?

Log in

No account? Create an account
 
 
26 January 2007 @ 08:04 am
Flash by Northwest (12/14)  
***
Flash By Northwest (12/14)
a Justice League story
by dotfic and mtgat
Copyright 2007
TV-14 (DSLV)
***

Disclaimer: DC Comics and Warner Brothers own the characters and situations. No infringement on their property is intended or should be inferred.

Continuity/Spoilers: Takes place after JLU "Destroyer" and the events of the flashback in "Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker"

Thanks to amilyn for her beta on this work. Special thanks also to xffan_2000 and billa1 for editing above and beyond the call of duty on the final draft. All mistakes that may still be found herein are ours alone.

Pairings: Lots. If it was canon, if it was implied in canon --- heck, if we just thought it was amusing at the time --- it's in there.

Summary: The Big Seven (plus one) are trapped inside a fantasy world created by a magical artifact. As the body count rises, familiar faces hide deadly secrets and it's up to Flash to save them.


***
Chapter Twelve
***

John should have looked between the mattress and the box spring first.

"November 4th: Second week into filming this thing, and I can't get the director to let me act! He wants me to stand there and "look moody," he says. All sorts of directions on how to move my face, and not a scrap of idea how to play the scene. We spent six hours to get one take, and we never got to the part of the scene where I slap Matt. Betcha this one goes way over budget. Speaking of, I was looking over JJ's numbers and I swear half my money disappears without me even knowing where it goes. He says it's for taxes. I say I saw his wife in an awfully pretty set of pearls last week.

"January 12th: Lunch with Claire and Crystal today, but it rained and we didn't linger. Came home but J wasn't here. I asked where he went, but the staff all got that look where they're not telling me something. I think it's her again but I can't prove anything yet.

"January 22nd: I can't be alone with Bruce anymore. I have to smile and pretend he's an old friend, but every time he touches my shoulder or my leg, I want to scream. I wish he'd drop dead. I wish he'd drive home drunk one of these nights and go off the edge of a cliff.

"March 9th: It's supposed to be lipstick on his collar. Wasn't that what my last movie said? Not bite marks down his neck. Part of me wants to hate him. Most of me is too tired to care anymore.

"April 15th: We talked tonight. We should have talked a long time ago. I wish. No, no more wishes."


"Hey," Shayera said, and John nodded vaguely but didn't look up as he kept reading.

"He says he's leaving her for good. I don't believe him. He told me that before. I need to decide what I want from my life.

"April 20th: Talked with Bruce. I still don't like him, but he's my only out right now. I've told him I can swallow my pride for one more film if he'll keep me. As I was leaving, ran into an old friend. I think D. is Bruce's latest fling. I want to warn her what kind of a rodent he is, but if I do, the bastard will punish me again.

"April 25th: This is exciting! I got a call from Curry last night, and we went to lunch today. He can't pay me as much as Bruce can, but he can give me autonomy. Any role I want. Any thing I want to reject from a part, I can. All in writing. I'm so happy I could shout. There's more, but I don't want to jinx it. Something wonderful.
"

That was the end. John rubbed the bridge of his nose and flipped to earlier pages. Shayera cleared her throat. He glanced up.

Then he blinked.

"That's a new look."

She grinned under the dark wig, with its long hair pulled into a neat bun, and showed off the black and white maid's uniform. "Katma got me the clothes. I found the wig upstairs. Any idea why Mari had twenty of them?"

He shrugged. "Different looks. She kept her hair short here too." The outfit aside, Shayera looked much better today. Sleep and a bath had worked wonders. If he didn't know where to look for the scrapes, or didn't notice the limp, he'd have been enjoying the view even more.

In his hands was the book telling him how much his affair with Shayera had hurt Mari, and now Shayera was sitting down next to him on his bed, wearing the little maid's outfit, and this just wasn't fair at all.

"Are you okay?" She rested her hand on his shoulder. She was just concerned about him, he told himself.

"Fine, fine. I'm just trying to figure out how much of this came out of her head and how much out of mine. You know?"

"I know." She watched him turn pages. "I thought you'd be back helping Superman with the research."

"He called while you were still in bed. He's got a lead on where to find Huntress."

She stood up. "Why didn't you come get me? We should go help!"

"He said to sit tight. He's got Wally and Diana with him. They'll call if they need backup, and anyway you shouldn't be out in public. You're supposed to be dead, remember?"

"I'm in disguise, stupid."

"If you think anybody's going to be fooled by your 'disguise,' you're not only stupid, but crazy."

"You like me crazy," she said, and she was right there in front of him, bent over in his face, and wow, the uniform fit her even better than it did Katma. Dropping the book, he took her wrists to push her gently away but instead he was pulling her closer. He felt her pulse race under the delicate skin at his fingertips, and this was a very very bad idea, and ...

From downstairs, the phone rang, and they froze. A few seconds ticked by, in which he was hyper-aware of the movement of the lace on her bodice as she breathed, and then he heard Mason's quick steps coming up the stairs. Shayera pulled away from him and turned towards the night table, and looked for all the world like she was dusting.

Mace didn't give her a second glance as he said, "Sir, Mr. Kent is on the phone. He says it's urgent."

***

Bruce hung up the phone. "Alfred, I'm going out." He ran up the stairs to the guest room where he'd begun stockpiling equipment. Matches was in a box in the closet. Metal blanks he'd filed to a rough but serviceable flying edge were stored in a false bottom of the dresser. These he took out and put in the pockets of his leather duster, mindful of the sharp points.

The phone rang again. Clark wasn't the patient sort.

As he made his way down the stairs, Bruce could hear the shrieking over the phone, and plucked it from Alfred's ear. At first, he couldn't make anything out among the terrible sobbing, couldn't identify the voice. Not Diana, not Shayera, so immediately lower risk assessment.

"Cold! And I tried to wake him up!"

Selina.

Oh God.

"Selina! You have to calm down. Tell me what happened." But he already knew, in the cold place inside himself which had only grown since the first night Tim didn't come home.

"He's dead. Bruce, Timmy's dead." She broke and Bruce forgot about Clark entirely.

***

This? Could be bad. Wally glanced around the edge of the box out of some sense of dramatic stupidity, and was rewarded with gunfire spitting his way.

"Will you stop doing that?" Diana growled at him, as she ripped off the sleeve of Clark's shirt. "Keep that elevated," she snapped at Clark, who had tried to set his other arm down.

"Sorry." Another large crate blocked their view, making a protected corner, and behind them was an otherwise empty pier looking out into the harbor. Wally and Diana might be able to swim, but only as long as it took the gangsters to lean over the edge and shoot them in the water. And Clark wasn't going anywhere.

To be fair, it could also be worse. Clark might be dead instead of bleeding profusely while Diana tried to tighten the tourniquet she'd made from his belt and bandage his arm. Wally could have left his gun back at the office instead of having dropped it ten feet too far away. They might not have thought to call Bruce and John before they went into this situation, so at least the three of them would die knowing reinforcements were in fact on the way. They could be outnumbered twenty to one instead of five armed to three unarmed. And so on. Really, the situation only sucked from a local point of view, rather than a global one.

"Helena!" Wally shouted from behind his box. "We can talk this over!"

"Not on your life, copper."

"We know you killed Queen," Diana said, grunting a little as she tied the bandage. "We know you were taking vengeance for your father's murder."

"You don't know nothin'!"

"Vic told me," Wally said.

Silence.

"You dropped the necklace he gave you at the club. We've got it here. We'll make a trade. We give you the necklace, you stop shooting at us."

"Better idea," said a different voice, a male. That Rayner guy? "We shoot you, then we take the pretty jewelry off your corpse." There was a low snickering from beyond the crates. Jerk. "I hope Kara kicks in your teeth."

"Kara's there?" Clark asked, trying to get up.

"No. Sorry." He had to watch saying this stuff out loud. "I think we're screwed."

"They'll come," said Diana, and she crawled over beside Wally. "We need weapons."

"No kidding."

She removed the necklace, puddled the chain into her hand, and held it out for just a moment for the gangsters to see. Her hand shot back just as more gunfire rang out.

"I'm about to throw it into the harbor. Good luck getting it back."

"Don't you dare!" shouted Huntress.

"Let us walk out of here, or the fish get the necklace."

Clark and Wally watched her together. She'd either just struck a deal, or ...

"Get them now!" Huntress shouted, and that was it for the deal. They heard the footsteps crossing the distance, and without even speaking, Wally grabbed one of Clark's arms while Diana grabbed the other, and they dashed towards the water. Wally went to jump, missed on his last step, and slipped, dragging the other two with him.

Cold, disgusting water filled his mouth and nose, and he fought the urge to let go of Clark, the urge to come up for air, and kicked down and away as the goons above the reached the end of the pier and started firing.

We're gonna die. We're gonna die. We're gonna die.

The little plinks of the bullets striking the water carried in his ears as the three of them dove down, and he knew they were going to live only as long as they could hold their breaths. He turned his head to look for Diana on Clark's other side, but she was looking down and kicking, her skirt billowing in the water and restraining her legs.

He heard something familiar but muffled by the water, an inarticulate cry.

We're gonna die. We're gonna die. We're ...

Out of air, Wally kicked for the surface, dragging Clark with him. As Wally gasped for breath and tried to keep his head low, he saw Diana come up a few yards away.

There was a huge splash as one of the goons fell into the water beside them. Wally held onto Clark's arm, and watched as Diana swam over to the guy and punched him. He'd already dropped his gun, which would be waterlogged already, and there was another large splash.

Rayner landed in the water next to Wally, already dazed and bleeding from the face. Wally kicked him anyway.

"What's going on?" Clark asked, as Diana continued to beat the gunmen.

"The big scary freak's here," Wally said. Clark didn't look so good, kinda pale and shocky. "Hey Bats! Lend a hand?"

"Hold on," John called from just out of sight. A few seconds later, he leaned over the edge. Then he smiled. "I see we arrived just in time."

Diana said, "Before we'd gotten wet would have been better. Clark's been hurt."

Together, they manhandled Clark over to a ladder and John helped haul him up. The nearly unconscious mobsters followed, and finally Wally and Diana.

Huntress was tied up on the pier glaring daggers at some dark-haired chick, while the last gangster lay motionless on the pier with a bent crowbar beside him. Wally helped John and Diana tie up the others while Clark sank down to rest.

"Where's Bats?" Wally asked.

"No idea," said the brunette, and then Wally's brain did a double-take.

"Nice hair," said Diana, her teeth starting to chatter.

John shrugged off his coat and handed it to her, asking, "Why was she trying to kill you?"

Clark said, "Because we know she ordered the hit on Ollie. We've got our killer."

"Hooray," said Wally. "We get to go home now, right?"

John walked up to Huntress.

"Why."

"He killed my father and took his place. My jerk ex-boyfriend figured it out."

"I don't care why you killed Queen. I want to know why you killed Mari." John spoke quietly, but Wally'd heard that tone before.

Huntress made a noise in her throat, kind of a laugh. "I didn't kill her. I thought you did. Ain't that what the paper said?"

All eyes turned to Clark. "Lois wrote it," he said, not meeting their gaze. "The police announced late last night that they were calling off the investigation. They said Shayera had conspired with J'onn and then he'd committed suicide out of guilt, and Shayera died evading police pursuit. The article implied John was complicit in the plot. I thought you'd been told about the police," he said, finally looking at John. "The rest is just ... "

"Convenient," John answered. Clark nodded.

"But we know that's not true," Wally said. "J'onn didn't kill himself. Shayera's ... " Diana planted a high heel into his foot and then smiled at him as he squeaked in pain.

"Sorry," she said brightly.

Clark asked Huntress tiredly, "Did you kill Grayson and Harper?"

"I ain't sayin' nothing."

Shayera bent over and picked up the crowbar. "I'm thinking you've got two kneecaps that say otherwise."

John grabbed the crowbar away from her. "Stop beating up the extras!"

"That's right," Wally said, taking the crowbar. "We let Diana beat up the extras. Princess?" He handed it over.

Diana took the heavy chunk of metal from him, then glittered a smile at Huntress, who cringed. "I think you sent one of your men to 'shake us down' a few days ago?"

"I didn't kill anybody except that murdering bastard Queen. I don't know who killed the others, and I don't care."

"I should be writing this down," Clark said amiably, patting his soggy pockets for pen and paper. Wally saw how much blood had soaked through his shirt and bandage. He needed a doctor.

Diana said to John and Shayera, "The police will be here any minute. We asked one of the dock workers to call them. You should go."

"Good idea," John said, taking Shayera's arm over her protests. "You're dead, remember?"

"But we still need to solve this stupid mystery. Can I just beat her up a little?"

"You ain't takin' me alive!" Huntress shouted suddenly, and kicked out at Shayera, knocking her aside. Huntress ran for the edge of the pier, possibly expecting to drown herself in the harbor. Wally tackled her to the ground, his foot still throbbing from Diana's little "reminder."

"Shut up," he told her through gritted teeth, just as he heard the first sounds of sirens.

***

As the cops ran in their direction, John pulled Shayera into a dark doorway. "Hide!" The doorknob refused to turn in his hand. He pressed up against her, hoping for concealment, hiding their faces. If the police found her alive and disguised, they'd assume the worst; considering the time period, if they didn't recognize her, the two of them would probably be in almost as much trouble just being seen together.

Wally shouted from beyond them: "Over here!" The cops ran past without even looking into their corner, and he breathed a sigh of relief into her false hair.

"That was too close."

Another man ran past them, jogging more slowly, and John shivered. It's out of our heads. It's out of our heads.

"What's wrong?"

"The guy that just ran by."

"Someone you know?"

"Yeah." He edged his way out of the doorway, watching for lookouts, then led her out.

They should run. They needed to run. But he needed to show her this, too. "See that guy, standing back? Not dressed like a cop?"

She nodded. "Probably the dock worker they asked to call the police."

"That's him."

Shayera tilted her head in confusion, and then her eyes widened as she understood. She took a step forward and John pulled her right back.

"I want to see him. I want to talk to him."

"We can't. You'll get caught. Anyway, it's not really Rex. It's the Rex in my head, and Bruce's."

For a second, he thought she was going to fight him. Then she closed her eyes. "I wanted to meet him. Just once."

He took her hand in his and squeezed. "You will." Her eyes opened again, filled with shock and thinly-disguised hope. "Come on."

Together they made their way out to the street, but he didn't let go of her hand until they reached his car.

***

Tired. Clark was too tired. From a distance, he watched the blood seep out of his bandage, felt the sharp pain dull to a throb even as his fingers tingled from the loss of circulation. He wasn't going to die, not like this, but he wanted to take a nap.

"Clark?" Diana knelt beside him, concerned. She took off John's coat and draped it over him. He was too sleepy to tell her that he wasn't really cold. "You need to stay awake."

Medics came, pushing her aside and then strong arms held him under his armpits as he was loaded onto a stretcher. He faded in and out, listening to the voices around him, unable to focus on faces. When he came to again, he thought he was in a hearse and that he was dead. Then he heard the sirens and remembered that sometimes ambulances had been refitted hearses. He was going to the hospital.

He looked human. He was as weak as a human and he bled like a human. The sensible, rational part of him said that he was still Kryptonian and that human medicine might very well kill him. Clark tried to sit up, and discovered he was tied to the stretcher.

"Quiet back there," said the driver.

"Where are my friends?"

"You got me, buddy. Lay down and relax."

Having no other real options, he did. He closed his eyes. When he opened them again, the car had slowed and was pulling to a stop. The hospital?

He felt himself and the stretcher being shoved ungracefully out the back of the car, felt the sway of the stretcher as he was carried, wondered if J'onn had felt this way right before he'd died.

"Mr. Kent," said a voice by his ear. "We're going to administer a general anesthetic before we remove the bullet. We're going to try to save your arm." A mask was placed over his face. "Just breathe normally."

Considering the circumstances, that wasn't an order he was going to be able to follow, and then he breathed because there were no other options, and the sleep claimed him again.

***

There were more questions, but this time, Wally was ready for them. Yes, Helena Bertinelli had confessed to the murders of Oliver Queen and his bodyguard, James Jesse. Yes, he suspected she'd had a hand in the other deaths as well. No, he didn't have any evidence tying her to the other murders. Yes, his partner (Diana smiled) had found Bertinelli's necklace at the scene of the first shooting.

Diana continued when it was her turn. Yes, Mr. Kent had been following the story as well. Yes, he'd been given an anonymous tip that had led them here. No, when she said "anonymous," she did not mean she knew who it was. Yes, in fact she would like to be kept updated on Mr. Kent's condition, thank you.

It helped enormously that Rayner rolled as soon as the police started asking him. Detective Jordan thanked Wally for his time and effort, tipped his hat to Diana, and then they were let go.

"You know, shweetheart ... " Wally started, as they were leaving.

"Not right now. We need to find out how Superman is doing and I want to know where Batman is."

***

No time. No time for disguises. No time for anything, but the drone of the car as he raced --- far too late! --- to the little flat where Tim lived. Had lived.

Shabby building, dark and smelly stairs, but no police. She hadn't called, or they hadn't come, not for gutter trash like Tim Drake.

He knocked.

Selina answered the door with her face red and her breath crystalizing in the air with alcohol. "He's in his ... I couldn't ... " She started sobbing again, and Bruce found himself holding her because arms were designed to hold women sobbing for their dead sons.

Bruce wasn't sobbing. Cold. So cold, and the frigid darkness consumed him as he held her, as he led her into the dingy apartment, past the faded, peeling movie posters with her name in fine print at the bottoms, to the stained couch. He left her there, still weeping, and since there were only two doors to choose from, he found the windowless closet that served as Timmy the Shoeshine Boy's bedroom and tomb.

This isn't real.

Bruce let it come to him in snapshots of detail, not able to take in the whole scene.

There was a smell. Tim's skin was pink and mottled red, and his mouth encrusted with vomit. His hands were drawn into claws, had ripped his thin blanket in his pain.

The photolens of Bruce's mind focused in on the hands. Bruce bent down, took one stiff arm and turned it as carefully as he could. This isn't real and I'm disturbing a crime scene.

Under the dirty fingernails.

Purple and green and white.

Three weeks without sleep, three weeks thinking every corner he turned and the boy would be there smiling or swearing or lying poor and naked and broken. Three weeks knowing the League was fully occupied trying to recapture the criminals and madmen Bruce in his hubris had given a head start. Three weeks he had not been able to ask for help.

The colors flickered in his head as he rested Tim's small hand on his chest. Purple. Green. White.

He staggered out of the room, past Selina, who stood. "Where are you going?" He didn't answer and she shouted, "Get back here! Damn you, Bruce, your son is dead, come back here!"

Bruce stoppered his ears to her, his mind wheeling with colors.

***

John drove by Bruce's on the way back to his place. "Stay here," he told Shayera, who sat back in her seat and kicked at the floorboards unhappily.

He rang the bell. Bruce's butler answered after a few moments. "Yes?"

"Is Mr. Wayne in? I need to talk to him."

"I'm afraid Mr. Wayne has received some terrible news."

***

They met at the crappy apartment where Robin and Catwoman lived. Wally held his nose as the four of them went upstairs together. It wasn't hard to find the apartment, and Alfred had given John pretty good directions anyway.

People were milling in and out, all looking like locals. They pushed their way inside. Catwoman looked up from where she sat, her face streaked and puffy. "What the hell do you want?" She glared daggers at Diana. "Get that tramp out of my home."

John tilted his head and Diana went back out to the hallway to wait. Wally said, "I'm a detective, ma'am, here to investigate your son's death." He wasn't lying.

"He's in there," she said, pointing to where the people walked in and out, looking solemn. "I got no money for the funeral."

"We'll take care of it, honey," said another woman. Livewire, Wally thought it might be. The voice was right.

Inside the tiny room, it was bad. Wally was getting sick of looking at bodies, and this one wasn't any prettier than Ollie's had been, or J'onn's. "Okay," he said to the three other people trying to push in to see and pay their last respects, "I need some room to work. My assistants can stay," he added, noting with some secret amusement the matching glares.

As soon as they were alone, John said, "All right. What we've got ... "

Wally interrupted. "Skin discoloration, bright pink pigmentation. Crusted vomit around the mouth, indicative of nausea. No visible trauma to the rest of the body, though for now victim must remain clothed. Looks like he was poisoned."

He looked back at John and Shayera, who stared at him.

"You know I do this for a living, right?"

"Um," Shayera started.

"It's easy to forget," said John. "What else do you see?"

Wally felt a little glee; he'd heard the respect in the question. He leaned over to examine the body. Poor kid, he thought to himself. He can't win in any world.

He whistled. "What do you make of this?" he asked them, showing them the stuff under Timmy the Shoeshine Boy's fingernails and digging out a small envelope from his jacket to collect samples.

"Those are Joker's colors," said John.

Shayera said, "Anyone want to place bets where Bruce went?"

"Here," Wally said, handing John the camera Clark had left behind at the docks. "Get some pictures. Closeups on the face and the hands. Clothing too. We don't want to miss anything."

He should definitely not be having fun with this. And he wasn't anymore. Really. But wasn't it nice to be back in his element, doing the work that came by rote?

"I'd kill for a GC-MS right about now," he said, pulling a few hair samples and wondering if he could bum a needle off one of the junkies outside to take some blood.

***

When Clark woke up, Shayera was sitting by the side of his bed, still wearing that silly wig.

"Hi," he said groggily.

"Good afternoon. Feeling better?"

Through a throat that felt drier than sand, he asked, "Do I still have two arms?"

She leaned over and counted. "One. Two."

"Then I'm fine." He tried to sit up, found it too difficult, and lay back down.

"You're still feeling the after-effects of the anesthesia. You'll be fine."

"Shouldn't you not be here?"

"Someone had to. John and Diana are trying to track down Bruce. Wally's back at his office, running some tests on the samples he collected." She scowled. "He said I'd be more useful here."

Clark leaned back against his pillow. "I think I missed something."

Shayera explained.

Poor bastard, he thought, nor was it the first time he'd thought it about Bruce or his young protégé. Bruce had been stable, just, after having to go identify Dick's body. But he'd held on to his core of reason, his knowledge that Dick wasn't dead in the real world and couldn't be harmed here. Clark had watched the emotion and the logic fight their quick, bright battle all over Bruce's face in less than an instant at the morgue.

Tim wasn't any more real than Dick. Tim couldn't be harmed here, not the least hair on his head. Bruce knew that, had to know that, but the wounds he'd been carrying around since Tim had vanished bled here inside the pages of this book just as much as anywhere else.

"He's gone after the Joker."

She nodded. "That's what we figure. John and the princess are tracking Napier down right now. If they're lucky, they'll find him before Batman does."

There was a slight cough by the curtain that gave them some false privacy. Shayera's head snapped around, but Clark recognized the slim form outlined in shadow behind the curtain, and a bittersweet joy bloomed inside him.

"Kara!"

She stepped around, and that was the sad smile he knew, her golden hair curled and poufed around her shoulders and her deep blue dress just a shade risqué for the time period. "Hello, Clark."

"I didn't ... I didn't think you'd come," he finished lamely.

"Funny. I'm the only other person in L.D. with your blood type, Big Bro. They told me you lost a lot." He noticed her rolled-up sleeve and the small bandage held in place with tape at the inside of her elbow.

"Could be a lot worse." He smiled. "It's good to see you again." He'd replayed her message cube dozens of times. This was no more substantial than that. He didn't care.

"Don't get too mushy on me, Clark."

Shayera stared at her. "Have you been crying?"

Kara let out an exasperated sigh. "Look, lady, I don't really care about Clark's flavors of the month. Can you give us some space?"

Clark glanced at Shayera. "Could you wait outside? Please?"

She glared. "I'll be nearby." She grabbed the newspaper she'd been reading, or hiding behind, and stomped away enough to give them some privacy.

"I am so sorry," Kara whispered, as soon as Shayera was out of earshot.

"It's not your fault."

"Kyle said all they wanted to do was talk to you. Tell you to back off, go bark up another tree. He asked me if you took payoffs, and I told him you did." She buried her face in her hands, sniffling. "I swear I didn't know they were gonna try to kill you."

He thought back to the voice on the phone. It might have been Kyle Rayner. "It's all right. We got them. They're all going to jail for Queen's murder."

"I know!" Her tears flowed. "I shouldn't have said anything. I should've told him to lay low. Now he's gonna rot in prison."

For the first time in the conversation, it dawned on Clark that he wasn't the one Kara was upset about. "You and Kyle?"

"Not anymore. I went to see him. He thinks I warned you. I didn't though," she said with a stubborn pride.

"No," Clark agreed uneasily. "Kara, there are some things I want to say to you. I wanted to tell you before, and I couldn't."

"Don't."

"I have to," he said, trying to sit up again. "This is my last chance. I need to tell you how proud I am of you, of everything you've accomplished."

The tears went angry. "You don't get to make fun of me, Clark."

"I'm not."

"You know who I am, what I've done."

He didn't, but he also didn't care. "That's not important now. Kara, I miss you so much. And I know you're going to leave again, but please, just stay a few more minutes."

"I can't. I have to go get some cash and find a lawyer. Kyle might forgive me if I can get him off the hook. I'll come see you again sometime soon." Her eyes didn't mean it, and he wondered how many lies they'd told each other in this false world, how often this Kara would throw everything away stupidly for a boy she barely knew.

"Can I get a hug?"

She stared at him like he'd grown another head, then leaned over and gave him a quick hug on the uninjured side. Like the pain in his arm, the pressure of her small frame against his neck felt as real as anything, and he savored the moment for all that it was brief. Then she pulled away.

"You been drinking again, Clark?"

"Anesthesia."

"Good stuff," she said. "Take care of yourself, Big Bro."

"You too. Be safe." He watched her leave, then leaned back against his pillows. Shayera came back over, inspected him for any knives sticking out of his body or new gunshot wounds, then sat back down in her little chair. She tried talking to him, but his mind was full of the little girl he'd found asleep and alone on her homeworld, and for all that he made his living with words, he had none left without her there.

***

The haphazard lighting at the Emerald Parrot flickered in his eyes.

Colors.

Purple. Tim's lips had gone purple as he lay there dead, as purple as the jacket Bruce had burned in the fireplace.

Green. His hair. They'd dyed his hair. Barbara had spent hours trying to wash it out, cut it short, bleach the rest, anything.

White. Too pale, even as they'd wiped the grotesque makeup from his face.

Red.

When he practiced in the basement, in his home gymnasium, when he pounded the punching bag, the blows never landed right. Too thick, too padded. Not like flesh: the soft covering, slipping over the bones under his fists until the bones cracked and gave way.

White. The teeth should have been white but they were madman yellow and crunched under his shoe as the monster scrambled back on his hands and knees.

The men had tried to stop him. Bruce had been the victor of too many brawls to have any trouble disarming them, beating them with the butts of their own guns. He broke Joker's gun over his head while Harley screamed and ran.

Red.

Red.

Inside him, a tiny voice that could have been Alfred's warned him that this was the path he'd avoided all his life, that he could not come back from here, that he would throw away all he'd achieved and become what he hated.

Red.

Red.

Blue.

"Bruce, stop it!" Her eyes. Blue. Not blue like the sea because the sea was never blue. Blue like time would be, like peace would be. "Listen to me! You're killing him!"

The arms holding him were strong, though not strong enough. He could break free. Diana was only as strong as a human woman now, and while John might be a match, he didn't have Bruce's training.

He could kill them both.

"Stop," she said, chiding him like an infant, and he did.

Bruce saw bodies around him, most groaning. At his feet, the Joker's bloody, broken form, bubbling as he struggled to breathe, one eye gone, the other swollen shut. A bone jutted through from one arm.

"I killed him," Bruce said thickly.

"Not yet you haven't," John said.

"Tim. I killed Tim. I was never there. I was with the League. With all of you here. It didn't have to be Joker who got him. I failed."

Diana pressed her forehead against his. "You found him. When all hope was lost, you found Tim. You brought him home. He's alive. That's what's real. Hold onto it, Bruce."

"No." He shook his head violently. "This is real. This is what we made real. All of it."

"It's what we're afraid of," John said. "What we're afraid we are. What we're afraid of happening. Of doing."

Bruce watched Joker struggle to move. This wasn't real. The real Joker was dead already at Tim's hands. But this was real, too. This was what he'd wanted to do, what he'd longed to do for years, for months, for the three long weeks and that one awful night. This was what he feared he'd become, too.

"We need to go," Diana said, shifting her hold on him. "If they identify you, you'll go to prison."

"I should."

"Lock yourself up later," said John. "Hurry up."

***

To Be Continued ...

Note from the authors: Our next post will be Sunday afternoon, since no one tends to be around on Saturdays. In the meantime, we leave you with a challenge. Send an email to mtgat@aol.com with the subject line "FBNW" and the name of the person (Ex: "Pa Kent") or persons (Ex: "Pa Kent working with Ma Kent") whodunnit and why they did it. One entry per person, and no entries from the people who betaed or otherwise helped during breakdowns (and we know who you are *grin*). Whoever guesses correctly wins; if multiple people guess right, the first entry to hit my inbox is the winner. Winner gets a 1000-ish word story written by dot_merlin more or less written to request. (There will also be a door prize of a drabble for one person who guesses wrong but does so creatively enough in the reasoning to amuse us anyway. So even if you have no clue, go ahead and enter.) All entries must be in by noon EST on Sunday January 28th 2007. I'll be sure to check the spamcatcher, but we take no responsibility for email what gets eaten en route or delivered late.

 
 
 
chameleongirl79 on January 26th, 2007 02:58 pm (UTC)
Can you hear it? The wailing and gnashing of teeth? You two keep outdoing yourselves and leaving me in a pile of flailing conflicted goo :D

*Pets them all* Though they need to get out of this book, it's *really* important for them to see it all through.
Maybe a litle exposure to what's really inside their minds will be good for them (eventually).
Merlin Missy: HG/GL dreammtgat on January 26th, 2007 06:55 pm (UTC)
*grin* So, you're saying you like it?

Maybe a litle exposure to what's really inside their minds will be good for them (eventually).

They all need so much therapy, it's sad.
getting the chocolate in the peanut butterdotfic on January 27th, 2007 07:21 pm (UTC)
Wow, we turned you into conflicted goo! Victory! :D

So happy you're enjoying this, thank you.
Matt Zimmermattzimmer on January 26th, 2007 03:53 pm (UTC)
Wow. Killer chapter. I love Clark and Kara's goodbye and I thought it was priceless how John and Diana were impressed with Wally's forensic skills in spite of themselves. I'm gonna email a guess.
Merlin Missy: Flashmtgat on January 26th, 2007 06:56 pm (UTC)
Everyone forgets what Wally can do, you know?
getting the chocolate in the peanut butterdotfic on January 27th, 2007 07:22 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Wally's starting to come into his own a bit now...

Good luck with the guessing.
Kiraava_cabot on January 26th, 2007 06:27 pm (UTC)
AHHHH! Rex making a cameo was brilliant. And the part about how Tim isn't safe from the Joker even in this fantasty world was even more brilliant. Yay story!
Merlin Missy: Timmymtgat on January 26th, 2007 06:56 pm (UTC)
*pets Timmy* Poor kid.
chameleongirl79 on January 27th, 2007 02:15 am (UTC)
Bruce seriously believes that anyone involved with him is going to die or get hurt.
Poor guy :(
getting the chocolate in the peanut butterdotfic on January 27th, 2007 07:22 pm (UTC)
We just couldn't resist poking at poor Timmy. ::sigh::
Chris90scartoonman on January 26th, 2007 07:29 pm (UTC)
Yay for forensic science Wally! He's awesome. I also liked the part with Warhawk, following up John's worry that he'd go through the same thing Clark did in "For The Man Who Has Everything". Clark and Kara was sad, but I can see how Clark's mind created that situation for her.
Merlin Missy: Flashmtgat on January 26th, 2007 11:04 pm (UTC)
You gotta love Wally. :)

following up John's worry that he'd go through the same thing Clark did in "For The Man Who Has Everything"

Well, he did already. "TOaFT" gave John the same kind of damage, only with added potential of coming true. Like I said in the stupid essay from way back, JLU was all about the characters' families, even the ones they didn't have yet. ;)
getting the chocolate in the peanut butterdotfic on January 27th, 2007 07:24 pm (UTC)
Hooray for forensic science Wally! (There oughtta be an action figure, complete with a little microscope and such). Glad you liked this part!
crhblackcrhblack on January 26th, 2007 10:05 pm (UTC)
There is so much depth in this chapter that it is really amazing. John is a complete lothario, and Shayera's own lack of restraint is amazing. Kara's scene with Clark just plain hurt. I could go on and on about Bruce and Timmy. Oh my!

I'll email my guess as well.
Merlin Missy: Timmymtgat on January 26th, 2007 11:06 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't call John a lothario; to me, he's been conflicted ever since Shayera came back. Too bad we never saw him really deal with that instead of just grumbling about it. :P

*pets poor dead Timmy*
getting the chocolate in the peanut butterdotfic on January 27th, 2007 07:24 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! :D
dariclone on January 27th, 2007 12:21 am (UTC)
Whoa, what an ending to this chapter. Super powerful stuff. Loved it.
getting the chocolate in the peanut butter: Flash: hero in progressdotfic on January 27th, 2007 07:25 pm (UTC)
That's terrific to hear, thanks!
Merlin Missy: Big Scary Freakmtgat on January 29th, 2007 10:54 pm (UTC)
Missed this one earlier, sorry. Hooray for good endings! :D
Doe-eyed Bunny: ravendoeeyedbunny on January 29th, 2007 10:47 pm (UTC)
Damn, I missed the deadline for my guess. You know what, I'm gonna send it in anyway :)
Merlin Missy: Big Scary Freakmtgat on January 29th, 2007 10:55 pm (UTC)
So you did. *grins but doesn't respond until you finish reading the final chapter*
mtgat and dotficdot_merlin on January 30th, 2007 12:05 am (UTC)
Please do! (And yay, you're reading it! :D)