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28 January 2007 @ 03:43 pm
Flash By Northwest (13/14)  
***
Flash By Northwest (13/14)
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 Thirteen
***

Wally had cleared the table in his office's back storage room and set up what he could as a lab. It wasn't much.

The hardware store carried a few things he needed, the drugstore a few more. Detective West had a battered but serviceable microscope already on hand, and a quick side trip to a bookstore emptied out the last of his cash but found him a few reference books.

The ironic thing was that the books were only filled as far as his knowledge did. While he could flip the pharmacopeia open and see familiar tests written out, the pages between that should have been contained information on other compounds were filled with type in a tiny font that read over and over: "I have no idea what this is. I have no idea what this is." The ones that were filled, such as the poisons, the explosives, and the more basic chemicals, sounded just as much like they were pulled from Batman's head.

But it was a start.

Wally set the book open and started running identification tests on his samples, using tiny smidgens of each and knowing when it was gone, he was out of luck.

No centrifuge to spin down the blood --- he'd sweet-talked Bane out of a single, precious needle --- but he made do. It wasn't as though he needed a clean sample for an LC.

Around four o'clock, someone knocked at the door. Wally almost didn't answer it. John said loudly, "Are you in there, hotshot?"

"Coming." He washed his hands quickly in the little sink and let John in.

"Hey. You find anything?"

"Not yet. Tell me you found Bats."

John nodded. "Not before he tore Joker a new one. Between you, me and the doorpost, I think he finally went crackers. Diana's babysitting him for now."

"Supes?"

"Shayera says he's recovering okay. The doctors want to hold him overnight, so she's going to hang out at the hospital and keep guard. Oh. New plan. We're operating on the buddy system. Nobody goes anywhere alone from now on."

"Are you my buddy?" Part of him was relieved; things always worked better when he and John were doing their Butch and Sundance routine. But he'd kind of liked Diana's Sundance lately, too. Or maybe her Butch. His brain went a little further down that path and then stopped.

"What're we doing?" asked John.

"Right now, we're yelling at me because I can't remember how to do an arsenic i.d."

"Tell me what I can do to help."

It was weird, more than weird, giving GL instructions and knowing he'd follow them. But it worked. John hadn't had chemistry since high school, but he could convert amounts from the grams Wally knew in his head to the ounces on the crappy little scale to weigh them out. He could mix up solutions with the water from the sink, as Wally only grimaced a little each time, and boil them on the hot plate.

As he stirred a blue solution in a mason jar, John said, "You understand that if the word 'Igor' leaves your mouth, I will personally tie your legs around your neck, right?"

Wally grinned. "Hey, tell me if that turns red and clumps at the bottom. Eye-gor."

"It did. What's that mean?"

Wally paused. He'd followed a hunch. "The delivery system for the poison. The stuff under Robin's fingernails wasn't makeup. It was sugar."

***

"Bruce?"

He wouldn't look at her. He sat in his bedroom, though not really his bedroom, just a room in his mind created for someone who wasn't quite him. No lights, no lamps, nothing but the light spilling in from the hallway.

"That was John on the phone. Wally figured out what the substance was we found with Tim. A kind of sugar. Not table sugar, John said. Wally was excited about it." She sat down beside him, and he wouldn't look, wouldn't unfreeze as she wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "He was poisoned. Bruce, they don't think the Joker did it. Wally's running some more tests."

And that was the end of it. Diana had called the hospital asking after Napier's condition, but they didn't yet have an update. She needed to call back when he was out of surgery. Bruce knew he'd never forget the sight of the Joker's body sprawled on the floor of the Emerald Parrot, knew the Joker in this mad, pretend world was just as dead as the Joker in his, if not from his wounds, from the next in line in the organization while he was weak.

"Bring them in."

"What?"

"The others. Call them all back here. We'll work on it together in the morning." He placed his palms against his forehead. "We shouldn't be separated. Not anymore."

"Clark is still at the hospital."

"Then have Shayera sign him out. Or break him out."

She frowned. "He's been injured."

"It's not real, Diana. We keep telling ourselves that but we need to believe it. Clark will be better off with us than in a primitive hospital, and none of us will be trying to kill him."

"Wally's working on the answer." And wasn't that a strange statement for any of them to be making?

"I'll help him. But not tonight." Tonight was to mourn the dead, and the almost-dead, and the walking dead.

Diana embraced him. He felt her strong arms surround his neck, smelled the clean scent of soap and the vague presence of flowers that always followed her. Then without a word, she got up to go make the calls.

***

John set the phone down. "They want us back at Bruce's house."

"Now? We can't. I can't. I'm close. I know it." John had never seen the kid in this kind of state before. Manic, sure. That was the Flash's trademark. This was something different. His face was lit up like he had a fever, and his eyes were bright. It was dawning on John that Wally had an honest to God passion for his work, and that was strange, because for years they'd worked side-by-side and John hadn't a clue how the kid made his rent until recently.

"Diana says Bruce will help in the morning."

That was enough to get Wally to set down the stuff he was working with and stare. "Batman is taking the night off? Did she check to make sure he still has a pulse?"

John smirked. "Is there anything in here that'll catch fire or blow up if we leave it?"

"Probably not."

"Then let's go to the hospital."

"Can I drive?"

"No."

In the car, Wally was still buzzing, like he was on some new drug. Again, watching him tap his fingers and his feet with barely-constrained activity wasn't really abnormal, but the source still amused John.

After a few blocks, John said, "Shayera has a theory."

"About?"

"This place. She doesn't think it's just that we're in roles like ourselves. She thinks it's all about our fears."

Wally stared out the window. "Okay," he said after a few moments. "I can see that. What we're afraid we might be. Not in the creepy Justice Lords way, but the people we are when we're just us."

"Yeah." Some of them were pretty easy to guess. John thought his own fears were written in letters as big as the sign on the hill. Shayera's too, but she wasn't good at subtle. "I'm wondering if we're going at this wrong."

"What do you mean?"

"You're looking for clues, trying to piece together a puzzle. But if this really is based on our fears, then maybe we ought to figure out what we're really afraid of, and that'll be our answer."

***

Wally thought this was what he wanted: all them together, where they could keep an eye on each other. But group therapy in the study wasn't how he'd wanted to spend the evening.

He'd gotten a negative on the arsenic i.d., he'd gotten the positive i.d. on the sugar --- monosaccaride rather than polysaccaride with that test --- but instead of following up on any of it, he was sitting in Bruce's library while Alfred, who was an impromptu medic in any world, took a look to ensure Superman wasn't going to die of sepsis or anything after they'd sprung him from the hospital.

And he was hungry. And it was cold in here. And John had gone off to the kitchen to start something for dinner, which was sure to make Alfred squawk even more when he found out.

Wally bent down to the fireplace to look at starting a nice, cheery fire, when he saw something that perked up his day considerably.

"Hello!" Carefully, he picked out about half of a still-unburned photograph from the ashes. He turned it around a few times. Okay, that was definitely a shoulder. That was an eye probably. But if he turned it like this ...

After a few minutes of more or less fruitless searching for something good to look at in the picture, he pocketed it and went back to the fireplace to see if any of the other photos had survived. He found the corner of one picture, and about a quarter of another (or the same one, who could tell?) with a curve of leg.

He really needed to stop now. There wasn't going to be anything good, and if John, or God help him Diana found him poking around for dirty pictures, he'd find out firsthand what it was like to die inside a book. He tossed the corner bit back into the ashes, and saw something white.

Well, a little risk of death was common for every superhero, right? He reached in again.

This wasn't cardboard stock. He'd found a tiny bit of white fabric, mostly scorched. A little more poking, and he'd recovered another few fibers. Someone had burned a piece of fabric in the fireplace, recently if it was still here after the picture-burning incident.

Wally got a little tingle, what he would absolutely never admit he thought of as his Spidey-sense after a comic book character he really liked. He patted his pockets and found another sample envelope, and carefully put the fibers inside. That'd give him something to look at in the morning, and hopefully no one would ask why he was playing in the fireplace if they did pan out to be anything useful.

The door creaked open and he stood, dusting his hands on his pants. "Anybody know how to light a fire?"

A few minutes later, they had a warm blaze going. Alfred had kicked GL out of the kitchen and was making them "something proper for supper." Clark had been given the comfiest spot on the couch by the fire, and the rest of them had pulled up chairs. Wally sat on the floor.

"So who goes first?"

No one volunteered. It was one thing to agree that, yes, the roles they'd been given bore an uncanny resemblance to things they didn't like about themselves. It was another to open up in front of everyone else as to what those things were. Plus, as Bats had pointed out with characteristic mellow-harshiness, they had no guarantees that the piece they needed wouldn't have come out of Vixen's head, or J'onn's.

At last, Clark said, "I have two jobs in the real world, and they both hinge on the suffering of other people. I'm either writing it down or trying to stop it, or both, but if people weren't being hurt, I wouldn't have anything to do. The man I am here uses that. He uses people. And he lets his partner do all the writing while he gets the credit. I've left Lois in the clinch on dozens of stories. I've stopped pulling my weight at the Planet ever since I joined the League and I'm afraid of people realizing that, calling me on it, especially while we've been trying to rebuild. I don't know what I'd say to them. Here I don't have any powers and I can't save anyone, and I can't even fall back on my usual excuse to myself that I was busy saving the world." He took a deep breath. "Tell me again how this is going to help?"

"It probably won't," Bruce said.

"Okay," said Wally. "Ignoring Mister Sunshine for the moment. I'm the detective. Why? It should've been Bats, right? Everybody knows that. We'd have been out of here the next day if everything had been left up to Batman."

"Not that you're bitter," John said.

"I am. A little. Yeah. You don't remember what I do for a living. I solve crimes. I work in a police lab. I have a brain. Supes and I are the only ones in this room with college degrees, but you guys treat me like I ride the short transport beam up to the Watchtower."

Bruce said, "No respect for the class clown."

Wally really wanted to ask Bats who'd peed in his Wheaties, but John had described for him exactly how messed up the Joker had been before he and Diana had pulled Bruce off him. Bruce was not in his happy place.

"So this guy that I am, he's a detective that nobody likes, nobody trusts. Washed-up cop already. Under G.A.'s thumb. J'onn's too. Sometimes I think I really am that screwup. I've used up all my brownie points, and the big case, the one I've got to solve, will just go to nothing because I was off wearing my red pajamas at the wrong time."

He wished he could say he felt better after letting that out, but they were trying not to lie tonight.

Diana said, "You're right that I never went to college. I have wisdom imparted from the gods, and skills taught to me by my mother and sisters, but in your world, I am worth no more than how I look in a dress. My accomplishments are always spoken of in comparison to a man's, usually Superman's. Here, I seem to have embraced that culture, of allowing myself to be judged merely on my beauty, and I earn my keep as the subordinate to a washed-up, worthless detective."

"I never used the word 'worthless,'" Wally said, but there wasn't much point.

"I don't know how that helps," she said. "Unless Vixen's fear was the same."

"It wasn't, but you're close," John said. "She was, she is afraid that she's nothing more than an image, on a page or on a screen." He looked at Shayera. "I did have a look around."

She nodded back. "I still think she's afraid hanging out with us will get her killed. I'm also pretty sure she's right."

"What are you afraid of?" Wally asked her before she and GL could get into it again.

"Oh, nothing much. Getting people killed because I did something wrong again. Killing them myself. Never standing on my own feet again because of a few really big mistakes. Being strung along for the rest of my life by someone who can't make up his mind, and worse, being sure that I don't deserve any better." Before anyone could answer, she said quickly, "And don't any of you dare try to say otherwise or I swear I'll kill you here and now."

Weirdly, the threat lightened Wally's heart a little. Shayera had to be feeling better overall if she was willing to punch people.

John said, "Mine's easy. The situation I'm in is almost page for page what I wake up at night thinking is going to happen five years down the road. And you're wrong," he said to Shayera. "Mari's not afraid that spending time with me will get her killed. I am. I didn't think about it much before, didn't want to, but as much as this place had to be shaped by what she's afraid of, it's just as much shaped by what I have nightmares over. I told you it was my house, too."

Bruce said, "Your subconscious is about as subtle as a tank. J'onn looked up Mari's will. There's a line that says if you have a child with another woman, you lose everything."

Wally watched John's face change, watched Shayera's stay carefully neutral. At least Diana and Supes looked as baffled as he felt.

"Anyway," John said. "You're the one with the most issues. What are you afraid of?"

The door to the study opened as Bats opened his mouth. "Dinner is served," Alfred said. "I arranged the dining room."

"I meant to ask you to bring everything in here," Bruce said.

"My apologies, sir. I will certainly transport the meal."

"Don't. We'll eat in there. We can come back here later."

And like that, he'd gotten out of having to tell. Wally was both annoyed and impressed.

The dining room was gorgeous, as the one in Wayne Manor was, all ivory and crimson and silver. Just like the times he'd been in Bruce's house before, he couldn't help looking at his clothes and thinking he so didn't make enough money to be allowed in the room.

Then he sat down anyway. Alfred brought a large silver soup tureen to the table from a high wooden sideboard and ladled out soup to each of them in fancy, wide-mouthed bowls. Wally, who'd never willingly missed a meal ever since the accident that gave him his speed, dug in with just enough gentility to remember not to slurp. The soup wasn't nearly as tasty as he'd thought expensive soup ought to be, leaning towards the fishy and frankly a bit lukewarm. He took a few more bites to be polite, and sat back, eyeing the nice silver platters Alfred had just brought in, wafting over to him the mouthwatering smell of well-prepared steaks.

His belly rumbled, and he ate another few bites of the fishy soup.

Bruce sat beside him, sipping at his own soup and gazing inwardly on whatever internal hell he'd unleashed earlier today.

"Wally?"

Wally jumped. "Yeah?"

"Tomorrow, I thought we might go over J'onn's car again to see if we missed anything. Do you have any ideas?" Batman didn't look up from his soup at him, so surely he didn't notice the 300 Watt grin Wally suddenly gave him before he covered it with a cough.

"Um. Yeah. That's a good idea. I ran some phenolphthalein swabs earlier from stuff at the murder site, but I couldn't get a positive blood trace. I didn't think about looking in the car."

"You would have."

Alfred cleared the soup bowls away, stacking them with an iron efficiency, and putting Wally's half-eaten bowl at the top. He carried them to the side, and then brought the covered dish around, serving them the steaks at almost the perfect level of cooked for each person, from Clark's well-done portion, to Shayera's that may have been still mooing.

Wally's medium-rare was set before him, stabbed on a serving fork, and Wally grinned up at Alfred to thank him. Alfred pulled the serving fork back, and was for a moment framed against the light with a bloody fork clenched against his chest, stark against the formal white of his gloves.

There were moments, perfect moments, usually when Wally was running so fast the air couldn't keep up with him and he was almost passing out from lack of oxygen and sheer exhilaration, and all his thoughts narrowed into a single line aimed straight at the horizon.

He knew without asking, without thinking, that if he compared the charred fibers in his pocket to those on Alfred's white gloves, they would be a match. Alfred had burned the gloves he was wearing the night of the party. After all, if anyone checked, there would be gunpowder residue all over them.

"Alfred?" Wally asked in a strangled voice, then cleared his throat. "Alfred, got a quick question for you. Those cookies you make, the fancy ones with the frosting? What's your recipe?"

"An old family secret, I'm afraid," Alfred said, going back to the sideboard and setting down the big fork. He lifted another serving dish.

"Oh. They're really good. Can I ask, do you make the frosting with powdered sugar, or with corn syrup?" His heart hammered in his chest, and if Alfred couldn't hear that, maybe he noticed how hot the room suddenly was, and how much Wally was sweating.

"Both. It gives a better texture." Alfred fiddled with the serving dishes, his back turned and his hands hidden. "Of course, I save the cyanide for the marzipan cookies to hide the flavor."

Wally was already turned and ready for the gun, but the play of expressions on Bruce's face as the words sank in would haunt Wally for years.

"Please, no," Bruce said, though Wally was the only one who heard him.

"Stay seated. All of you. Hands above the table, and stop reaching for the knives, my dear ladies, or I will shoot off your hands." The girls both froze.

Bruce sat still, watching him. "Tell me why." Wally thought privately that Bats' damage ran deep; he could've been a little boy asking his parent the same question.

"You don't know?"

"I'm stupid enough not to have realized it was you."

"Yes." Alfred smiled. "You certainly are. Stupid, and vain, and selfish, and sybaritic, and worse. In the Great War, I served my country with honor and distinction, and when it ended, I still had no name and no future. So I came here. Everyone knew that America was the place for a young man to make his fortune. But not me. I served those with fortunes, which led me to you fifteen years ago.

"You were young and brash, your pockets filled with gold, and while people waited in breadlines, you sold them dreams for a penny. I told myself that made you a good man. You sold me dreams, as well. I stayed silent when you paraded your women through this house I tried to keep honorable. I even held my tongue when you made the deals with our enemies: a few lines in a film here, a sympathizer allowed to come safely under your auspices there. It was for the greater good, I thought."

A small line of spittle had formed on his lower lip, but the gun in his hand stayed steady.

"You cavort with fakes and liars and charlatans. You associate with the worst common street rubbish. The women are whores, the men no better, all cowards and greedy fools." He waved his arm, taking the rest of them in with that pronouncement.

Wally caught Bruce's eye, and noticed the very tiny nod. Okay, so they were going to stall him and then, what? Rush him? Why not, he thought after a moment. They'd found him out and solved the mystery, so they'd get out of here anyway, right?

Bruce said, "That explains why you hate me. Why did you kill Vixen and the others?"

Alfred's eyes went big. "I held my tongue! I knew that I would be rewarded for my service and my silence. But then you began talking about that bastard child of yours, Timothy the Shoeshine Lad, and your hazy attempts to reconnect with your brother, and suddenly my rightful inheritance dwindled to almost nothing! Worse, that reptile of a lawyer you keep added a notice that any other offspring you might have would take the remainder of your estate. Any one of the scores of women you've brought under my roof could come forward with a nameless baby and take my inheritance.

"And then that slutty little bitch was going to make her announcement." Wally watched as Shayera dragged John back into his chair. "You ordered me to give the two of you privacy at every opportunity, don't think I didn't know what was going on."

John said, "That's because he was sexually harassing her. By the way, Bruce, remind me to punch you later."

"You killed her because you thought she was going to announce she was having my baby?" Alfred's mouth twisted. "And you took advantage of Queen's murder to make Dick's death look like a mob hit. You killed Harper as a distraction. Did you intend to kill Barbara?" Alfred said nothing, and Bruce continued, "I suppose you did. You were covering your bases. Very thorough. You've always been. You killed J'onn because he saw my will and you thought he was onto you."

Bruce's face went into the crazy look he'd been wearing most of the day. "And with the rest dead, you killed Tim. Gave him a poisoned cookie."

"A plateful. I told him to share with his mother, but the brat gobbled them all down." His tone radiated a mixture of pleasure and disgust. Bruce closed his eyes.

Clark said, "And now you're going to kill us."

"Ah," said Alfred, raising a finger. "I already have."

The weird discomfort Wally'd been feeling in his guts suddenly came into bowel-numbing clarity. He pushed the steak away, but it was the crazily tilting tower of soup bowls, somehow grown to absurd proportions, that drew his gaze. The shock and panic was copied on every face at the table save Bruce's.

Okay, Batman has left the building.

"Now!" Bruce shouted, and the others were on their feet and piling at Alfred while Wally sat there, gaping.

Startled, Alfred stepped back, and then fired. Bruce went down, a red wound blooming in the center of his forehead. Diana's head whipped around, and she drew breath to scream. The second bullet hit her in the neck, and she fell. Dead or wounded, Wally didn't know.

Wally was on his feet now. When had he ever been the slowest in this group? As Clark reached Alfred, the gun swung out and clocked him hard in the jaw. Shayera had grabbed a heavy-looking candlestick from the table and was swinging it at his head while John rushed his center, knocking him off his feet and making Shayera miss. Another gunshot, and John rolled off him, breath coming in great, heaving gasps as his shirt darkened with blood.

And then Alfred was scrambling for his feet, and Wally was upon him, punching like he'd learned to in junior high to stop the high school boys from jumping him and pinning him down and beating him on his way home. Not pretty, and not by any rules save those of survival, but by God, the old guy stayed down long enough for Wally to wrest the gun away and throw it across the room where it fortunately did not go off.

He landed one decent, solid punch, and Alfred was down for the count.

Shaking with adrenaline, and worse, Wally sat up. "We caught him. We can go home now, right?"

No one answered. Bats lay half-propped against a chair, eyes open and sightless. Wally could only see Diana's legs, unmoving on the floor at the far side of the table. John was still alive, but he wasn't going to be for long. Shayera had drawn his head into her lap and was crying silently.

It had all taken significantly less than thirty seconds.

"Supes?"

Clark's breath came in ragged gasps. "The poison. If we die and he doesn't, he still wins. Only witness."

Crap.

Supes leaned over and away from him and was noisily sick all over the floor. The smell hit Wally and he started to retch. This was how Robin died, his guts turning against him, his blood refusing to take oxygen. As Wally looked at his hand, he saw it start to turn telltale pink. But Alfred would burn down the house with their bodies inside, a wild party gotten out of hand, or one of them on a murderous rampage against the others. Wouldn't matter. They'd be just as dead.

John's gasps stopped. "I'm sorry," Shayera whispered. "I'm so sorry." She'd had seconds on the soup, Wally remembered.

Wally got to his hands and knees, and knew he wouldn't be able to walk. He crawled past Bruce's body, past the overturned chairs, out of the dining room. Where was the phone? The front hall? The kitchen? He'd have only one chance.

He crawled down the hallway, stopping twice to puke. The second time, nothing was left and he lay there dry-heaving, wondering if he'd die just like this. The urge passed, and now it was hard to see, but he pushed himself into the front hallway. Didn't see a phone. Lay his head down on his hands.

Blood rushed in his ears now, like waves or the roar of a crowd. Rock concert. He'd gone to a P-Funk concert three months ago. He started singing under his breath.

A noise interrupted his music, jarring him. Bells.

The phone was ringing.

He crawled.

Across the floor to the stand beside the stairs. Black bakelite, teasing him, three feet above where he lay. Wally took a breath and tried to climb up. Pulled the marble stand over and came that close to crushing his skull. The phone fell. He picked it up.

"'Lo?"

"Bruce? Is that you? Bruce, it's Harvey."

"'Vey? Two-Face?"

"Bruce?"

Wally cleared his throat, tried to make his lips work again. "Bruce's dead. Alfred. Alfred."

"Who is this? Where's Alfred?"

"'M West. Wally West. Pee. Eye. Alfred killed Vixen and Dick Grayson and Roy Harper and Tim Drake. And J'onn. For Bruce's will." He giggled a little. "It was the butler, in the hall, with the pistol."

"What?"

But Wally's fingers had gone numb and he was twitchy all over now, and he couldn't see anything at all but man, he could hear that sweet baseline groove loud and clear, and when he closed his eyes, he could see George Clinton taking the stage.

***

" ... really think we should just spring them. Hello!"

Wally was sitting at the table in the conference room, staring down where the stupid book had been. Around him, the others were sitting right where they'd been too, alive and well. Vixen stood beside him, looking lost. Behind her, he saw Zatanna with Dr. Fate, a smile breaking out over her pretty face.

He let out a whoop of joy, and he wasn't the only one. He sprung out of his chair and hugged Vixen, saw everyone else touching hands, smiling. Shayera flexed her wings while Supes looked at the wall like he was trying to see through it. A moment later, John was out of his chair, and Wally got out of the way to let him hug Vix. His relief could have been seen from Mars.

Speaking of which, Wally shot a grin at J'onn. "Welcome back to the land of the living."

Vixen asked, "What just happened?"

"What do you remember?" John asked, still holding onto her hands.

"I came in here. I found a book. I opened it. Then it felt like I was asleep for hours."

"It was a spell," Zatanna said. "But it looks like they broke it."

"Yeah," said Wally. "The butler did it. Who knew?"

"You should have," said Batman, but there was a trace of humor under the words, and affection too. As for whatever else he was feeling, well, Bats had a long history of repressing that sort of thing. Someday, he was gonna make some shrink somewhere a very wealthy man.

Superman asked, "How long were we gone?"

"Approximately nine hours," said Fate.

Diana asked incredulously, "That's all? It felt like days."

"Sometimes dreams feel like they take years," he replied, "when in reality they might last only minutes."

Zatanna said, "Which is Kent's way of saying that it's magic. Don't try logic."

J'onn said, "I think perhaps we should return home and reorient ourselves after this experience."

"Hear, hear," said Wally.

"Meeting adjourned," Clark said. "Though we didn't technically have one."

Vixen asked, "You said nine hours?" Fate nodded. "Damn. I missed a business dinner. So much for that grant."

John said, "I'll bet Mr. Wayne would be happy to reschedule when you explain what happened."

"We'll see." She said more quietly, "Why did Wonder Woman just hit Batman on the back of the head?"

"Sign of affection," said John. "In some cultures, smacking someone on the head is considered a mating ritual. And now we're going to leave before Diana asks me to marry a chair." He nodded to the others, then left with Vixen.

When they were gone, Shayera turned towards J'onn and smiled and took his hand. "It's good to see you again. Funny question. What are you afraid of?"

"Fire."

Wally thought of Beatriz, and then remembered.

"Besides that. Personally, I mean."

"Oh." J'onn closed his eyes in thought. "That none of you really need me, that you can get along perfectly fine without my help." A humorless smile touched his green lips. "That I have no existence of my own, but siphon what I do have from those around me. I see what you are getting at."

She shrugged. "It didn't work. The answer wasn't there."

"Yes, it was," said Batman, and he walked out of the room. With a sigh, Diana stood up and followed him. She exchanged glances with Zatanna. Wally wasn't good at reading those at the best of times. When the looks broke after just a few seconds, he still wasn't sure who won, but it was the princess who walked out behind Bats.

Shayera said to J'onn, "Give Ming my regards." She got up, took Dr. Fate by the arm and said, "Let's grab Inza and Arthur and go get hammered."

"I cannot."

She sighed. "I swear Nabu is the biggest stick in the mud I've ever met. Fine. We'll go, and I'll drink." She led him out, and said over her shoulder, "Later."

"Bye," Wally said, and Clark and J'onn were already on their feet. "Guys? Everyone's going?"

Zatanna cracked her wrists. "I cancelled a show tonight for this. I think I'm going to make an early night of it."

"I want to get home," J'onn said.

Clark sighed. "And I need to find out how much trouble I'm in at work this time. I was supposed to be there hours ago."

But, he wanted to say. We just went through this weird thing! We were other people! We were dead, even. We should talk about it.

Not yet, came J'onn's warm and welcome thought into his mind. Give them time.

And then Wally was alone.

He walked out into the corridor. It was empty, and he was glad. He looked at the far end, grinned a little, and sped over there in an eyeblink. Then he zipped back. Then he ran to the cafeteria and out to Ops, and back to the room, and wow, it was good to be back.

***

To Be Concluded ...
 
 
 
Akino Ame: Stitchakino_ame on January 28th, 2007 11:16 pm (UTC)
I figured I was reading too much into it, but then again, probably everyone else was too. Major props for the single most obvious answer in the book. I should have realized that Wally's love of cheesy detective cliches was the key--the butler always does it. Great work.
Merlin Missy: Pancakesmtgat on January 29th, 2007 02:21 am (UTC)
*giggle* That? Was the detail that pushed this from "brain candy" into "omg, we have to write this thing" territory. The "cheesy detective novels" was a key, as was Bruce's big fear: that everyone he loves will die, abandon him, or turn on him. That guy has issues.

Glad you liked it!
getting the chocolate in the peanut butterdotfic on January 29th, 2007 03:49 am (UTC)
We were hoping it was so obvious everyone would overlook it. :)

I *still* can't believe the butler did it! Alfred! :o
Kiraava_cabot on January 28th, 2007 11:44 pm (UTC)
*is slightly in shock*

*goes on to the Epilogue anyways*
Merlin Missy: Pancakesmtgat on January 29th, 2007 02:22 am (UTC)
*gives you warm blanket and hot tea*
getting the chocolate in the peanut butterdotfic on January 29th, 2007 03:50 am (UTC)
*pats you gently*

Hopefully the epilogue will help with the decompression.

*G*
sunless_death: dick bondagesunless_death on January 29th, 2007 01:28 am (UTC)
The butler did it. *headdesk*
Merlin Missy: Pancakesmtgat on January 29th, 2007 02:22 am (UTC)
*wide grin*
getting the chocolate in the peanut butterdotfic on January 29th, 2007 03:51 am (UTC)
Heheheheheheheh. :)
Matt Zimmermattzimmer on January 29th, 2007 01:59 am (UTC)
Great penultimate chapter. I loved it.
Merlin Missy: Pancakesmtgat on January 29th, 2007 02:23 am (UTC)
Hooray!
getting the chocolate in the peanut butterdotfic on January 29th, 2007 03:51 am (UTC)
Thank you! :D
Chris: Blushing Bruce90scartoonman on January 29th, 2007 03:23 am (UTC)
It had to be someone close to them, didn't it? Someone who was there all along? I really liked this chapter, mostly the discussion of everyone's fears. You gave a lot of attention to how their other lives affected Batman and Shayera throughout the story, but Clark and Diana's fears were there as well, and I liked hearing it in their own words.
Merlin Missy: Pancakesmtgat on January 29th, 2007 03:32 am (UTC)
:) We're glad you liked it. Bruce and Shayera were the most immediately damaged, which made them a lot of fun to use as templates, but yeah, we had to get into everyone else's insecurities.
getting the chocolate in the peanut butterdotfic on January 29th, 2007 03:53 am (UTC)
They all have their issues.

Glad you liked this chapter. :)
allaine77: Bridesmaidallaine77 on January 29th, 2007 01:56 pm (UTC)
Oh, SNAP.

As soon as Wally said the soup didn't taste good, I felt like jumping out of my chair and screaming, "The butler did it!" Why the hell didn't I think of that before? In a world where every good and decent person has been twisted into something wrong, why should Alfred be exempt?

It's good to be wrong :D

Sincerely, Allaine
Merlin Missy: Pancakesmtgat on January 29th, 2007 03:53 pm (UTC)
See? The good people are bad, and the nicest guy in town is Harvey Dent. Who knew? :D
getting the chocolate in the peanut butterdotfic on January 30th, 2007 12:21 am (UTC)
Hee. Thanks for sharing your reaction. Woot!
kimberly_t: fanfic reader--Kathryn Janewaykimberly_t on February 7th, 2007 08:35 am (UTC)
I already added my voice to the praises of many for this awesome work as a whole, so now i'm going to single out what i thought were the bestest parts. Starting with this bit right here:

"We'll see." She said more quietly, "Why did Wonder Woman just hit Batman on the back of the head?"

"Sign of affection," said John. "In some cultures, smacking someone on the head is considered a mating ritual. And now we're going to leave before Diana asks me to marry a chair." He nodded to the others, then left with Vixen.


This totally wins! Only thing that could make it better would have been for John to be saying that to someone who really was from an alien/extremely foreign culture.

I'm honest enough to admit that I'm thinking I may steal that line a few years from now, when I get to the right point in my own series' timeline. If I do, I promise to give you credit for the original version!
Merlin Missy: HG/GL dreammtgat on February 8th, 2007 02:26 am (UTC)
Steal it anytme you like. :) It was supposed to harken back to the two times Shayera has beaned him onna head with her mace, but I don't know if that came through.
getting the chocolate in the peanut butterdotfic on February 8th, 2007 01:14 pm (UTC)
*snorfle* The John/Shayera is complex and amusing.