’s
face with a corner of his cape, ignoring the puzzled look from his
usual partner, who nonetheless allowed the action.
“No offense, Bruce, but the system doesn’t really seem to be
working.” The car tilted slightly as Clark adjusted for the
wind. “Belle Reve has a higher success rate than Arkham, and
that’s not saying much. Aren’t there any other options?”
Bruce sighed and shook his head. “Bruce Wayne funds scholarship
programs for psychiatric training, sits on the board of directors at
Arkham, and still can’t make any real difference. Harvey’s
learned to rely on the coin less and less, but ultimately his thinking
is so divided, it’s unlikely he’ll ever be able to lead a normal life.”
“But you keep trying,” Tim said. “You can’t discount everything
you’ve done to help him, Bruce. You’ve done more than anyone else
“It’s not enough.” Bruce looked out the window as the Manor came into
view. “It’s still not enough.”
“What were you two thinking?” Alfred yelled. They were all in the
study now, hot chocolate steaming on a tray, and everyone who needed it
had been stitched and bandaged. Costumes and capes had all been
left in the Cave.
Bruce was sitting in one corner of the couch, a pillow on his
lap. He had known this would happen. He’d known Alfred a
long time, and he knew what fear and worry looked like.
Tim and Dick glanced up in surprise. Alfred didn’t yell very
often, and certainly not in front of the boys. He and Alfred had
always had their battles under more civilized terms.
“Alfred, Bruce didn’t have much choice. We were in--” Dick tried
“There is always a choice, Master Dick. There are other people
who can assist, and he simply never bothers to consider seeking
help. It was foolhardy and reckless. And there is certainly
no excuse for involving Master Lex in this ill-conceived madness.”
“Alfred,” Lex interrupted. “I’m perfectly capable of--”
“No, he’s right,” Bruce said, and everyone turned to look at him.
Bruce swallowed, and put the pillow on the couch beside him as he stood
up and crossed the room. “I’m sorry, Alfred. I wasn’t
thinking. I didn’t mean to upset you.” Bruce looked up at
him and there was permission in his face, an openness he had to
consciously wear. It was so much harder than donning the mask.
“Oh, my boy.” Alfred embraced him immediately, and Bruce gave
himself over to the hug, as he’d never really allowed himself to
do. He closed his eyes and felt Alfred’s arms tighten around
him. “I thought we’d lost you all.”
“I know. I’m sorry,” Bruce whispered, hugging back with all the
strength in his nine-year-old body. “I didn’t mean to--”
“That’s not good enough this time. You’re grounded, young man,”
Alfred said calmly, pulling back and looking at Bruce with open
affection. “You too,” he said, pointing at a speechless
Lex. “And quite frankly, I should ground all of you. For
the next few days, no capes, cowls, or costumes of any kind. No
Cave, no criminals, no life-and-death experiences. You’re going
to act your ages, and do something fun. All of you. Is that
“Yes, Alfred,” five male voices said in unison. They all knew
better than to argue.
Dick blew his whistle and looked at the group surrounding him, the
eager upturned faces and the one familiar scowl. “Okay, we need a
team captain. Any volunteers?”
“I’ll do it.” Dick almost choked on his whistle. He really
hadn’t been expecting that, but he supposed it shouldn’t have come as a
“Okay, Wayne will be the captain for Team Alpha, and--”
“I’ll do it.”
Dick shook his head. As if he couldn’t have seen that one
coming. Probably the two people who knew the least about the game
were now going to be in charge of the teams. Predictable little
control freaks. Oh, it was going to be an interesting afternoon.
“And Alex will be captain for Team Bravo. Gentlemen, pick your
There was a certain amount of yelling and pushing, the usual chorus of
“pick me, pick me”, but for the most part the choosing of sides
proceeded without much trouble. Clark walked across the field and
came to stand beside Dick.
“How’s it going?” he asked.
“Well, Bruce and Lex are going head-to-head as captains, so you can
imagine what kind of game this is going to turn out to be.”
“They’re awfully competitive,” Clark agreed. “Anybody recognize
“If they have, nobody’s saying anything. Bruce’s identity has
been well-kept--the Teen Titans and Young Justice members don’t know
who he is--and we introduced them as friends of Tim’s. Roy and
K’ory and a few others might recognize Bruce, but those are the ones
who know him anyway. It won’t be a problem.”
“Wayne and Alex, right?”
“Yeah, although I’ve heard them calling each other a few more
interesting names than that. John’s here too, but since everyone
knows his identity, it doesn’t really matter as much. It’s kind
of a relief.”
Dick blew his whistle as the kids sorted themselves into two
teams. He took a minute to write down the members.
“Well, that’s a surprise.”
“What?” Clark peered over his shoulder at the clipboard.
“Bruce picked Kid Flash.”
“Impulse? But Bruce has always said the kid’s impossible to deal
with. He has no patience.”
“Bruce is up to something,” Dick said. “I can tell. Look,
he’s already whispering in Bart’s ear.”
“He picked Kon too?” Clark asked in disbelief. “Bruce barely
acknowledges the kid’s got a name half the time. What’s he
doing? Following Sun Tzu’s Art of Selecting a Baseball
Team? Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?”
“And Lex snagged Tim, Wonder Girl, and Arrowette. Actually, Lex
looks like he’s got most of the girls.”
“And that is absolutely no surprise whatsoever,” Clark said with a
Dick blew his whistle again to catch their attention. “Remember,
this is for fun. No powers.” A predicable wave of groans
went up from the kids. Bruce bent down to whisper something to
Bart, who just grinned and nodded. Dick shook his head.
Clark stepped up to the plate, and took the umpire’s position.
“Let’s play ball!”
Dick finally understood the purpose of time-outs. It wasn’t that
the kids needed a break, but he certainly did. He leaned against
the fence at the far edge of the field. Close enough if there was
trouble, and far enough that the chatter of voices was a pleasant
muddled backdrop. Suddenly, over the din, he heard a recognizable
“You are such a rotten cheater!” Lex screamed at the top of his voice
and threw himself across the base onto Bruce. They went down in a
tangle of dust and limbs. Dick sighed and started off at a
run. Life was so much simpler when Bruce was the adult.
“Lex! Alexander!” Clark grabbed him by the back of the
collar and hauled him off Bruce. “Get off him. This
is supposed to be fun.”
Dick pulled Bruce up, and wrapped both arms around his waist, holding
him back. Judging from the smug look on Bruce’s face, Dick wasn’t
entirely sure Lex wasn’t justified in punching him.
“Br--Wayne. What’s the problem?”
“They’re using their powers,” Lex insisted, shaking off Clark’s
hands. His face was almost as red as his hair, and that wasn’t a
healthy look for him at all.
“Kid Flash,” Lex said without hesitation. As if summoned by his
name, Bart appeared from nowhere, a hotdog in one hand and a
drink in the other.
Dick hung his head. He understood what Bruce had done.
Impulse’s powers were so much a part of him that it was almost
impossible for him not to use them. Same with Superboy. It
was like asking Bruce to suddenly be unable to throw a batarang without
“Okay,” Dick said, “new rules. Everybody can use their powers,
okay?” There was a wild whoop. “No more keeping
score. Just have fun.” The kids ran back to take their
places on the field, Impulse a blur tearing around the bases, Superboy
hovering over third base. Dick saw Green Lantern form a giant
glove with his ring. Nothing was getting by him.
Clark threw a carefree arm around Dick’s shoulder and walked him back
towards the plate. Off to the side of the field, he could see two
heads bent close together, one red and one dark. Money was being
“Jeez, can you believe they were betting on the game? What’s with
them? God, they’re acting like--”
“No, they’re acting like short annoying versions of themselves.”
Dick shook off Clark’s arm and headed towards them. “And I’ve had
just about enough of it.”
“Um, Dick, they weren’t actually betting on … never mind,” Clark said
with resignation. There was no use arguing with any member of the
Bat-clan once they’d gotten an idea in their heads. He watched
Dick stride across the field and waited for the fallout. Three,
two, one …
Clark winced. He saw Dick throw his hands in the air, shake his
head, and head back. “Go on, play!” he yelled, and the rest of
the kids scurried to get in to position.
Dick stared at Clark in disbelief. “They were betting on how long
it would take before I gave in and let them use powers. Not that
those two have any powers.”
“Well, that’s debatable, Dick. Who won?”
“Who do you think?” Dick said darkly. Bruce’s smirk was obvious
in every muscle of his body as he sauntered to the plate.
“So what’s your strategy now?” Clark asked as Dick blew the whistle to
start the game again. No need for an umpire when the rules had
gone out the window. Now it was just a matter of making sure no
one got hurt or careless.
“Let them play til they’re exhausted.” Dick looked up with a
smile and held up a handful of bills for Clark to see. “Besides,
I picked Bruce’s pocket when they were fighting. I figure he owes
us a couple of beer for this, don’t you?”
“Oh, yes. Definitely.”
The sun was sliding lower into the west when the game wrapped up.
Bruce had to admit it had been a lot more fun than he’d ever imagined,
and he had an entirely new appreciation for the way the Titans and
Young Justice worked together. They were good kids. Even
Kid Flash and Superboy. He was beginning to suspect he’d been a
lot harder on them than they deserved. He was prepared to correct
his opinions of them.
He and Lex were sitting on the fence at the edge of the field.
Dick and Clark had made a beer run, and the adults were having a few
drinks on the bleachers. The kids were running around showing off
their powers for one another or flaked out on the grass around the
“I guess Jason was wrong about when the spell would end,” Lex said
“Are you upset?” Bruce turned his dark eyes toward his friend,
trying to read what he wasn’t saying out loud. Jason had said
they both had to want to go back. Was Lex concerned?
“No. It was actually kind of nice to have a day just to be a
kid. Or at least to be as much of a kid as I ever was.”
Bruce stopped himself when he realized he was swinging his feet back
and forth aimlessly. “Yeah. But I think I’m ready to get
back to normal.”
“Me too. But this was kind of nice.” Lex bumped Bruce’s
shoulder with his own. “You and me. Hanging out. I’d
forgotten how comfortable it always was. Before things got
“Before Clark and Dick, you mean.”
“And capes and nutcases and--”
“Yeah. When it was just us.” Bruce remembered that feeling
of it being the two of them against the world. Like they could do
anything as long as they had each other. Sometimes he still felt
Suddenly there was a rush of air and a cloud of dust rose in front of
them. A red blur moulded itself into a solid form.
“Hey, you two!” The Flash said. “What you doin’ over here by your
lonesomes? Come join the party.”
“We’re fine.” It had taken every ounce of patience Bruce had to
deal with Impulse during the game. He wasn’t sure he could deal
with another super-speedster.
“Come on, Bruce,” Flash said, and Bruce looked at him curiously.
“It won’t kill you to lighten up a little.”
“Are you sure?” Bruce asked bleakly, and Wally laughed and ruffled his
hair. Lex stared as Bruce didn’t flinch, or pull away, or attempt
to disembowel Wally. Bruce wasn’t sure why he
didn’t feel the need to kill Wally, but he really didn’t. It was
kind of … nice.
“That’s what I love about you, Bats. You’re a funny guy.”
Wally eased up onto the fence beside him. “And if you’re trying
to figure out how I recognized you, well, it’s easy. You’re a
cute kid. And nobody moves like Batman.”
“And how would you know?” Lex asked, grinning. “Been paying
Bruce jabbed him in the ribs and felt his face turning the colour of
Lex’s hair. “Um, he didn’t mean anything--”
Wally just tugged off his mask and let his reddish-blond hair
escape. He winked at Bruce. “I pay attention to a lot of
interesting things. Maybe when you’re all grown up, you should
remember that. Bruce. Be seeing you.”
There was another blur and Wally reappeared across the field, talking
to his cousin Bart. He looked up and gave a wave. Lex
grinned and waved back.
“Stop that,” Bruce scowled. “Don’t encourage him.”
“I think he likes you,” Lex said.
“Wally likes everyone. He’s like a particularly friendly housecat
with an affinity for finding those who are most allergic to him.”
Lex stared at him, grinning like an idiot. “You like him
too! Why didn’t you--”
“Lex, you’re being ridiculous.”
Bruce slid off the fence and started heading for the bleachers.
Surely he’d endured enough fun for one day. Maybe Dick would take
him back to the manor. Or maybe he could bribe Tim to take him
home if he gave the kid the keys to the Batmobile. Hell, at this
point he’d even accept being carried home and deposited on his doorstep
by Clark. Anything would be better than having to put up with the
looks Lex was giving him right now.
Lex caught him by the arm. “Bruce, you’re my best friend and I’m
going to say this only once. If you like him, do something about
it. Seriously. You deserve to be happy.”
Bruce scowled and nodded. “I’ll take it under advisement.”
“So, should we click our heels together three times and say ‘there’s no
place like adulthood’?” Lex suggested when they got back to the manor.
“Maybe. John wasn’t back to normal yet either, though, so it
just be us. I guess the magic is taking longer to wear off than
Morgan Le Fey thought it would.”
“Well, hopefully everything will be back to normal in the morning,” Lex
said, “and by that I mean, I’ll be bald, you’ll be brooding, and
neither of us will have a sudden urge to perform the Tyrellian Tickle
Bruce snorted, and immediately shook his head. “I’m ready to go
back to silk pajamas instead of cowboys and Indians. And it’s a
little unnerving having Dick come in and attempt to tuck me in. I
mean, it’s sweet, but I’ve had about as much sweetness as I can take.”
“I know what you mean,” Lex said. “I liked being a kid. I
liked growing up with you, figuring stuff out, getting into all kinds
of trouble. But I’m happy with Clark and my life now.”
“Me too,” Bruce agreed, and he was a little surprised to realize how
true it was. Life wasn’t perfect or easy, but he was happy with
the choices he’d made and with what he was doing. Most of the
time, he felt like he was making a difference.
Bruce leaned forward and hugged Lex impulsively.
“What’s that for?” Lex asked, squeezing him back.
“For luck. Goodnight, Lex.”
Bruce checked the address on the crumpled piece of paper again and
shuffled his feet awkwardly. He couldn’t believe he was doing
this. He must be out of his mind. Maybe something had
happened during the transformation from adult to kid and back again
because this definitely wasn’t Batman behaviour.
“What am I doing?” he said to himself, shaking his head and shuffling
from one foot to another. Batman never shuffled. This
behaviour was completely baffling. Maybe he needed to seek some
kind of professional help. Immediately. Back in Gotham.
Okay, Bruce, get a grip. You can do this. “I was just in
Central City to … I mean, I had some business here, and …” Lame
and lamer. This was not going to work. Not at all. He
had no reason to be here, none at all, except the most obvious one and
he wasn’t even sure how to begin to process that, so he wasn’t going to
think about it at all. Except he was thinking about it, and had
been all the time since Wally had smiled at him in the field.
Smiled at him like he knew him and liked him anyway.
And because of that smile he was standing shuffling his feet on a dusty
doorstep in a strange city with two melting Iced Cappuccinos in his
The door opened in front of him so suddenly, Bruce almost dropped the
coffee he was holding. The Flash reached out and caught the cups
“Were you planning on standing outside until they melted, Bruce?”
Bruce would have given anything for his cape and cowl. Or a small
dark place where he could hide. Like a black hole.
Wally just smiled, bright as the sun, and opened the door wider.
Bruce stepped inside grateful for the cool shadows that surrounded him.
“Glad to be a grown-up again?” Wally asked, leading the way up the
“Yeah,” Bruce said, admiring the view. “I guess I am.”
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