"You really fucked up. More than I did, and I managed a psychotic break complete with evil laugh and megalomania."
Al Rothstein frowned. He and his friend Todd Rice were sitting in a little hole in the wall eatery, just blocks from the Justice Society of America headquarters and museum. They could be in that gorgeous brownstone – being mobbed by the entire team instead of having a quiet meal between the two of them. Al knew what he preferred right this moment, and it was Todd and relative privacy instead of hostility, indifference, and trying good cheer. Also, the sturdy benches were nice, because there was little chance of Al breaking them just by sitting down, unlike some of the literal museum pieces at the brownstone; there were distinct disadvantages to being over seven feet tall at your smallest. "I was trying to do the right thing. The JSA certainly weren't getting involved."
"Because killing the ruling junta, what did that do?" Todd asked. "Black Adam just installed himself in their place."
"He did not!" Al hissed. "We changed things. Helped people. It was better, afterwards, at least a little."
"Until you left and Black Adam got himself a new family. And that turned out so well." Todd snapped. He had a point. Black Adam had killed an entire nation, every man, woman and child in Bialya, in retaliation for the attack on his wife and brother-in-law. Al still didn't want to believe that; Adam had flaws, but that … was not the man he'd followed to Khandaq.
Al sighed. "If Waller hadn't..."
Todd sighed, and ran a hand through his cropped brown hair, "Yeah. Well. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. Or something. You were crazy to go back to Khandaq in the first place."
"It was a chance."
"To get yourself killed?" Todd asked. "I heard about what happened with the Spectre – I was in the DEO hospital then but I got news. Mostly from Dad and Jennie..."
Al picked at his meal. "I... Waller set Adam up. You know that? She really did, and she's not sorry about how things shook out. I wanted... no. I *needed* to make up for my part in that whole sorry mess. I said I'd stand beside him, and I didn't."
"Because he was doing the wrong thing, Al. No matter how good his intentions were–"
Al looked up from his contemplation of his corned beef, and said, "You know, you're the first person who hasn't told me he was crazy, or evil, or crazy and evil."
Todd snorted a laugh. "Yeah, because I have room to talk there."
"It wasn't your fault–"
Todd cut him off. "I stopped taking my meds, Al. I knew I would hallucinate without them – that had happened before, you know, when I was first diagnosed – and I stopped anyway. It was entirely my fault."
Al frowned. "If you say so. I still don't think you're as much to blame for that as I am for throwing my life in the trash. I should have made better decisions – I could have gone to Flash or Sand but I didn't. And now they all look at me like I'm going to betray them any minute."
Todd poured malted vinegar on his fries – disgusting! – and looked up. "I thought Courtney would be in your corner. She stuck up for you after the trial and all."
"She did. But that doesn't mean things are great there, just less bad than with everyone else in the JSA. I tried to help her with that idiot Damage–"
"I heard he blew up the house..."
"He's an ass – his life might suck, but that's no reason to take it out on people who are trying to help!"
Todd grimaced. "Well, sometimes that seems like the thing to do."
"He blew up the house, Al Pratt's house. Why the hell Courtney thought he'd listen to me – he hates the Atom! Courtney should have known better. I should have told her no." Al was still furious over the house – his godfather's house. Damage had destroyed it with no concern at all; just one burst and all that history, all that care that Al Pratt had put into making a small bit of beauty and safety, gone because that angry, stupid kid didn't *care*.
"Like you would have told Courtney no," Todd said.
Al jerked his head up at that. "What do you mean?" he growled. He could have refused Courtney if he wanted to. He'd just wanted to help her when she'd asked him to talk to Damage.
"Courtney can get you to do almost anything. That girl has you wrapped around her finger."
"She does not!"
"Does not! She's a friend! No reason I shouldn't help her when she asks!"
Todd wagged a fry at Al, and said, "I say you help her because you've gone stupid over her."
Al blinked. Was Todd actually implying..? He was, the bastard. Al leaned forward over the table and hissed, "She's *seventeen*!"
"That's legal in New York. You should just get over yourself and ask her out. It'd be less embarrassing."
"I can't date her!" Al protested. "She's a kid! It would be weird! And your dad and the others are looking for an excuse to bounce me from the team as it is! I couldn't date her any more than I could date some guy I picked up in a bar!" Al snapped, and then froze.
Todd was staring at him.
"I just said that out loud, didn't I?" Al asked in small, appalled voice.
"Oh yaaaaah," Todd said, his vowels round as his eyes in his shock. His voice lilted with the cadence of his native Wisconsin, "So when were you going to tell me then?"
Al sighed, and covered his eyes with a hand. "Now, I guess."
"You weren't going to?"
"No. I... " Al stammered. "How did your dad take it, when you came out?"
Todd visibly thought for a minute, then shook his head. "Nah. He was stiff about it, but it was right after Jennie died, and he had more to worry about. Damon, though … he wasn't happy that I hadn't told him about the superhero part of my life. It was our first big fight."
Al had met Damon once, when he'd spent a week and a half living on Todd's couch after getting released from the Suicide Squad. For a man who prosecuted for the Major Crimes department of the Los Angeles District Attorney, Todd's boyfriend had been relentlessly cheerful and upbeat. Frankly, Al thought dating Damon was probably like dating a spaniel, but Todd seemed happy with the man, and noticeably less gloomy.
"So." Todd said, after a long pause while Al said nothing and looked at nothing, because he'd been sort of lying to his best friend by not telling him anything. Which was kind of the thing that lost you best friends, especially when your best friend had come out to everyone, and you were still in the closet even to him. Well, Al had solved *that* problem, hadn't he?
"So..." Al repeated, not willing to add to Todd's word, because he had no idea what he'd say, and he was afraid he wouldn't shut up if he did start talking.
"You've been picking up men in bars?"
Al made a waffling gesture.
"After..." Khandaq, Adam, you, Al thought. "After I got out of the Suicide Squad." Al hid his face in his hands, and moaned. This was not going quite the way he'd thought it would, when he'd been brave enough to think about it at all. He risked a glance over at Todd.
Who still looked a little shocked, but now mostly looked intensely interested.
Oh god, Todd could be such a spaz.
"You know…" Todd said, "if you ever wanted to, I'm sure Damon would…"
"You are *not* inviting me to a threesome with your boyfriend, Todd."
Todd tilted his head, and smirked. "I'm not?"
"No," Al said firmly. "Because that would just be …disturbing. And weird. Disturbingly weird."
Todd grinned unrepentantly, and said, "Damon made a pass at Hawkman once."
"…Hawkman?" Al said, almost whimpering with horror.
"The League came by the DA's office for something, I don't know what. But they talked to Kate Spencer – she's another DA, but she's also a cape, sometimes – and Hawkman was there. Damon was sort of," Todd paused, looking for words, "starstruck."
"By Carter Hall?" Al asked. Hawkman was unpleasant, prickly, and tended towards violence at the least provocation. It was all the JSA could do to keep him from starting international incidents or marking his territory by pissing on lampposts.
"He does have a nice chest. And he walks around in a leather harness and a mask. Even in LA, that's kind of… distinctive."
"Your boyfriend thought Hawkman was some sort of –"
"Gay eye-candy? Wouldn't you?"
"Of course not," Todd said, and picked at his fries. "You've actually talked to the man! No crush could survive that!"
Al rubbed his eyes. This wasn't going at all like he thought it would.
"I mean, yeah, he dresses like he should be in International Leather, but you can't throw a stick at group of superheroes without hitting a costume straight out of a fetish-wear catalogue…"
"You shouldn't talk, Todd. Black and purple spandex –"
Todd grinned, "At least I'm not wearing a leather collar, Al!"
Al touched the collar at his throat tentatively. He had never considered – it was just something to anchor his hood to, and a variation on the Atom's costume. And it looked – really really hinky, now that he thought about it from the proper angle.
Todd reached over the table and patted his arm. "I'm sure most people don't even notice it, Al. It's just, some of the people I've met in LA, well, Damon's got some friends who are way wilder than *I'll* ever be, and they ask questions, since I've mentioned that I work at the JSA Museum."
"Oh *god*," Al hid his face in his again. "I'm going to have to change my look."
"No, don't do *that*. You'd have to explain *why*."
"I can say—"
"Explain why to your *mother*," Todd said. He was practically chortling, the bastard.
There was no way he was going to explain that his costume was being mistaken for kinky sex gear to his *Mom*, damn it. Todd was just *evil*.
"You're just saying things to get back for every time I tried to set you up on a date."
"Would I do that?" Todd laughed, and bit into his sandwich. "It's not like those weren't disasters."
Al bristled."I was trying to help! I didn't know you were gay then! Hell, you didn't know either!"
Todd rolled his eyes.
"You wouldn't even admit it when I asked you –" Al stopped himself abruptly, as the past suddenly fell into place like a missing puzzle piece. "Oh...I should have done something then."
"Huh?" Todd looked up from his fries.
"Back when Fox told me that everyone thought we were dating – I should have done something then."
"You did do something." Todd pointed out. He had that wry look on his thin face, the one where he was remembering something that was funny now, but probably hadn't been at the time. "You tracked me down and wanted to know if I was in love with you – but hell, I'm not sure if I know what love is even now."
Al frowned. The small shadows cast by the plates and cups were flickering like birthday candles, totally at odds with the steady incandescent light.
"You're not sure what love is? Have you told your *boyfriend* that?"
"No! I don't want to say that Damon, it'd only hurt him, and I don't want that! I want him to be happy," Todd trailed off. His hands were wrapped white-knuckled around his mug, and the shadows were pressed flat and dead.
"I think that's a working definition of 'love', Todd."
Todd smirked a little. "Good enough for government work?"
"So... you didn't tell me you've started dating men–"
"I'm not dating men, Todd. Pick-ups in bars aren't dating." They weren't. Al got first names, and sometimes phone numbers. But it wasn't like he was going to dinner and a show with any of the guys he'd been meeting.
"– having *sex* with men because..?"
"Because it's no one's damned business."
"Denial is a sad, sad thing, Al, and it makes nobody happy," Todd said.
"I'm not in denial," Al protested, "I'm in the closet. There's a difference. You were the one in denial."
"I was no–" Todd snarled, and then his mouth snapped shut, "All right, I was in denial. But you're not going to be happy–"
"I just want to get settled back in the JSA, Todd." Al rubbed a through his hair, suddenly frustrated. "If I say, 'Oh, and I figured out that I'm bisexual and probably half the reason I went to Khandaq because I had a completely insane crush on *Black Adam*', I'll get bounced so fast I'll make a dent in the street."
"You had a crush on *Black Adam*?!" Todd blinked, and then murmured, "Yeah, that wouldn't go over well..."
"Especially not with your dad. He's not happy about me coming back on the team at all." Alan Scott had all but said Al should have stayed away, or gone back to Suicide Squad; the Green Lantern was not happy to have anyone with a tainted past on the JSA. Well, anyone who wasn't Todd.
"Dad is kind of a hypocrite."
"It took you this long to figure that out? Wasn't the fact that he married two supervillainesses a clue?"
Todd looked down at his hands, pressed against the tabletop. His shadow was flickering, and Al felt bad about that. Todd was a lot better than he had been – the new drugs and the extra therapy had finally found the right balance for Todd's badly wired head – but pushing him still wasn't a great idea. His skin was pink, not greyed to near black, and his eyes showed iris and pupil, instead of uncanny white, so he didn't *look* like he was going to disappear into his own shadow, or worse, start splitting off shadow-clones.
"Molly's nice. And Dad tries. He really does. But he's old, you know, and besides Jennie, we haven't got much in common."
"It's just... I'm his son, and he's glad to have met me and glad to help me, but I don't think he knows what to *do* with me, Al. I'm an adult, so he can't treat me like a kid, but the schizophrenia means he could."
Todd rubbed his eyes, "I almost didn't come out of DEO custody. I went through a lot of different meds before the quetiapine worked. And if it ever stops working for me, Dad can put me back into DEO custody – he'll *have* to."
"Your Dad wouldn't do that." Al protested, but he knew it was a lie. Alan Scott was a Green Lantern, the first Green Lantern on Earth. No one became a Green Lantern if they weren't able to handle the job, and if Todd's medication failed, his father would hand him over to the government agency most able to keep him in a rubber room.
"He'd be an idiot not to."
Al couldn't say anything. He hadn't been there when Todd had covered Milwaukee with shadows, and then tried to do the same to the entire world. Al had been in Khandaq, helping restore the country and wondering how the hell he'd come to the conclusion that killing a ruling junta on Black Adam's say-so was what he wanted to do with his life. The conclusions to that question had eventually took months to work out, and then even longer to accept.
"And your dad isn't stupid."
"Not that stupid, no... sometimes I wish that I'd done things differently, that I'd asked him or Jennie for help before I spiraled so far down." Todd sighed. "But if I had, would I have this life? I wouldn't take it back though – I'm finally okay with myself. If I changed my life, changed any of the stupid things I did to get here, wouldn't I be someone else, too? Someone who never accepted himself? Someone who never met Damon?"
Al thought about it – he might like to be someone else, someone who hadn't betrayed his friends because his ideals were so … idealistic. Unreally idealtistic – no one could live to the standards he used to have, and he'd broken himself trying – sometimes he dreamed about the Spectre, facing him in Khandaq, and woke smelling blood, tasting copper, and aching across his chest. But Todd was right; wishes would be fishes, and you could make yourself less mucking with your own timeline. And as badly as he wanted to belong to the JSA, he needed to know why in his head, instead of just his heart like he'd done as a kid.
"I don't know, Todd," he said. "If I hadn't followed Black Adam... well, a lot of things would be different."
"You wouldn't be picking up guys?"
Al looked away, "I think that was a long time coming, figuring out that I like men as well as women... But I'd probably not being hiding it. Maybe. I don't know."
"You're going not going to say anything to the team, are you?"
"No." Al said and gulped down the rest of his sandwich. "I... Let me try to settle in. If I can make a place on the team again, maybe I'll think about it..."
"I just want you happy, Al. I don't think staying in the closet is going to do that, but I'm not an asshole who'd out you. You know that, right?"
"Right." Al stood up as well. "And, Todd? Thanks. For understanding, and all."
Todd smiled, a real, gentle smile, instead of his usual wry smirk, "That's what friends are for."
"That they are."