As you and I go down
July 31, 2004
Disclaimers: Not mine. Not even close.
Spoilers: Major ones for various storylines, especially "Underworld Unleashed," in an AU sort of way.
Summary: Bruce is in love, and all is fair.
Ratings Note/Warnings: R. Content some readers may find disturbing. You should probably take that seriously, this time.
Author's Note: Mary posted <a href="http://www.livejournal.com/users/monkeycrackmary/447610.html">scans</a> from "Underworld "Unleashed." Sarah asked for a certain story. Te was only following orders.
Timeline: I fudged this a bit. For those of you actually familiar with the storyline? I moved it slightly forward in time. Slightly.
Acknowledgments: To LC and Jack for audiencing and suggestions.
"No," he says, in the firmest voice he can manage, in the voice of a certainty he hasn't truly possessed for a very long time. "No," and he dreams the sound of breaking, he dreams darkness and the smell of blood that had to be there before.
The smoke that comes after.
He dreams and wakes up with an aching jaw and burning at the back of his throat.
"Yes," he says, "yes, please, anything, just don't --"
He dreams the bite of his teeth on the inside of his lip, the reflex against begging, and then it's gone, and there's silence.
A waiting, empty silence that he can't believe in.
He can't possibly let himself --
If there's nothing, if there's quiet, if it's over, after everything --
Bruce isn't ready for it to be over.
He's restless, and somewhere beyond the edges of sleep is his bedroom, and beyond that is a Gotham washed with too much daylight. The light is always silent, and always waiting.
A tease for the night to --
He kneels in sand, alone.
He kneels in blood.
Bruce dreams of footsteps, steady and unsubtle, unconscious. The pace and tread of a healthy young man with nothing in particular to do. His other senses are deadened, if not absent entirely.
The footsteps are Jason's. The only one who moves like that, so obviously, so carelessly. Jason only moves silently when he has to. When he feels he has to, no matter what Bruce has tried to say about the usefulness of making it into a habit, and from there an instinct.
He didn't try hard enough. He knows that, now --
No, Jason is moving, coming closer, and there's nothing wrong. Because Jason's footsteps would be entirely different if they were, if this was that sort of --
It's not a dream, because his dreams are never this safe.
It's not a dream.
He wakes the way he always does, as quickly and thoroughly as he can.
He'd pulled the curtains to the night before, a mostly futile attempt to give himself deeper, more peaceful sleep. The thought was a particularly unhumorous joke years before. Now, it's nothing more than (sand, bone, dust) habit.
And he is awake, and aware, and not alone.
He considers reaching for the lamp, but he'd long since trained himself to remember every dream he could, every clue, every hint.
The bite of (flesh) self-recrimination, the murk of his own mind.
He remembers, and so he reaches for nothing but his own strength and presses the button that will pulls the curtains back, instead.
He remembers, and --
It's not enough. His heart knocks in his chest, at the sight of him. The boy (Jason), the thing, so still, so false, so empty.
The sun gleams on his bare cheek like the shine on a waxen apple. His mouth has the illusory softness of a statue. It's not real.
"No," he says, and everything changes at once.
"No, what?" the thing says in Jason's voice, a mixture of idle curiosity and tease. It turns toward the sunlight, eyes narrowing against the glare, and Bruce remembers --
("I'm pretty sure I used to like sunrise.")
- too much.
"No," he says, and the thing turns back to him with a grin.
"Are you gonna tell me what you think is going on, Bruce? Because I --"
"You're not real."
The smile falls off the thing's face with no more sudden-ness than a simple, human mood swing, and it toys with one edge of his cape.
Bruce can see the thin-ness of it, the egregious lack of protection. The glare of it is nearly baleful, even more than it had been within the confines of his own thoughts when he'd designed Tim's. Inexcusable, reckless --
"Are you awake, Bruce?" It takes a step closer and reaches down, gauntleted fingers resting on the coverlet bunched at the foot of the bed. "I mean, you told me about your nightmares --"
("Every night? Fuck, Bruce --")
" -- nothing about..." It waves its other hand. "Sleepwalking, without the walking." Narrow-eyed head tilt. "Hey, if you aren't really awake, am I gonna drive you crazy if I wake you up suddenly?" A smirk. "Would anyone be able to tell?"
So much of him, all of him. So close. He forces himself to take a breath, sacrificing silence for depth.
"Seriously, Bruce, you're --"
"Why. Are you here?"
The smile is secretive, sly, and perfect. So perfect --
The thing reaches up to rip off the mask, and Bruce braces himself for the truth. Empty eye sockets, decay, something.
Anything but those wide, deceptively soft blue eyes, winced against the mild pain. Blinking at the sunlight.
Focused on him with that mercurial, constant shift between suspicion and heat and endless, faintly cruel amusement.
Jason, he says to himself. Jay, and it crowds at the back of his throat.
"I'm here," Jason says, and shrugs. "As for the why... well, I think you made some kind of deal."
"No. I --" Refused, resisted -- this.
Jason crawls onto the bed, thighs flexing easily, eyes dancing. "Someone thought you did," he says, and keeps coming.
Relentlessly casual, heedless of the thousand vulnerabilities of his position. Trusting. Hands on Bruce's shoulders and knees bracketing Bruce's hips, and everything in him that isn't screaming warnings is screaming demands.
Jason leans in, fingers tight, strong on Bruce's shoulders, kneading with absent attention to all the tension Bruce can't possibly mask right now. His mouth is a soft, breathy tease against Bruce's cheek, and then it isn't at all.
He drags his lips over Bruce's stubble with a purr that echoes in memory.
He smells like heat, like the old, inadequate armor, like --
"Wait," and Bruce can hear the desperation in his own voice.
Jason pauses, mouth pressed to the corner of Bruce's eye. His tongue presses hot, wet there for just a moment, and Bruce scrambles like the rankest amateur for something, anything.
"Where. Where were you?"
Jason's fingers flex on his shoulders and he pulls back, settling on his heels, and the smile on his face....
It's the first strangeness (no, remember the wax, you have to --), the first real wrongness. That isn't a smile Bruce knows for him. It's too... old.
"I was dead, Bruce," he says, and scrapes the rough thumb-pad of the gauntlet over the edge of Bruce's ear. "I was everywhere."
He can't breathe. He can't -- "Jay."
Jason sighs, deep and low, and leans in to kiss him. His mouth tastes like nothing at all, the mouth of someone who has never eaten, or drunk, or slept. Bruce moans and kisses back hard, too hard --
("Always, always --")
And tastes need, his own, and --
"And maybe..." Jason's laugh is breathless and sharp. "Maybe nowhere, too."
Bruce gives up and grabs Jason by the waist, clutches him and pulls him closer, until Jason has to feel the pound of his heart, has to, and when he strokes his way up Jason's back, he presses, too.
Slides his hands into Jason's thick hair and remembers the feel of it on his face the last time, the only time he was ever supposed to --
The only smoke is memory.
The only blood is what spills into his mouth when he bites Jason's lip.
"Yes," he whispers and holds on tighter.
In retrospect, the fact that Alfred had taken one look at the boy and gone to retrieve his shotgun was, perhaps, the best possible reaction Bruce could've hoped for.
The gun is over Alfred's lap, now, casually pointed toward the doorway of the study, which just happens to be where Jason is standing.
Leaning, arms crossed and so...
It's difficult to focus on the details of the scene. Jason is wearing one of Bruce's robes, and it does nothing to hide the marks Bruce has left on his throat.
When he shifts, Alfred does, too.
Bruce is entirely aware of this, but the knowledge is vague compared to the long, scarred length of Jason's thigh, and the way he scratches idly at the teeth-marks there.
He has never felt...
No. It's not true.
He used to feel like this all the time. And Jason meets his eyes and sees it, sees everything, and his own eyes widen. Sharpen.
"Master Bruce." Alfred's voice is clipped, even, and edged as a blade.
"Yes, Alfred." He drags his attention back to the gun, and to the way Alfred is slowly stroking the trigger guard. "There's no need for that."
"Hm," Alfred says. "Theoretically, there is also no need to state the obvious, and yet I feel it distinctly required that I point out that Jason Todd is dead."
"Was," Jason says, and the grin in his voice is... is...
Bruce clears his throat. "I... I did this."
"So you've mentioned. More than once. But, Master Bruce --"
"Jesus, Al, are you going to chill out anytime soon?"
Bruce watches Alfred's hand, ready to move should he have to, but the tension dissipates after a long moment.
"You," Alfred says, "will not address me."
Jason snorts. "And I thought you had a bad fucking attitude when I got here the first time --"
"Jason," Bruce says, as clearly as he can, and rests one hand over Alfred's. He listens to Jason take a shuddery breath (and oh to hear it, to hear it --) and waits for Alfred's own breathing to steady.
Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Jason shifting again before he stills into a position undoubtedly comfortable enough for him to retain it for an extended period of time.
Jason. He catches himself before he can squeeze Alfred's hand too hard, but when he looks up, Alfred's expression is knowing and bleak.
"I did this," he said again. "I..." Didn't mean to. He can't say that for so very many reasons. "It was Neron."
Alfred's eyes widen. Bruce can feel Jason's eyes on him, but he can't quite predict what might be in them.
The enormity of it, of what he has done...
The curious thing is that it feels distant and faintly unreal against (his breath) everything else.
That used to be true all the time, too.
"Alfred," he says, and can't quite loathe himself for the plea that must be perfectly, terribly audible. "I thought my dreams were safe."
Alfred's exhale is ragged, low. Just this close to a moan.
Alfred raises a hand -- the one that was on the trigger, and turns to look at Jason. Bruce does, too, feeling something very like the giddiness of a wayward child with the perfect excuse.
Jason is making a show of studying his fingernails, clipped in the same careless, uneven way as ever. The scratches on Bruce's back burn so perfectly he aches.
"Master Jason," Alfred says. "Is it..." Bruce can hear him swallow, and when Jason looks up his smile is sardonic everywhere but his eyes.
"You could see me. Sometimes." And Jason nods towards the curtains.
And Bruce doesn't know what Jason is talking about, but Alfred --
"Dear Lord in heaven."
"Heh," Jason says, and this time is smile is only for Bruce. "I guess we can hope."
"Oh, damn these are sweet, Bruce."
There's a thunk, followed by another three in rapid succession. Jason's appreciation for the birdarangs is --
"God, are these sharper than the batarangs?"
- gratifying. The word sounds wrong and incomplete in his mind, but is actually entirely accurate. "Perhaps a little."
"'A little,' he says." Jason snorts and there's the wet, deadly, and unmistakable sound of a finger being sucked.
Followed by more thunks as Jason thoroughly aerates one of the targets.
Bruce shifts on his work-stool and continues modifying one of Tim's spare belts, lengthening it to fit Jason's broader frame. Jason has always been heavily muscled. Even as a child his body had just seemed to be waiting for it, for the thick, powerful layers of...
The only reason this work will be remotely close to his standard is that it's necessary.
Jason grunts fiercely and, "fuck, ow."
More sucking sounds.
Bruce closes his eyes for a moment and forces himself to remember Ethiopia, and the way Jason's body had hung limp in his arms.
No, worse than limp.
Bruce had been forced to hold him very tightly, very carefully, to keep his body from twisting and slumping in ways even dead bodies shouldn't. He had been broken inside.
"I'm gonna need at least ten of these."
Thunk. "No, fifteen. Per night."
He can feel Jason's eyes on him and nods. The welding work is delicate, but familiar. He works steadily, and forces himself to the same slow care he'd used when designing Tim's suit in the first place.
He'll have to modify at least three more, and then replace them.
He suspects he's still being optimistic. Jason has never been especially gentle with the uniforms.
The high, thin whistle of two birdarangs in flight at once -- though not tossed at precisely the same moment -- followed by a double-thunk, followed immediately by the sharp crack of a target losing its 'head.'
Jason has never been gentle with anything.
Bruce waits for the exclamation, the sweetly obscene triumph, but... it doesn't come.
The lack is still another distraction, and he comes very close to welding the belt shut. Perhaps he should return his attention to the armor, or --
"Bruce?" Jason's voice is soft and hesitant. Wrong.
"What is it?" he says, turning, and winces at the way Jason does. His own tone had been much too sharp. He swallows and makes an effort to modify it. "What's wrong?"
Jason stares at the floor and strokes the flat of a birdarang. "I just... I mean. The suits."
Jason shifts, obviously uncomfortable, and Bruce... he can't. He sets the belt down entirely and closes the distance between them, stroking Jason's arms before squeezing.
"I can be careful. I..." He twists out of Bruce's grip with the same easy absence as always, the same thoughtless...
Jason has never been intimidated by him. More than that, Bruce has never had to work to keep him from being intimidated.
Jason scrubs a hand through his hair and crosses his arms over his chest, staring at nothing, or perhaps the car. "I learned that lesson."
They all had. "That isn't the point."
Jason snorts and crosses to the Case, the one Bruce has had neither the time nor the inspiration to... remove it?
He still doesn't know. Jason raps on the glass with his knuckles before glaring back over his shoulder. "Isn't it?"
"I never lost faith in you, or your abilities."
Jason's eyes widen for a moment, fixing Bruce in place. The idea of looking away is far beyond laughable, even when they narrow again and Jason frowns. "Then... why?"
"I've had my back broken. I've been shot in the chest more times than I can remember. In the head. Killer Croc is even larger and stronger than he was before you died. And he's come close to eating Tim.
Jason blinks, and the look on his face is indescribable, moving rapidly between disgust, horror, amusement, and... excitement. "So you're saying we need to be armored like tanks."
"Hmm." Jason tosses the birdarang straight into the air and catches it with his other hand, barely managing to avoid slicing his palm open. He tosses it again, and again, and Bruce considers teaching him some form of hypnosis less likely to cause accidental maimings.
"Have you tried the new gauntlets?"
Jason grins at him and leans back against the case as though it's nothing at all. "Yep." Another toss, and then Jason pauses.
And deliberately slices the tips of his index and middle fingers open.
"Yeah," he says, and drags his bloody fingers across his mouth. And purses his lips. The illusion of lipstick is surprisingly believable. Moreso, somehow, with the clumsy streak trailing over his cheek.
The light in the Case throws odd shadows over Jason's face, shifting, impatient shadows.
If he listens closely, he can hear the slow patter of blood falling to the floor.
He can smell it, and --
"Bruce. You'd better kiss me soon. This is gonna be nasty when it --"
He drops to his knees and yanks until the button on Jason's new jeans skitters across the floor --
And kisses him.
"Bruce, you -- yeah. Suck me. And --"
Thick in his mouth, salty. Hot. Bruce presses his tongue against the vein, flexing at the pound of Jason's pulse.
Jason laughs and thrusts and gasps. "And... heh. Tim? Thought... thought it was Tom. I -- Bruce --"
Swallowing, needing, and Jason gives it to him, gives him everything --
"Fucking suck at -- oh God -- reading lips..."
Tim doesn't walk into the Cave so much as storm it. He's still wearing his backpack and he's at least two hours earlier than Bruce had expected.
He tosses the backpack toward the free weights without looking and starts stripping in fast, sharp motions. He isn't muttering to himself, but the rage is obvious. Palpable. And... there's a curious doubling in his mind.
A week ago, he would undoubtedly have sent the boy directly to the rings. It's Tim's weakest area, which means he'd be forced to concentrate as well as work off excess energy.
Right now, he's incredibly tempted to just direct Tim to the mats for a spar.
A smile is as good as splitting the difference. "Should I assume the field trip was less than pleasant?"
Tim growls, brief and low in his throat, kicks off his trainers, and shoves his jeans down and off. "Now would be a good time to remind me why I'm not allowed to give vicious beatings to my classmates unless they commit actual crimes."
"Man, I never got that rule."
Tim freezes mid-stretch, blood draining from his face as he watches Jason walk out from the shadows, barbell in one hand and Tim's backpack in the other.
Jason hefts it and whistles. "Took the library home with you?"
"I --" Tim's teeth click shut audibly and he tenses, shifts, and freezes again, midway into a defensive position. "Bruce," he says, with quiet demand.
Jason smirks and tosses Tim's backpack at him. Tim dodges reflexively, letting it fall. "Bruce," he says, and shifts a little closer to a ready position.
"It's Jason," Bruce says again. "Stand down."
Tim makes a small hissing sound between his teeth but does it, moving backwards rapidly until he can have both Bruce and Jason within his sight-line.
Jason smirks a little more and starts moving to flank him.
Tim narrows his eyes and compensates. "Bruce, I could really use an explanation here."
Jason fakes a lunge, and Tim pulls the small blade he keeps taped to the small of his back, making Jason dance backwards and... laugh. "Oh man, I like him."
"Bruce. I'm going to cut him. It."
"You're gonna try..."
The grin on Jason's face is feral, and Tim's holding the blade ready, and... it's more than a little difficult to concentrate. "Stand down."
"Explain," Tim says, and starts to circle.
Jason matches his pace. "Can't we just fight first?"
Tim's face hardens into a perfect, blank mask, and that's all the warning Bruce could ever need. "Robin!"
Tim freezes again -- they both do.
And then Jason sighs and spares him a brief glare before raising his hands in something faintly -- and sardonically -- resembling surrender to Tim. "I was dead. Bruce had a fucked-up dream. As near as I can tell, since Bruce hasn't really said anything, there was a demon involved, and a deal, and anyway..." Jason shrugs. "I'm not dead anymore." Jason looks at him again, impatient. "Now can we fight?"
"What kind of deal?" And Tim is still holding the knife, but it will take him at least a beat, perhaps two, to get it back into the proper position.
It's... an excellent question. Neron hasn't made contact, and his patrols have been entirely normal. He isn't sure.
Jason shrugs and reaches back to yank the birdarang he has clipped to the back of his jeans free. And starts tossing it from hand to hand. He's done it enough that even the bandages on his fingers don't make him clumsy, anymore. "Fuck if I know," he says.
Tim watches Jason's eyes.
"But when I do wind up dead again? It won't be from boredom. What about you, new kid?"
Bruce swallows around what he knows,
intellectually and pointlessly, isn't, actually, his heart. And watches Tim deliberately shift his attention back to him. Bruce searches for words and finds nothing.
So he just nods.
And Tim turns back to Jason, and looks him up and down. "So you want to spar."
Jason's grin is slow and wide. "Show me whatcha got, new kid."
"Bring it... dead boy walking."
Batman steps back from the edge of the roof as the Robins move to flank him. He loses some of his sight-line, but it's worth it, on a number of levels.
In this position, he can see the way the Robins move as a unit to compensate for the fact that he's no longer watching the streets as perfectly as he can. Jason on his left and Tim on his right, and he isn't sure about his own effectiveness.
They both seem perfectly... sanguine about there being two of them, though he's almost positive their reasoning for it is entirely different.
"Too many cars in the lot," Jason says.
"Too many baggy jackets," and Tim shifts into a crouch that will allow him to spring at a moment's notice.
Jason rolls his head on his neck, and tugs at the collar of his cape -- identical to Tim's own, save in size. "Hate this thing."
"Keep you from getting your throat slit," Tim says, and shifts beneath his own cape. He's almost certainly tapping the hilt of his grapple.
"And this explains that giant fucking scar on yours, how?" Jason's rocking on the ledge, heel to toe to heel.
"Good knife." If Tim were another sort of person, Batman would think the boy had forgotten his presence entirely. And as for Jason...
"Dude. Serrated, or --"
"Now," Batman says, and they launch themselves down simultaneously, Jason shooting his grapple high enough that his swing is deep and only just controlled enough to keep him from dislocating his shoulder.
He hits the largest crowd of gunmen -- the guns are out as soon as Jason whoops -- and they fall like ninepins.
Most of them.
Tim catches two of the ones who remain standing in the spine -- the crack of his staff is unmistakable -- and Batman focuses on convincing the ones who are down to remain so.
"Fucking Christ, Morrie, I told you there were two -- fuck --"
Tim's staff clacks and flickers between Batman's spread legs, a sweep made more final by the elbow Jason lands on the man's jaw.
The gunman goes down groaning and Jason spins to go after the others. The familiar tugging swing of Tim's cape brushing against his own tells Batman that he's done the same. The temptation to stand there and watch them work is no more powerful than the temptation to leave Tim to his own battles --
"It's just a stick, Louie, don't fucking nut up -- ow --"
- and focus on Jason. His wild laughter, and the blood on his gauntlets --
"Fucking A I love these new boots, Batman."
And his boots.
Batman centers and forces himself to walk.
"Man, Batman isn't even sticking around! We can take -- glrk --"
He pauses on the second-to-top step, considers the door, and kicks it in.
Even with the front door beneath his heels, the sounds of battle fade quickly. This brownstone was built in an era when walls were soundproofed as a matter of course. He finds his target in the kitchen, sipping coffee and looking toward the front of his home with nothing more severe than faint suspicion.
At least, until he walks out of the shadows.
"Jesus fucking Christ --"
"Mr. Levin. We saved your life tonight."
"What are you --"
Levin flinches, small in his chair. He's dressed in greys and browns, and seems designed to fade into the background. He's also next in line to be consigliore for the Galantes. And...
"Listen very carefully, Mr. Levin. I'm going to tell you how to stay alive."
In truth, the thought is more than a little optimistic. The lives of informants are... perilous, at best.
He thinks of Jason in flight in a world even more ruthless, more dangerous than the one which killed the boy the first time.
Than the one he'd been unable to see for what it was.
He doesn't have that problem anymore.
He leaves Levin with plausible deniability in the form of a handful of bruises and the need for new bridgework.
Outside, the street is quiet save for the moans of the few remaining conscious Verraza soldiers. The 'family' is small in Gotham, its toehold tenuous. It will remain so for at least another night.
Jason is examining Tim's staff. Tim is visibly restraining himself from correcting Jason's form.
"No, wait, that wasn't it -- damn. Show me."
And then he isn't.
They stand close, voices low. Tim's hands are deft, precise on Jason's own, and Batman thinks of the boy's work with Young Justice.
And Bruce thinks of...
Of knocking them aside, shoving between. Of the way Tim's gaze would feel on his back, and of the expression on Jason's face. It would be a smirk. Whether it would be knowing or simply teasing is a question he doesn't want answered.
They work well together. They like each other, and may very well come to care about each other.
It's a clenched fist in his chest and unstable ground beneath his feet.
He moves out of the shadows and Tim looks up first, sliding his hands away from Jason's to rest on the staff itself.
Jason looks back over his shoulder and grins openly, easily. "Next stop?"
I would do anything for you. "Your usual route," he says to Tim. To Jason, "accompany him. I have other business."
Tim raises an eyebrow at him, and fails to dodge Jason's ungentle punch to his shoulder. "Let's hit it, new kid."
He stays long enough to watch Tim's gaze slide away, and the corner of his mouth turn upwards.
"Watch me work, dead boy."
And they move.
He waits until he can no longer trace the route the two of them must be taking within his own mind and pauses on a rooftop overlooking a brothel. He hasn't yet decided whether this one requires a visit.
If it does, it would probably be best to send the Robins, anyway.
It's... shocking to feel crowded within Gotham, and terrifying to feel it even while being fully aware of the feeling's irrationality. There aren't enough of them, even with the network Oracle's building.
There never could be.
He isn't sure what he needs. Not anymore. He taps the communicator.
"What can I do for you, B?"
"The Robins are working together tonight."
She sucks her teeth, and the sound is both strange and somewhat precious through the scrambler. "Without your watchful eye? I'm shocked."
"I have your watchful eye," he says, and watches a woman with the unhealthy gauntness of one addiction or another move rhythmically, obviously through a third-story window. The john is visible only as a shock of messy blond hair, a gleam of sweat on a moving arm.
"Mm. And you expect me to use it, of course." A brief pause. "I have their mask-cams on feed. The audio is working perfectly. Anything else?"
"No. Batman out."
They couldn't be safer than that, not in this city and not in this life.
He tries very hard not to think about the fact that the camera feeds are also connected to his own computers.
He tries very hard not to think about how very much Tim has enjoyed working with Dick, in the past. How much he might enjoy it now.
And then he simply continues his own patrol.
Every monitor is on, and every monitor offers a different view of chaos. The recipients of Neron's gifts use them eagerly, all over the world.
Jason paces behind him, suited up and ready.
A large amount of Gotham is burning, and...
It feels like a reckoning. It is a reckoning. He's just not entirely sure if it's the one he's waiting for.
"Come on, Bruce, we need to be out there!"
"Which there, Jason?"
It's an absolutely honest question, and an important one. Neither they nor the rest of the world can afford anything but the most efficient possible use of resources.
He's in constant communication with Superman, and so far the man is doing an excellent job coordinating the League and its affiliates. He just needs a little more information.
"What the fuck are you talking about?" Jason bangs on the monitor with the feed from Nightwing's mask cam. "Dick and Tim and Huntress and Canary are up against a jacked-up Metallo and Blockbuster!"
And Grodd, or some other metahuman of his type, considering the behavior of some of the bystanders. That isn't important, but if he doesn't make a decision now, he'll have to drug and restrain Jason to keep him from leaving without him. He takes a breath. "There are four of them. Arsenal is down. Green Arrow can't fight -- that, alone."
He only has suspicions about who -- what -- Oliver's appointment used to be.
And Jason's looking at him like he's insane. The fondness he has for that look is no less pathetically irrational than it is real.
"Make it fast, Batman."
"I'm sending you the coordinates."
"How many to teleport?"
"Two," he says, and plants his hand firmly on Jason's shoulder. The necessity is more about Jason than it is about the teleporter's capabilities.
And Jason tenses under his hand. "Wait, what --"
The 'landing' is no worse than it ever is. He swallows back bile and checks the perimeter while Jason shakes off the moment's dizziness. "Where --"
"The bystanders, Robin. Now."
"I --" Jason's eyes are wild and mutinous for a moment before he flips the lenses down on his mask and takes off. They've drilled this a hundred times, more.
He knows Jason can get the bystanders out of range and protect himself.
He knows it.
The metahuman is backing Green Arrow up steadily, toward Arsenal's -- probably -- unconscious body. No time for that, either. The meta hasn't noticed him yet, and he knows precisely how to take advantage of that.
He pulls two of the explosive batarangs, reconsiders, and pulls another two. The thing's leg appears to be made of shifting metal, but the batarangs lodge precisely the way they should.
The meta spins and belches a stream of molten metal at the space where he was three seconds before. The heat makes him sweat beneath the suit, and his cape starts to melt.
He tosses his last three explosive batarangs just in time for the first four to blow. Green Arrow ducks and twists instinctively to avoid the flash, and Batman pulls his grenades, tossing them into the smoke and tackling Green Arrow out of range.
His cape is burning now, but Green Arrow uses the head of an arrow to cut it free before he can rip it off himself.
"Nice to see you. Get me Arsenal's guns and we might just survive."
He dives for them against the scream of rage and pain from the meta, against the pure wall of sound and heat. The trickle from his ear only feels like sweat. No time.
Green Arrow catches the guns on the first toss, and Arsenal is breathing. He looks up to find Robin sweeping to the ground with a child in his arms. The building he's leaving groans and starts to crumble in on itself.
The far end of his grapple is burning, but he lands before it snaps. Batman gestures towards Arsenal's body and doesn't bother to wait for the nod.
The meta has a noticeable limp, but it's still coming, and when the wind shifts Batman can smell the sickly-sweet stink of burnt flesh. Green Arrow's left leg.
"Hold your fire."
"Suck my dick, Batman, we're getting --"
"I have a plan."
He pauses -- long enough.
The 'grenades' are awkward, unwieldy. A first design -- a whim Tim had decided to build on.
He hits with three, the fourth goes wild --
"More fucking grenades?"
- just in time for the liquid nitrogen to flash freeze most of the creature's chest.
"Well, hell-o, nurse."
The creature's scream is choked, shocked, and the blood fills the bottom of his cowl. "Now, Arrow --"
"Teach your grandma to suck eggs," Green Arrow says, and fires both guns at once.
The sound, this time, is less that of glass being shattered than of glass being crushed. The meta -- whichever it was -- topples like brick.
And Jason's footsteps are absolutely recognizable, despite the rubble and the fact that his JLA communicator is currently lodged in several points of his right ear. He's almost positive the damage will be minimal.
And Jason is safe. Blackened with soot, bleeding from several cuts where his right gauntlet should be, but safe.
Green Arrow grabs Jason's shoulder and yanks him in to face him. "Arsenal."
Jason rears back, but recovers quickly. "Mercy General -- they took him --"
"Fine," Green Arrow says and starts limping east.
Batman unclenches his fist.
"Batman, get them to teleport us back to Gotham now --"
The clap of soundless thunder nearly knocks Jason off his feet, but it isn't the first time Bruce has heard it. The smoke is green, and Neron is smiling at both of them in a sick parody of benign pride.
Batman grabs Jason's shoulder and squeezes, too tightly.
Neron's smile gets wider.
"No," Batman says, and out of the corner of his eye he can see Jason pulling a birdarang.
"No? Are you sure you don't mean 'yes, please, anything, just don't --'"
"What do you want?"
Neron's laugh is low and entirely inhuman. "Oh, you've already paid your debt. But my new friends all seemed so enthusiastic about the joys of gloating. I had to give it a try."
"Batman, what's he --"
Another clap, the stink of sulfur, and Neron is gone.
Bruce swallows, takes the extra communicator out of his belt, and places it in his left ear.
"-- in, dammit, are you listening --"
"Night --" His own voice is choked and low. He tries again. "Nightwing."
"Batman, you have to get here. You."
Jason grabs his arm. "What is it? What's --"
"I -- oh God." Nightwing takes a deep, shuddering breath. "It's Robin. It's -- the crowd -- the fucking bystanders --"
"Fell on him like... like... we didn't see Grodd until it was too late. I didn't see -- and I --"
"What's he saying, Bruce?"
"Batman, oh God, I'm so sorry --"
"Nightwing. Contact Superman. Have him... we have to. Have him get us there."
"Y-yes. I --"
He swallows, and breathes in the stink of smoke and blood.
The Case is old. The suit is new.
He hasn't finished the plate, yet.
It has to be... it has to be right.
He pulls the goggles over his eyes and bends over the engraving machine, the same one he'd used when...
He pulls off the goggles again, and listens to Jason, instead. The birdarangs hit with solid perfection, one after the other. Precision.
Jason was throwing them when he and Alfred had left to attend the funeral. The one Jason couldn't attend, because there were far too many people there who remembered him. It seems strange, now, how little Bruce had thought of the fact that Jason never left this house during the day, and never without a mask. It had felt right, and entirely natural.
The fact that it still does...
"Was it worth it?"
Bruce blinks and looks up, and Jason is holding the last of his birdarangs. It's smudged, the gleam lost under several hours worth of the oils from his skin, and drying blood.
"What do you want me to say, Jason?"
The boy's face crumples, twists hard on itself before settling into the blank, even lines that Tim had taught him.
Without Bruce's suggestion, much less... permission.
"I want you to say that you know it. That I was supposed to be the dead one. The one in that fucking -- in that case."
Dead boy walking. Bruce swallows back bile. "Survivor's guilt is --"
The birdarang lodges in the console, perhaps two inches from Bruce's hand, and Jason is watching him with a blankness that never comes close to his eyes.
Bruce nods, mostly to himself. "I love you."
"And that's supposed to be -- what is that? Some kind of fucking excuse?"
"No." There isn't one.
Jason's hand snap closed into fists, and Bruce waits for the attack. Hungers for it.
It doesn't come. "Jay --"
"Then what is it, Bruce? What is it supposed to be?"
"The truth," he says, and watches Jason swallow back a sob, and another.
Jason's fists are clenched so tightly that blood drops from both of them, pattering and pooling on the floor.
He starts to stand.
"You knew they weren't safe."
He sits back down. "Jason --"
"You knew your dreams weren't safe. You're the one who told me that nothing was ever safe, not even in your -- your fucking sleep --"
("Well, that's fucking paranoid.") Bruce closes his eyes. "Yes."
"You knew and you did it anyway. God, Bruce, what the fuck did you think would happen?
His eyes are wide and wet, and Bruce thinks of telling him about the first time he'd seen them that way, about the first secret he'd ever kept -- tried to keep -- from the boy, and the way he never could again.
"Was it worth it to you, Bruce?"
It's a curious sensation to know the exact nature of your damnation.
It's a lot... like being light. "God fucking dammit, Bruce --"
"Yes," he says, and watches Jason tense, all over.
Watches him walk away, up the stairs and into the manor.
Alfred will keep him from leaving. Alfred will...
Bruce squeezes his eyes shut for just a moment, just long enough to catch his own breath.
And then he turns back to the engraver, and slips the goggles back over his eyes.
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Title: As you and I go down
Author: Te [email] [website]
Details: Standalone | R | *slash* | 37k | 07/31/04
Characters: Bruce, Jason, Tim, Alfred, others.
Summary: Bruce is in love, and all is fair.
Notes: Disturbing content.
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