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Celer, Silens, Mortalis

Chapter Text

The weather forecast for the greater Gotham area promises that the thundershowers of earlier in the afternoon will melt off by nightfall, leaving the skies clear and the temperature a balmy 70º in their wake. Ray assures Brad of this. Accordingly, Brad decides to burn off the day's restless energy on a patrol of the more questionable parts of downtown.

When he gets out and finds that it's fucking freezing and still pissing down rain, Brad sighs heavily and turns on the cowl's built-in earpiece.

"Ray?"

"What's up, Brad? Miss me already?"

"Ray, I'd like a word with you about your weather forecast. I believe you said it was going to be 70 and clear by nightfall?"

"You got it, homes. I heard it straight from the beautiful, dick-sucking lips of Cindy the weather girl. God, I fucking love the local news."

Brad has to stop talking for a minute just to master the urge to beat his head against the nearest wall. Well, his or Ray's. "Ray, put Walt on the line." He hears some crackling over the line, and then hears Ray's voice yelling in the background, "Hey Robin! Your big spoon wants you." Eventually, the line crackles again and Walt's voice comes through.

"Hey, Brad. Something wrong?"

"Walt, is there a new weather girl on the local news channel?"

"Yep. I take it Ray's told you about Cindy and her double-D weather balloons?"

"No, but you did just answer my other question. Please tell Ray that I'm freezing my balls off, it's still raining, and that I'll put the parental controls back on the Internet connection if he lets his whiskey-tango sister-fucking fantasies affect my work again."

Walt laughs, "Will do." The connection ends.

-------

It doesn't take long for Brad to find a neighborhood that looks like it might hold some decent chance of a fight. What takes for-fucking-ever is for anything to actually happen. Brad patrols the rooftops for at least two hours and is just about to call the night a bust when he hears something promising; the thud of a body against a wall and a yell of "Give me your wallet, shit-stick!" from a nearby alley below. Perfect.

When Brad gets to a good vantage point atop a seedy-looking liquor store, the scene he finds in the alley below makes him shake his head. Two muggers have a well-dressed, clean-cut-looking kid cornered and looking around for the nearest exit. The kid looks twenty, twenty-five tops – Brad guesses he's just another dipshit college boy who decided to "slum it" in one of the more dangerous parts of Gotham in search of a cheap thrill. Brad's seen it a hundred times, but this one looks surprisingly calm, given the impressive jam he's gotten himself into.

"I'm sorry, I don't have any cash on me," the kid replies evenly. The muggers laugh.

"Yeah, what the fuck ever, that's what they all say," the closest one fires back. "Now give me your wallet or we'll kick your fucking head in!"

The kid shakes his head in reply. The closest mugger throws the first punch before Brad can even finish figuring out the best plan of attack. What happens next makes Brad stop dead in surprise: the kid's hand snaps out with astonishing speed to twine his arm around the mugger's like a snake. The kid straightens his elbow vehemently – Brad winces at the loud crack that follows. That move can either break an enemy's arm, dislocate their elbow, or both; Brad's pretty sure he just heard both. The mugger's resulting scream certainly supports the "both" theory, in this case.

Before the mugger even finishes screaming, the kid plants his other hand on the mugger's lower back and shoves, sending the mugger against the nearby brick wall with a painful-sounding crunch. He collapses in an unmoving heap at the base of the wall.

Oh, I like this kid, Brad thinks, amused. However, all thoughts vacate Brad's head when a flash of lightning shows the metallic glint of a gun in the other mugger's waistband. Shit.

Brad leaps from the rooftop and lands on the armed mugger's back with both feet. When he straightens and steps aside, the mugger rolls away and curls into a ball, protecting the several ribs Brad probably just broke.

Brad looks up to find the kid staring at him, his chest rising and falling a bit faster for the increased exertion and adrenaline of the fight. Brad smirks at him.

"You forgot about the other one, didn't you?"

The kid smiles ruefully, "I was getting to him." Brad's estimation of this kid rises even more – most people he saves who actually see him usually go for statements of the glaringly obvious ("You're Batman!" or something equally moronic and obvious).

"Don't take it personally, you fought back. Actually, you fought back better than most people I've seen in similar situations."

The kid's smile widens into a grin as he rubs the back of his neck with one hand, "Well, it’s been a few years, but you know what they say: once a Marine, always a Marine."

Well, Brad thinks, that explains a lot.

"I'm Nate, by the way," the kid adds. He starts to hold a hand out for a handshake before he catches himself and laughs, "What am I doing? I know who you are."

Brad stiffens. Something about the way Nate looks at him makes him feel like he's being X-rayed. There's no way–

"Everyone in Gotham knows who you are."

Oh. Right.

In spite of the misunderstanding – which is strange for its own reasons – Brad still feels a curiously overwhelming urge to be somewhere else, somewhere far away from Nate and his unsettlingly searching gaze.

"Well," he finally replies, "then you know I don't have time to chat." He takes a running leap onto a dumpster just past Nate and hauls himself up onto the roof of liquor store. He turns to look back down at Nate, who's watching him with a look of mild amusement.

"Take care of yourself, Nate."

By the time Nate replies "Likewise," Brad has already disappeared.

-------

One night, Brad comes back to the Batcave to find Ray and Walt watching the wall of flat screens that composes one corner with unusual interest.

"Ray, Walt, what's going on?"

"Check it out, homes," Ray doesn't even look away from the wall as he talks, "Mayor McUseless finally appointed a new Police Commissioner."

"About fucking time," Brad murmurs. "Is he as much of a worthless dicksuck as Dowdy was?" Joseph Dowdy, the former Commissioner, had been killed in a shootout about two weeks before.

"Only time will tell, I guess," Walt murmurs from Ray's right. "There he is," Walt points at the screens, "Nate Fick."

Brad looks up and just barely manages to keep his jaw from dropping. There on the screens, big as life and looking almost painfully earnest, stands Nate, the ex-Marine Brad remembers saving six months ago.

Holy shit.

The anchorwoman interviewing Nate stands a little too close to him and laughs at everything he says, obviously smitten with him. Brad actually sort of understands why, now that he can see Nate in something other than flickering street lamps and lightning: his eyes, pale in the dark, are actually a startling, brilliant green, and his smile is infectious and sincere. Quite simply, he looks like a fucking movie star.

A sudden commercial break jolts Brad out of his reverie. "Ray, I want you to do all the research you can on this guy. I need to know if we can trust him or, better yet, if he might actually be able to help us."

"You got it, Brad." Ray yawns, stretches, and then scoots closer to the screens. "Hey Walt, want to help me stalk the Commissioner for Brad?" Walt laughs when Brad affectionately cuffs Ray on the back of the head.

"Smart-ass," Brad mutters as he walks off to tinker with his bike.

"Don't act like you don't love it," Ray shoots back with the ease of long practice. Brad grins when he hears what is obviously the sound of Walt hitting Ray upside the head as well. He shakes his head, still grinning, when this sets Ray off on a rant about abuse in the workplace.

-------

In spite of his many, many faults, Brad has to admit that Ray certainly can come through for him when it counts. Only often times, because it's Ray, Brad winds up getting more than he ever expected or asked for in the first place.

Brad's requested research on one Commissioner Nate Fick is one of those times. Brad can already feel a headache building right behind his eyes as he turns away from the wall of flat screens.

"What the hell, Ray?"

"Uh, dude, I would have thought it was obvious. It's the research you asked me to do on our shiny new Commissioner."

Ray walks up to stand next to Brad as he turns back to the screens, "Funny, I don't recall asking for every photo of him since the 5th grade." He's not even exaggerating; school pictures are sprinkled throughout the massive collection of files.

"Did it ever occur to your NASCAR-rotted brain that I was more interested in facts than in about 5,000 jpegs?"

Ray snorts, "If you scroll down a bit, I put together a handy statistics summary." He smiles beatifically at Brad, "I know how much you like the Cliff's Notes version of things." He scrolls accordingly, "Check it out, Brad, he's 6'2", 35 years old—"

"Ray, he can't possibly be 35, he looks like a fucking college kid."

"Would I lie to you, Brad?" He laughs when Brad answers with a single raised eyebrow.

"All right, all right, but I wouldn't with something important. Anyway, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, our boy also likes dogs, and is siiinnnngle!" Ray stretches out the last word in a singsong tone. "Ooh, and he's a Libra," he adds with an exaggerated eyebrow waggle.

Walt, in the middle of something at the soldering station somewhere behind them, smothers a laugh into his elbow.

"Ray!" Brad grits out, then exhales slowly as he looks at the ceiling, "I am interested in finding out if we can trust him and if he'll be able to help us, not…this."

"Oh come on, homes, you know you can't lie to your Ray-Ray. You totally have a type, and this is exactly what you're interested in." He beams, "Just on the off chance you wanted to enable some of your more stalkerish tendencies, I did put together a creepy amount of background information on one Commissioner Nathaniel Fick." Ray clicks the mouse and types rapidly, switching the screens to pages and pages of notes, then ducks out of the way before Brad can smack the back of his head.

Brad sighs, "Thank you, Ray."

Ray claps Brad on the shoulder, "Don't ever say I did nothing for you, homes. Oh, check it out, the two sections are cross-linked," he points at the screens, "See how it says here that he was a lifeguard in college? Just click on this and it takes you to the appropriate photo." Ray clicks, "Voilà!"

Brad puts his head in his hands with a groan, "Ray, could you possibly go bother Walt for a while?"

Ray nods and saunters off to the soldering station, "Hey, Walt, let's go get some food. The Batman needs to spank it to his future boyfriend."

If I ever get a permanent tension headache, it's going to be his fault, Brad thinks grumpily. He rubs his eyes and settles down in front of the screens. He had misjudged Nate before – he was not going to make the same mistake again.

-------

At the end of that same week, Nate shuts down his work computer and sighs heavily, rubbing his eyes. The problem with sudden promotions, he reflects, is that it's pretty damn hard to pick up where the last guy left off. It feels like trying to hit the ground running on a fucking treadmill.

When he lowers his hands, he just barely manages not to start in surprise. He smiles tiredly, "I suppose it was a matter of time before I heard from you."

The towering hooded figure in the center of his office smirks, "Naturally. Congratulations on the promotion, by the way." Nate’s cramped office makes Batman look even taller than Nate remembers.

"Thanks, I guess. I just wish it had happened under better circumstances."

Batman shrugs, "Certain positions in Gotham can have a remarkably short shelf life. Especially when incompetent wastes of space hold said positions."

Nate feels the brief compulsion to speak up in defense of the late Commissioner Dowdy, but he realizes Batman's not exactly wrong.

"Going from Sergeant to Commissioner at your age is an impressive leap. Then again, with your arrest record, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised."

Nate's mouth pulls into a wry, one-sided smile as he feels his face flush at the compliment, "What can I say? I live to protect and serve." He hesitates for a moment while he searches for something to say.

"Look, don't get me wrong, this is a nice chat we're having but, to be frank, I'm also still trying to figure out why you're here." He fixes Batman with a cool, level gaze; to Nate’s surprise, Batman is the first to look away.

"I've underestimated you twice now, Nate. I can assure you I won't be making that mistake again."

Nate doesn’t hold back on his grin, "You remember! I wasn't sure you would. But really, did you just come here to sweet-talk me or was there something you wanted?"

For a split second, Nate swears he sees the lower portions of the other man’s face darken. It seems impossible that Nate would be able to knock The Batman off-balance (figuratively or otherwise), so maybe it was a trick of the light.

Batman takes a deep breath before he replies, "Your predecessor was pretty adamantly against dealing with me in any way, shape, or form unless it was to finally arrest me for vigilantism."

"Well, look where that got him."

Batman snorts, "Point. Basically, I came here to find out if you share a similar sentiment."

Nate rubs the back of his neck with one hand, "I'm not sure. If you had asked me a year ago, I probably would have felt similar. But the way things have been going lately, I'm starting to think I'm going to need all the help I can get." Disgust bubbles in his gut, "It turns out some of my colleagues have a certain fondness for…bending the rules."

When Batman says nothing, Nate looks him directly in the eyes, "There used to be a time when the Gotham police force wasn't such a fucking joke. There are good cops still, but too many of them are in the pocket of one criminal or another. I'm fucking sick of it, and if you are too then maybe we understand each other."

Batman regards him coolly; something in the look sends a chill up Nate’s spine, but he doesn’t look away. After a moment, tension Nate wasn’t even aware of seems to dissolve out of Batman’s stance. Slowly, one corner first, his mouth starts to stretch into an infectious smile.

"I think we can work something out."

Suddenly, the phone on Nate's desk rings loudly, jarring them both out of the moment. Nate curses under his breath and makes a 'wait' gesture with one hand while he takes the call. He scribbles down a quick message but, when he hangs up and glances around, Batman is already gone.

Nate just shakes his head, smiling. Some things never change.

Chapter Text

In the middle of sparring with Walt in the Batcave one afternoon, Brad suddenly says, "Gents, I've been thinking.” Ray, who watches from a safe distance, grins wickedly, "Uh oh."

Brad sidesteps a kick Walt aims at his midsection and trips Walt by hooking one of his feet behind Walt's ankle. "You need to stop watching my chest to predict my next move, Walt," Brad tells Walt as he helps Walt up off the floor. "A well-trained fighter can easily conceal any hints you might find there." He grins and claps Walt on the shoulder, "Your speed is improving though."

"So," Ray cuts in loudly, "you've been thinking?"

"Right. Think back with me, gentlemen; we didn't interact with the police force very much under the late Commissioner Dowdy."

Walt snorts. "That'd be because Dowdy wanted to cart your ass off to Arkham."

"Point, Walt. Regardless of reasons, I think the lack of a unified front on the side of good served to…encourage Gotham's various miscreants."

"In English," Ray interrupts, "the crime rate went through the fuckin' roof. Brad, I love story time as much as the next guy, but do you have a point somewhere in all those S.A.T. words?"

"Considering that our current Commissioner has proven that he, unlike his predecessor, happens to possess a functioning brain, I was considering presenting him with a gesture of good faith. You know," he grins, "to cement our newfound professional relationship."

Walt grins back, "You know, Brad, most people just say it with flowers and a card." Ray and Brad stare at him like he's grown an extra head. "What, I can't get in on the jokes once in a while?"

Brad glares at Ray, "Stop corrupting him. It's hard enough dealing with one of you."

Walt clears his throat loudly. "What did you have in mind for this good faith gesture of yours?"

Brad's answering grin turns slightly feral and distinctly unsettling.

-------

A few days later, Sergeant Mike Wynn catches up with Nate as Nate comes back from his lunch break.

"You missed mail call," he says as he hands Nate a stack of envelopes. Nate raises his eyebrows at one envelope in particular; unlike its letter-sized fellows, this envelope is large, yellow, and surprisingly thick. It also lacks a return address.

Mike chuckles at Nate's expression, "I had some questions about that one myself."

"I'll let you know if it has anything of interest," Nate replies absently as he unlocks his office. He sets the large envelope on his desk and examines it carefully.

"Typed address label means no handwriting analysis, no adhesive means no preserved fingerprints or salivary DNA analysis…hmmmm," he murmurs under his breath. "Of course," Nate adds dryly, "a return address would be too easy." He finally sighs, "At least it's not ticking," and opens the envelope.

The contents turn out to be photographs – glossy, very high-quality color photographs. In the first batch, Nate sees Craig Schwetje, one of Gotham's top prosecutors, out to dinner with the head of the Falcone crime family. The digitally printed date at the bottom of the photographs is from three days ago.

The next batch, dated two days ago, shows two men throwing clearly labeled evidence bags into a drum of burning trash in one of Gotham's more run-down neighborhoods. Nate recognizes one of them from the rotating roster of officers who watch over the evidence locker.

Suddenly, a recent court case against one of the Falcones’ most important men jumps to the forefront of Nate's mind. The case had been tied up in appeal after appeal for the last couple of months until yesterday, when it was dismissed due to "misplaced evidence". Craig Schwetje was the lead prosecutor on that particular case.

Nate lets out a long, low whistle as the full significance of what he's seeing finally hits him. He's known for a while that a large portion of Gotham's police force occasionally bends the law, but he had no idea that the corruption reached all the way up to one of Gotham's most prominent prosecutors.

At least one thing about this is simple; Nate only has one informant that deals in photos of this quality. He picks up the phone, dials, and waits.

"Gotham Gazette, Evan Wright speaking."

"Evan, it's Nate. I wanted to thank you for these pictures you sent me."

"What pictures?

"The ones you sent me today. You've outdone yourself, to put it mildly."

There's a pause on the other end, "I didn't send you anything today."

"What?"

"I didn't send you anything today. I haven't had any good scoops recently." There's a very long pause. "Nate? Do you have something for me?"

"I don't know yet," Nate finally replies with a sigh. "Let's grab a beer sometime this week, I'll explain then. Sorry to waste your time."

"No problem, don't be a stranger."

Nate hangs up the phone and stares at the pictures with renewed interest. As he shuffles through the more recent batch, a folded piece of paper he hadn't noticed before flutters onto his desk. It's a very short note in small, spiky black script:

Nate,

Hope you don't mind, but I took you at your word when you said you're going to need all the help you can get. Now we understand each other.

--B

After a moment, the familiar phrases jog something in Nate's memory. He smiles, then grins, then starts to laugh. He may be the poster child of all things anti-social, but at least he has a sense of humor. Finally, he tucks the note into his pocket, puts the photographs back into the envelope, and goes to find Sergeant Wynn.

Chapter Text

Godfather leans against his desk as he silently finishes the report in his hands. His brows knit slowly into a frown at some of the more disappointing highlights. After what seems like forever, he rubs his palm across his face as he sets the papers down on the desk behind him.

"Are you fucking shitting me?!" Godfather finally explodes at the legal aid in front of him. The legal aid, a small man named Griego, looks extremely uncomfortable.

Godfather continues, sending flecks of spittle flying, "Your buddy Schwetje has fucked me! That son of a bitch guaranteed that he could cover his tracks. He guaranteed it." He stops, takes a deep breath, and continues in a dangerously quiet voice, "What the fuck happened?"

"We haven't managed to find the source of the tip yet, sir. To be honest, I didn't think it was possible. Craig is a solid team player, and I know he took all reasonable precautions to keep this little project under wraps," says Griego with surprising calm.

"Apparently he missed something."

"Yes, sir. That’s my point, sir; if Craig Schwetje was taking all reasonable steps to be discreet, then doesn’t that mean the leak came from the least expected source? Some of the photos look like they were taken from inside Mr. Falcone’s restaurant." Griego clears his throat nervously, "My concern, Mr. Ferrando, is that the leak is coming from someone who has access to a least some of the game plan."

Godfather’s not sure if Griego actually believes his own babble or if he’s just looking for a way to protect himself from the inevitable fallout of Godfather's wrath.

"Make no mistake, Ferrando will find the nosy bastard who did this. That is a certainty," Godfather stretches to his full height and reaches into the pocket his ebony jacket to retrieve his coin. Walking it over the backs of his fingers, he asks, "Does Schwetje know to keep his mouth shut?"

Griego nods hurriedly, "Absolutely, sir. He’ll back whatever play you think is best." He straightens importantly as he continues, "I’m on my way down to see him if you want me to relay a message."

"You tell that Neanderthal that he is to keep this absolutely contained. Unless he wants to feel the full weight of Godfather's disappointment -- or worse -- he says nothing. I will be discussing the direction of his case with his lawyer, but he needs be prepared to accept the consequences for his actions. Understood?"

"Perfectly, sir, I have the utmost confidence that Craig will do everything possible to help us through this difficult time," Griego assures him, almost reverently.

Godfather starts to pace his office in agitation. "Now I have to go and give a goddamn press conference praising this Commissioner Nate fucking Fick, who is becoming an increasingly annoying pain in my ass. This prissy fuck doesn’t know how Gotham works."

"That’s why we need men like you, Mr. Ferrando. Brilliant men, visionaries who understand and have the foresight to—"

"Enough!" interrupts Godfather, sick of Griego’s ass kissing. He needs some time away from all the idiots to prepare himself for the dog and pony show this evening.

-------

"Master Br-r-r-radley," Ray says with an atrocious attempt at a British accent. "Would you care to take dinnah in the entahtainment centah? The press conference is stahting."

"Ray, if you keep talking like Mrs. fucking Doubtfire, I will replace all of your internal organs with brussels sprouts."

"Dude, that was just lame. I’m actually disappointed." Ray gestures vaguely in the direction of the entertainment center, "C’mon, you’ll miss watching your boyfriend make love to the camera on the evening news."

Ray disappears from view before Brad can come up with a sufficiently cutting rejoinder. On the other hand, the pesto smell Brad suddenly notices is good enough that he could almost let Ray’s feeble attempts at wit slide. Almost. He’ll pay for that later, Brad decides as he gets up to follow Ray.

Walt is already seated on the massive couch, scarfing pasta with impressive speed. On the coffee table nearby, more pasta steams faintly in china bowls.

"Ray, is there a particular reason you decided to use the good china?"

Ray rolls his eyes, "Homes, you show me what around here isn’t the good china and I’ll use it. That or you can serve your own damn self. Besides," he beams as he flops down next to Walt on the couch, "it seemed like a special occasion, what with your lover boy being a hero and stuff." Absently, he throws one leg over Walt’s thigh. Walt smiles and shoves Ray lightly with his elbow, but otherwise takes the invasion of his personal space in stride.

"Dude, Godfather’s lookin’ seriously fly," Ray mumbles around a mouthful of pasta. He gestures at the District Attorney’s dove grey suit with one hand, flinging bits of Parmesan from his fork in the process, "I think that suit costs more than your fucking bike."

"Yes, Ray," says Brad dryly, "The blue tie really makes his eyes pop." Just then, Nate walks into frame from Ferrando’s left, completely distracting Brad from Ferrando’s eyes -- indeed, from Ferrando entirely. Between the open jacket and casual dress shirt with no tie, Nate looks like he just stepped off the pages of a Banana Republic ad. Brad tries not to pay too much attention to Nate’s shirt; more specifically, the unbuttoned top button of Nate’s shirt.

No one’s neck has any right to be that distracting.

Ray’s bark of laughter startles Brad out of his reverie. "Homes, you make it so easy to make fun of you it’s not even special anymore. What’s happening to us, Brad?"

Brad just waves halfheartedly at Ray because Godfather is talking, "...motive is unclear at this time. Prosecutor Craig Schwetje and Officer Greg Bronson have been suspended pending further investigation. I sincerely hope that this unfortunate incident can be resolved quickly, so we, as a community, can move forward from it." His earnest, almost pleading expression seems to take ten years off his face, making him seem much younger than his iron grey hair might suggest.

"Ha! You mean you want to sweep it under the rug, don’t you, Godfather?" Ray coos as if he were talking to a toddler. Brad’s mouth quirks.

On the television, Godfather continues, "Ferrando hates to think that an act as despicable as evidence tampering could be happening within Gotham. However, if the culprits are proven guilty in a court of law, then Ferrando is grateful; grateful because light has been shed on a problem that could eat away at the very heart of this city."

"Pfffft!" Ray splutters incredulously, "What the fuck does he think we’re smoking? Yeah, I’m sure he’s really grateful light has been shone on the hairy asshole of corruption that he like, orchestrated and shit."

Brad and Walt shush Ray simultaneously before he can work himself up into a rant.

"In the mean time, we must not be too quick to assign judgement, as due process is a fundamental," Godfather underlines his point with a raised finger, "part our judicial system. Everyone deserves a fair trial, ladies and gentlemen."

"I’ve got to hand it to him," Walt says soberly. "I know he’s dirty and I still find him convincing."

"Correction, we suspect he’s dirty," Brad says, turning his head away from the screen for the first time. "If we had evidence, Ferrando wouldn’t be currently spinning his bullshit and smiling for the cameras."

"Commissioner Fick, can you give us any information about the source of the tip?" comes a question from the crowd of reporters. Brad’s attention snaps back to the television.

Nate ducks his head as he adjusts the mic. The camera zooms in so his serious and youthful face fills the screen. Again, Brad finds the skin exposed by his open collar uncomfortably distracting. Something tightens in Brad’s stomach when Nate licks his lips before speaking, "It was an anonymous tip that first implicated Mr. Schwetje and Officer Bronson. We have no more information on the source at this time." He nods to another reporter, "Yes?"

"Commissioner, you have previously stated that you want to increase the accountability and transparency of Gotham’s police force. Have these arrests or increasing complaints of bribery and police brutality changed any of your plans, and do you think eliminating all abuse of the legal system is even a realistic goal?"

"Realistic?" Nate smiles humorlessly. "I doubt it’s possible to have a legal system in which 100% of the personnel are following the letter of the law at all times, but I firmly believe that pursuing that ideal is a reasonable goal. How can we expect to achieve greatness if we don’t push ourselves to our limits, whether it’s as individuals or as a community? The Gotham police department can do better, ladies and gentlemen. I have excellent people in my department who deserve to be able to hold their heads up high because they belong to an honorable police force that has earned our citizens’ trust. I think that is a path worth taking, however hard the steps might be. To answer your question; no, my plans have not changed. These arrests were merely one step along that path." He finishes with his eyebrows slightly raised, as if in challenge.

Godfather places a hand on Nate’s shoulder and insinuates himself between Nate and the microphone. Smiling smoothly at the camera, he rasps, "I would like to congratulate and thank our Commissioner and all of the men and women who worked so hard on this. Together we can make the Gotham community proud!"

Ferrando’s words pass unheeded over Brad, who is still transfixed by Nate’s speech. Why can’t more people think like him? On the other hand, Brad adds as an afterthought, it’s probably better that more people don’t look like him. As if on cue, a tug of overwhelming want washes over him, stronger than he’s felt in recent memory. Equal parts delicious and terrifying. Normally Brad’s SOP would call for putting as much distance as possible between himself and the subject of his feelings, but it looks like he and the new Commissioner will be working together. Closely. Just Brad’s fucking luck.

For the second time in an embarrassingly short period, Brad’s attention is brought back to the present by a stifled giggle from his right. Ray’s dimples stand out in sharp relief as he smirks around a mouthful of tortellini, looking at Brad with disgustingly blatant endearment. Walt is scowling at the television as if it had caused his mother bodily harm. Ray swallows when Brad shoots him a raised eyebrow.

"Jeez, Brad. I almost think you want to open your pants and your heart for this guy." He pretends to wipe a tear from the corner of his eye as he continues with an exaggerated sniffle, "Your children are going to be so beautiful." Brad has to actively prevent the corner of his mouth from tilting upwards. It is possible Ray notices this, so Brad shoves him on the shoulder.

"Ray, if your torrid love affair with Walt’s leg somehow produces any spawn, you’d better hope and pray they take after him and not you." Brad now gives his grin free rein, "The world has enough Redbull-addicted, whiskey tango sister-fucking hicks in it as it is." Also smiling, Ray lunges across the couch to tackle Brad’s upper body.

"Would you guys quit messing around? This could be really serious." Walt snaps, gesturing at the screen.

"Uh, Walt..." Ray stills, looking up questioningly.

Walt mutes the T.V., "Fick just painted a big-ass target on himself. I mean, does he even know who Ferrando really is?" Brad’s stomach turns over uncomfortably at the thought of just how exposed Nate is; he pushes his plate away, his appetite suddenly gone.

"Shit, we might have to take up bodyguard detail, Brad." Walt claps a hand over Ray’s mouth, stopping Ray’s pot shot before it even starts.

Brad can practically hear Nate’s proclamation that he can take care of himself. The thought makes him pinch the bridge of his nose. "I’m fairly confident the Commissioner would object to that," he says. "Besides, while I’m sure Falcone wouldn’t mind sending Nate a lead-filled message, I doubt Godfather would want that much bad press. If they’re going to put the hurt on him, I think they’ll do it politically rather than physically."

Ray bites his bottom lip in thought. "You know, it might not be a bad idea for the Commish to have a way to get a hold of us. We should arrange some sort of intel exchange anyway." They all lapse into thoughtful silence.

Finally, Brad clears his throat. "Hasser, it’s probably time to introduce Nate to Robin. Try to get a sense of how willing he’d be to share theories, or at least hear ours. Ray, I trust you can rig up some realistically untraceable means of communication?"

Ray scoffs, "Dude, you’re talkin’ to your Ray-Ray. How much time do I get?"

"I can help you for a bit before patrol. Let’s see how far you get with it tonight. Any other thoughts?" Brad asks them both. When they both shake their heads, he nods and says, "Let’s get to it then, gents."

-------

Later that week, Nate goes out for dinner instead of the usual quiet meal for one back at his apartment. However, in spite of who initiated the outing, Nate has a hunch it's not going to be purely a social call.

Regardless, Nate still answers Evan's grin with one of his own when they settle down to a table at the Irish Rose (Nate's favorite pub in Gotham, in spite of the bad reviews).

Evan raises his glass in a fondly teasing toast. "Hail the conquering hero."

"Hello to you too, Evan."

"I saw that press conference, by the way. The cameras loved you even though, knowing you, you probably hated every second of it."

Nate rolls his eyes, "That circus was not my idea. I would've ducked out of it and let Ferrando have the limelight if the Mayor hadn't personally asked me to make an appearance. Speaking of appearances," Nate frowns, "Where were you? Aren't you one of the Gazette's senior reporters?"

Evan clears his throat and shifts in his chair, "Uh, yeah, normally I would've been all over that but my boss pulled me off of all my regular projects for something special. For when I’m back on my regular beat, how comfortable are you being the point-man on cracking down on police corruption? You’re on T.V. now, that has the potential to bring some serious shit down on your head."

Nate stares at Evan for a long moment. "I think you know I can handle both figurative and literal shit." He takes a long draught of his beer, and then sinks further into his chair. "I propose we don’t talk about the press conference any more tonight."

Evan gives him a slow grin, a look which Nate has come to associate with trouble, and asks, "Alright. Why don’t we talk about who you had to kill to get a golden tip like that?"

Nate sighs, "You’re just dead set on shop talk, aren’t you?"

"Nate," Evan replies with a reproachful look, "I’m hurt that you think I’d ask you something like that on the record. You said the tip was anonymous, which means you want to keep it quiet from the public, but I’m your friend. Can’t this just be a relaxed discussion between friends? Besides, you call me in the middle of a work week to ask me about pictures I didn’t send and you expect me to just forget it? Now I’m just insulted."

Shit. He’d forgotten about that phone call. "Finish your beer," Nate orders as he motions to the waiter to bring another round.

"Speaking in the purely hypothetical here, it is possible that a note was found from the photographer." Nate concedes cryptically. When Evan’s only response is to raise his eyebrows and lean forward, he continues, "It’s not conclusive, but the wording of the note was reminiscent of a conversation I had with a certain caped vigilante."

"Ha! I knew it. I goddamn knew it." Evan nudges Nate from across the table, "So, what’s he like?"

"Huge," Nate replies dryly. He chuckles at Evan’s withering look, "He’s...antisocial. Also, he’s got one hell of a twisted sense of humor."

"You make him sound a bit sociopathic."

"No, no. I don’t think that’s the case. He’s just... I don’t know, he’s kind of hard to describe. Anyway, it’s not like we’ve had any long drawn out conversations." Understatement of the century.

"Hey, be glad you’ve got someone like that on your side." His expression turns unexpectedly grave.

Nate leans forward, brows knitted in concern, "Is something wrong, Evan?"

"I know you can handle yourself and everything," Evan looks down at his hands and then back up at Nate, "I’m still worried. You can’t bust someone important like this without paying a heavy price." He interrupts when Nate opens his mouth, "Before you ask, I haven’t heard anything specific. It’s just a feeling that I have, a hunch really." Suddenly, he glances at his watch, "Listen, I need to go."

Nate grabs Evan’s wrist as Evan gets hurriedly to his feet, "Evan, what is this? What’s going on?"

Evan shakes his hand loose from Nate’s grip and gives him a look that’s almost...sad. "Watch your back, Nate. I’ve seen a lot of bad things happen to good cops here."

With that, Evan rushes out of the pub, leaving Nate sitting with two nearly full beers and a very unsettled feeling in the pit of his stomach.

-------

"District Attorney Ferrando, welcome," says Dave McGraw as he waves him into his office. Godfather can see tiny beads of sweat forming on McGraw’s brow already.

Once both men are seated, McGraw clears his throat with a nervous smile. "So, what brings you all the way out to Arkham?"

"Some conversations require a level of finesse that can't be done over the telephone. Mr. McGraw, this is one such conversation," He raises his hand to silence the Warden when it looks like he’s going to start rambling. "I want you to know that your years of service to Gotham have not gone unnoticed. Yes, there was a time when you needed Ferrando to step in on your behalf--"

"And I thank you again for that, Mr. Ferrando. I’ve since tried to keep my nose clean," McGraw says too quickly.

"Now comes the time when you will be able to repay your debt to me," Godfather says coolly as he takes a folded piece of paper from his breastpocket and slides it across the desk. He can see a slight tremor in McGraw’s hands as they reach for the paper. Godfather wonders what Amadeus Arkham would say if he could see the wreck that runs his asylum now. He'd probably spin in his fucking grave.

"Do you understand that sometimes what is best for Gotham in the long term can look like something quite different in the short term?"

McGraw nods vigorously, "Yes, sir. It's important to take the long view."

"Exactly, exactly." Godfather pauses, choosing his words carefully, "This Friday, three days from now, there will be a breach of security here at Arkham Asylum. The prisoners on that list will escape."

McGraw lets out a disbelieving laugh, "Surely you’re joking?" Godfather waits patiently until McGraw’s eyes widen even more than usual, indicating his grasp of exactly how serious Godfather is about this.

"We can’t. This is insanity!" McGraw gets to his feet and starts pacing, fretting aloud about the risks to his career and the chaos that would flood the streets. Godfather gets to his feet and crowds into McGraw’s personal space, backing him up against the wall.

"You are forgetting the position that you’re in, Warden!" Godfather’s voice rises as much as his rough throat allows. Hands on his hips, he takes a deep breath before continuing in a lower, still forceful tone.

"Option 1. You coordinate the release of the men on that list without complaint and you remain in my favor. Option 2. Outsiders are brought in to complete the task. It’s possible that these outsiders might pass along Ferrando’s displeasure with you to the inmates being released. It’s possible that these inmates might then seek you out to punish appropriately you for your...inaction." When McGraw doesn't answer, Godfather begins to walk a silver dollar back and forth across the backs of his fingers, "Would you like me to flip a coin, McGraw?"

"No, sir. It’s ah, it’s just, I mean of course I want to help you, but how would it look? I mean, there would be an investigation afterwards, right?" Undisguised contempt flickers across Godfather's features, but McGraw doesn't notice. Instead, he continues fearfully, "Wh-what if the Batman shows up. I mean, he could ruin everything, right?”

A beautiful idea suddenly occurs to Godfather. Smiling, he pats the Warden’s shoulder -- McGraw flinches, looking entirely unnerved.

"Perhaps Ferrando can make an amendment to Option 1. You coordinate the release of the men as planned, but with your inside man dressed as Gotham’s favorite flying rat. Should take care of any investigations."

McGraw practically cries with relief as he babbles, "Brilliant, sir! No facility could be properly prepared for an attack from Batman. Excellent!" He falls immediately silent when Godfather holds up a hand.

"It would also be in Gotham's best interests if its citizens were made aware of how their beloved Batman is thoughtlessly endangering them simply so he can have higher-profile criminals to fight. It could be our masked vigilante is unstable."

McGraw latches on to the idea even faster than Godfather expected, "Ho hoo! Yes, sir. I see what you mean, Mr. Ferrando. Yes, his delusions of grandeur seem obvious, even without a face-to-face diagnosis. The public does have a right to that a menace is hiding right in their midst."

Godfather smiles. "In three days, then."

Chapter Text

The next morning, Nate unlocks his office and notices it’s colder than usual. He sets his coffee down next to a report from the Mayor’s office that he’d been putting off for almost a week now. It didn’t seem any more appealing now than it did last night.

He takes a sip of coffee as he picks up the report. A yellow scrap of paper falls off the back of it onto his lap.

Nate,

Be on the roof of the station at 23:00 tonight.

--B

Nate tries to ignore the spike of adrenaline now coursing through his system. He tucks the note into his pocket, smiling in spite of himself. The Mayor’s report suddenly doesn’t seem so bad anymore.

-------

The rooftop is deserted when Walt arrives at 22:55, panting and out of breath. Ironically, the chilly night air burns in his chest. He ignores that and tries to think warm thoughts as he waits, pointedly ignoring the clouds his breath makes in front of his face. These suits may stop most knives and small caliber bullets, but they don’t do shit against the cold.

At 22:58 he hears the door to the roof creak as Nate steps out, his feet crunching on the gravel as he approaches.

When Walt steps out of the shadow, he is certain that he sees a flicker of disappointment flash across Nate’s face. He covers it quickly, though, as he greets Walt, "Nice night."

"Speak for yourself. I don’t even have pockets," Walt grumbles, startling a laugh out of Nate.

"Fair enough. I assume you’re here because we have a friend in common?"

"If you mean because B--" Walt catches himself, "Batman couldn’t be bothered to drag his own cold-proofed Viking ass out here, then yes."

"Viking?"

Shit. Walt smiles, still shivering, "Because he’s such a tall, scary fuck." Nate looks slightly doubtful, but doesn’t push it. "Oh, yeah. I’m Robin." Walt finishes lamely, offering his hand.

"Pleasure," says Nate, nodding as they shake.

Walt unclips the not-quite-a-phone (Ray called it "the bastard love child of a cell phone and a walkie-talkie") from his belt and hands it to Nate without letting go.

"This is for you, and for you alone. No one else sees it, hears it, or learns anything about it. And don’t bother trying to trace the transmission. I’ve been told it will bounce you around between twenty or so different countries." Walt holds Nate’s gaze for a few moments, trying to spot any traces of deception. Nate just returns the look steadily. When Walt is reasonably satisfied, he lets go of the device.

Walt watches him inspect it. "It ain’t gonna blow up in your hands, I promise." Actually, Walt wouldn’t put it past Ray if not for the fact that Brad would cheerfully kill them both if something they did gave Nate as much as a paper cut.

Nate smiles openly, then hits the call button. A feeling of warmth blooms in Walt’s chest when Ray’s voice comes out clear as if he were standing there with them.

"Mistress Anastasia’s House of Pain, how may I punish you this evening?"

"Uh, Ray?" Walt stammers awkwardly for a second, “It’s not just me this time." It is clearly taking all of Nate’s effort to keep from succumbing to laughter.

"Mistress Anastasia, is it? This is Commissioner Nathaniel Fick."

"Don’t knock my feminine side, Commish."

"I assure you that I was being purely gentlemanly,” Nate just manages to keep the laughter out of his voice.

"That’s what they all say. Anyhow, hot lips, consider that your initiation. Are you listening?"

"You have my undivided attention," says Nate, serious once again.

"Yeah, that’s why we sent Robin. His tights have hypnotic powers." Jesus, Ray! Walt thinks (he is most certainly not blushing). He just shakes his head at Nate’s questioning look.

"Did Robin already explain how innocent puppies will be disemboweled in the event that this communication device falls into the wrong hands?"

"He didn’t use those exact words, but I understood the message. I am only interested in making Gotham City a better, safer place. As long as your interests and actions stay in line with that goal, you don’t have to worry about my loyalty."

"Good stuff. Moving on, speed dial one connects you to Batman’s channel, two gets you Robin’s, and three gets you mine. There isn’t a voicemail feature, so if the light is flashing it means you missed one of us. If that happens, call me. Any questions?"

"None at this time."

"Outstanding! I’ll leave you in the very capable hands of my beautiful assistant, then." Ray disconnects with a soft click.

Nate seems to be fighting a smile. "I take it this is about normal for him?" Walt nods with a slightly embarrassed smile.

"Actually, sir, you got off pretty light." Walt clears his throat, "There is another matter we need to discuss this evening." He pauses, feeling around for the right words, "Batman wanted me to tell you something about those pictures..." Nate motions for Walt to keep talking.

"I’m not sure of your situational awareness, sir, but there’s more to those photos under the surface. Schwetje’s too much of a dipshit to pull something like this on his own, and Ferrando’s too sharp to miss anything this big going down right under his nose."

"That’s a nice logical progression, Robin, but do you have any evidence to back it up? Do you have any evidence that the District Attorney was involved in any way?"

"Nothing that could be used in court. It’s just a trend that cases associated with the Falcone family tend to have lighter sentences, more dismissals, more plea bargains -- that sort of thing." Walt lets the implications of this sink in. Nate rubs the back of his neck with one hand and puts the other on his hip, his mind obviously working rapidly (Walt can almost hear the cogs turning in Nate’s head).

"Are these cases concentrated to any one prosecutor?"

"Unfortunately, no. But we have no way of knowing if the prosecutors are willing or being pressured somehow."

Nate bites his lip and growls in frustration. "Even if Ferrando is only allowing this to happen, it’s a clusterfuck. If he’s actively involved in organized crime..." he trails off.

"Exactly. We can’t deal with this on our own, and I don’t think you can either. Also, just as a word to the wise; I’d tone it down on the anti-corruption speeches, unless you’re real keen on turning up headless in Gotham River."

Nate sighs, looking resigned (but no less disappointed). "I guess I’m going to have to set up a very quiet investigating team. This isn’t going to be a quick fix."

"I hope you have guys you trust, because this shit has rolled all the way downhill. I’ve personally seen officers, uh, abusing their position." Walt says, uncertain how close Nate is to the guys on his police force.

"There are a few I can vouch for personally. Most of them have families, though. I’d feel pretty fucking awful if they were threatened just for doing the right thing." It’s the first time Walt has heard him swear, and he’s slightly taken aback by Nate’s vehemence.

"I ain’t gonna tell you how to do your job, sir. More help will be better, though."

Both men stand in silence. "Thanks," Nate finally ventures lamely.

"Save your breath, this is just the beginning."

They don’t shake hands, just nod at each other and then Nate turns and crunches his way back to the door. Walt waits until the door closes behind Nate, then yawns and stretches. "So, did I forget anything?" he asks the seemingly unoccupied rooftop.

Brad snorts, either from pride in Walt’s observational abilities or disappointment in the fact that Walt knew he was there -- Walt can’t tell. He replies without stepping out of the shadows, "You performed very well. Now let’s get the hell out of here before my nuts have to be surgically removed from my abdominal cavity."

-------

The next day turns out to be one of the worst Nate has had in recent memory. Thoughts of corrupt officials and a lack of evidence and everything else in this rapidly ballooning shitstorm run repeatedly through his mind and work themselves into a tangled, headache-inducing mess that leaves him unusually grouchy. It all culminates in Nate practically chewing a dispatcher’s head off for no good reason, which is probably what prompts Sergeant Wynn to drag him out for drinks after work.

They find a seat in the back corner of their favorite haunt. Mike doesn’t say anything until they’re half way through the first pitcher.

"Y’know, Nate, it’s funny. I figured you’d be in a better mood after making some serious arrests, not worse," Mike says, looking at Nate gravely.

Nate rubs his temples, and then gives Mike the Cliff’s Notes version of his chat with Robin from the night before.

Mike ponders the implications, drains his beer, and then asks, "And you came to these conclusions all on your own?"

Nate starts to answer Mike, then stops. For some reason, he feels strangely protective of his working relationship with Batman and Robin. Instead, he smiles one-sidedly at the joke that suddenly strikes him as the perfect answer. "A little birdie told me."

Perhaps the smile was too leading, because Mike’s eyebrows suddenly shoot up far enough that Nate thinks they might disappear into his hairline. "Oh yeah? And did that birdie also have a cape?"

Nate just stares at Mike while his mind races to think of a safe response. Mike sighs heavily, "Relax, Nate, I’m not an idiot like Dowdy was. Gotham’s criminals ain’t exactly normal, so where’s the harm in a little extra help? Besides, you usually have a good head on your shoulders. I trust your judgment."

He doesn’t offer verbal confirmation, but Nate relaxes into his seat a little. The evening passes more easily after that. They spend most of it talking strategy and, even though they don’t come up with much, it feels good to be able to just throw around ideas with someone without having to lie.

They walk about half of the way home together before their paths diverge. It takes some convincing on Nate’s part before Mike finally believes he won’t find Nate in a gutter the next day and heads home to his wife and kids.

When Nate turns to make his own way home, his hand bumps against the communication device in his jacket pocket. An odd ache creeps into Nate’s chest when he realizes how long it’s been since he last spoke with Batman. Nate shakes his head to clear it, For fuck’s sake, you actually miss an antisocial vigilante with a weird fondness for breaking into your office. Get a grip.

But the ache doesn’t go away. Finally, against his better judgment, Nate pulls out the communication device and dials Batman’s channel.

"Nate? What’s wrong?" It’s possible there is a hint of concern in his voice.

Suddenly, this seems like a horrible idea. Nate can’t think of a thing to say, but he can’t quite bring himself to hang up either.

"Nate?" the concern is practically tangible now. "I’ll get Ray to send me your coordinates and I’ll be right there."

"No-no," Nate stammers, "It’s fine, everything is fine. I just..." miss you for some reason, his mind supplies unhelpfully.

"Ray did tell you the device is just for emergencies, right?" Did he? Nate realizes he can’t remember.

"I’m sorry. It was stupid," Nate cringes as he hears himself slurring his words.

There’s a very long pause on the other end before Batman replies, "Nate, are you drunk?" (If Nate didn’t know any better, he’d swear Batman was trying not to laugh).

"Stay where you are, I’m coming to you," Batman orders, disconnecting before Nate can protest. Well, shit.

There’s a low brick wall fencing in the lawn just to his left. Nate hoists himself up so he can sit while he waits. He takes deep lungfuls of frigid air, hoping they will help clear his head.

Nate is staring up at the stars when he hears a very faint rustling off to his left.

"I hope you know one of the main reasons I came is because the concept of you drunk was too entertaining to pass up." Nate turns to see Batman perched on the end of the same wall Nate is sitting on.

"I live to serve all citizens of Gotham," Nate says, trying for a serious tone, but, after a second, he starts to laugh as the ridiculousness of the situation sinks in. Batman smiles slowly, then eventually seems to allow himself a soft chuckle. Nate marvels at the fact that he just made Batman laugh (I wonder if I can put that on my resumé? he thinks giddily).

"So have you had your fill of gawking at the ineb-inebriated Commissioner? Or are you going to take me home?" it takes a second for Nate to realize that that might have come out wrong. Crap.

Batman seems suddenly serious. It’s hard to tell because of the cowl he’s wearing, but he seems to swallow before saying, "I can give you a ride to your place. You shouldn’t be out in the cold like this." He motions over his shoulder, "C’mon, my bike’s back in the alley."

Nate pushes himself off the wall, but the combination of the cold and his already impaired balance makes for a less than steady landing -- he mercifully doesn’t fall, but it’s a close thing. When Batman snickers at him, Nate gives him a look of deep reproach, "It’s cold out, and I’d been sitting here for a while. My legs fell asleep!"

Batman smirks, "I’m sure that’s entirely the case, sir." He puts a hand on Nate’s shoulder and gently guides him to the alley. Nate’s jaw drops when he sees Batman’s bike. It probably began life as a racing bike, but it obviously went through some serious modifications between then and now, starting with the carbon fiber that appears to cover every surface.

"I take it you approve?" he asks, noticing Nate’s reaction.

"Is this even street legal?" Nate murmurs faintly.

"Not in the strictest sense of the term, no. I won’t tell if you won’t," he says, and they share conspiratorial grins.

Batman gets on the bike first and Nate climbs on behind him. After a few awkward moments, Nate realizes he has no idea what to do with his hands. Eventually, Batman grabs Nate’s wrists and pulls Nate’s arms around his waist. Which also just happens to pull Nate’s chest flush with his back (and does curious things to Nate’s pulse).

The bike is surprisingly quiet when the engine turns over. It also goes unnervingly fast -- Batman chuckles when Nate’s grip tightens around his waist at the first acceleration.

All too soon, they pull into the narrow alley behind Nate’s house. Nate tries not to pay too much attention to how cold he suddenly feels when he climbs off the bike. He takes a moment to steady himself (his balance still isn’t quite right), then turns to find Batman standing in front of him, watching Nate intently.

The moonlight suffusing the alley makes Batman’s eyes look almost silver. It occurs to Nate that he’s probably staring by this point, but he can’t quite bring himself to move. Nate also notices a hint of stubble on his chin, colorless. He’s blond. He drags his teeth over his lower lip in thought as he tries to picture what the rest of Batman’s face looks like. At the movement, Batman’s gaze unmistakably focuses on Nate’s mouth. Oh...

Batman suddenly swears under his breath. "Ray, not a good time." At Nate’s questioning look, he taps the side of his cowl at ear level.

"Solid copy. I’ll be there in 10." He pauses, rolls his eyes, and then adds, "That won’t be necessary, Ray."

Batman focuses on Nate again, the call apparently over. Nate can see a muscle twitch in his jaw as he says, "Well, I’ve gotta..." and jerks his head toward the bike.

Nate nods once and steps back. "Understood. Be safe." Batman opens his mouth like he’s about to say something, but seems to think better of it and instead nods briskly as he climbs back onto the bike. Once again, the engine proves surprisingly quiet as he drives down the alley and out of view.

Still reeling a bit, Nate turns and walks up the path to his house.

-------

When Brad comes back from a board meeting at Colbert Enterprises, he has the beginnings of a massive headache that leaves him wanting nothing more than a large cup of strong coffee and a few hours of quiet.

However, the loud crash! he hears on his way down to the Batcave suggests that quiet is just not going to happen. The coffee cup that goes sailing past his head to shatter against the wall behind him when he steps out of the elevator pretty much confirms it.

Ray whips around from the wall of computer screens and points at Brad with a shaking hand. "You!" He looks angrier than Brad has ever seen him (which, given that it’s Ray, is saying quite a lot).

"Calm down, Ray," Brad says, holding up both hands in a pacifying gesture.

"Don’t tell me to calm down, you overgrown antisocial Viking motherfucker! This is your fucking fault!"

"Ray, I can’t help you unless you explain the problem to me." Brad is trying to stay cool, but his patience is quickly wearing thin.

Ray takes a deep breath and breathes out sharply through his nose. He holds up two fingers on a hand that’s trembling with fury, "Two things. One, there’s been a breakout at Arkham. Two, Walt stormed off on some fucking suicidal hero mission to deal with it because of YOU! I can’t even reach him on his fucking comm!"

To say Brad is taken aback would be putting it mildly. "How exactly is this my fault?"

"Remember this morning when Walt was talking about some rumor he’d heard about the asylum, and you just brushed it off because coming up with a plan to help your pretty boy Commissioner was more important?" Ray pauses, but the question is obviously rhetorical. "Well, it turns out Walt’s been feeling a little ignored lately -- a fact he neglected to fucking tell us -- and that was the last straw."

"Fuck." Brad’s mind reels as he plays back the last few days. He does vaguely remember Walt being quieter than usual lately, but it didn’t seem like a problem at the time.

"Fuck is goddamn right, Brad!"

"So you think he’s gone to Arkham Asylum? And, how exactly did the breakout happen?"

"Yes, and I don’t have a fucking clue." Ray’s expression softens from anger to pleading, "You gotta find him."

Brad doesn’t say anything, but gives Ray’s shoulder a squeeze and heads off to suit up. Ray catches Brad’s wrist before he goes, "If something happens to him..."

"I know."

------

The police are just starting to put up barricades when Brad arrives, so it’s not too difficult for him to slip past them, onto the grounds. It is fucking madness. Literally. There are people in pajamas everywhere. Some are cowering in corners, while others are manically darting around. Brad has no control over this situation, which is not how he likes to operate. Unfortunately, Brad has bigger things to worry about at that moment.

Where the hell is Walt? If it were Brad, he’d want to check the maximum security wing first, so he heads for the penitentiary that houses it on the west side of the island.

It’s much quieter here. Most of the security guards seem to have vacated their posts to help deal with the pandemonium. However, the odd one or two have decided to stick around, so Brad moves slowly and carefully. At least the scant illumination of the emergency lighting gives Brad plenty of shadows for cover.

Suddenly, he hears a shriek and then yelling. He pokes his head around the corner to see two guards wrestling an inmate to the ground. Crap, even the maximum security wing got hit. That complicates things a little.

Brad uses the guards’ distraction to slip past the main security gate. He moves down several hallways without seeing any more guards. Most of the cells still contain their residents; some whisper, some yell at him, while others just shrink away when Brad passes.

One slightly portly man with a mustache waves at him. "Hey dude," he calls, "Aren’t you going to let me out? My rats can hook you up with some really first rate shit." Brad would find this funny on any other night, but right now it just pisses him off.

When Brad stops and stalks toward the man’s cell, the man balks, "Dude, you’re not Batman." Disgusted, Brad turns to leave. "Wait! I can tell you where your little friend is. My rats tell me everything that happens here."

Brad steps closer to him, but stays just beyond arms reach. "I’m not letting you out," he states firmly.

The man’s eyes hover around Brad’s utility belt, "I’ll tell you if you give me one of those wicked awesome batarang things you always throw."

"Fine," Brad says, not pleased with the prospect of arming someone who thinks he can commune with rats.

"He’s three cell blocks down. You might want to hurry, I saw some seriously bad-looking dudes heading that way."

Brad swears under his breath and takes off. When he hears the man shout after him about the batarang, he stops in his tracks. There is no way he’s giving a potential weapon to this head case. Brad spots the man’s hand sticking out through the bars and suddenly has an idea. "Sure. Catch," he whips around and hurls a batarang at the man’s outstretched hand. Brad is childishly satisfied when he hears a yelp of pain and sees the batarang clatter to the ground in the middle of the hallway.

"Hey, that’s not cool, dude!" comes from behind Brad as he hauls ass down the corridor.

Brad can hear the fight before he rounds the corner. When he does, he finds Walt dealing with three inmates. One of the inmates throws himself on Walt’s back -- Walt bends forward and uses the inmate’s momentum to toss him into one of the others, where he lands with a loud ooof. He catches the third inmate’s kick and pushes it back hard, sending the man sprawling.

Relief washes over Brad, and he moves to pull Walt into a one-armed hug, but there’s a sharp pain in the back of his arm, near his shoulder. Brad’s vision blurs in and out of focus and a sudden lurch in his equilibrium makes him stumble back against the door of a nearby empty cell.

A tall, lanky man wearing a doctor’s lab coat over pajamas peers intently at Brad with an empty syringe in his hand. “Afraid for your little bird? Let’s see what else The Batman is afraid of." The man’s blue eyes seem to momentarily swim before Brad’s face before the blackness engulfs him.

-------

Nate is talking to two of his Captains when some movement over their shoulders catches his eye. Something dark is moving slowly towards the trees. Most of the Arkham prisoners are wearing light colored clothes -- the other few are unfortunately naked. He dismisses the men, and walks over to Mike.

In a low voice, he says, "I’m going to talk to a friend in the trees, at my 5 o’clock. Come find me if I’m not back in 10 minutes." Mike just nods.

Nate carefully makes his way to where he thought he saw movement. He’s not sure what he expects to find, but what he sees certainly takes him by surprise nonetheless; Robin is struggling to hold Batman upright as he drags him along the fenceline.

Robin’s freezes as his eyes snap to Nate, "Jesus, sir. Where the hell did you come from?"

Nate ignores his question, a million more flooding his own mind. "What happened to him?" he asks, moving to help support some of Batman’s weight.

"One of the doctors stuck him with something. I gotta get him out of here. I’m taking him to get checked out," Walt breathes hard from exertion. "I’ve got a boat just on the other side of this fence."

"Why would one of the doctors drug him?" Nate asks. This whole night makes no fucking sense.

"Fuck if I know. I didn’t exactly stick around to find out," Robin says, sounding exasperated. "If I get up on the fence, do you think you can help me push him over?"

"We can try," says Nate as he wraps his other arm around Batman’s torso, supporting all of his weight now. He looks up to see Robin hoist himself up to sit on a mat that had already been thrown over the razor wire, probably from when they arrived.

It’s a bit of an ordeal to get Batman over the fence. Nate struggles to concentrate on the task and not focus on where his hands are, which leads to a couple of slip-ups in the process. Eventually, they manage to get Batman over to the other side. It doesn’t look like it’s a soft landing, but at least they don’t drop him on his head. Robin drops to land soundlessly on the ground next to him.

"I have to get back soon, or someone’s going to come looking for me," Nate explains.

Robin just waves and mutters, "Thanks," as he hefts Batman into the boat.

"Nate," Mike calls as he jogs over to where Nate now stands alone. "You’re gonna want to hear this," Mike explains as he leads Nate over to a cluster of other officers. He turns to address a pale, nervous-looking man standing at the center of the group, "Now, Warden, I need you to tell the Commissioner what you just told me."

Chapter Text

Brad regains consciousness slowly at first, but then the nausea hits and wakes him up with merciless speed. He tries to sit up, manages to stay upright for a few seconds, but then decides that staying horizontal is definitely a better idea. He groans and covers his eyes with his forearm.

"Fuck yes, he’s awake!"

Crap. Ray.

"He doesn’t look so good. Are you sure that guy only gave him a sedative?" Brad hears Walt asking.

"Of course, homes. Probably some barbiturate. I recognize the signs." Ray’s overuse of eyebrows is nearly audible.

"You mean you called Doc Bryan just to cover your own ass."

"Would--" Brad clears his throat and tries again, "Would you two social rejects please shut the fuck up?"

Walt bursts out laughing, "Oh yeah, he’s back all right."

The nausea eases a bit and Brad tentatively uncovers his eyes. Ray and Walt are beaming, standing next to the, he realizes, workbench he’s laying on. Walt looks confused when Ray darts off without a word. He’s not gone for long, though.

"Here you go, buddy," Ray says and drapes a cool washcloth over Brad’s forehead. It feels amazing.

"What happened?" Brad asks.

Walt fills him in on the details of his unceremonious trip home. Brad’s stomach takes an unpleasant turn at the thought of Nate seeing him like that, but there’s nothing for it now.

"Oh, by the way," Ray adds, "Nate’s called like six times now. I think he wants to talk to you."

Brad sits bolt upright at that, only to sway dizzily when his body reminds him about the dangers of sudden movements. Walt and Ray shoot out their arms to steady him.

"Whoa, whoa. Easy there," says Walt softly.

"Walt, I know you were literally raised in a barn, but please do not talk to me like I am a goddamn horse," Brad snaps, more annoyed at his body’s betrayal than his friend’s.

"Brad," Ray says slowly. There’s a note of warning in his voice.

Walt doesn’t seem bothered, though, and asks, "Do you think you can make it to the computers?" Brad nods silently. He sags a bit when he first gets to his feet, but Walt and Ray are there to help him. Fucking undignified.

Once they get Brad settled, Ray types rapidly for a few seconds to pull up and activate the communication program.

Nate’s "Hello?" comes out of the speakers and there is a sound like a door closing.

"Nate..."

"Jesus fucking Christ, what the hell happened?! First I helped Robin heft your unconscious body over the Arkham gate, and then there’s the fact that I called all of the comm channels but only got Ray, who spun some bullshit about--"

"Hey!" Ray cuts in. "Take it easy there, Commish, we’ve been having a rough night."

"You’ve had it rough?" Nate sounds incredulous. "Could one of you please explain to me why there is video footage of Batman releasing Arkham inmates tonight!?"

"What?" all three exclaim.

"I didn’t believe it at first either, but it’s there, plain as fucking day!"

"Hang on," Walt murmurs thoughtfully. He then speaks louder so Nate can hear, "Robin here. Was I in any of the video, sir?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, sir, you saw Batman with me. Was I helping in any of the footage?"

Ray jumps in, "Also, Batman was late to the party. He didn’t even know about the breakout until after it happened. And, sir, I should also inform you that he has a very solid alibi for the time of the breakout."

"And what would that alibi be, Ray?"

All three of them freeze.

"I can’t tell you that." (Brad smacks his forehead with the heel of his hand at Ray’s response).

"I didn’t do it, Nate," Brad jumps in before Ray can dig himself any deeper, "I don’t know what’s going on here just yet, but I need you to trust me when I say that none of us had anything to do with this."

There is a long pause before Nate replies, sounding very tired, "I am going to need some way of proving that, gentlemen."

Brad groans, "There’s, uh, your men are also going to find something of mine over in the penitentiary. It’ll be in the middle of one of the corridors. I know this looks bad, but it’s a batarang that I..." Brad wishes there was something else -- anything else -- he could say, "that I threw at an inmate," he finishes quickly.

The silence on the other end of the line is practically deafening. After a few minutes, Ray actually checks the connection to make sure that the signal didn’t drop on its own, but everything still works.

Nate finally takes a deep breath. When he speaks, his voice takes on a dangerously soft quality, "Are you shitting me?"

"Unfortunately, no."

Nate sighs, "I know you want me to trust you and," he pauses, "I do. Against my better judgment, I trust you. But you’re making it pretty fucking difficult."

A pleasant feeling of warmth uncoils in Brad’s chest at the thought of Nate’s trust in him. "Thank you, sir," he says with relief.

"I will, however, point out that it’s a little ironic that you expect me to implicitly trust you three, yet I’m not considered trustworthy enough to hear your allegedly solid alibi," Nate says, sounding a bit put out.

"It’s not a matter of trust, Nate," Brad says, not entirely truthfully. Ray shoots him a knowing look. "If I tell you, that knowledge will put us both in serious danger. Not telling you simply maintains the status quo. It’s frustrating, but it’s better this way. "

After a moment, Ray pipes up, "I hate to interrupt this beautiful moment, but can you give us a sitrep on Arkham?" When Nate doesn’t immediately respond, he amends, "Even if it’s just a rough outline." Brad resists the urge to cuff Ray upside the head by reminding himself that there are more important things to deal with at the moment.

"Well, it looks like it was a well-planned attack. The minimum security areas were opened up first, probably as a diversion. The perpetrator was much more selective with which max security inmates he let out, which makes me think they were his real targets." There is the sound of paper rustling as he continues, "We have secured 6 of the inmates from the penitentiary, leaving 9 at large. Of the lower security fugitives, there are an estimated 20 that remain unaccounted for." Ray lets out a low whistle.

The next question comes from Walt. "Why would somebody want Gotham to think Batman let out a bunch of fucking whackjobs?"

"I think there are those who suspect you and Batman were behind the anonymous tip on the evidence tampering. Perhaps this is a message, or maybe it’s simply a bid to deter public support. Either way, all of you should be extremely careful."

"Yes, and I’m sure those suspect us don’t hold anything against certain Commissioners making major arrests and delivering rousing speeches on the evening news. So please, feel free to walk home alone drunk late at night whenever you like, Nate." Brad says dryly, the words biting a little more than he intended. (An expression of absolute glee dawns on Ray’s face at this, but Walt spots it and clamps a hand over Ray’s mouth before he can say anything).

Nate gives a small cough, "Point taken."

Eager to end the discussion before Ray breaks loose, Brad adds quickly, "Tomorrow night, both Robin and I will be patrolling. Hopefully, between us and the police force, we can round up most of those guys sooner rather than later."

"Here’s hoping. Robin and Ray, can I count on you to ensure Batman has fully recovered before he even thinks about patrolling again?" Nate forms the sentence like a question, but it’s more of a direct order.

"Solid copy, sir," Walt speaks up over Ray’s muffled yells.

"Excellent. I’ll call if anything changes." With that, Nate hangs up.

Brad turns to glare at Ray, who has only just escaped Walt’s grip. "Ray, don’t even fucking start."

-------

A few weeks later, Nate is sitting in his office, door closed and blinds drawn. His workload has picked up enough lately that he’s started spending the night in his office. Normally he keeps his workspace pretty neat, but now extra shirts and ties hang off the back of his chair, and every surface is cluttered with notes.

In spite of Nate’s agreement with Batman, cleaning up the clusterfuck surrounding the breakout is not going nearly as well as Nate hoped. He also hasn’t made any progress on setting up the investigative team to look into connections between the District Attorney’s office and the Falcone family; for one, he’s going to have to figure out a way to protect the few officers who aren’t afraid of getting on Falcone’s bad side. For two, Nate still has yet to figure out a way to keep this investigation hidden from the normal chain of command. To put it mildly, shit is piling up.

Nate stares at today’s newspaper, the headline of which reads, ‘Fick A Flop?’ But the thing that draws Nate’s attention the most is not so much the headline as the author; Evan Wright. Nate would have thought he’d at least earned a phone call before Evan wrote a story like this. The public turning against me is one thing, but friends too?

On top of all the other shit that’s been piling up, Nate has started getting a mix of hang-up calls and death threats -- it’s gotten to the point that he’s starting to weigh the pros and cons of ripping his phone out of the wall and throwing it out the window. As if on cue, his phone rings again. Nate hesitates before lifting it to his ear.

"Commissioner Fick speaking."

The Mayor’s voice is cool in his ear, "Mattis here, I wanted to have a word with you about your department’s budget for next year."

"Absolutely, sir. What about it?"

"Well, as you know, times are pretty tough all around. Not to mention that disaster over at Arkham Asylum..."

The subtly unctuous tone in the Mayor’s voice makes Nate grit his teeth. Already knowing the direction this is going, he interrupts, "Sir, you mentioned that there was something related to the budget?"

"Right to the point. I like that about you, Nate. Yes, your officers are not resolving the matter as quickly as we had all hoped. Frankly, the public is outraged. Damage control is needed, which is why I’ve decided to retract the 15% budget increase we’d previously agreed upon. Increasing your budget now just wouldn’t send the right message."

Nate closes his eyes and tries to remain calm. "Sir, you must understand that in order to make progress in this city, we’re going to need more resources, not fewer."

"I’m sorry, Nate, but the decision has already been made." He does at least sound sincere. He adds, "You bring down those crime rates and we’ll revisit this next year."

Nate fights so hard to control his temper that he feels a vein start to throb in his forehead and the phone’s plastic creaks in his hand. "Absolutely, sir. I’ll do my best."

"Outstanding, Nate, I knew you would see things my way." The Mayor hangs up before Nate can say anything else. Nate slams the phone back into its cradle and puts his head in his hands.

-------

To his credit, Nate manages to stay relatively civil while arranging drinks with Evan. When he walks into the pub, though, his face must betray his anger because his friend pales and looks extremely uncomfortable when he catches sight of Nate.

"Since you made a point of emphasizing our friendship last time, I think, as my friend, you owe me an explanation for this," Nate drops the newspaper in front of Evan. Evan flinches away from it like it’s on fire.

Nate signals the waitress and orders a pitcher and three glasses of scotch. "And drinks are on you tonight," he adds. Evan nods faintly.

They don’t speak again until the drinks come. Once Evan has gulped a third of his beer, he starts slowly, "I was going to call you..." Nate eyes him steadily as he sips his scotch. The burn feels cathartic in a way.

"It got sprung on me kind of late... and I’m sorry. For the record, I had nothing to do with that headline." Evan’s gaze doesn’t waver from his glass the whole time he’s speaking.

"That I understand. What I don’t understand is why you didn’t at least give me the luxury of a fucking warning."

"I did talk to your receptionist. I gave her as much of a heads up as I could safely manage, but maybe the subtlety was lost on her," says Evan with dejection.

Nate vaguely remembers Rachel saying something about newspapers yesterday, but he can’t recall the details. Fuck. Nate rubs his eyes, "Actually, she did mention it. I just forgot. Jesus, Evan, I’m sorry." Nate slides one of the three scotches over to Evan as a peace offering.

"You look a little ragged there, Nate. You’re probably just tired."

A slightly hysterical laugh bubbles out of Nate, "You have no idea. Things have gotten so bad that I’ve actually been sleeping in my office pretty much every other day."

Evan smiles one-sidedly, "Welcome to my life right before a major deadline."

They clink their drinks together, and a reasonably comfortable silence settles over their table as they watch the sports highlights.

A few minutes later, Evan sets his drink down and turns his attention back to Nate. "Actually, in the interest of full disclosure, there was something I wanted to talk to you about. I got assigned a new project yesterday."

Nate lifts his eyebrows in interest.

"I’m not entirely sure if you’ll be happy with the direction I’m being asked to take, though."

"Just spit it out, Evan,” Nate interrupts wearily. By this point, he feels like he’s had all the bad news he can stand. No use in prolonging the inevitable.

"It’s an exploratory piece on Batman."

"Exploring what exactly?" Nate says, getting agitated again.

"Mostly as much as I can find on the man himself. Y’know," Evan gestures vaguely, "’the man behind the mask’ or some bullshit like that."

Nate snorts as he lifts the glass to his lips. "Good luck with that," he says, taking a substantial swig.

Evan swallows heavily, "I don’t think I can fuck around on this one, Nate. The orders on this one came from the head editor, which probably means that they’re really coming from City Hall."

A deeply unpleasant thought suddenly occurs to Nate. "I hope you’re not expecting me to give you an inside scoop or something. Especially considering I have no idea who he is."

"Of course not! I wouldn’t do something like that to you. I’m telling you so you can pass the word on to, y’know, the right people," Evan’s voice drops to almost a whisper as he nudges Nate conspiratorially.

"You’re assuming, of course, that I have any means of contacting the right people."

Evan smiles and leans back in his chair. "Oh, Nate," he says, as he raises his beer, "I have the utmost confidence in your abilities."

-------

"Over here," Brad calls softly when Nate steps out onto the rooftop. Nate makes his way to the shadowed corner of the roof and stands just beside Brad, their shoulders touching momentarily.

Nate is the first one to break the companionable silence. "You know, this is a little more cloak-and-dagger than usual, even for you."

"I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware that you wanted balloons," Brad says gruffly, still in bad mood from earlier. He explains further, "It’ll probably be better for you if photos of our little chat don’t end up all over the internet."

"The reason I called is that I’ve received some news that might be of interest to you."

Brad turns slightly towards Nate and waits for him to continue. Nate looks exhausted, but his eyes are alert.

"A friend of mine is a senior reporter for the Gazette. He told me recently that he’s been put on a special project by the head editor of the whole paper. Which, according to my friend, means that the order most likely really came from someone in City Hall."

Brad quirks an eyebrow at Nate, but then realizes he can’t see it because of the cowl.

Nate seems to pick up on it regardless because he gives a quick smile before saying, "It’s an expository piece on you. I believe one phrase he used verbatim was ‘the man behind the mask.’"

Brad snorts in derision. "So what? Reporters try that same sorry bullshit every year and never get anywhere."

"Even if he can’t reveal your identity, I get the sense that the piece won’t exactly paint you in the most flattering light. Please don’t underestimate him. Evan’s a good writer, and I think there’s more to this than he was telling me."

Nate’s expression contains a myriad of emotions; the chief among them being worry. Brad studies him closely. "You think someone is threatening him."

Nate looks grim. "It’s possible."

"I can see about talking Robin into some guard duty if you like."

"Maybe I’m overreacting, seeing things that aren’t there," Nate sighs, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. The amount of utter weariness in that one simple gesture makes Brad actually feel sorry for Nate.

An uncomfortable realization occurs to Brad. "Nate," he starts cautiously, "Is anyone threatening you?"

He waves a hand dismissively. "The usual angry phone calls, nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing that you need to worry about."

"Na-"

"I said it was nothing," he cuts Brad off. Nate’s voice is firm and his jaw set. He holds Brad’s gaze for several seconds, not backing down. The look elicits a distinctly mixed reaction in Brad’s mind; on the one hand, this "I’m so selfless and noble" act is starting to get really fucking annoying but, on the other, Brad can’t help but respect the hell out of Nate for his sheer determination.

Seeing he’s not going to change his mind tonight, Brad grits his teeth and mutters, "Fine." One of these days, he’s going to give me a fucking ulcer.

"I saw that you or Robin managed to track down another Arkham escapee last night. Thank you for that. Do you guys have any other leads?" Nate asks, changing the subject entirely.

"Nothing obvious at the moment. Robin did find a playing card with a bat symbol drawn on it the other day at a building fire. There was something a little unhinged about it, so maybe it was from one of the Arkham gang. Too early to tell just yet, though."

Brad continues, "Mostly we’re just dealing with petty bullshit. It’s like all the assholes that normally walk the fine line between citizen and criminal think that the asylum breakout means they get free rein on the city. And now, most of the law-abiding people think I’m some low life, so I get a fucking earful whenever I dare to help them."

Seemingly on impulse, Nate reaches out and squeezes Brad’s shoulder. "I’m sorry." Nate glances at his hand and then pulls it away quickly.

"Unfortunately, public opinion of you might get worse before it gets better, especially when this article comes out," Nate says with a downward pull to his mouth. "I might be getting closer to proving that wasn’t you releasing the inmates in the video. I doubt it would stand up in court, but I should be able to convince my Captains that we need to look at someone else for that crime." He adds with a smile, "Be thankful that you are much taller than the average Batman impersonator."

After a thoughtful pause, Nate’s expression softens and turns slightly grave. "You know, you could make all of this a lot easier if you just told me your alibi."

They’re facing each other now. Brad stares into the eyes he knows are green, but look grey in Gotham’s dim city lights. He wishes he could find a way to make Nate understand just how tempting it is to tell him everything, and just how dangerous and unbelievably scary Brad finds said temptation.

"You think it would make things easier, but it wouldn’t. First of all, I’ve been doing this for long enough that it would be immediately obvious to everyone that I find you important if it got out that I told you. If you think your current position makes you a target, this would only exacerbate matters."

Nate looks somewhat doubtful, so Brad doesn’t let up, "Secondly, revealing my identity may clear me from one crime, but I believe there are those who would be happy to prosecute a well-known vigilante for a count or ten. Whether they actually caught me or not, I would no longer be able to do my job. As I was under the impression that I tend to do more good than harm, I don’t see how that would benefit Gotham."

Nate’s expression has turned unreadable by this point, which bothers Brad more than he’d like to admit. "The mask serves a purpose, Nate." At Brad’s words, Nate’s lips press into a thin line. He nods, though, so Brad thinks he may have won this round.

"I don’t like it. I understand it, but I don’t like it."

I’m not crazy about it either, Brad thinks somewhat sadly. They stare out at the city in companionable silence for a while, but the quiet ends too soon.

The cowl’s earpiece crackles to life. "Hey, hey, hey!"

"Yes, Ray?"

"Our boy Walt found some weird chemical traces on the playing card we found at that fire. Are you just about done knocking heads together for the night?"

"What chemicals did you find?" Brad asks, with Nate looking on curiously.

Papers rustle in the background. "Uh, some plasticizing shit, cyclonite, and traces of motor oil. Walt thinks it’s C4 but I don’t know, homes, it’s not a mix I’m familiar with."

"Somebody’s homemade recipe, perhaps?"

"Maybe so. Head on back to the Batcave so we can figure out what the fuck this whackjob’s deal is before he blows some other shit up."

"Will do, I’m oscar mike."

Nate smiles wryly, "Duty calls, I take it?" Brad nods.

"One of us will contact you if we find anything of interest."

"You mentioned chemicals; I can have Forensics take a crack at it, if you want. It’ll take a couple of days but--"

"We don’t have that kind of time. I think Ray and Robin found everything of use already anyway."

"Well, if you’ve got it under control. Just call if anything changes." With that, Nate heads back to the access door, throwing one last look at Brad over his shoulder.

Brad is only a block from where he parked the bike when an enormous explosion engulfs the police station in flames.

Chapter Text

"You don’t think he turned around to keep looking for Nate?" Walt asks, the worry plain in his voice and pulling his brows upwards.

Ray shakes his head. "No, his GPS says he’s almost here. You get anything on the police radio?"

Walt keeps the headphones held up to one ear as he says, "Still no word on Nate. Sounds like a couple people got burned and one guy got knocked unconscious."

What a fucking shitshow! Ray’s madly trying to find every city and traffic camera that may have been pointed at the police station just before the explosion. A bunch of them got damaged, but Ray’s hoping against hope that he’ll get lucky sooner or later.

Just then, the doors to the elevator slam open with a loud bang! and Brad comes striding purposefully into the Batcave, his cowl in his hand. Ray doesn’t usually scare so easy, but the look on Brad’s face at that moment is fucking terrifying. He glances over at Walt, who looks just as freaked out.

Brad, hands clenched at his sides, strides over to them and sits down. He tosses his cowl on the table. "Who did this?" People who don’t know Brad as well as Ray does might think he’s relatively calm. Ray knows that in reality, Brad’s a spring that’s winding itself tighter and tighter. Problem is, springs have limits. So does Brad. Ray’s never seen Brad break before, but he looks pretty fucking close now.

Ray motions to Walt. "There are reports of 2 or 3 guys seen running out of back of the police station just before the explosion. As far as I’ve heard, there are no useful descriptions," Walt says as his eyes bounce back and forth between Ray and Brad.

"The back?" Ray asks, his mind in overdrive. "That’s Miller St and Blackgate, right?" Not waiting for an answer, Ray flicks through the different feeds he’d found. "Fuck yeah! There’s a red-light camera at that intersection."

He pulls up the video and scrolls back until just before the police station blew. "Gotcha, motherfuckers." They all lean in simultaneously to watch. Two guys -- one in a ridiculous 8-ball jacket dash and the other covered in tattoos -- run out of the police station and jump into an old shitbox of a car, which pulls a u-turn and heads west. Ray stops the feed, not wanting to see Brad’s reaction to watching an instant replay of the explosion.

Walt asks hesitantly, "Was that.."

"Already on it, Walt." Brad pulls a keyboard closer and types rapidly.

Ray hacks his way through the fucking pathetic security at the DMV. "Walt, honey, can you read the license plate on that car?"

"Uhhh, hang on."

"Don’t bother with that, Ray. I’ve got them," Brad says, pointing at his monitor. "Benito Cereno and his partner in idiocy, Darryl Banks. They both live in the Narrows, about a mile apart."

Ray can feel Brad’s leg vibrating ever so slightly. "Brad--"

"Ray, I swear to God, if you tell me to chill out, you’ll get to find out what it feels like to be beaten to death with one of your own arms."

"I know, homes. I just, you’re kind of scaring the fuck out of us right now. I think Walt may have actually pissed himself."

"Not fucking now, Ray. Walt, you recon Banks’s place. I’m going to check out Cereno’s hideout."

"Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!" Ray shouts after them as they head out of the Batcave.

Walt pokes his head out of the Batmobile to call, "That’s not limiting in any way, Ray!"

"That’s the point, you fucking hick!" Ray yells over the roar of the engine as the Batmobile speeds out of the Batcave. God damn it, he’d better not get his big dumb puppy ass killed. He’s just starting not to suck at banter.

-------

Unfortunately for Banks and Cereno, Brad is the first to find them. Cereno’s place is such a shithole that Brad can easily hear them through their paper-thin front door.

"...ain’t so pretty now is he?" one of them laughs. Brad’s fists clench in rage.

"I don’t know, Darryl, maybe if you scraped all the bits of crispy-fried Commissioner together, you could have one of them abstracts." The room is filled with more laughter. For a moment, Brad’s vision goes dark and he realizes he’d been holding his breath. Enough. He lets out his breath in one long, slow exhalation, then kicks down the door.

The splintered door swings back to reveal a very surprised Banks and Cereno sitting in the middle of a tiny living room nearly filled with take-out cartons and empties. Both men sit wide-eyed for a split second as Brad steps across the threshold slowly.

Brad smiles grimly at them. "You two are in very serious trouble."

Cereno dives for the kitchen, while Banks jumps to his feet and lunges at Brad. Brad’s first punch connects squarely with Banks’s solarplexus, followed by a sharp blow to his nose with the Brad’s other fist. Banks’s nose breaks with a satisfying crunch! before his body rag-dolls and collapses in a heap.

Brad can hear Cereno scrambling around in the kitchen. He steps over Banks and soundlessly creeps along the wall bordering the kitchen and living room. He finds Cereno struggling to load a battered revolver with trembling hands. Cereno jumps when he spots Brad, scattering bullets all over the floor. Brad strides forward quickly and pins Cereno against the wall with his forearm across Cereno’s throat. When Cereno tries to grab Brad’s throat with the hand that isn’t currently pinned, Brad smiles calmly and grabs Cereno’s wrist, bending his hand back far enough that Cereno screams in pain.

Brad wraps his hand around the pinkie of Cereno’s now-broken hand. "Cereno, give me one good reason why you deserve to live but Commissioner Fick doesn’t."

Cereno is sweating and his breath is coming in shallow puffs. "I don’t -- I d-d," he splutters. He screams again when Brad bends his finger sharply back.

"Come on now, you must have a reason," Brad whispers, taking the next finger in his grasp and leaning into Cereno further.

"Ahhh, just take it!!" he cries, when Brad increases the pressure on Cereno’s finger.

"As if I would want anything in this fucking dump. Take what?"

Tears are streaming down Cereno’s cheeks now. "The, the money. It’s in the b-bedroom closet."

A sickening mix of disgust and fury stirs in Brad’s gut. "Who paid you?" When Cereno doesn’t answer right away, Brad suddenly releases his grip so that Cereno drops to his knees on the floor. Brad steps to one side, grabs the back of Cereno’s head, and slams it against the stove with all his strength. Face first.

"Fucking hell!" comes a voice from behind Brad as he moves to do it again, and then hands are pulling him back. Brad drops Cereno and, running purely on instinct and adrenaline, drives his elbow into his captor’s side. He turns to see Walt stumble back, wheezing a little. Oh no. Oh fuck.

Walt straightens up with effort, an angry set to his mouth. "Leave ‘em be. I made a few phone calls, let the police deal with ‘em."

Brad can scarcely believe what he’s hearing. "What?"

"I know you’re upset man, but what the fuck makes it okay for you to sink to their level? ‘cause really, if you kill these guys then you’re no fucking better than they are."

Brad just stares at him for a moment, slightly dazed. "They killed Nate." Walt starts to speak but Brad interrupts, "These sorry wastes of space killed Nate and then tried to pay me off with their fucking blood money! Like that would bring him back!" Brad’s voice goes from a whisper to shouting.

"Hey," Walt says softly. He holds up both hands as he takes a small step forward. "I found him. I found Nate. He’s okay."

"That’s not fucking funny, Robin."

"No joke. He was a little dinged up from the explosion but he’s otherwise in one piece. He wants to talk to you, actually." Walt tentatively reaches out to put a hand on Brad’s arm, and then gently pulls him out of the kitchen.

Waves of thought are crashing around in Brad’s skull, and he’s just about to step over the unconscious Banks when he remembers something. "Wait. He said the money was in the bedroom closet."

Fortunately for Brad, Walt is a quick one; he immediately nods and spins on his heel, and jogs to the bedroom to bring the money. Walt pulls a thick wad of cash from the envelope. As he examines the stack of bills, something falls loose from the pile. Brad catches it reflexively and turns it over.

It’s another playing card. A messily-drawn bat symbol is scrawled over the joker.

Walt looks up at Brad, "Well, it’s better than nothing."

Brad takes a deep breath to bolster his rapidly depleting patience. He suddenly feels very old. "Take me to Nate, then go back to the Batcave and work with Ray to figure this shit out."

Walt just nods and leads him out of the dingy apartment.

Walt has a short conversation with Ray and then directs Brad to the Batmobile, saying, "I’ll pick the bike up on my way home. Mom says you’re not allowed to drive it right now."

On the ride to the hospital, Brad begins to notice an increasing throb in his right hand. Beside him, Walt explains that the police department wants to keep Nate’s survival quiet for a couple days. Doc’s got him squirreled away under another name for now. By this point, Brad is only half listening -- he’s too preoccupied with the fact that Nate’s alive to think of much else.

They walk up a narrow path to one of the hospital’s side entrances and Walt knocks on the door. Doc Bryan opens it and lets them in to the dimly lit corridor.

"You guys have maybe ten minutes before someone comes down here," Doc says, wearing the only expression Brad’s ever seen him with -- barely-concealed annoyance. Nate is standing next to him in faded scrubs and a dark blue housecoat . There are a couple of scrapes on one side of his face, but he looks remarkably healthy. Brad fights the sudden, overwhelming urge to check him over. All over (just to be sure).

Doc looks at Nate, "You can find your way back to your room?"

Nate nods, "Yeah, thanks."

Doc turns his attention -- and his slight frown -- to back to Brad and Walt, "I don’t want to get any late night phone calls about either of you, understood?

"Yes, sir," says Walt, leaning against the door.

"Understood," Brad says, extending his hand. He tries to keep his face neutral when Doc Bryan shakes his hand, sending pain shooting up his arm. Shit, that’s more than just a sprain. He flexes and extends his fingers a few times after Doc disappears from view.

"I’m just ...going to wait in the car," Walt mumbles quietly as he shuffles his feet, and then backs out the door.

"Robin," Nate calls. "Thanks for everything." Walt nods once before he disappears from view.

After a few moments’ silence, Nate smiles wryly at Brad. "So, how’s your night been?"

Brad can’t come up with words to answer that question. Actually, he can’t seem to come up with words at all. He bends and stretches his fingers again, the pain seems to clear his head a bit.

Brad clears his throat, "We tracked down the two men who coordinated the attack on the station. They were just hired thugs, though. We found another one of those playing cards in with their payment."

"Do I even want to know what happened to those two?"

Brad reflexively clenches his fists, "To the best of my knowledge, they are alive." A spasm of pain shoots up his arm again, making him wince.

"How did you survive, Nate?"

"Pure chance. One of my officers told me that the arson investigators traced the origin of the explosion to my office." Nate grins weakly, "Unfortunately for the criminals involved, I wasn’t in my office at the time. I was in the stairwell a few floors down. But really, what happened to the ones who did this?"

"I..." Brad closes his eyes. "I’m afraid I lost my temper."

"But they are alive?"

Brad feels a strong, sudden flash of anger at the memory. "Barely." He tightens his fists hard enough that something clicks -- Nate hears it. His eyes dart down to Brad’s hand and then back to his face.

"Did you break your hand tonight, Batman?" Nate asks, looking very displeased.

Not waiting for an answer, he holds out his hand, "Show me." Brad slowly, warily extends his hand

Nate raises both eyebrows and presses his lips together.

Grumpily, Brad unzips the inside wrist of the glove and carefully pulls it off. Even with the bulb directly overhead burnt out, he can see that the back of his hand is swollen and dark bruises have already sprouted up.

Nate winces in sympathy. He moves to take Brad’s injured hand. But first, he gives Brad a tentative, questioning look, "May I?"

Brad nods. His pulse starts racing when Nate’s long, cool fingers gently inspect his hand. Because Nate is looking down, Brad can stare at him in full force. Up close, Brad becomes hyperaware of the shape of Nate’s cheekbones, the strong line of his jaw, the very, very distracting way he is running his fingers over the back of his hand.

Nate mumbles something under his breath, but Brad misses what he said.

"Pardon?"

Nate raises his eyes to Brad’s. "I said, you’re always so covered up."

Slowly and without breaking eye contact, Nate pulls his hand up, pressing Brad’s palm against his face. Brad can feel stubble and soft skin. Nate’s cheekbone is right under Brad’s thumb. When Brad rubs that cheekbone gently, Nate’s eyes drift closed.

Seeing Nate like this is mesmerizing. Very slowly, Brad moves forward and lowers his head to gently put his mouth against Nate’s. They stand motionless for a few moments. Every place Brad’s skin touches Nate feels like points of fire; so intense it’s almost painful, but deliciously warm at the same time.

Nate makes a small, low noise, then Brad feels Nate’s arm skate up his hip and around Brad’s back. Nate pulls Brad’s hips forcefully up against him, compelling a grunt out of Brad, while he tilts his head and opens his mouth to deepen the kiss. Brad backs Nate up against the wall and holds Nate’s head still while he mouths a spot on his neck. The harsh groan this brings out of Nate hits Brad like a gut punch. Brad could do this all fucking night.

Except that he can’t.

Sounds of the hospital filter back into Brad’s consciousness. He rests the side of his head against the side of Nate’s while he catches his breath.

"No," Nate whispers, tightening his grip around Brad’s back, "Don’t stop." For one dizzying second, Brad seriously considers taking Nate at his word. Fuck ulcers, one of these days he’s gonna fucking kill me.

Sighing, Brad straightens up. He rubs Nate’s cheek with his thumb, trying to savor the sensation.

"I have to go, and you should get back to your room," says Brad.

Nate leans up and kisses Brad once and then, without backing away even a millimeter, whispers against Brad’s mouth, "You should come to my room with me." Brad feels Nate smile slightly, "It might not be safe." Jesus fuck, this isn’t fair.

It suddenly occurs to Brad that two can play at this game. He turns and leans forward to whisper "Rain check," in Nate’s ear and then nips softly just below it, where Nate’s jaw meets his neck.

Brad takes one last moment to soak in the picture of Nate leaning against the wall, panting softly, before he extricates himself from Nate’s grip.

"I’m holding you to that," Nate informs Brad with surprising calm.

Brad lets his grin answer for him as he backs out the door.

Chapter Text

Much as his officers might bitch and moan about their temporary offices, Nate actually kind of likes being in the courthouse basement. But, then again, Nate’s office ceiling doesn’t drip and he even has a tiny window. One of the perks of coming back from the dead, he supposes. Although, pointing some of his guys in the direction of the ones who blew up the station probably isn’t hurting his cause either.

As he thinks, Nate turns the folded piece of paper over and over in his hands. A few days before the temporary offices opened, Nate had joked with Batman about the increased security ("Let’s see you break into my office now"). At the time, Batman just smiled enigmatically and didn’t comment. But sure enough, the first day Nate walked into his new office, a folded note was waiting for him on his desk. Reading the note again, his cheeks flush and there is a tightness in his chest.

Nate,

Tomorrow 1st St & Sixth Ave 19:00

There’s something I want to give you.

--B

Nate runs his thumb lightly over the ‘B’, then glances at his watch. 30 minutes to go. Tonight should be interesting...

"Wow, Nate, this is uh," Evan announces as he strolls through the open door, startling Nate. "...Well, the security checks can’t be a bad thing?"

"They must need a little work if they let you in here," Nate jokes, grinning wickedly as he smoothly pockets the piece of paper.

Evan shoots Nate a withering look. "Har har, very funny."

"Thank you, I try."

Evan raises his eyebrows at Nate. "Well, this is new, you’re in a good mood. Since when does a domestic terrorist attack improve one’s state of mind? Is it ‘cause the public doesn’t hate you anymore?"

Nate smiles, "That certainly has been keeping some of the shit at bay. I’m sure only it’s only temporary, though."

"Yeah, I don’t think that’s it, Nate," Evan says, studying Nate closely. "Did you get laid?"

Nate really wishes his cheeks were not growing hotter by the second. "Not recently, no."

Leaning forward and grinning eagerly, Evan doesn’t relent, "Yeah right. Who is it?"

"I’m not telling you anything."

"Well, good for you!" Evan claps a hand on his knee, shaking with laughter. "Hey, are you banging a hot nurse from the hospital?" He lowers his voice, "Is it a hot male nurse?"

"I’m not banging anyone, Evan. I’m ...Honestly, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing."

Still smiling, Evan waves at him, "I’m sure you’ll figure it out."

"Here’s hoping," Nate murmurs, more to himself than to Evan. He forces his voice into a more conversational tone. "But enough about me, what have you been up to? How’s that special project of yours going?"

"About that," Evan raises himself slightly to pull out his wallet, the humor wiped from his face. "I need you to tell me that this is nothing."

He pulls a card out and hands it across to Nate. It’s a joker card that’s been drawn on. Red ink has been drawn in an ‘X’ over a black symbol of a bat. Nate stares at it in surprise.

Nate’s voice drops to just above a whisper. "Where did you find this?"

Evan swallows hard, staring at his hands, "Laura found it on her nightstand this morning. She has no idea how it got there."

In her room? Jesus. Nate stares at his friend. "You should get her to go stay with her sister, or her parents," he says quietly but firmly.

Evan nods miserably. "She’s over at her friend Jill’s house now."

Nate picks up his phone. Addressing Evan, he says, "Can you write down Jill’s address for me?"

Dialing Mike’s extension, he says, "Hi Mike, it’s Nate. Who’s out in the cruisers tonight?"

Knowing that Nate’s really asking for the officers Mike trusts the most, he drawls, "I got Stafford and Christeson available. Where do you need ‘em?"

"Downtown, on Duncan," Nate reads the address to Mike and then adds, "I need them to pick up Laura Jacobsen. I believe she’s being threatened by the same suspect who’s behind those warehouse fires. Can they take her back to her place to pack some things, and then stay with her until we can arrange for her to stay outside the city for a while?"

"Roger that. Will Evan be going with her?" asks Mike.

"That’s up to him, but he’ll probably stop by before she goes." Nate looks across at Evan, who is slumped over, holding his head in one hand.

Evan straightens up when Nate hangs up the phone. "This is because I’ve been stalling the Batman article, isn’t it?"

Nate blinks at him in surprise. "I wasn’t aware you’d been holding back."

Evan scoffs, "I thought ‘Fuck those assholes.’ I never thought they would involve Laura."

"Evan, it’s pretty plain to me that we’re dealing with someone who’s not playing with a full deck. I want you to take this very seriously." Nate exhales slowly; either way, he’s sacrificing someone here. Eventually, Nate fixes Evan with a determined gaze. "Write that article. Write whatever the fuck your editor wants you to say, and then go stay with Laura."

Evan regards him uncertainly. Nate just quirks a small smile, "The stubborn bastard approach, while admirable, isn’t worth it if it’s going to get someone hurt or killed."

"The article will be mostly bullshit then. But I guess my journalistic integrity isn’t the biggest thing on the line right now."

Nate glances at the time on his laptop and is surprised to see that he has to meet Batman in a few minutes. He has to fight not to smile at the thought, because Evan would definitely get the wrong idea from that.

"Do you want me to get someone to give you a ride home?" Nate asks, watching Evan closely.

"If it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll just ride along with your officers when they go pick Laura up."

Standing, Nate says, "Ok, I’ll take you to Mike’s office then. I’d stay and hang out, but I’m supposed to be meeting someone right now." Nate feels like an ass for abandoning his friend to rendezvous with his...Nate’s not entirely sure what Batman is to him (or, for that matter, what he is to Batman).

"No no," Evan stammers, "it’s okay, I can find him myself. You go do your thing." Evan cracks a smile, "And by thing, I mean the hot nurse you’re allegedly not sleeping with."

Nate rolls his eyes, "You’re hilarious, Evan."

"Thank you, I try."

-------

When Evan sees a dark silhouette materialize next to Nate, he knows that following Nate (instead of riding along in the police car) was the right call. I can’t just sit around with Laura and wait for the axe to fall when I can just as easily put an end to this myself.

The two of them are at the far end of the crappy little park overlooking the China docks. Nate wasn’t kidding when he said Batman was huge. Nate’s pretty tall, but this guy has a couple of inches on him easily. They just stand there for a while, then Nate and Batman start walking up the path. As quickly and quietly as he can, Evan slips behind one of the park benches, crouching down on the cold mat of rotting leaves.

As they get closer, Evan can start to make out their voices. Nate is saying, "...connection between City Hall and the breakout..." Batman mutters something and Nate shakes his head, "This definitely complicates matters." Evan thinks furiously, trying to parse the thread of their conversation. Do they think the assholes who want Batman discredited were also involved in the Arkham breakout? A cold, heavy feeling sinks into Evan’s gut when he realizes they must think that the card-leaving joker is one of the escaped inmates. If only they knew.

Batman pauses directly in front of Evan’s bench and, for one gut-wrenching second, Evan is certain he’s been spotted. Every muscle in his body tenses. Instead, watching through the slats of the bench, he sees Batman pull something out of his belt. It looks like a cell phone.

Handing it to Nate, he says, "Try to be a little more careful with this one."

Nate stares at the thing in his hand, "You make it sound like I ran it through the laundry. I assure you it was not my intention to be that close to an explosion."

Batman’s response is so quiet Evan only just barely hears it, "I’m sorry. I just didn’t like not having a way to find you."

Evan tries to breathe as quietly as possible as he watches the two men stand in silence. Nate has an odd look on his face. He seems almost hesitant.

Eventually, Nate responds almost as quietly, "If you wanted that rain check..." Nate’s voice trails off as Batman visibly bristles. Evan has no idea what Nate could be talking about.

Batman replies after another pregnant pause, "I -- I don’t know if that would work."

Nate moves to stand right in front of Batman. His jaw juts out slightly as he says with determination, "I’m in, okay? Whatever, however this thing we have is going to work. I’m in."

Batman sounds slightly hoarse, "You think this is easy for me?"

"Of course not. Are you telling me you are the type to back down in the face of difficulty?"

Batman makes a small noise in rebuttal.

"I thought so. You know," Nate’s voice takes on a warm, almost...flirtatious edge, "you could just blindfold me and it would solve everything."

It takes an impressive amount of self-control for Evan not to say "What the fuck?" out loud. Batman seems to be exercising some self-control as well, judging by his clenched hands and the groan he swallows.

Nate doesn’t relent. "Think about it," he murmurs softly, stepping closer.

"I am thinking about it. Christ," Batman growls, raising one hand to cup Nate’s chin. His thumb is on Nate’s bottom lip. Evan wishes he could dissolve into the damp leaves under his knees.

To Evan’s horror, Nate keeps going. "It’s your call, but I think this could be far more enjoyable if there wasn’t a layer of armor between us. I could feel my way," he punctuates this statement by trailing one hand slowly down Batman’s chest, "over every inch of you." He looks like he’s about to say more, but Batman suddenly yanks Nate flush against him, crashing their lips together.

This isn’t happening, Evan chants over and over in his head. He closes his eyes, but it’s no better because all he can focus on are the sounds the two men are making. It dawns on Evan that, even though he’d been hoping to snap some photos of Batman using excessive violence, exposing his sexuality might be just as damning.

He starts planning how he’s going to get a photo without giving himself away, when Batman pulls his head back to look at Nate. The look on Nate’s face gives Evan pause; Evan can’t remember the last time he saw Nate look so content. Nate. Shit. Evan realizes that he doesn’t have it in him to throw Nate under the bus with Batman. I’ll just have to make do with the violent offender angle.

Nate must see something in Batman’s eyes, though, because his smile falters.

Batman’s shoulders slump, "We can’t do this here. We shouldn’t..."

Nate takes a half-step back, but keeps his hand on Batman’s elbow. His expression doesn’t look hopeful as he asks, "Where do you want to go?"

"Nate... I can’t tonight. I’m not saying no, I just ...need some time." Nate swallows, nodding glumly.

At Nate’s look, he cups Nate’s face in both hands and looks him directly in the eye. "Believe me when I say that I’ve never wanted anything this much in my life, but please understand that this is way outside the usual SOP."

"This is uncharted territory for me too, Batman. So, maybe taking it slow isn’t such a bad idea," Nate says seriously. Then he smiles, adding, "Doesn’t mean I have to like waiting, though."

Batman chuckles quietly. He runs his hands down Nate’s arms before stepping back. He tilts his head, saying, "We should go," and then both men start walking again.

Evan lets out a breath of relief once they’re out of sight. He grimaces as his knees creak painfully as he stands. Evan wants to bitch that this turned out to be a useless and extremely awkward evening, but it suddenly occurs to him that he just witnessed Batman being rather uncooperative with a police official. Ha! That, paired with a sob story about the two guys Batman apparently put in the hospital (of course he’d leave out the part where they tried to assassinate the Commissioner), could be enough for a decent bullshit article. Throw in a photo of one of the victims, maybe get a quote from one of the dirtier cops, and it should turn the city into a hornet’s nest. Evan feels a little sick at the thought.

He glances at his watch. The officers are probably waiting with Laura at her place by now. Hopefully he can make it there in time to say goodbye before she leaves for her sister’s.

------

Nate is in the middle of a report about post-Thanksgiving crime rate trends when there is a knock on the door. "Come in," he calls absently without looking up.

"Mr. Fick? I’m Rudy Reyes, I chair Colbert Enterprises’ public relations committee."

Nate’s head jerks up at that. The man standing in front of him is a lot to take in at once; he’s easily taller and more well-muscled than most of the SWAT officers, and clad in a perfectly tailored charcoal grey suit that looks like it would cost at least six months of Nate’s salary. The combined effect would all be extremely intimidating if not for the beatific smile on the man’s face.

Nate gets to his feet, shaking hands with him. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Reyes. What can I do for you?" Nate asks, motioning to the seat across from his desk.

There’s that smile again. "Actually, sir, I’m here to see what I can do for you."

"I’m not sure I understand."

"Well, as you might already know, it’s standard practice for Colbert Enterprises to donate a sum of money to a charitable cause every year around Christmas time. You know, to ensure a harmonious relationship with the citizens of Gotham."

Nate smiles, but he’s not entirely sure if this guy is for real. "Yeah, I think I remember something about that last year, with the hospital?"

Rudy smiles again. "Yes, we held an auction to upgrade Gotham General’s pediatric ward."

"I’m sorry for being so blunt, but what does all this have to do with me?"

"Well, it seems Mr. Colbert has taken a personal interest in your efforts to lower Gotham’s crime rate, and I’m here to see if there’s a way for Colbert Enterprises to aid you and your department in such a noble endeavor."

Nate is genuinely surprised. It must show on his face, because Rudy leans forward, and asks, "You don’t think the police department is worthy of charitable donations?"

"It’s not that at all," Nate explains, "I’m just wondering why the richest man in Gotham would take a personal interest in my work. Shouldn’t he be yachting his way around the globe or something?"

"It’s a little cold for yachting," Rudy replies with a wink. "Mr. Colbert may be affluent but, deep down, he has a true warrior spirit; it compels him to fight for his home however he can."

Nate smiles wryly. "So he uses his powers for good, huh?"

Rudy looks bashfully down at his hands as he says, "I know how it sounds, brother, but he’s the real deal." Rudy pauses to pull out his Blackberry, "Why don’t we see how Colbert Enterprises can be the most help?"

"Uh," Nate reaches for the budget folder. He runs a hand through his short hair as he peruses it carefully. "Well, we obviously need a new station, for one thing, and I know my SWAT officers would appreciate it if the new station had a more up-to-date weight room for training purposes. Some of the equipment we had in the old station was older than the officers using it." He scans the document further, "We were going to get some new squad cars, but the budget cut put the kibosh on that."

Rudy holds up a hand to interrupt, "Budget cut?"

Nate feels a familiar surge of bitterness at the memory, "Yes, the Mayor was not pleased with my department’s efforts to apprehend the fugitives of the breakout at Arkham Asylum. He felt that letting us keep the budget increase that passed the month before would ‘send the wrong message’ to the public."

Rudy nods as if this makes perfect sense. "How much was the increase supposed to be?" he asks.

"It was 15%, so just a little over $10 million."

Flicking through his phone without looking up, Rudy says, "That’s a little steep for our charity works." Nate opens his mouth to explain that he had been aiming too high on purpose, but Rudy interrupts, "However, we can swing $5 million right now and a little strategic investing can bring it up to $7 million by the end of the next fiscal year."

Nate stares at Rudy in undisguised shock.

Rudy beams back, "This is the best part of my job. You look 5 years younger."

"That’s not usually an issue for me," Nate says as he feels his cheeks grow warm. "So, how does your company plan to raise all this money in the first place?"

"Well, this year we are planning to hold a casino night at Mr. Colbert’s personal estate. You are, of course, invited to appear in person."

Nate’s mouth twitches, "Of course. Is there anything you need from me before then?"

Pocketing his phone, Rudy gets to his feet. "Not for now. I have your receptionist’s contact info, so I should be able to get most of the details from her."

"Well. Thank you very much, Mr. Reyes," Nate says, a bit dazed.

Rudy smiles and shakes Nate’s hand. "Please, Mr. Fick, call me Rudy, we’ll be communicating more in the future. As for the thanks, I assure you the pleasure was all mine." Rudy is either an excellent actor, or he is one of the most genuine people Nate has ever met.

"Thanks again," Nate says, walking him to the door.

Once Rudy is gone, Nate settles back in his chair, his mind still reeling. He feels energized and slightly anxious but, more than anything else, he feels like he needs to tell someone about this to make sure he isn’t hallucinating. Normally, he’d tell Mike or Evan, but this needs to be kept under wraps for now.

He knows who he really wants to call, but the idea makes Nate feel like an unbelievable sap. He reaches into his jacket pocket for his new Bat-phone but, after staring at it for a full minute, he puts it back. What the fuck does Batman care if some billionaire suddenly knows I exist?

"Fuck it," Nate finally mutters under his breath, reaching for the phone.

-------

When he first thought of it, Brad had some serious doubts about the idea of making the police department the recipient of this year’s Colbert Enterprises charity gala. For about thirty seconds, he’d considered running it by Ray (and then promptly dismissed that idea for obvious reasons). Instead, Brad found himself opening up when Rudy brought up the charity during one of their training sessions.

"It just seems way too fucking obvious. I mean, Nate literally told me that all he wanted for Christmas was his budget increase back," Brad had told Rudy during a sparring break. "Don’t you think he’d figure it out if Brad Colbert just suddenly swooped in to do exactly what he’d told Batman?"

It was Rudy’s answer that had clinched it. "Maybe so, brother, but it’s possible that this idea shows that you want Nate to know your true self or, at least, that you wouldn’t mind if he just happened to connect the dots. Regardless, there are benefits here that are bigger than you know; helping the police department will let Nate and all of Gotham rest easier -- maybe even you, Brad. The right path is not always the most comfortable one."

Try as Brad might to find a way around it, Rudy had a point. It was good enough that Brad had even let the quasi-mystic bullshit surrounding it slide. Fuckin’ Fruity Rudy.

Now, seeing Nate’s excited expression, Brad’s concerns don’t feel quite so imposing. In fact, they feel positively ridiculous.

"...and, of course, it isn’t going to cover everything, but if it can raise even half as much as this Rudy guy said it can--" It occurs to Brad that he’s never seen Nate babble like this. If it were anyone else, it would piss Brad off, but Nate somehow manages to make it endearing.

"Jesus fucking Christ," Ray cuts in on the comm, "you set Fruity fuckin’ Rudy on him?! No wonder he sounds like a thirteen year old girl with her first fucking crush. Poor bastard never had a chance." Brad closes his eyes for a moment and silently wills Ray to shut up.

Nate trails off, then chuckles at Brad’s expression, "Uh, I guess this is probably boring you. Sorry."

"No, no," Brad says shaking his head, "I’m just being treated to Ray’s inbred, tone-deaf idea of singing that, in reality, easily serves as a textbook example of cruel and unusual punishment."

"Fuck you, you overgrown Simon-Cowell-impersonating motherfucker, you wouldn’t recognize real talent if it shoved your face in its cum-dripping twat with both hands."

Brad pinches the bridge of his nose even though it offers little relief through the cowl. "Ray, I’m going to ignore that horrifying mental image for the sake of your personal safety, not to mention how unbelievably sad it is that you watch that sorry excuse for pop culture and take it seriously. I am, however, going to turn off the comm for a while so I don’t wind up putting you out of my misery when I get home." He hangs up and shuts off the comm before Ray can work himself into a full-blown rant.

When he looks up, Nate is watching him with an amused expression. "For what it’s worth," Nate says conspiratorially, "You could probably make a great case for justifiable homicide." Nate’s crooked smile is equal parts contagious and mesmerizing. But, then again, Brad finds many things about Nate’s mouth mesmerizing.

Nate’s abrupt change of subject snaps Brad out of his reverie; "Oh yeah. The detectives over in Major Crimes have been making some headway on your serial arsonist. He even has a name now -- The Joker."

"Oh yeah. Ray was saying they had narrowed it down to five guys or so," Brad muses. He catches his slip a split second too late. Oh shit.

Unfortunately, Nate doesn’t miss a thing. He gives Brad a look of extreme reproach, "Look, breaking into my office for the hell of it is one thing, but the police department servers are off limits." A muscle twitches in his jaw. "I think I’ve been more than accommodating when it comes to sharing helpful information. I thought you trusted my judgment."

"I do. I mean, we do. It’s just old habits, I guess," Brad says, feeling all of ten years old.

"Well you have to break those habits, Batman," Nate snaps. His voice rises as he starts building up steam, "Evan’s article on you is going to come out, and there will be a lot of people watching us for a reaction. Hell, they already are watching. I’ve apparently already drawn the attention of Brad fucking Colbert. Why the fuck the most powerful man in Gotham suddenly decided to give a shit is beyond me."

Brad reaches out and gently squeezes Nate’s upper arm. The fight goes out of Nate almost immediately.

"Hey," Brad says gently, "You worry too much." Nate looks like he’s about to protest, so Brad holds up his other hand and reassures him, "I’ll tell Ray to keep out of the police servers, but you have to promise to stop being so hard on yourself."

Nate takes a deep breath, obviously about to launch into another tirade, so Brad smothers his argument by pulling Nate into a deep kiss. When Nate finally relaxes against him, Brad pulls back and rests his forehead against Nate’s.

"Nate," Brad mumbles, barely over a whisper. "If it weren’t for you, Gotham would be in a lot worse shape than it is now. For that matter, so would I."

Nate gives a small, "Hmph."

"You should take this attention as a sign that other people are starting to catch on to that too."

Nate chews on his bottom lip and then grumbles, "Maybe."

Brad chuckles lowly and presses a kiss to Nate’s forehead. "C’mon, I’ll walk you to your car," Brad says, putting an arm around Nate’s shoulders to turn him. As they’re walking, Brad lets his hand trail down to the base of Nate’s spine.

-------

"Ray, this place is fucking deserted. If you sent Walt and me on a wild goose chase, I will recycle your entire Juggs collection and put parental controls on the internet," Brad says into his comm, irritated from sitting out on a rooftop in the cold for the last two hours.

"Promises, promises. First of all, I changed the admin password on the computers, so I’d like to see you fucking try. Second, you don’t even know where I keep my Juggs collection."

"Ray, don’t insult my intelligence, I know all about that fucking pitiful excuse for a lock box that you keep under your bed." Brad adds, trying to keep the smile out of his voice, "And I don’t think ‘bradisapussy’ is a very complicated password."

"Whatever, dude. None of that matters anyway because I’ve seen this guy go into that warehouse for the last three nights in a row. I hate to tell you how to do your job--" Brad snorts at this. "-- but it might help to actually look inside the building instead of camping out outside it like the creepy stalker we both know you are."

"Thank you for--" Brad halts his sentence when Walt nudges him unnecessarily to point out the movement at his 11 o’clock that Brad had spotted at the same instance.

Two stocky looking men flank a younger man who, from this distance, looks like the photo from the police file. Just like Ray had said they would, they go into the warehouse that looks like it was probably green in a previous lifetime.

"What did I tell you?" Ray says proudly in Brad’s ear.

Brad nods at Walt and they get to their feet in unison. Staying low, they make their way over to the far side of the building to lower themselves down to street level.

Brad slips through the rear entrance with Walt following silently on his heels. Brad frowns in confusion when the warehouse turns out to be just as deserted on the inside. Walt checks out the warehouse’s sole office, but he doesn’t find anyone either.

Where the fuck did they go? Walt shrugs to answer Brad’s unspoken question.

The only significant iterm in the warehouse -- besides a small security camera that turns to track Brad’s movement even as he watches it -- is a small, brightly-colored package near the center of the room. He motions for Walt to hang back as he cautiously approaches it with every sense on high alert.

When Brad gets closer, he can see that a small, colorful wooden box is sitting by the wrapped package. Suddenly, the silence is broken by familiar, repetitive plunking sounds that echo off the walls. The discordant, vaguely off-key notes raise goosebumps on Brad’s skin.

The frequency of the notes begins to increase, twisting Brad’s stomach into a tighter knot.

The lid of the wooden box snaps open and a garish clown head springs out towards Brad. Every muscle in Brad’s body tenses, but he manages to stay still. From a few feet behind him, Brad hears Walt’s feet scuff the floor and a muttered "Fuck!"

The toy head bobs silently for a few moments and then an eager-sounding voice emanates from the small box, "Batman! It’s about time. I didn’t expect you to bring your buddy, though." The voice chuckles (Brad refuses to call it giggling), "Oh well, the more the merrier, I guess."

Walt steps closer to Brad and whispers, "He’s got eyes on us. Do you think he has ears as well?"

"No way to know for sure," Brad replies as quietly as he can. "We should keep quiet just in case."

The disembodied voice continues, "Y’know, it’s rude to have your own conversations when someone else is talking. I wanted to tell you a story, Batman. Are you listening now?" On a hunch, Brad stiffly nods at the camera. "Good."

"See, when I was a kid, I used to trap flies and then pull their wings off with a pair of tweezers I stole out of my mom’s medicine cabinet. The way they’d flop around and freak out, it was great. You can watch that sort of thing for hours."

"I always wanted to try it on something bigger, like a bird, you know, but I could never catch one. Well, not alive anyway," the voice sounds genuinely disappointed. Brad and Walt exchange wary looks. "And I’ve always wondered what it would be like to pull the wings off a bat. Can you imagine? Can you ...Batman?" at this point, the voice dissolves into disturbing laughter.

"What the fuck is wrong with this guy?" Walt whispers to Brad. They both jump in surprise when the voice suddenly yells "PAY ATTENTION!"

"Uh...sorry?" Walt pipes up uneasily.

"I’ve been trying to get your attention for a while now, Bats. Even tried to off some of the fuzz you seem so fond of. I hear you and the Commish in particular are very friendly." That gets Brad’s attention.

"Maybe you just don’t take me seriously because nobody kicked the bucket. Nobody fucking takes me seriously. They will, though, soon enough," he lets out a childish laugh. "It’s gonna be fucking huge, Batman. People are going to be dropping like flies," another peal of laughter, "That’s all I’m going to tell you for now. Hell, some of the details aren’t even finalized yet -- they’ll be coming down to the flip of a coin of or a roll of the dice when the time is right."

Brad grinds his teeth together in frustration.

"Oh, and Batman?" the voice asks. Brad stares up at the security camera as an answer. "I should let you know that while we’ve been having our little chat, some friends of mine have been blocking off the exits, just to give you gents some time to think about what I said. In the mean time, I hate to cut this short but I gotta go. Places to go, people to kill, you know how it is. I hope you’ll accept the parting gift I left you as a peace offering."

Brad glances over at Walt, who shakes his head vehemently. Brad crouches down anyway to pull the lid off of the package wrapped like a birthday present.

"Stop, Jesus! Let’s just get the fuck out of here," says Walt with exasperation (and a slight tinge of alarm).

"I don’t think he wants to off us just yet. He’d rather jerk us the fuck around for a while first," Brad explains. His voice sounds calm but his heart is racing as he gently digs around in the crumpled tissue paper inside. When he finally finds the ‘gift’ itself, Brad swears he feels his heart stop. "Shit."

Walt takes one look at the crudely constructed pipe bomb (with 15 seconds left on its digital timer) and yanks Brad’s shoulder, shouting, "Run!"

Peals of laughter sound around them, "You know why I called it a peace offering, don’t you, Bats? ‘Cause it’ll leave you in PIECES."

They dive into the ramshackle office, but no explosion comes. Instead, Brad hears a hollow-sounding pop, and then more hysterical laughing.

"What in the actual fuck is going on?" Brad asks rhetorically. Beside him, Walt inches his way up the wall to peer through the grimy window.

"The bomb is just lying on the ground," Walt reports, "But it’s -- there’s something sticking out of it now."

Brad stares at him. "What?"

"It doesn’t make any sense to me either, but that’s what it looks like." Walt squints a little, then suddenly groans in exasperation. "Oh for fuck’s sake!"

Brad tries to stop Walt as he stomps out of the office, but he shrugs out of Brad’s grip, saying, "It’s a fucking toy!"

"What?" Brad asks again, but now he can see it too. A white flag with the word ‘BANG!’ written on it is poking out the end of the pipe.

Brad swallows his anger, taking a deep breath to steady himself. "Let’s get out of here."

"Fine by me," says Walt, his accent more apparent than usual.

The doors turn out to be open after all. As they leave, Brad dazedly notices that the formerly bitter evening chill now feels almost refreshing.

-----

Ray has wandered into some pretty fucking strange situations in the middle of the night before, but finding Walt wide awake and working out in the Batcave at 5 in the morning is definitely one of the strangest (involving Walt, anyway). Between Ray, Walt, and Brad, Walt has the fewest insomniac tendencies, which basically means that Walt might as well have hung a big neon sign around his neck blinking ‘Something is seriously fucking wrong’.

As Ray walks towards Walt, he can’t help but notice how Walt’s shirt is soaked through with sweat. He must have been down here for a while.

"At first, I totally would have picked Brad for the cover of the nude Batman and Robin calender, but you’re presenting a very strong argument for Robin’s case there, Hasser." Ray waggles his eyebrows exaggeratedly, which usually makes Walt at least crack a smile.

Which makes Walt’s muttered reply of "Fuck off, Ray," even more surprising.

"Dude, what’s eating you? You look like Brad did that time I pretended to try to sell his bike on eBay."

"Leave me alone, Ray," Walt says glumly, dropping the free weights and dropping down to the bench press station.

"Hi, I’m Ray. Have we met?" Ray says moving to spot for Walt. He lets Walt get in a few reps before speaking again.

"Seriously though, what’s up? You know you can tell your pal Ray-Ray."

Walt pauses, glares at Ray, then racks the bar and sits up with a small grunt of effort. "You really wanna know what’s bothering me?" He’s tired enough that his backwoods twang comes through particularly strong. Brad might give Walt shit for it, but Ray actually kind of likes it.

Ray plops down next to Walt and gives him a look that clearly means ‘of course’.

Walt wipes the sweat off his forehead and runs a hand through his damp hair, making it stick up at odd angles. He gives Ray a sideways glance before finally speaking, "This Joker guy is obviously not right in the head, but he showed us tonight that he’s smarter than your average nutcase."

Ray nods solemnly and Walt continues, "I mean, he could have had us in a pretty bad spot if he’d wanted to. Even Brad was spooked, and he doesn’t scare easy."

"Yeah, but this isn’t the first time you guys have been in the shit, and you both made it out without even a scratch," Ray points out.

Walt shakes his head, "It’s not tonight that’s bothering me, Ray. Besides hinting that he’s going to go on some kind of mass killing spree, the Joker also made a reference to how ‘friendly,’" Walt makes air quotes, "Batman and the Commissioner are."

Shocked, Ray asks incredulously, "He knows they’re doing it?"

Walt shoots him a sharp glance, "You know they’re doing it?"

"Well, I don’t know for sure -- I don’t exactly have shitty night-vision sex tapes or anything -- but I’m not a fucking idiot. You saw how apeshit Brad went when he though the Commish had bit it."

"That’s the exact problem. If the Joker knows that he can get to Brad through Nate, he’s going to do it," Walt stares down at his hands, chewing on his lip for a moment. "And ...and I don’t think Brad could handle that," he finishes quietly.

"Okay, Walt, two things. One, Nate’s a big boy, I think he can handle himself okay. Two, the first part doesn’t matter ‘cause that’s why we keep you around."

Walt drops his head into both hands and groans in frustration. "You suck at helping, Ray."

Ray grips the back of Walt’s neck and gives him a little shake. "Homes, you have been patrolling for what? A year now? And before that, you were a badass fucking Recon Marine, all silent but deadly and shit."

"Swift, silent, deadly. We’re not a fucking fart, Ray," Walt says sternly; although, his mouth twitches slightly.

Ray makes a ‘whatever’ face, but then grows solemn. "I mean it, Walt. You got this. Besides, we’re a fucking team. You’ll have me here, and Brad will still be able to help from the Batcave, even if we have to fucking chain him down to keep him from leaving."

Walt gives Ray a serious look that lasts all of 10 seconds before he cracks up, "Ray, that is a really fucking disturbing mental image."

"You and I can be the Liliputians, restraining the humongous cranky giant!" When Walt just stares at him in undisguised surprise, Ray feels slightly defensive, "What? I read! It gets fucking boring sitting around here all by my lonesome while you two are off kicking ass and being superheroes and shit."

Walt blushes and looks down at his hands, "I’m no superhero. Brad is, definitely, but not me."

"Are you kidding?! Shit, homes, you’ve been training with Brad every day and he hasn’t killed you even once. That’s a superpower in itself." Ray has to shake his head a little because it’s crazy that he has to explain this to Walt, whom everybody loves and who is so perfect that sometimes it’s hard to even stand next to him.

Ray doesn’t let up, "Plus, you stood up to Brad when he went on that fucking rampage when he thought Nate was dead. That took some serious cojones."

"Yeah, that was ...intense," Walt says, eyes unfocused. His brows are furrowed when he turns to Ray, "What if something happens at the casino night and we can’t stop Brad?"

The surprise makes Ray blink a few times before asking slowly, "Why would the Joker go after a bunch of drunk rich people?"

Walt shrugs, "I don’t know, because the rich people are giving money to the police department?"

"What’s that got to do with anything?"

"It said in one of his psych files that Joker’s got a real hate on for police officers. His wife was killed and it had something to do with a dirty cop. His wife was pregnant, dude," Walt adds with a grim twist to his mouth.

Ray kneads his forehead. He vaguely remembers something to that effect in one of the police dossiers. "Shit. That was in the Trombley file wasn’t it? I guess that explains why he blew up the police station."

They sit in silence. Ray’s brain helpfully supplies multiple ways in which the charity night could end in horror.

The moment is broken when Brad steps out of the elevator in wrinkled sleep pants. Ray smothers a laugh the combination of Brad’s grumpy expression and his truly epic bedhead.

Brad’s voice is rough from sleep, "What the hell are you two miscreants doing up already?" He pads over to the espresso machine without waiting long enough for them to answer.

"I’m going to get Rudy to bump up security at the casino shindig," Ray says.

Brad turns around and leans against the counter. "Why?" he asks, raising both eyebrows.

"Walt has a hunch," Ray explains. Brad ponders for a moment, then nods once before turning back to the stainless steel appliance.

Smiling, Ray shoves Walt with his shoulder. "See? You’re not alone, dude."

Walt smiles shyly and shoves Ray back. "Thanks, Ray," he says just barely loud enough for Ray to hear. Not for the first time, Ray tries to brush aside the weird dizzy feeling that comes from being this close to Walt. This time, though, cheering Walt up has taken that dizzy feeling and blown it up by a factor of too fucking much.

Chapter Text

For what feels like the millionth fucking time that evening, Brad adjusts his god-damned bowtie (it just won’t lie right) and fidgets in his tux, which would be greatly improved if the bowtie just happened to fall in the fireplace.

"I still say I shouldn’t have to wear a tux to these things. It’s my house, for fuck’s sake!"

"Brad, for the last time," Ray explains in the same tone one might use with a small child throwing a tantrum, "the nice rich people won’t give Nate money if you lie around in your pajama pants all the time. Actually," Ray’s tone turns pensive, "Considering how weirdly allergic you are to shirts, they might give you money if you did that. Fuck, some of the dirty old broads I’ve seen at these things would probably sell you their summer homes for a chance to gawk at your freakishly sexy Nordic bod."

Everything wrong with what Ray just said actually manages to leave Brad momentarily at a loss for a good response, so Brad instead opts for his usual default of, "Shut up, Ray." He tugs at the bowtie impatiently again, "Have all the guests arrived?"

Ray keeps moving the lint brush over Brad’s back but catches his eye in the mirror. With a too-knowing look Ray replies, "Nathaniel Fick is not here yet." He answers Brad’s death glare with an infuriatingly beatific smile.

What the fuck was I thinking? This charity thing was a terrible idea.

He raises his hand to his throat again, but Ray catches his arm and orders, "Knock it off, you dumbass, you look fine. I’m sure Nate will cream his panties over you whenever he finally decides to grace us with his presence." Brad just grinds his teeth and grudgingly lowers his arm. Look for Nate now, kill Ray later.

"Alright, I deem you fit for public viewing," Ray announces, stepping back. He speaks into a small walkie talkie, "Hey Rudy, the princess is about to descend from her tower."

When Brad makes his way into the foyer, he is confronted with the usual mix of business associates, vague acquaintances, and fair-weather friends. Many are clumped around the roulette and craps tables. At least Ray and Rudy have done an admirable job of controlling the amount of reporters present. Brad breezes past the lot of them with a few curt, well-placed niceties and makes his way toward the ballroom. Thankfully, most of these people have met Brad a few times, so they aren’t taken aback by his brusqueness. After more platitudes, Brad lingers by the doorway and scans the crowd for Nate’s familiar face.

"At your 2 o’clock, over by the bar with Rudy," Ray whispers from behind him. Sure enough, he spots Nate’s light hair and striking profile as Nate laughs at something Rudy just said. Brad starts working his way through the many card tables, towards the bar. Rudy catches his eye and waves him over to their location. Nate turns in his direction and the full sight of him in a tux hits Brad like a physical blow. Nate looks so good, in fact, that Brad even briefly considers rethinking his irrational hatred of bowties.

Rudy’s hand on Brad’s shoulder shakes him out of the thought. "Commissioner Nate Fick, meet Brad Colbert, Chairman of Colbert Enterprises’ Board of Trustees." Instead of the warm smile Brad is used to, Nate’s eyes give him the quick once-over and his smile is one of polite respect.

"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Colbert. On behalf of the Gotham Police Department, I want to thank you for your extremely generous donation," Nate says cordially. His hand is warm and strong in Brad’s. He keeps his breathing perfectly even, but even so, Brad can feel sweat popping out on his forehead. Nate seems slightly hesitant and there’s no trace of recognition in his eyes. Brad hates how disappointed he feels about that. Rationally, Brad expected Nate to act this way. Unfortunately, there is also an irrational part of him that wants Nate to just know.

Rudy gives Brad’s arm a pat as he eases his way around Brad, leaving him with Nate. He feels distinctly uncomfortable and, judging by the way Nate is toying with the napkin under his glass, Nate’s not entirely at ease either.

Nate breaks the awkward silence first. "So, Mr. Colbert," he tilts his head a little, "I have to ask, what made you decide to donate to the police department? I’m sure there were plenty more glamorous causes around the city to choose from."

Brad smiles, more to himself than to Nate, then leans in so he won’t be overheard, "I grew up in Gotham, so I can remember a time when the police force wasn’t such a joke. I’ve been looking for a way to change this situation for years, so I very much respect what you’re trying to do." Brad holds Nate’s gaze for a long moment. It’s a bit of a treat for Brad to see him in person in a brightly lit room. He still doesn’t see dawning recognition in his glass green eyes, but Nate does seem more sure of himself at least.

"Evening, gents," comes a familiar hoarse whisper over Brad’s shoulder. District Attorney Ferrando and the Mayor sidle up to them.

Nate offers his hand first, "Sir," he greets the Mayor, "District Attorney," he says with the same professional and somewhat aloof manner he’d used with Brad just now. Ignoring the flare of hostility he feels at receiving the same treatment from Nate as this two-faced crook, Brad nods to both men as he shakes their hands.

Godfather smiles at both Brad and Nate, saying, "Quite the night you’ve arranged here, Mr. Colbert. Quite the night." Ferrando raises his glass and claps Brad on the shoulder like they are old pals. Brad tenses at the contact. From the way Nate’s eyes dart over, Brad thinks he may have noticed. The two newcomers seem oblivious, though.

Mattis’s eyes meet Brad’s and he says, "The city can’t thank you enough. It’s an important show of faith in the police department, especially during these trying times." Brad’s impressed that Nate’s face is completely impassive. It gives Brad the strength to bite back a remark about scrapping the budget increase.

Instead, Brad simply says, "Well, Mayor, times change." Out of the corner of his eye, Brad sees Nate give him a minute but deliberate shake of his head.

"That’s absolutely correct, Mr. Colbert," Godfather replies, "While money certainly helps, times cannot change without the actions of great men. Unfortunately, great men seem to coming under fire lately."

Nate grimaces. Brad turns his iciest smile on Ferrando, using cool clipped words, "All the more reason I want to support the great men we have. And I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the usefulness of money. I’ve always found it to be exceptionally enabling."

Mattis laughs, "True enough. Especially in an election year."

Cheers erupt from one of the nearby tables. Godfather pulls a silver coin out of his pocket and starts walking it absently across the backs of his fingers. "On that note," he says jovially, "I’m going to go try my luck at poker."

When the two men leave, Nate regards Brad with scrutiny and the barest hint of amusement. Eventually he asks, "Are you always that abrasive?"

"Actually, sir, he’s being pretty good tonight," Walt announces from Brad’s other side. Brad introduces them, watching for any sign of recognition from Nate. Still nothing.

Damn it, this is just getting ridiculous.

"If you wanted, Nate, I could give you the official tour of the house."

Walt clears his throat quietly. "Uh, Brad, Rudy sent me to remind you that you’re supposed to lose some money before you’re allowed to duck out of the party."

Nate’s mouth turns up in a crooked smile, "Please, don’t let me keep you from fleshing out my budget." Chuckling, he adds, "How about we do the tour in a bit?"

Brad bites the inside of his cheek, but still a smile escapes.

Brad excuses himself and, as he heads towards the emptiest blackjack table, he can feel the weight of Nate’s gaze following him.

-------

These charity nights are an assload of work but Ray usually manages to have a great time regardless. The casino theme is a huge hit, way better than last year’s auction. Ray finally finds Brad in a throng of women around the roulette table. The jerk has ditched his bowtie already.

Ray weaves his way closer, "How much do you have left to lose, homes?"

"Just 50 more. I was down to 10 large, but then I started winning again," Brad says rolling his eyes. A hush falls over the table, Ray can hear the clatter of the ball, and then the group cries out in excitement. Brad’s wide grin tells Ray that he’s now out, which makes Ray smile at the absurdity of the situation.

Ray tugs Brad to an unpopulated area near the stairs.

"Trouble?" Brad asks, his brows knit together.

"Only that Nate is totally on to you."

"What? How?"

"Because he’s not a fucking moron, that’s how. Walt told me about how you pretty much almost punched the District Attorney in the face. Homes, no one is that protective over someone they just met."

Brad looks distinctly uncomfortable. "You really think he knows?"

"Like I said, Brad, the guy’s a quick one. So nut the fuck up and go talk to him, I can’t deal with watching you drop lame hints all night."

Much as Ray expected, Brad doesn’t move an inch.

"That’s cool, your Ray-Ray can go talk to him for you," Ray says through a knowing smile. He moves to leave, but stops when he feels one of Brad’s hands close around his arm like a vise. So fucking predictable.

"Ray," Brad says, "Just ...where is he?"

"He was just checking out the library a minute ago. Judging by the orgasmic look on his face, I think he stumbled across the first editions section." That brings a small smile to Brad’s face. Ray grins back, "Oh my god, y’all are so married. It’s," he sniffles dramatically and pretends to wipe a tear from his eye, "It’s really kind of beautiful actually."

Brad shoves him lightly as he heads in the direction of the library.

"Don’t wreck anything!" Ray calls after him. A few guests look curiously in their direction. Ray beams at them in answer.

A middle aged man walks by with a small plate piled high with finger food, which Ray’s stomach takes as an opportunity to remind Ray that he’s starving.

As he’s creating his own tower of hors d’oeuvres, Ray overhears one of the drink tray ladies gossiping with the bartender (who strikes Ray as the textbook example of a cougar if ever he saw one).

The younger one is complaining, "...and he seems really nice too, but little miss vaginally social has already sunk her fake acrylic claws in him."

The bartender snorts, "Are you serious? He doesn’t even look old enough to drink. I know she has no standards, but jailbait is a new low even for her."

"She’s probably working him because that jailbait is gorgeous, single, and filthy stinking rich."

"I wouldn’t be so sure about the single part there, missy. I heard he’s Brad Colbert’s ‘ward’," she says complete with air quotes. That gets Ray’s undivided attention.

Both women are silent for a moment. Ray hovers quietly near the mini quiches, hoping to hear more.

The bartender finally sighs wistfully, "If that’s true then that’s a damn shame. Although," she giggles, "I’d give a year’s salary to see them together." Ray just barely manages to cover a snort of laughter.

"Damn, you and me both.."

Ray ducks away from the table because he’s either going to burst out laughing or snap at them for perving on Walt. Speaking of Walt, where the fuck is he?

Munching on a cracker, Ray pokes his head into the ballroom. He nearly chokes when he spots Walt at one of the poker tables with a very tall brunette practically sitting in his lap, one of her hands sliding under the lapel of his tux.

If it were anyone else, Ray would be impressed; the brunette is pretty in an ex-beauty queen sort of way and looks like she wouldn’t exactly mind if Walt just bent her over the table right there. The problem is, it’s Walt. Which basically leaves Ray struggling with the overwhelming urge to have the bitch forcibly dragged off the premises.

Instead, Ray sets his plate down on the nearest flat surface and strides over to Walt. He doesn’t get within ten feet of were he’s sitting before Walt notices Ray. Apparently his expression is alarming because Walt immediately gets to his feet and meets Ray half way.

"What’s wrong?"

"Helping you dodge a bullet. Come on, homes, I know chicks love your big dumb puppy act, but you can do better than Suzy fucking Rottencrotch over there."

Walt’s expression turns from worried to incredulous, "That’s what had you marching over here like someone called in a bomb threat? Christ, I thought we were gonna have to evacuate the building or something."

Ray’s brain finally catches up with what he’s doing, or about to do, and takes a step back.

"You know what? Fuck it. Forget I said anything. Go back to losing your fucking shirt at Hold ‘Em, I’m sure your arm candy would love to help you out with that." Ray turns on his heel and stalks out the patio doors towards the garden, his breath coming in shallow gulps. Once he finds a decently secluded bench, he throws himself down and leans his head in his hands. Christ, I’m such a fucking idiot.

After a moment, he hears Walt’s voice carrying over the chilly night air. "Person, I swear to God, I’m gonna personally kick every square inch of your ass if you don’t come back and tell me what the fuck is going on!"

"Fuck," Ray mutters under his breath. He’s not hiding, he’s just choosing to stay perfectly still. Unfortunately, Walt finds him anyway. Ray keeps supporting his head with his hands, but Walt stops close enough to him that the tips of Walt’s shoes are only inches from Ray’s own.

"Leave me alone, Hasser," Ray tries to sound hostile, but it’s no good. He just sounds as fucking depressed as he feels. Fantastic.

"No. Ray, look at me." Ray ignores him. "Now."

Slowly, Ray raises his head. He almost lowers it again when he sees how pissed Walt looks.

"Ray, what is your fucking problem?! What was that back there?" Walt gestures in the general direction of the house.

"It’s nothing." Ray winces -- even he knows that lie was pathetic.

"Bullshit," Walt fires back, "I refuse to believe you came down with a raging case of PMS just for shits and giggles. I know you."

"Not as well as you think."

"Goddammit, Ray, what is that supposed to mean?" Walt snaps, the anger in his voice ratcheting up a notch.

Ray stares at him. No one can possibly be this fucking dense. Finally, the frustration gets to be too much. Ray can feel every last word of what he’s been holding back for too long bubble up to the surface.

"Walt, you have gotta be fucking shitting me. What that is supposed to mean is that I hate how we’re around each other all the goddamn time and yet you’re still too fucking blind to see what’s right in front of you because you’re too busy being all heroic and shit. Meanwhile, I get to sit around and watch you pull the I’m-so-innocent-won’t-you-please-corrupt-me-harder routine with all these fucking debs who only give a shit about you because they think your bank balance has a great personality."

Ray swallows hard and rakes both hands through his hair. "They’re not the ones who are stuck here every night wondering if this is the one patrol you won’t come back from, the one where some fucking punk has one good day."

"Fuck, Ray," Walt says quietly. "You think I don’t know that chicks like Madison wouldn’t look at me twice if I still lived on a farm? And I’m not blind, either. I was just waitin’ on you to decide what you want."

"Waiting on me?" Ray splutters.

Walt bites his lip and looks down while he nudges a pebble with his foot. "Brad said I should let you make the first move."

For a minute, Ray doesn’t even know where to start. "Brad said-- Brad said to let me sit around and have a big gay thing for you but not say anything ‘cause he knows I thought you stood for kittens and apple pie and everything fucking straight? I’m gonna kill that conniving Hebrew motherfucker." Ray turns to head back into the house, "But first, I’m going to spend every waking minute of the next six goddamn months at least cockblocking the shit out of him and Nate at every possible opportunity. See how he fucking likes it."

Walt darts in front of Ray, blocking his path. "No, wait, don’t do that." He actually looks worried.

"Why the fuck not?"

"Because then Brad would kill you. Slowly. And then I wouldn’t get to do this," Walt says, yanking Ray forward by the lapels and forcing their mouths together. Ray stumbles though, so the contact is short-lived. Walt probably could have supported their combined weight if Ray hadn’t stumbled directly onto Walt’s foot. Unfortunately, Ray winds up doing exactly that, which makes the two of them topple awkwardly to the ground.

"You okay, Ray?" Walt asks breathlessly. Ray can’t tell if Walt’s winded from trying not to laugh or because most of Ray’s weight landed right on top of him.

"I think your ribs broke my fall. You suck at sweeping people off their feet, Hasser."

"I guess I’ll have to practice on you then," Walt chuckles. His laughter vibrates through Ray until Ray can’t help but laugh along with him.

It almost seems unreal, Walt smiling at him from the ground with Ray practically on top of him. Briefly, Ray takes it all in, wondering when his life started going right for once.

Ray lowers his head and tells Walt, "Practice makes perfect." Not like you need any help in that department. Walt grins wickedly as he grips the back of Ray’s neck and pulls him down into a kiss -- a proper one this time.

-------

If Nate had his way, he would gladly spend the rest of the evening in Brad Colbert’s truly remarkable library instead of exchanging pleasantries with Gotham’s richest and most powerful citizens. It’s not like they would miss him; Nate is fairly certain that at least half the people present don’t even know his name. So, Nate winds up taking his own sweet time heading back to the party, stopping periodically to examine one particularly interesting curio or another.

Nate stops in front of a painting he knows rather well from his Dartmouth days, The Death of Socrates. He leans in close to inspect the detail. Jesus, it looks real. It can’t be real. It should be in a museum somewhere. He wonders if Mr. Colbert is just loaning it from a museum. Or, the thought sits like a stone in his gut, maybe it belongs to Mr. Colbert and he loans it out to the museum. Nate feels like he’s on a whole other planet from these people.

Nate is actually disappointed to find no missed calls when he checks his cell phone. If only he could talk to someone he actually relates to, like Mike or Evan or Batman. He idly wonders what part of town Batman is protecting tonight. Pocketing the phone again, Nate returns his attention to the painting.

"It’s a reproduction," a cool voice says in Nate’s ear, startling Nate enough for him to wonder if civilian life has finally robbed him of all his Recon skills. He turns to see Brad Colbert himself, looking both apologetic and slightly amused.

"Sorry to keep you waiting. I had to put in the requisite amount of face time before I could get away with wandering off." He rolls his eyes, "I fucking hate these things. I’m convinced a cardboard cutout of myself would do just as well -- the way my staff tells it, no one would know the difference."

Nate can’t help but grin. "And I thought I was the only one not perfectly at ease here." The quick smile Nate gets in answer broadens his own.

"So, I believe I promised you a tour?" When Nate doesn’t answer right away, Brad’s smile turns subtly mischievous, "Look at it this way, it gives us both an excuse not to go back to the party."

"Point," Nate concedes. "Lead on, Mr. Colbert."

"The tour will be canceled and I will personally introduce you to Mrs. Richardson if you call me that again," he threatens. "It’s Brad."

"Mrs. Richardson?"

Brad gives him a flat look, "Five daughters, all of them single and about your age. None of them even remotely attractive or interesting."

Nate winces, "Brad it is."

The tour turns out to be more interesting than Nate had expected. Brad seems to have a humorous or interesting story for every room and, as the tour progresses, Nate starts to see Colbert Manor as less of a museum and more of a home. At the same time, Nate begins to see past Brad’s reclusive, untouchable billionaire exterior to the dryly intelligent man his friends must know.

Nate tries to keep his enthusiasm in check when they return to the library. Apparently Brad sees right through him, though, and chuckles at his reactions to some of the rarer books. One catches Nate’s eye. The word Gulliver jumps out at him, but it’s buried in an extremely long title.

"Is this...?" Nate asks as he gently opens the book. Brad’s face changes as something softens around his eyes.

"Yeah, apparently they shortened it to Gulliver’s Travels later on." Brad looks like he’s going to say more but only swallows.

Nate reverently looks through the first couple of pages. When he closes the book to put it back on the shelf, Brad reaches for it.

Brad rubs his thumb over the spine, an oddly sad look in his eyes. "My dad used to read this to me when I was a kid."

Of course he’s heard the story of Brad’s parents’ murder. Nate doesn’t know what to say so, instead, he gives Brad’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. Brad raises his eyes to Nate’s; a surprising range of emotions flickers across Brad’s face even as Nate watches. There’s a curious intensity to Brad’s gaze that makes the moment feel too intimate, too loaded. Something about the look also feels distinctly familiar in a way that Nate can’t quite place.

Finally, the tension becomes too much for Nate. "I’m sorry," he whispers, lowering his eyes.

Brad shrugs and slots the book back into its space.

"What would you like to see next, the gym or the view of Gotham?" Brad asks.

"Gym," Nate decides, relieved that the confusing moment has passed.

The gym turns out to be a marriage between a workout facility and a museum of exotic weaponry. Even here, the walls are dotted with paintings -- in this case, primarily Hokusai pieces. Brad makes a face when Nate spots them and gives him a curious look, "I assure you, these were all Rudy’s idea. They’re supposed to direct my chi or rearrange my chakras or something like that."

"Rudy? As in your P.R. guy, who’s also apparently your head of security?"

"The very same. He’s my personal trainer too."

Nate lets out a long, low whistle. "Impressive. Is there anything that guy doesn’t do?" he asks.

"It’s true," Brad says; his tone is light, but he almost sounds grumpy underneath, "Rudy is the greatest addition to humanity since penicillin and sliced bread."

Nate looks around the gym. There are free weights, both a regular punching bag and a speed bag, some machines Nate can recognize and a few that look like a total mystery. Most of the floorspace is dedicated to a large mat, though.

"What kind of training do you do?" Nate asks.

Brad takes a deep breath. "Well, I do the usual mix of free weights and machines, and I run a minimum of five miles a day. As for styles, we do some weapons work, but mostly it’s just hand to hand. Rudy’s been training me in muay thai, Brazillian jiu jitsu, krav maga, and judo." Brad smiles and adds, "Among other things."

"Sounds like you would have been right at home in the Marines," Nate says with an answering smile. Brad merely shrugs. The details of Brad’s workout regimen make Nate painfully aware of just how nicely Brad’s body fills out his tuxedo.

"So, I think you’d mentioned that there was a view?" Nate asks, trying to clear his head of inappropriate thoughts.

Brad ever so slightly cocks his head and smirks, "I do recall mentioning a view." Nate feels color flood his face at the teasing tone in Brad’s voice.

Nate looks away from those enigmatic blue eyes. Batman. Remember Batman. Nate has met plenty of attractive guys before, so it’s puzzling why Brad is having such visceral effect on him.

Thankfully, Brad leads Nate out of the gym before Nate can get too lost in that train of thought.

Unfortunately, the view turns out to be from the master bedroom upstairs. Brad’s bedroom. Nate bites back his protest, though, when Brad pulls back the wall of curtains to reveal an astonishing view of the Gotham skyline.

"Really, the best time to see it is at sunrise," Brad says, coming over to stand beside Nate.

"You get to wake up to this every day?"

"I can think of better views to wake up to." Brad is staring out at the city lights, but the words still sound like they are directed at Nate. He sneaks a glance up at Brad’s profile. He catches himself at that, Jesus fucking Christ, what am I doing? What is he doing? Nate closes his eyes for a moment, just to try and clear his head.

Nate’s eyes fly open when he feels Brad’s hand on his arm, turning Nate to face him. Brad lowers his face towards Nate’s, but their lips only touch briefly before Nate forces himself to take a big step back.

"We can’t do this."

Brad raises an eyebrow, "Why not?"

Nate looks down at his feet. "I’m sort of...um...I’m seeing someone." Nate tentatively glances up. Brad’s expression shifts from confusion to a slow, warm smile that makes Nate’s pulse do funny things. Then, unexpectedly, Brad pinches the bridge of his nose and mutters, "God damn it, I’m going to kill Ray."

"Ray? No...No way," Nate gapes. He actually starts to tremble a little when Brad reaches out and presses his right hand to Nate’s face. Nate slowly raises his own hand to cover Brad’s. There’s no way...

"I do still owe you that rain check," Brad murmurs softly, not taking his eyes off Nate’s.

"It’s you. It’s really you," Nate whispers dazedly. Brad’s thumb traces over the line of Nate’s cheekbone in response.

Nate pulls Brad’s hand away from his face so that he can take it in both of his. He lightly runs his fingertips over the back of Brad’s now-healed hand. A low strangled groan comes from Brad. That little loss of control becomes the tipping point; Nate steps in and kisses Brad for all he’s worth. A second later, Brad catches on and hums into Nate’s mouth as he wraps both arms around Nate’s back.

Without disengaging their lips, Nate reaches between them to undo the button on Brad’s jacket. He has some trouble with the smaller buttons of Brad’s tuxedo shirt -- which, judging by his rumbling chuckle, Brad notices. Soon enough, though, Nate slides his palm underneath the fabric and against Brad’s blazing hot skin. It is not nearly enough.

Nate pauses in kissing Brad so he can see him better. Using both hands, Nate slides Brad’s jacket and shirt off his shoulders and down his arms in one smooth motion. Brad shakes the clothes off his wrists but makes no move otherwise; instead, he stands shirtless in front of Nate, his eyes never leaving Nate’s face. The look in Brad’s eyes is downright incendiary as Nate runs his hands over Brad’s arms and chest. Nate finds the way Brad’s muscles shift and flex under his touch simply mesmerizing. So responsive... But it’s still not enough.

Brad smirks, his eyes still intent on Nate’s face, "Not so covered up anymore, am I?"

Nate holds Brad’s gaze, then juts his jaw to one side. His eyes greedily rake over Brad’s upper body as he says, "It is a moderate improvement but, frankly," Nate pauses to give Brad’s belt buckle a tug, "I’m not seeing the aggressiveness I would like."

There is a split second where Brad is absolutely motionless -- he even seems to hold his breath. Then Nate is being pinned against the windowsill with Brad’s mouth on his neck before Nate even realizes what’s happening. Nate is surprised he doesn’t hear any buttons go clattering to the floor, given the quick work Brad makes of his shirt and jacket. Brad grips Nate’s wrists and, with a low thunk, holds them against the glass. The small part of Nate’s brain not currently focused on the feel of Brad’s tongue against his, wonders how this must look from outside the Manor.

Nate spreads his feet a little wider; Brad obliges him by pressing harder up against Nate and nudging one of his thighs between Nate’s legs. The increased friction causes Nate’s breath to catch in his throat. Needing air, Nate breaks off the kiss and turns his head to the side. Brad shows no signs of relenting, though, as he mouths his way from Nate’s jaw to the patch of skin just below his ear. The puffs of Brad’s breath around Nate’s ear make him feel slightly dizzy.

"You have no idea," Brad whispers, "how much I’ve thought about this." Nate shivers, both at the words and the brush of Brad’s lips against his ear. "How many different ways..."

Nate’s imagination kicks in to high gear -- and his curiosity. "Tell me."

Brad lowers his head to suck a doubtlessly impressive hickey into Nate’s collarbone, and then says against his skin, "There’s one where you’re in your office." Brad slides his palms down Nate’s arms. "You’re wearing your full dress uniform, badge and all." Brad traces his tongue down to circle Nate’s nipple. Brad pulls his head back and cocks his eyebrow at Nate, "Perhaps there was a parade." Next, Brad moves over to Nate’s other side and sucks that nipple into his mouth momentarily. "You’re sitting in your chair. You have your handcuffs." Nate grips the windowsill tightly when Brad nips at his ribs, his hands on Nate’s waist. "I cuff your hands behind the chair," Brad mumbles across Nate’s stomach. "You’re already hard as I kneel between your legs." Nate is painfully hard in the present too. The sight of Brad drop down to his knees sends a shudder rippling through Nate. Brad stares up at Nate, his tongue quickly darting out to wet his lips. Oh fuck, Nate realizes dazedly, This is actually happening. Brad’s cheeks flush as he reaches for Nate’s belt.

They hear two quick raps on the bedroom door before it flies open. A wiry guy with brown hair comes skidding into the room with Rudy close behind. Brad jumps to his feet and moves to stand next to Nate.

After a moment of stunned silence all around, the wiry guy bursts out laughing. "Well shit, it’s about fucking time." For some reason, Rudy is beaming at Brad and Nate like a proud father.

Brad growls in frustration and pinches the bridge of his nose. "I really need a stronger lock on that door," Nate hears him mutter under his breath.

Nate looks around for his shirt, which Brad apparently threw pretty far because it’s not in his immediate vicinity. He and the shorter, wiry man both spot it halfway under the bed in the same instant. The man shoots Brad a grin of absolute glee, "Sorry to interrupt just when you were about to make an honest woman out of the Commish."

Well, Nate thinks, that solves one more part of the mystery. He sticks out his hand, saying, "It’s nice to finally meet you, Ray."

"Don’t get used to it," Brad says sharply, disentangling his shirt from the jacket, "He’s going to be changing his name to Dead Man Walking very soon." As Brad puts on his shirt, Nate gets a glimpse of a very large tattoo that will certainly need investigating later.

After darting behind Rudy, Ray pleads theatrically, "No! I can’t die now, I’m too young and pretty. And I haven’t even gotten to bone Hasser yet!" Rays face grows serious, "Which you and I are going to have words about later, Brad. Right now, we have a situation on our hands."

"Then spit it the fuck out, Ray."

"Walt spotted the Joker skulking around the ballroom." At Ray’s words, Nate swallows hard and tries to ignore the awful twist in his stomach.

Looking disappointed, Rudy adds, "He may have noticed one of my guys watching him too closely; we can’t find him anywhere now."

Nate glances at Brad, "I can have regular backup here in 20 minutes. I can get S.W.A.T. here in as little as 10, but that much police presence might spook him into doing something dangerous."

Nate can see the muscles working in Brad’s jaw. "I also don’t want to create a fucking panic. Go downstairs and get on the computers; check every camera on the fenceline and keep an eye on traffic cameras within a 5 mile radius." Ray nods once and sprints out of the room. Brad turns to Rudy, "Take Walt and check the house and grounds again. Check everywhere, even places that don’t seem logical; we’re dealing with someone who’s very good at thinking outside the box."

"What do you want me to do?" Nate asks.

"Call S.W.A.T. and tell them a suspicious person was seen at the Manor, so you want a team on standby 2 klicks out. Do not mention the word bomb at any point during that discussion."

"Solid copy." Nate isn’t thrilled about not evacuating, but he isn’t going to press the issue just yet. He just pulls out his phone and calls dispatch.

Rudy clears his throat. "Mr. Colbert, will you be coming with me and Walt?"

Brad shakes his head, "No, I’m staying right here. Nate will too."

Nate folds his arms and cocks an eyebrow at Brad, "I will?"

"Yes, Nate, you will," Brad says, meeting Nate’s gaze defiantly.

Rudy steps up and holds his radio out to Brad, "Take this. I’ll keep you updated." Rudy looks back and forth between Brad and Nate, "Gents, I can practically feel the negativity building up between the two of you. Be good to each other and be at peace, we have the situation under control." With that, he ducks out of the room and shuts the door behind him.

Nate doesn’t think much is under control just yet. Brad seems unconcerned with Nate’s opinion because he is moving around the room, turning on a small bedside lamp, turning off the main lights, and drawing the curtains closed. All without looking at Nate.

"Brad."

Brad sits down at the desk and opens up a laptop.

"Brad!" Nate says, sharply this time. "Please explain to me how I’m being more effective sitting in your dark bedroom than I would be if I actually did my fucking job."

"Nate!" Brad imitates. "If you were downstairs, or even out on the grounds, you would be a high-value target. I’ve had the displeasure of interacting with the Joker, so I speak from personal experience when I say that he’s not fucking around."

"I sort of noticed that when he had the police station blown up with me in it." The second Nate finishes speaking, he knows he went too far. Brad flinches at the words as if Nate had actually struck him. His reaction does answer a question Nate had, though.

"That’s it, isn’t it?" Nate continues in a softer tone, "You’re scared."

Brad frowns. "I’m concerned. Concerned that he’s got a big splashy show planned for tonight."

"That’s not what I mean and you know it, Brad."

Brad slowly raises his eyes to Nate’s face. "You were lucky to survive. If the Joker pulls some crap like that again, you might not be so fortunate." Scrutinizing one of his cuticles, he takes a deep breath. When he lets it out and continues, his voice is so quiet that Nate almost can’t hear it, "I can’t lose you."

At first, Nate has absolutely no idea what to say to that. It takes a while for the words to come -- even when they do, they come slowly, "Brad, I..." He clears his throat and tries again, "You don’t ever wonder if I think the same thing about you?" Brad doesn’t answer, so Nate keeps going, "I do. I worry about you a lot, but I don’t try to hold you back because I know that you can take care of yourself better than anyone in this whole city. I thought you believed the same about me. Do you remember how we met?"

"You got yourself cornered by two muggers in a seriously dangerous part of the city." Brad’s mouth twists humorlessly, "I was sure you were fucked."

"And?"

"To be fair, I also thought you were 20. You did manage to dispatch the one guy rather effectively. But the second one--"

"The second one did have a gun, but he left the safety on. I would have dealt with him just at easily." Brad gives a small "Hmph," in response. He still won’t look at Nate. Oh for fuck’s sake.

Nate strides over to stand in front of Brad. He closes the laptop -- Brad makes no move to stop him -- then curls two fingers under Brad’s chin and lifts Brad’s head until their eyes meet again.

"Do you at least recognize the possibility that I might know what I’m doing?"

"Possibly. Although Ray still thinks you got your job because of your looks." Brad isn’t quite smiling, but the lines around his eyes have the suggestion of one.

Nate snorts derisively, "If I recall correctly, Ray also thinks that NASCAR is a cornerstone of American culture."

When Brad’s grin becomes fully realized, Nate slides his hand to the side of Brad’s neck and bends down to kiss him.

"Now," Nate murmurs against Brad’s lips, "I believe you were saying something about handcuffing me to my office chair?"

Chapter Text

The soft crackle of the radio wakes Brad up immediately.

"Dark Knight, this is Alfred, do you copy?"

Brad groans and glances at the clock on his bedside table. Its bright green numbers tell him it’s 5:36 a.m. He mutters a soft, "Fuck," under his breath and reaches for the radio on the night table, only to freeze when he realizes the problem. Well, not so much a problem as a slight complication; Nate is lying half on top of Brad, quite soundly asleep. His breath comes in soft puffs against Brad’s neck. Brad’s pretty sure he can’t reach the radio without moving a little and waking Nate.

Ray, who apparently decides that Brad isn’t answering fast enough, definitely doesn’t help matters. "Wake up, motherfucker!"

Brad slowly and gently lifts Nate’s shoulder and inches his way out. Nate’s fingers grip Brad’s waist momentarily, but then they relax and Brad slides free. Nate makes a small noise but, amazingly, sleeps on otherwise undisturbed. Brad grabs his robe and the radio and closes the bedroom door quietly behind him.

"I’m on my way down," Brad says into the radio. That should shut Ray up at least for a little while. In theory.

Thankfully, the mood in the Batcave is calm. Rudy greets Brad with a steaming cup of coffee. He’s still in his dress shirt and hardly looks tired at all. His appearance, Brad muses, lends some credence to that rumor going around Colbert Enterprises that Rudy is a cyborg.

"Rudy," Brad pauses to take a sip of coffee. "You are fucking amazing."

"Thank you, sir," Rudy says with a smile, leading him over to Ray and the computers.

Ray is much rougher around the edges. At least he’s also in a bathrobe, so hopefully he managed to get a couple hours of sleep tonight. Brad notices a large hickey just above Ray’s collarbone. Well, at least he wasn’t working all night.

"Hey slacker."

"Morning, Ray. I assume Walt’s still sleeping?"

Ray nods. "Yeah, I didn’t have the heart to wake his adorable ass."

Brad smiles; he can definitely relate to that. As usual, Ray’s whiskey tango ESP reads Brad’s thoughts correctly, because Ray then raises his mug in a toast, "To adorable asses." Both of them chuckle as they clink their cups together.

Brad catches Rudy trying to hold back a smile. "You saw and heard nothing," Brad informs him in an attempt at a stern tone.

Switching gears, Brad asks, "Did the K-9 unit find any explosives?"

Rudy shakes his head, "Nothing. They did a sweep outside the house and through the gardens too. Please thank Nate for getting them out here so quickly after the guests left."

"Will do. So, did Joker just crash the party for the hell of it?"

"That’s what we’re thinking so far," Ray jumps in, "We’re not sure if he knows who you really are or if he just happened to be really fuckin’ bored."

"Or," Brad says soberly, "If he was looking for the Commissioner."

Ray points at the screen. "Well, either way, he didn’t stick around long. Here he is sneaking in over the east fence at 23:31 and," Ray clicks to another video clip, "here he is leaving again at 23:54."

Brad frowns at the screens. "I don’t like how easily he was able to sneak in and out of here. What if he tries some shit like this again?"

"I could get R&D out here to beef up the security system. Something with IR sensors, maybe?" Rudy offers. Brad nods in approval.

"Can we get dogs?" Ray asks hopefully. "It’d be awesome, dude. We could get, like, four dobermans and name them after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

"Ray, you let the fish in the garden pond die. I’m not trusting you with dogs."

Rudy give Ray a sharp look at this news.

"Best fish sticks I ever made," Ray informs Rudy with a beatific smile. Rudy rolls his eyes and gives Ray’s head a shove.

"Ray, play nice or I won’t do a thing to stop it when Rudy finally snaps and gives you the ass-kicking you so richly deserve."

Ray mimes zipping his mouth shut.

"If everything is under control, then why am I down here at ass o’clock in the morning?" Brad asks, taking another sip of coffee.

"Because you told Rudy to keep you posted, and the dogs finished clearing the house. No one asked you to actually come down here, dude, that’s why your crazy Hebrew God created radios."

"Fuck," mutters Brad. He hates it when Ray proves him wrong about something. It gives him ideas.

Ray stage whispers to Rudy, "Hey, Rudy, check it out, Brad’s actually wrong. Treasure this moment, homes, you can almost see the smoke coming out of his ears."

Brad gets up and glares at Ray, grumbling, "I’m going back to bed. Please don’t wake me until at least 09:00." Brad stops a few steps away to add, "You guys should get some rest too."

Brad slumps against the wall of the elevator for the short ride up to the main floor. The emotions and tensions of the last 24 hours are catching up to him. When he’s standing just outside his bedroom, though, his heartbeat quickens at the thought of Nate in his bed.

When he slips inside the room, Brad can’t help but smile at Nate. At some point in Brad’s absence, Nate shifted over to occupy most of Brad’s side of the bed; he’s now stretched out on his stomach with both arms wrapped tightly around the pillow -- Brad’s pillow -- under his head. On the whole, it’s a sight Brad could definitely get used to.

Brad drops the robe and slides back into bed on the side Nate vacated while Brad was gone. He tentatively runs his fingertips along Nate’s spine. When Nate doesn’t stir, he repeats the motion, this time with his whole palm flat against Nate’s skin. At this, Nate lets out a long, contented sigh. Brad smiles to himself and presses a kiss onto Nate’s shoulder blade. With a sigh of his own, Brad lays his head on Nate’s shoulder and curls an arm loosely around Nate’s waist.

Try as he might to remember, Brad can’t think of the last time anything he did felt so natural. He wonders if Nate ever thinks of it the same way. That thought stops Brad short as an emotional reflex kicks in. He tightens his arm around Nate’s waist at the idea of having Nate taken away from him. Brad closes his eyes and pushes this thought down and, eventually, the rise and fall of Nate’s steady breathing relaxes Brad enough that his grip loosens.

Brad’s whole body tenses for a split second when the alarm clock starts blaring Brad’s favorite ‘80s radio station. Shit, I forgot about the 06:00 alarm. Of course, since Brad is on the other side of the bed, he can’t reach it to turn it off.

Apparently, something in Nate’s mind finds Soft Cell more disruptive than direct physical contact, because Nate stirs and groans into the pillow. Brad props himself up on his elbow, but leaves his hand splayed across Nate’s lower back. Slowly, Nate turns his head to face Brad. Pillowcase wrinkles line his cheek and the state of his hair causes Brad’s mouth to twitch.

"What time is it?" Nate’s voice is still scratchy with sleep.

"Six. If you hit the button on the left," Brad nods at the alarm clock, "you can go back to sleep."

Nate groans again, louder this time, and hugs the pillow hard to his head. "I have to go to work." There’s a very, very long pause and then Nate adds, in a much darker tone, "I really don’t want to, though."

"You can always come back," Brad says, kneading Nate’s muscles with his thumb.

"Going to work would involve leaving this bed, which is problematic for two reasons. One, I’m pretty sure this is the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in -- I’m even considering giving you my car for it -- and two, it has you in it. Also," Nate adds, "that’s really fucking distracting. Did Rudy teach you shiatsu too or something?"

"I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t mention Rudy while you’re naked in bed with me. The way you keep bringing him up makes me think you have something to tell me, and I’d hate to have to find a new personal trainer on such short notice. Plus it’s been a while since Ray’s had to hide a body."

Nate gives Brad an odd look, "It can be really hard to tell when you’re kidding sometimes, you know that?"

Brad grins back at him, "Who says I’m kidding?" When Nate raises a sleepy eyebrow, Brad leans down to kiss him on the temple. "Anyway, call in sick today."

"The day after Gotham’s highest priority suspect shows up at Colbert Manor? An investigation I’m personally overseeing, by the way. Besides, I’m not sick." Nate rolls onto his back, his torso sliding under Brad’s hand, and rubs his eye with the heel of his hand.

"That’s very astute of you, but you’re forgetting something. If you’re handling the investigation personally and the suspect was seen here, then here is where you’re needed." Brad leans down to plant a soft kiss on Nate’s hip, "So investigate." He winks, "I promise I’ll cooperate."

"The ...uh," Nate stutters, obviously wavering. Brad starts moving torturously slowly up Nate’s stomach and chest, leaving more barely-there kisses and the occasional soft bite as he goes. When Brad’s hand trails within an inch of Nate’s dick, Nate groans out a low, "Brad."

"I’m sorry, am I hindering the investigation?" Brad curls his hand around Nate’s dick and strokes once, twice.

Nate’s head falls back onto the pillow. "That’s cheating."

Brad’s hand stills. "I’m offended by that accusation, Commissioner. Do you have any evidence?" He punctuates the last word with the barest hint of a squeeze.

There is a moment of stillness before Brad feels something that might be Nate hooking his leg around Brad’s own, and then he finds himself pinned under a now very much awake Nate. Brad doesn’t even have time to let out a surprised grunt until Nate’s lips are on his -- by then, the sound has a very different meaning.

Nate lifts his weight off Brad and pulls away from the kiss with a long drag on Brad’s lower lip. Nate’s gaze is more predatory than Brad would have thought possible. Nate pulls Brad’s hand up and, without so much as blinking, sucks two of Brad’s fingers into his mouth. It’s easily one of the hottest things Brad’s ever seen, so much so that Brad’s certain he’ll remember every last detail of it -- right down to the hollowing of Nate’s cheeks -- as long as he lives. The sensation of Nate’s hot tongue on his fingers seems to be directly connected to his cock, which is now aching for contact.

Nate slowly draws Brad’s fingers out of his mouth but doesn’t let go of Brad’s hand. "You think you’re the only one who can tease? That you’re the only one who’s thought of this before?" Nate asks with a dark edge to his voice. He drops Brad’s hand and rakes his short nails down Brad’s chest. Hovering over Brad, Nate kisses him hard once and then says, "Do you know how many times I’ve thought about peeling you out of your suit? Slowly. Without using my hands."

Brad hums in approval at this idea and stretches his neck up to kiss Nate, but Nate leans away. He smirks, "I never come nearly as hard thinking of anything else." Nate licks into Brad’s mouth once and then pulls away again. He gets his other leg between Brad’s legs and then sits back on his heels. One of Nate’s hands is rubbing up and down Brad’s thigh, his thumb pressing into the muscle, and Nate is lazily jacking himself off with the other. Something is bound to short circuit in Brad’s brain soon if Nate keeps this up.

"It was especially bad that night you gave me a ride home. We were outside my place and you were giving me this look," Nate groans softly, eyes falling shut at the memory, "I wanted to drag you inside then and there."

"Fuck, Nate," Brad says, covering his eyes. "I’m sorry I was so... that I didn’t tell you who I was sooner." Brad feels the bed shift as Nate leans over him again, and reluctantly lowers his hand to look Nate in the eye.

"Don’t apologize, Brad. I’m not complaining. In case you haven’t noticed, last night was amazing and I have you naked under me now." This time when Nate kisses him, it’s slower and deeper. One hand Brad wraps around the back of Nate’s neck. With the other hand, Brad skims down Nate’s ribs and hip and then strokes up the underside of Nate’s dick. Matching the pace Nate had set earlier, Brad starts jacking him slowly. Nate makes a small noise and Brad pulls Nate’s head back so he can look at him. By this point, Nate’s pupils are blown so wide that Brad can only see the thinnest ring of green around them -- something about having such an effect on Nate turns Brad on even more. It also makes him wonder what else he can bring out in Nate, which gives him an idea.

"Tell me what you would have wanted if you had dragged me inside that night," Brad says.

Unexpectedly, Nate blushes. "It’s stupid. You’ll laugh at me."

Brad runs his fingers through the short hair at the base of Nate’s neck. "Nate, nothing you can tell me could possibly be any worse than what Ray considers porn." Touching his fingertips to the corner of Nate’s smile, Brad says softly, "Close your eyes." Brad swipes his thumb across the head of Nate’s cock -- whether it’s this or Brad’s words that prompt Nate’s eyes to flutter closed, he doesn’t know. Brad lightly brushes his fingers over Nate’s lids to keep them closed as he tells Nate, "Tell me how you would drag me inside."

"I wondered for so long what it would be like to kiss you. I would’ve backed you up against my front door and kissed you until we both couldn’t breathe. It’d take me a few tries to unlock the front door because you’d have been behind me with your arms around my stomach and you would have been kissing the side of my neck. I remember I’d noticed your stubble that night, and the thought of how it would feel against my skin has been driving me crazy."

Brad leans up to kiss Nate and keeps pushing him backwards until he’s resting on his heels. When their lips part, Nate’s eyes open, but Brad shakes his head and covers them with his hand as he maneuvers himself around to kneel behind Nate. When Brad snakes his arms around Nate’s waist and presses a firm, lingering kiss into the side of Nate’s neck, Nate gasps sharply in surprise. The gasp catches in Nate’s throat when Brad rubs his cheek down to where his neck and shoulder meet.

"Like this?" Brad murmurs into Nate’s neck. Nate nods hurriedly, his breath coming in shallow gulps now. Brad hums thoughtfully for a moment, then curls his fingers around Nate’s cock. The breathless "Oh fuck yes" this gets out of Nate makes Brad chuckle and nip at Nate’s ear in encouragement.

"And then what?" Brad asks, trying to ignore how good his dick feels up against Nate’s back. The way Nate keeps shifting his hips in an obvious attempt to get more friction really isn’t helping matters. When Nate’s grip tightens on the arm Brad has wrapped around Nate’s chest, Brad responds by pulling Nate closer.

"What about once we finally got inside?" Brad prompts Nate. Suddenly, remembering something Nate said before, he adds, "Is this where you’d start taking my suit off with no hands?" At ‘hands’, Brad accentuates his strokes along Nate’s cock with a sharp twist of his wrist that makes Nate’s hips buck forward into the touch.

Nate’s head tips forward to his chest and grunts out, "Yes." After a few short breaths, Nate adds, "I would have been shoving you towards the bedroom, pulling off what pieces of your suit I could figure out as we went." Nate pauses -- Brad can feel the small shudder pass through him. "If ...If I had known about your tattoo, I would have spun you around so I could get on my knees to explore every inch of it with my tongue."

The image of Nate on his knees tugs at Brad from low in his belly. His hand tightens around Nate’s dick and Brad bites down hard onto Nate’s shoulder, which elicits a drawn out "Fuuuuck" out of Nate.

Breathing heavily, Nate leans his head back to rest on Brad’s shoulder and reaches an arm up to grasp at Brad’s hair. "Brad, you need to fuck me. Right the fuck now."

Brad takes a steadying breath and stills his hand. "Nate, if you had done that, I wouldn’t have been able to make it to the bedroom."

Brad pulls away from Nate, but keeps one hand in contact with Nate’s arm as he rifles through the nightstand. After a moment of internal debate, Brad decides to use both lube and a condom -- Nate had mentioned the night before that it had been a while since he’d last been with anyone. When Brad picks up the lube, he has a sudden, brilliant idea. He pulls his hand away from Nate for a second to coat his fingers, then sits back up against Nate again.

Brad holds Nate’s face towards his as he circles the opening of Nate’s asshole. Brad tries to keep his eyebrow from creeping up as he says, "Every inch of my tattoo, huh? You wouldn’t have gotten that far. I would’ve gotten down on my knees with you, just like this, and taken my own sweet fucking time working you open right there in the hallway." He punctuates the word "fucking" by pressing his finger into Nate. Nate sags back against Brad with his eyes half-closed, obviously lost in the sensation.

Brad can actually tell when Nate’s brain catches up with the situation, because Nate abruptly straightens and turns his face to Brad. "You will not be taking your sweet fucking time this morning, Brad. That is a no go."

Oh really?Brad thinks devilishly, adding a second finger with a slow twist of his wrist. "I’m sorry, I got distracted by the idea of teasing you slowly, seeing what noises I could bring out of you, or, better yet, if I could get you to beg for it."

"Brad," Nate breathes out. Brad is pleased to hear the hint of warning in Nate’s voice.

While Brad’s other hand is still slowly working Nate’s dick, Brad directs his fingers towards Nate’s prostate, trying to ignore how hot Nate feels around his fingers. Brad takes his time exploring angles and pressures, searching for the combination that makes Nate react the most. It’s a light and slow drag across his prostate that does it. Nate’s shudder escalates until he throws his head back against Brad, open mouthed. Brad catches the suggestion of his name in the choked off gasp that catches in Nate’s throat. In all, it proves to be too much.

Brad scrambles around for the condom hiding amongst the bunched up linens.

"About fucking time, Brad," Nate says, managing to sound impressively composed.

Brad merely grunts in response as he tears the condom free of its wrapper. After what seems like way too fucking long, he finally gets the condom on and moves back behind Nate, who raises himself up slightly. Brad guides his cock to Nate’s entrance and slowly pushes in. It takes a fucking superhuman amount of self-control not to bury himself in up to the hilt.

Nate covers the hands gripping his hips and, in one motion, pushes himself all the way back onto Brad’s dick. Brad muffles his moan with the back of Nate’s neck, nearly coming way too soon -- from both the physical sensations and Nate’s blatant desire.

Nate lets out a creative string of curses with each stroke. Brad slides one of his hands up to Nate’s chest, enjoying the flexing contours of Nate’s abdomen.

In Nate’s ear, Brad mutters, "You kiss your mother with that mouth, Nate?"

"Shut the fuck up, Brad."

Brad drives his hips into Nate once more and asks innocently, "Does that mean you don’t want to hear exactly how I’d fuck you in your own hallway?" Nate’s answering silence has a (grudgingly) expectant feel to it, so Brad keeps going, "I’d start out slow at first, try to make it last as long as possible for the both of us." Brad slowly pulls almost all the way out as he says, "Of course, things never go remotely as planned, so it wouldn’t stay slow for long because it would just feel too damn," Brad thrusts forcefully into Nate, "good." The thrust propels a deeply satisfying harsh groan out of Nate.

Pleased with Nate’s reaction, Brad keeps fucking into him hard. "I’d fuck you harder and deeper until the neighbors could hear every single sound you made." He turns his head closer to Nate’s until his lips brush up against Nate’s ear, then drops his voice to a hoarse whisper, "And I would make you love every single second of it."

"Ohfuckgodyes!" Nate cries out loudly, reaching back and curling his fingers behind Brad’s head. Nate cranes his neck around and tugs Brad’s lips to his. The kiss is sloppy and the angle is slightly awkward, but having Nate this gone in his arms and so tight around his dick, is unbelievably fucking hot.

Nate unexpectedly interrupts the kiss to pant out, "Fuck, Brad. I’m fucking close." When Brad’s rhythm stutters slightly, Nate’s grip on the back of Brad’s neck tightens to just this side of painful. He growls, "Don’t you dare stop, Brad."

Brad obliges Nate by not only picking up the pace, but also by closing his hand around Nate’s feverishly hot dick and jacking him purposefully.

Brad grunts out, "Come on, Nate. Come for me." Before Brad finishes speaking, Nate’s orgasm tilts Nate forward and he’s coming all over Brad’s hand and contracting around Brad’s cock. The combination of the picture Nate makes and the overload of sensations send Brad over the edge not long afterward.

They manage to stay mostly upright, moaning in unison as they ride out the tremors. Brad’s arm stays tight around Nate’s chest until he pulls out and they collapse onto the bed. As Nate rolls over and flops himself mostly on top of Brad, Nate gives him a relaxed grin.

Nate places a soft kiss on the junction of Brad’s neck and collarbone when he buries his head there. Brad smiles to himself at this and wraps both arms around Nate. If only Brad could keep Nate like this all the time; in Brad’s bedroom, losing his mind with pleasure. Keep the weight of Gotham from resting entirely on Nate’s shoulders.

When Brad finally breaks the silence, a hint of smugness creeps into his tone, "To think you actually wanted to go to work today. If you had, I wouldn’t have discovered your amusing secret weakness for cuddling. I’ll have blackmail material for months at this rate."

Nate swats Brad’s belly lightly, "Go to sleep, smart-ass."

Chapter Text

"So what’s got you in a mood this time?"

Brad closes his eyes, already feeling the beginnings of a tension headache just from Ray’s voice alone, and considers sliding further under the Batmobile. Maybe he’ll go away if he can’t see me. It sounds childish but, then again, it is Ray.

"I’m working on the shocks, Ray. You know goddamn well they got fucked up when Hasser hit that pothole going mach 2 the other day."

Initially, Brad started working on the coil-over shocks to relax. It was working pretty well -- he successfully replaced the one on the driver’s side -- but the second one will not fucking go in, which is just making shit worse. He needs a hammer, but there’s no fucking room to swing one. He’s sweaty and dirty and his neck is getting sore from holding his head at an odd angle, and he does not need this shit right now.

"Of course you are. You always have a reason for hiding under the Batmobile, but the real reason always turns out to be that you’ve got your fucking panties in a wad over something. Every. Single. Time." Brad feels Ray’s foot nudge his shin, "I know you better than you know yourself, homes. Embrace it."

"Shouldn’t you be off smoking Walt’s cock or something?"

"Been there, done that. Twice." Brad can actually hear Ray’s smug smile.

"Do you want me to give you a fucking rainbow medal, Ray?"

"Dude, your lame excuse for an attempt to change the subject would be fucking hilarious if it weren’t so sad. C’mon, talk to your Ray-Ray. Don’t you know it’s toxic to bottle up your emotions like this?"

"Ray, I don’t know if you’ve been hanging out with Rudy recently or if Hasser’s been letting you watch Oprah again, but your use of psychobabble in an effort to at least look like you possess a functioning brain fools no one."

Ray sits on the ground with his back to the vehicle, so he’s apparently going fucking nowhere. "All right, homes, I don’t know how toxic bottling up your emotions might be, but it sure as fuck does turn you into a mopey emo kid who’s really fucking unpleasant to be around. In the interest of making Hasser’s and my working environment safer and because I actually do give a shit about you, tell me what’s up. I thought you’d be on a big ol’ rainbow cloud nine after you and Nate’s fancy date last night."

Brad is trying to use his wrench as a lever, but it slips sideways, sending the wrench clattering across the floor and mashing Brad’s knuckles against the frame. "Fuck!"

Brad rests his head on the ground and sucks on his wounded fingers, trying to calm himself. Eventually, Brad quietly says, "That ‘fancy date’ was the second time I’ve seen him in the last two weeks."

Ray responds carefully, "I thought you said he’d just been working a lot lately. I mean, he practically lived here the week after the fundraiser."

"He says he’s working, but he always dodges the question when I ask him if he wants our help." Brad sighs, "And then there was last night."

Ray doesn’t say anything, just waits for Brad to figure out what he wants to say.

"The first part of dinner was okay, but I don’t think Nate had really thought about what it would be like to date someone in the public eye," Brad pauses, swallowing around his disappointment. "That entertainment reporter chick you think is hot sat down a couple tables over and wasn’t exactly subtle about her interest in us. So, I’m sure all of Gotham is going to hear about Commissioner Nate Fick’s intimate dinner date with Brad Colbert," Brad says bitterly.

"It was going to happen sooner or later, Brad." Ray pauses thoughtfully, "Wait, hold up, did Nate look like the reporter chick freaked him out?"

"He’s Nate, so no, he didn’t look freaked out. However, he did mention that ‘this probably won’t last much longer’ so then he ‘can focus on what’s important in the big picture’. The rest of dinner was kind of awkward after that."

There’s a surprisingly long pause (for Ray, anyway) while Ray digests this.

"I’ll kill him. I’ll fucking kill him and feed his pieces to the fish in the garden pond. Shit, I knew I should have given him the ‘You break Brad’s heart and I’ll break your legs’ speech, but Walt said--"

Brad pinches the bridge of his nose. "Ray, you killed the fish."

"So I’ll buy new ones! Fuckin’ big-ass piranhas or some shit, I was watching this thing about ‘em on the Discovery Channel the other day and homes, if we had those, they’d never find Nate’s fucking body."

"Ray," Brad warns.

"Don’t ‘Ray’ me. We’re dealing with unexpected levels of assholery here, and they need to be punished appropriately."

"Ray," Brad grits out, more insistently this time. "Nate’s allowed to make his own decisions every once in a while. Unlike you, he’s an adult."

There’s another thoughtful pause. "So can we kill the reporter lady for freaking him out? Think of the piranhas."

"Nobody’s killing fucking anybo--" Brad is cut off by his phone ringing in his pocket. The caller ID reads ‘Nate’. Fucking hell. It rings another two times before Brad finally swallows his pride and picks up.

"Colbert."

"Turn on the news in about fifteen minutes," Nate sounds excited.

"Any particular reason why?" Brad asks stiffly.

"Your very late Hanukkah and early Christmas present." Nate hangs up before Brad can respond. What the actual fuck?

"Ray, our esteemed Commissioner tells us we should turn on the evening news." Brad inches his way out from under the Batmobile.

"Our esteemed Commissioner can go fuck himself with a--"

"Just do it, Ray."

Ray stalks off to the computer screens, muttering under his breath. Brad catches phrases like "fucking bullshit" and "hostile work environment" and something about the goddamn piranhas again but, mercifully, Ray keeps the rest to himself. Brad climbs to his feet and follows Ray, wiping some of the grime off his hands with a rag.

When Ray routes the news to the main screen, the anchorwoman is just starting a new story. The Bat symbol in the rectangle just to the left of her face.

"In breaking news, the Gotham police department has unearthed new evidence that suggests that Batman was not responsible for the mass breakout at Arkham Asylum of a few months ago. We take you now live to the courthouse where Commissioner Nate Fick is set to make a statement." The setting switches to show Nate flanked by a couple of uniformed Sergeants on one side and by Ferrando on the other. Brad immediately notices the contrast between Nate and Ferrando; Nate looks more enthusiastic than Brad’s ever seen him, while Godfather’s fury is only veiled by the thinnest of veneers. While Brad watches, Ferrando shoots Nate a frosty smile that promises trouble. For a moment, Brad wants nothing more than to put his fist through that smile.

"Dude, Godfather looks like Nate ran over his fucking dog or something. This oughta be good."

On screen, Nate explains that an orderly at Arkham Asylum has been arrested based on forensic video evidence and now faces several charges. An unflattering mugshot labeled Greg Laurier flashes across the screen. Nate continues, "The accused allegedly changed into a Batman costume before releasing the inmates, which is why there were rumors that Batman was involved with the breakout." Nate holds up his hand to quiet the crowd of reporters. "No, at this time we do not believe that Mr. Laurier is the individual known as Batman."

Ray snorts, "’The individual known as Batman’? He’s being awfully fucking formal about you considering the things I’ve heard you two doing through the ceiling of my bedroom." Brad shushes Ray, lost in thought; he’s still uncertain how to feel about this development.

"This arrest strikes another blow for the citizens of Gotham, who deserve to have a system they can trust and be proud of, be it healthcare, legal, or otherwise. The police department is pleased to close this investigation, as it allows us to continue focusing on what’s important in the big picture." Nate looks directly into the camera as he says this -- it feels like he’s looking right at Brad.

"Son of a bitch..." Brad hears Ray mutter.

Brad’s mind is reeling. He replays the dinner conversation from last night, trying to see how the pieces fit. Brad scrubs his hand over his face, only to freeze when he hears one of the reporters say his name.

"Commissioner, is it true that you and Brad Colbert are romantically involved?"

Ray, who had apparently wandered off at some point to make himself some coffee, does a spectacular spit take from somewhere behind Brad. "Are they fucking serious?!" Brad lets it go by without comment; he’s too busy watching Nate’s response.

A definite flush creeps up Nate’s neck and into his face. His mouth twitches like he’s fighting the urge to smile. He clears his throat, his mouth tilting into a one-sided smile as he answers, "Well, that depends. I’ve been working so hard on this arrest that I’m probably going to be sleeping on the couch for quite some time." The reporters all laugh.

Brad has a floating, disconnected feeling in his gut, as if he’s free falling.

"Oh give me a fucking break," Ray splutters, "Brad, please tell me you’re not falling for this crap." He flops down into the chair next to Brad, takes one look at the expression on Brad’s face, and throws his hands up in defeat. "Fine, he can stay, but that bastard is on thin motherfucking ice!"

At that moment, Walt sprints out of the elevator and into the Batcave, slipping a little in his sock-clad feet. "Hey guys! You-- Oh," his enthusiasm visibly deflates when he spots the news on the screens, "y’all already know." He walks over and leans casually on the back of Ray’s chair.

Ray tilts his head back to an almost-painful looking angle to look up at Walt, "Hasser, I swear to God, if I didn’t know any better I’d swear you do that big dumb puppy act on purpose."

Walt grins down at Ray, "Who says I’m not? I could be doing it to prove Brad right about you and animals." The joke catches Brad so off-guard that he actually laughs. Ray stares in astonishment, then looks back to Walt, "I’m gonna let that one slide for now since you actually performed a Christmas miracle and made Brad laugh, but don’t think I won’t take this out of your hide later."

Walt chuckles, ruffling Ray’s hair and then dropping a kiss onto the top of his head. Brad rolls his eyes and turns his attention back to the news.

A reporter asks "So, now that Batman has been cleared, will the police department be working with Batman?"

Ferrando motions that he’ll field the question. As Nate steps back from the podium, Godfather bumps him, seemingly inadvertently, but hard enough that Nate stumbles a little. Anger bubbles in Brad’s stomach.

"Ladies and gentlemen, Ferrando would like to remind the citizens of Gotham that the District Attorney’s office does not condone vigilantism. The individual known as Batman still faces two serious counts of assault at the top of a very long laundry list of other crimes against the city -- that is not the sort of person who should be dictating the tempo of our progress."

"He’s just mad ‘cause he paid the two dicksucks you assaulted and they were stupid enough to get caught. You think their health insurance covers ‘acts of Batman’?" Walt snorts and cuffs Ray on the head.

The news returns to the anchorwoman, who starts talking about the Stock Exchange. Ray takes this as the cue to close down the channel, which leaves the three of them sitting in pensive silence.

"So," Walt finally breaks the silence, "Anyone else notice how seriously hacked off Godfather looked at Nate?"

"If looks could fucking kill, dude, Nate would have been a tiny pile of ashes after that shit. And since that big dopey smile Brad had on his face means Nate’s on our side again, we’re gonna have to do something about this. Long story," he adds at Walt’s questioning look.

Brad sighs heavily. "I’ll talk to him. We need to talk anyway."

As if on cue, Brad’s phone buzzes with a text message alert. It’s from Nate; so, dinner tomorrow night? i feel like celebrating.

"Oh my God, you are so fucking obvious. Seriously though, homes, I’m not used to you smiling for reasons other than wanting to kill me, knock that shit off."

Brad ignores him in favor of typing out a return text to Nate; sure. you can tell me how the fuck you pulled this off.

Nate answers back almost immediately. it’s a date.

Chapter Text

Like most things that bother Brad, the issue of Nate’s safety winds up coming out during training the next day. Rudy, sounding alarmingly conversational for someone currently doing his best to choke the life out Brad, asks, "What’s on your mind, my warrior brother? I can tell your soul is troubled."

"That would be because you’re fucking choking me, Rudy," Brad gasps from under Rudy’s elbow.

"And you’re letting me. So, like I said, what’s on your mind?" Rudy lets Brad up and sits back on his heels.

Brad doesn’t know why everyone is getting on his case lately about talking shit out. Unfortunately, Rudy will continue to stare at Brad with that slightly worried set to his mouth until Brad has met today’s sharing requirements.

"Did you see Nate on the news last night?"

"That I did. It seemed like a very proud moment for him."

"Well, maybe so, but making another big arrest like this probably pissed off someone really fucking powerful," saying this out loud, instead of making Brad feel better like it’s supposed to, only makes the situation seem more real.

Rudy, of course, remains perfectly serene. "I assume you’re referring to the distinctly frosty look he was getting from the District Attorney?"

"Exactly! I can’t fucking prove it but I know Godfather had something to do with that breakout, which means he probably ordered that fucker to dress like me."

"You’re worried that Ferrando will seek retribution if Nate attempts to prove his involvement."

Brad snorts. "That’s putting it nicely, Rudy, even for you."

"Now my question for you is this, brother; are you worried because you don’t trust Ferrando, or are you worried because you don’t trust Nate?"

"I sure as fuck don’t trust that two-faced smarmy son of a bitch Godfather."

Naturally, Rudy notices the omission. "But do you trust in Nate?"

Brad takes a breath and holds it for a moment before saying, "Nate -- he’s a smart guy and it’s not like he’s irresponsible with his own welfare, but he’s a good person. He has rules. Godfather doesn’t."

Rudy nods gravely. "What would help you feel more at ease about the situation? Other than locking him inside a well-guarded room, of course," Rudy adds with a knowing look.

"Have him train with us, homes!" Ray pipes up from a nearby corner of the room, where he’s holding the punching bag in place for Walt. "It’d be fuckin’ fantastic to watch Rudy bust his balls for not running twenty miles a day and leaping over buildings in a single bound and shit."

"Ray," Rudy shoots him a pointed look, "When you can run five miles without hacking up a lung because you refuse to quit smoking, then I will let you make comments about other people’s fitness."

"Plus," Walt throws in, "maybe if all four of us are putting the fear of Godfather in him, he’ll be less likely to get caught with his nuts out in some dark alley one night."

Brad winces, flashing back to the night he first encountered Nate. "I’ll see if he’s interested," Brad says grudgingly. He glances at Rudy, "Would you be okay with that?"

"Of course. If Nate is interested in learning, then I would be honored to teach him." Rudy cocks his head questioningly, "Do you think you’re ready to focus on the guillotine lock now?"

Reluctant as he might be to admit it to anyone else, Brad does feel better now that they’re actually doing something about this. He smirks at Rudy, "Bring it on."

-------

Nate sips green tea in his favorite little Japanese restaurant. At the faint tinkle of the bells above the door, Nate looks up to see Brad towering over the hostess, his dark jeans and blazer contrasting with his light shirt. Brad’s frown smooths out a bit when he catches Nate’s wave.

Brad sits after a moment’s hesitation beside the table. Nate grins at Brad’s look of deep suspicion, "What? It’s not poisonous or anything, I promise. I come here every week."

"I was sure you’d given me the wrong directions as some sort of practical joke, because there’s no way you would bring me to a sushi restaurant otherwise."

Nate rolls his eyes, "Are you telling me that world-traveller Brad Colbert doesn’t like sushi?"

"Unless there’s a multi-million dollar deal on the line, of course," Brad says with a smirk.

"Of course. Fortunately, Walt tipped me off ahead of time. This place does amazing teriyaki too."

"Well, I guess I can stay then," Brad says, the crinkles around his eyes at odds with his dry delivery. "Although I have to ask, why Walt? Ray’s the one who brags about how well he knows me."

"Ray also would have told you as soon as he got off the phone with me." Nate winks. "I wanted it to be a surprise. Speaking of," Nate segues, "how did you like your present?"

That gets a warm, genuine smile out of Brad, the kind that even shows in his eyes. "I can pretty much guarantee you won’t be sleeping on the couch."

Nate grins and drops his gaze when he feels a flush rising on his cheeks. He reminds himself that he is a grown man, not a 16 year old girl, but the flutter in his chest remains. Thankfully, the waitress appears, which gives him a moment to collect himself while they order.

Brad’s fingertips brush against the back of Nate’s hand when Nate reaches for his tea. Nate stills his hand, soaking in the sensations. He notices several scrapes on Brad’s knuckles. Nate touches one of the nastier ones and raises an eyebrow, "Workplace injuries?"

Brad pulls his hand back, looking distinctly uncomfortable. "No, uh, not really." There is clearly more to the story, so Nate waits patiently.

Brad maintains eye contact, but doesn’t say anything for a long while. He looks down, though, when he finally starts to speak, "I owe you an apology. I misunderstood you the last time we went out, and I should have asked for clarification instead of just jumping to conclusions."

Bewildered, Nate’s brows knit in a slight frown. "I’m not sure I understand."

"I thought -- when you were talking about this not lasting much longer, and how you wanted to focus on what was important, I thought you," Brad takes a breath and then finishes quietly, "were trying to let me down gently."

Nate opens his mouth to reply, but realizes he has absolutely no idea what to say to that. He reaches out, holding his hand palm up on the table. When Brad eventually takes his hand, Nate grips it tight.

When Nate finally speaks, he chooses his words very carefully, "Brad, let me be clear about something so that none of these misunderstandings ever happen again." He looks Brad directly in the eyes, "I’m not going anywhere unless you ask me to leave. Even then, you’d have to make a very convincing argument before I’d even consider it."

Brad keeps quiet, but swallows hard and squeezes Nate’s hand. After a moment that seems to stretch on impossibly long, he mumbles, "Never going to happen."

Nate experiences several reactions at the same time, and he’s not entirely sure which one would be the safest to express. He would love to lean across the table and kiss Brad in a manner very inappropriate for the setting. Dragging Brad off to the bathroom would only be moderately more discreet, but then they’d miss out on dinner on top of everything else. Damn, I should have cooked dinner for him at home.

The smirk forming on Brad’s lips really isn’t helping matters. "You know, if I didn’t know better I’d swear that something very...interesting is going through your mind right now."

One of Nate’s eyebrows shoots up. "Am I that transparent?"

"Yes. Also, you’re blushing." The smirk turns into a grin that still has a slightly predatory edge to it, "It’s really a very attractive color on you." Brad runs his thumb slowly across Nate’s hand as he says it.

The food arrives and Nate reluctantly releases Brad’s hand. Nate watches Brad closely as he takes his first bite of teriyaki, and is pleased when Brad looks impressed and all but attacks the food.

Nate chuckles, "I’m glad you approve," and digs into his own dish.

Brad swallows a mouthful and says, "Might even have to buy the place."

Pausing with the chopsticks halfway to his mouth, Nate shakes his head. "You’re joking, right? I can never tell with you." Brad’s answering smirk, ironically, doesn’t answer the question.

"Oh, I almost forgot," Brad says after a few minutes, "I wanted to ask you something."

"Oh?"

"How would you feel about training with me, Ray, and Walt?"

Nate leans in and fixes Brad with a knowing stare. "Because you’re concerned I can’t adequately protect myself," Nate states. He knows he should be more annoyed, but part of him can’t help but find Brad’s concern endearing.

"Who says I don’t just want to see you work out with your shirt off?" Brad says with a devilish smile.

"Because you would kill Ray at the first colorful remark he would inevitably make."

"Actually, Walt would probably kill him before I could, but point nonetheless."

Nate mirrors Brad’s devilish smile, "You with your shirt off, on the other hand..."

Brad ducks his head as he nearly chokes on his food. Recovering, he grins, "If that’s what it takes."

"Well, if I’m to make an informed decision, I may need to see the goods again...for an extended period of time," Nate teases.

"I think that could be arranged."

"In that case, I’d be delighted," Nate says brightly, swiping his tongue over his bottom lip and enjoying the way Brad’s eyes follow the motion.

-------

When Brad originally thought of it, having Nate train with him and Rudy seemed like a great idea.

He’s less crazy about it after what Rudy just suggested. In fact, he needs to be sure he heard Rudy correctly and isn’t having some sort of horrible nightmare. "You want me to do what?"

"You heard me, Brad. I want you and Nate to spar so I can get a feel for what Nate already knows," Rudy says as he gives them each a pair of padded fingerless gloves.

Nate actually looks intrigued. Ray and Walt look way too interested.

They move to the center of the padded mat and square off. For the first minute, they mostly just circle each other, with the exception of a few lunges and ducks.

Rudy urges them on, "Come on! Somebody hit somebody!"

Nate darts in with a jab that Brad blocks easily. They circle some more and then Nate drops his hands. "You’re not going to break me, Brad. The Marines already tried, and they’ve had more practice," he says, sounding annoyed.

This time when Nate comes at him with a lighting-fast feint to Brad’s stomach that turns to a punch aimed at Brad’s chest, Brad catches Nate’s fist and steps forward to twist it up behind Nate’s back. He locks his free arm around Nate’s neck and whispers in his ear, "Are you sure about this?" He feels the muscles in Nate’s back and shoulders bunch and, suddenly, Brad finds himself flat on his back with the wind knocked out of his lungs.

Ray bursts into surprised laughter, "Holy shit! He put you on your ass, Brad, you’re obviously off your game. You gonna take that shit?"

Nate steps forward to peer curiously at Brad. "Well," he says with a quirked brow, "Are you?"

Brad does a kip up, going from his back to his feet in one swift motion. Hopefully Nate knows what he’s getting himself into.

"Come on, homes, stop showing off and kick his ass!"

Brad rationalizes that the tougher he is on Nate here, the better Nate will be able to take care of himself later. He steels himself and tries not to see Nate as Nate, just a faceless opponent. Which actually turns out to be easier than he expected; Nate has a cold, calculating look on his face that Brad has never seen before.

As the fight progresses, Brad learns that his and Nate’s styles actually offset each other; Brad mostly uses his legs, while Nate is better with punches and anything else involving the upper body. He’s also shockingly fast. Brad lashes out with a low leg kick. Even though Nate picks up his foot to check it, Brad can tell from the smacking sound that it had to hurt. Nate lunges in for a quick exchange. Brad blocks most of the punches but takes a solid shot to the ribs before Nate backs out of Brad’s reach.

Brad circles around to regroup. Thinking he’ll get Nate back for his sore ribs, Brad aims a straight kick at Nate’s chest. Nate stumbles backwards but just manages to stay on his feet. Brad rushes forward to pounce on this moment of imbalance. He tries to trip Nate with a leg sweep, but Nate is too quick. Instead, Nate gets a leg hooked around one of Brad’s and then shoves hard at Brad’s chest with both hands, which sends him crashing to the mat on his back. Nate lands directly on top of Brad, so he immediately wraps his legs around Nate’s waist to keep him in full guard. They are scrambling to grab a hold of each other’s wrists, when Walt’s cheers and Ray’s insults become loud enough to break Brad’s concentration.

Walt’s yell of, "Fuck yeah, Commish! Get some!" makes Nate laugh on top of Brad. He can see a thin sheen of sweat on Nate’s flushed skin. Which is exactly when Brad realizes that he is currently pinned under a very sweaty, slightly smug-looking Nate. Brad squeezes his knees together and relishes the change in Nate’s expression. Brad wonders if he could get away with kicking Ray, Walt, and Rudy out for a while.

"Nice timing, Nate," Rudy says, suddenly standing over them. He extends a hand to help Nate to his feet, so Brad reluctantly lets his legs drop to the mat.

"Spoilsport," Brad mutters. He hears a muffled noise that may or may not have been Nate smothering a laugh.

As Brad gets to his feet, he catches sight of Ray grumpily shoving a stack of bills into Walt’s outstretched hand. Walt looks extremely pleased with himself. That fucker bet against me. Walt counts out a few bills and carries them over to Rudy. Nate chuckles when Walt shoots him a grin of thanks.

"For the record, I hate you all," Brad grumbles in exaggerated disappointment.

"It’s all good, Brad. You’re going to work with Walt for the rest of the session." Rudy grins, "Think of it as an opportunity for revenge." Walt has the good sense to look concerned now -- the concern turns into actual fear when Brad smiles calmly and beckons with one hand.

"Hey Rudy," Ray calls from his seat at the edge of the mats, "Try not to dent Nate too much, I think Brad has some plans for him later. Or," he snickers, "At least try to avoid the face."

The next hour goes by fairly quickly and, not that he’d admit it, but Rudy’s focus on his takedown defense leaves him rather sore. Brad’s not displeased when the other guys clear out quickly, leaving just him and Nate. Nate spots Brad hanging back, saunters over to Brad, and grins. "Looking for a rematch?"

Brad rolls his eyes. "So, I have this proposition for you."

Nate’s grin takes on a flirtatious quality. "I’m listening."

"I might let myself admit that you don’t completely fail at taking care of yourself, but on one condition." At Nate’s raised brow, he continues, "You have to teach me a few of those Marine moves you used earlier."

Nate’s smile is infectious. He takes the last step towards Brad and, hooking a finger in the waistband of Brad’s shorts, tugs their hips together. "Okay, but you have to say it." When Brad doesn’t respond, Nate quirks a brow at him, "Brad Colbert, am I going to have to pin you again?"

"I would love to see you try."

Nate snorts in dismissal and turns his attention to the hem of Brad’s shirt. Nate slides his hands underneath, running his palms up Brad’s abs and over his chest. Brad raises his arms overhead to allow Nate to pull his shirt completely off.

Nate tilts his chin up for a kiss, but Brad stops him, indicating Nate’s shirt. "This is hardly fair, Commissioner."

Stepping back with a smoldering look on his face, Nate proceeds to remove his shirt as slowly as possible. Watching the slow, lazy stretch and flex of Nate’s torso makes Brad’s dick twitch.

The second Nate lets go of his shirt, Brad cups his hand around the back of Nate’s neck and pulls Nate into a fierce, demanding kiss. Nate’s fingers rake heavily across Brad’s back. They both moan when Brad palms one of Nate’s ass cheeks and presses their bodies together. Nate starts stepping forward until Brad has to walk backwards to keep from falling -- as they walk, Nate trails his hands slowly from Brad’s shoulders down his arms. Just as Nate’s hands circle around Brad’s wrists, he shoves Brad back into -- a wall. That sneaky bastard.

"Consider yourself pinned, Brad," Nate says, still pressing all of his weight against Brad. "Now say it."

"Okay, okay, you might not be completely useless at taking care of yourself. Possibly."

Nate huffs out a slightly breathless laugh. He murmurs, "Smart-ass," against Brad’s lips, then kisses Brad again before Brad can formulate a suitable comeback. Ultimately, Brad decides it might not be so bad to let Nate have the last word. Just this once.

Chapter Text

Nate has always liked his job (more or less), but the afternoons always have one horribly boring stretch right after lunch that leaves him bored out of his mind. It gets even worse when the caseload is fairly light -- like it is now. Nate’s practically climbing the walls, so he checks his email for the fifth time in the last twenty minutes.

He flags the first email from the Mayor, inviting him to a golf tournament in the spring, for when he’s feeling more diplomatic. The second of the Mayor’s emails, this one regarding next year’s violent crime statistics, gets consigned to the ‘Election Year’ folder.

The sudden appearance of an email from Brad makes Nate smile to himself.

To: Nate Fick [nate.fick@gpd.gov]
From: Brad Colbert [bcolbert@gmail.com]
RE: bored?

So, if I were to hypothetically bet my whole paycheck that you’re doing dick all right now, how much would I win?

--B

Nate rolls his eyes at the tone of the email. Smug bastard. The fact that Brad is actually right just makes it even more annoying.

To: Brad Colbert [bcolbert@gmail.com]
From: Nate Fick [nate.fick@gpd.gov]
RE: bored?

You would be even more obscenely, undeservingly wealthy than you are now. Please send help.

- Nate

To: Nate Fick [nate.fick@gpd.gov]
From: Brad Colbert [bcolbert@gmail.com]
RE: bored?

What’s in it for me?

--B

To: Brad Colbert [bcolbert@gmail.com]
From: Nate Fick [nate.fick@gpd.gov]
RE: bored?

The satisfaction of helping the less fortunate. Also, it would go a long way toward proving that you’re not a heartless cyborg like Ray says you are.

- Nate

To: Nate Fick [nate.fick@gpd.gov]
From: Brad Colbert [bcolbert@gmail.com]
RE: bored?

Throw in a leisurely striptease that includes a happy ending and we’ll call it even.

--B

To: Brad Colbert [bcolbert@gmail.com]
From: Nate Fick [nate.fick@gpd.gov]
RE: bored?

Jesus, Brad. This is my work email!

- Nate

To: Brad Colbert [bcolbert@gmail.com]
From: Nate Fick [nate.fick@gpd.gov]
RE: bored?

Also, aren’t you in a board meeting right now?

- Nate

Unfortunately, Nate gets Brad’s next reply while he’s taking a sip of his coffee.

To: Nate Fick [nate.fick@gpd.gov]
From: Brad Colbert [bcolbert@gmail.com]
RE: bored?

One of many in which I’m only expected to show up and look bored. So I don’t suppose you’d be interested in trying out the newly upgraded shower in the master bathroom? We can see how truthful the contractor was being when he swore it’s big enough for two.

--B

Nate only just manages not to spit coffee all over the screen. Jesus fuck, this isn’t fair. Nate is trying to word a safe response to Brad when an email arrives from Evan.

To: Nate Fick [nate.fick@gpd.gov]
From: Evan Wright [wrightevan@gothamgazette.com]
RE: article preview

Nate,

Thanks to you, I was able to take my special project in a new direction that I thought you might like to see. Let me know what you think.

--Evan

Nate opens the attachment and, after skimming it quickly, he pulls out his phone and calls Evan as fast as he can.

"That was fast," Evan says instead of a greeting. Nate can hear a hint of uncertainty in Evan’s voice.

"Have you lost your mind?"

"No more than usual," Evan tries for a joking tone that only succeeds in sounding outright nervous.

"Really? Because I’ve thought of you as many things over the course of our friendship, but this is the first time that ‘stupid’ has ever been one of them. I seem to recall advising you to write what your head editor told you to write and to just keep your head down. At no point did I ever suggest that you write a fluff piece about what Batman has done for the city."

Evan sounds indignant now, "Fluff piece? That article is a well-researched and balanced piece of journalism. I’ve never worked so hard on anything else in my career -- do you know how much time I spent interviewing half of Gotham alone?"

Nate huffs out a breath of frustration. "That may be true, Evan, but it doesn’t change the fact that you deliberately provoked people who have threatened you and your family directly. What did Laura have to say about this?"

"She chewed me out in even less kind terms than the ones you’re using right now. But she’s still staying at her sister’s, so she’s safe. Besides, what was I supposed to do, Nate? You proved that Batman didn’t have anything to do with the Arkham breakout, so that pretty much killed the main support for the article as it was before. It didn’t seem right to let people keep thinking that he’s bad for the city when you and I both know that isn’t true."

"He has broken the law before, Evan."

"And yet you seem to be taking your own sweet time in arresting him for it."

Frustrated anger builds in Nate when he realizes he can’t deny the truth in Evan’s words. But fighting about this with Evan isn’t going to fix things, so Nate decides to get back to the issue at hand. "That doesn’t change the fact that you are putting yourself at great personal risk for what, general principle? Sheer pig-headed stubbornness?

"You are so not in a position to lecture me about doing stupid things on general principle. As for sheer pig-headed stubbornness, I seem to recall a certain Dartmouth student who was all set to go to the president of the university over some thing about grade inflation even though he had straight As."

Nate snorts, "You’ll notice the difference though, Evan, in that I wasn’t pitting myself against organized crime syndicates."

"Fuck ‘em," Evan says simply.

Nate sighs in resignation. "When does the article go to print?"

"Tomorrow."

"Well, I’m putting a car outside your house starting tonight, and if I hear that you’re trying any more stupid stunts to prove a point, I will lock you inside your house and stand armed guard myself. And I can personally guarantee that you won’t be happy to see me if that happens."

Evan starts to protest, but Nate cuts him off, "I mean it, Evan. I’ve seen first hand what these people are capable of, things we keep out of the news so people in this town can sleep at night, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let any of that touch one of my best friends."

Evan is quiet for a moment before saying, "I appreciate the concern."

With a grin, Nate adds, "Of course, since I am apparently so friendly with Batman, I could always ask him to look in on you. If I explained things, you’d be even less happy to see him than you would to see me."

"Oh, I bet we’d have a great time. I could ask him if you’re as much of a mother hen to everyone else, or if I’m just special," Evan laughs.

"You could ask him that, but you probably wouldn’t like the answer."

"At least he’d understand what I have to put up with out of you."

"Oh yes," Nate replies dryly, "I’m such a horrible friend for wanting you to live. The depths of your suffering know no bounds." Going on a hunch based in years of friendship, he adds, "Don’t roll your eyes at me, I’m being serious."

"Fine, fine. Am I done being scolded for the day?" Evan asks.

It’s Nate’s turn to roll his eyes. "Mmmm, for now. Of course, now that you’ve said that, you know I’m going to call you later to fuss at you some more -- you know, because I’m such a mother hen that way."

"Well, thanks for the heads up, I guess." Evan is still chuckling as they say goodbye.

When Nate turns back to his computer, he finds another email from Brad.

To: Nate Fick [nate.fick@gpd.gov]
From: Brad Colbert [bcolbert@gmail.com]
RE: bored?

Did I scare you off? Or am I interrupting something that would be much more fun if I were there?

--B

To: Brad Colbert [bcolbert@gmail.com]
From: Nate Fick [nate.fick@gpd.gov]
RE: bored?

Your mastery of the single entendre is simply astounding. You didn’t scare me off, I was dealing with the fact that I have idiots for friends.

- Nate

To: Nate Fick [nate.fick@gpd.gov]
From: Brad Colbert [bcolbert@gmail.com]
RE: bored?

I know exactly what that’s like.

--B

-------

When a beam of sunlight shines directly into Ray’s face, he grumbles ("Stupid motherfucking sun"), stretches, and rolls over. He expects his arm to land on Walt -- when it lands on cool, empty sheets instead, Ray gives up on going back to sleep and sits up, rubbing his eyes.

Ray pulls on a pair of pajama pants and goes in search of Walt. He finally finds Walt sitting in the bright kitchen, eating a bowl of cereal and reading the paper.

"So I was having this thought about how fucking angelic you look all bathed in sunlight and shit, right? I was even gonna forgive the sun just this once for shining right in my fucking face again, it was that amazing. But then I stopped that train of thought right fucking there because I realized that, if I let it go any farther, I’d have to go spend the day with my Juggs collection to keep my balls from turning all the way into ovaries."

Walt gives a half-hearted smile to a rant that would normally garner a much more enthusiastic response. A laugh at the very least. Something is definitely fucking up.

"What’s the matter?" Ray asks, dropping into the seat next to Walt and running his hand down Walt’s back.

"I was reading this front page thing on what Batman’s done for the city," Walt slides the morning paper toward Ray, "The guy who wrote it interviewed a bunch of people around Gotham and got stories about what Brad did for ‘em. There’s at least ten stories in there and not one of ‘em mentions me, even though I was actually there in more than one case." He smiles half-heartedly again, "Always nice to feel appreciated."

Ray pushes the paper away from him. "Walt, I hate to break it to you, but people are fucking idiots. If you don’t realize how screwed Brad would be without you, you’re just as much of an idiot as they are."

Walt shrugs, obviously not convinced. Ray takes Walt’s hand, squeezing it until Walt meets his gaze.

"All right, let me put it to you this way. Brad is pretty fucking awesome, no doubt. The thing is, he’s so awesome it gets obnoxious after a while. It kind of makes you wanna punch him in the mouth or something -- well, if you have a fucking death wish anyway."

Walt raises an eyebrow, "I know you’ve got a point hiding somewhere in all those S.A.T. words."

"You’re more subtle than that. You’re just as awesome, but it’s not overwhelming so it’s actually pretty nice to be around. It makes me wanna do things to your mouth, but punching definitely isn’t on that list." That gets a smirk, which is something. Ray takes it as encouragement to keep going, "And you know what? I’m glad you don’t have front page articles written about you. Not because you don’t deserve them ‘cause you fucking do. It’s because I don’t want your name front and center in the minds of asswipes like the Joker or Godfather. Seriously, dude, this way you can fly under the radar and be all ninja and shit."

Ray bites the corner of his thumbnail and then admits, "Plus you might start getting all uppity if other people pulled their heads out of their asses and realized how amazing you are. I can see it now, you’d tell me to fuck off and then you’d go off with the hottest fucking deb you could find and squeeze out 2.5 fucking disgustingly adorable kids and forget all about your Ray-Ray. I’d be spurned in the name of the American dream, homes," Ray sniffles dramatically.

"For the record," Walt says, "you’re an idiot. You’re also completely insane." Walt grins and then leans in to kiss Ray. It’s soft but thorough and leaves Ray slightly wobbly.

"Hot damn, Hasser, you should get depressed more often if this is what I get for cheering you up."

Walt shakes his head, still smiling, and stands up from the table. "And on that charming note, I gotta go take care of some tech stuff for Brad." He ducks nimbly out of Ray’s reach when Ray makes a grab for his shirt to stop him.

"Oh come on! You’re honestly just gonna leave me hangin’ after a kiss like that?"

"Yep. I can live with you being pissed at me, Brad’s a whole different story. Literally. Oh," Walt stops at the doorway and turns back to Ray, "Brad said to tell you that he’s gonna personally remove your voicebox with his bare hands if he hears you singing Beyoncé in the shower ever again."

"Fuck him, Crazy in Love is a classic!"

Walt raises both hands in a pacifying gesture as he leaves, "I’m just the messenger."

-------

The steering wheel is cold as Nate inserts the key into the ignition. Nothing happens when he turns the key, which fits in pretty perfectly with the horrible day Nate’s been having. Sighing, he grabs his flashlight, pops the hood, and gets out to see if he can diagnose the problem. In the middle of checking the battery, Nate feels the hairs on the back of his neck prickle like he’s being watched, but he sees no one else anywhere on this level of the garage. He double-checks his grip on his Mag-lite anyway -- the weight of the solid metal in his hand proves quite comforting.

That comfort disappears abruptly when Nate feels the cold barrel of a gun press into the back of his head. The flashlight is ripped out of his slightly raised hand, which tells Nate the gunman isn’t alone. Fuck.

"I’ll just save you the trouble now and tell you that I haven’t carried cash on me in at least five years. If you want the car, the keys are in my right jacket pocket."

Nate hears a low grunt of laughter. The barrel pulls away from his skull, but an instant later Nate feels the butt of the gun slam into the back of his head with a sickening crack. He blinks white spots out of his vision, realizing after a moment that he’s fallen to his knees. When his vision clears, Nate sees at least two armed men standing over him. This is bad. Really bad.

"This is for fucking up my arm, shit-stick," the gunman mutters from behind him. A split second later, the butt of the gun slams into Nate’s head once more, on his temple this time, and everything goes black.

Chapter Text

Ray always enjoys hanging out with Walt before he has to get ready to go out on patrol. They aren’t doing anything special, just watching the news together, but they aren’t really paying attention because they’re too busy debating whether the anchorwoman’s tits are real or not.

"Ray, that’s fucking creepy that you watch her chest enough to notice when it gets bigger."

"What? I’m a connoisseur."

"Which, in this case, is French for stalker."

Ray rolls his eyes and shakes his head, but a breaking news announcement stifles his rebuttal. Viewers are warned that the story contains disturbing elements. Ray’s heart sinks when a picture of Nate pops up next to the anchorwoman, and feels like it stops entirely when she starts talking about kidnapping. How Nate was kidnapped, to be specific.

Ray reaches out and grabs Walt’s arm in a death grip. "Get Brad. Now." Walt nods solemnly and sprints off to the elevator.

Shit.

-------

Something about the ashen look to Walt’s face tells Brad to follow him back to the Batcave unquestioningly. Ray’s similarly pale and drawn expression is even more troubling.

The sight of Nate’s face on the news makes the joking question of "Did somebody die?" lodge painfully in his throat. Instead, he goes with the simple but effective "What the fuck happened?"

The ticker scrolling across the bottom of the screen answers his question; "Commissioner Nate Fick kidnapped from courthouse." Brad grips the back of the chair in front of him for support.

The screen changes to a grainy video of the Joker, who has painted his face garishly and is wearing a disturbingly manic grin.

"Good evening, Gotham!" He leans toward the camera, his face filling the entire frame, "And good evening to you, Baaatmaaaaaaan. I’ve got something of yours." Joker giggles and Brad feels his stomach threaten to invert itself. The camera zooms out to show Nate bound to a chair a few feet from the Joker. Brad barely registers the murmurs of Ray and Walt. The sight of how bad Nate looks almost makes Brad put his fist through the screen; there’s a trickle of blood from just under Nate’s hairline near his temple, one of his eyes is blacked and swollen, and Brad can easily see a nasty bruise forming on Nate’s cheek and jaw just under it.

"I just tried to talk to him a little but, as you can see, he wasn’t very nice," the Joker sounds childishly reproachful here, "so I had to teach him some manners. I’m afraid I lost my temper after the first few hits failed to make the lesson stick."

The camera again focuses only on the Joker. "I have his little reporter friend here too, but something tells me he’s not what you’re really interested in, Bats. You should really hurry up and come save them, Bats, the Commish here doesn’t look so good." He turns, walks over to Nate, and punches Nate solidly in his uninjured eye -- the grunt of pain and the way Nate’s head snaps to the side makes Brad’s blood boil. The Joker turns back to the camera and chuckles, "Otherwise, I don’t think he’s going to last very long at this rate. But don’t worry, finding me should be easy enough, all you have to do is retrace your steps. See you soon!" The video goes black but Joker’s hysterical laughter continues for a few seconds before the screen cuts back to the anchorwoman.

"I, uh, Ray--" Brad stops himself because his voice is shaking. Walt gently but firmly guides him into a chair, and he goes without complaint.

"So," Walt ventures, "I’m thinking he’s probably in that warehouse from before. He’s got Nate and some reporter--"

"I bet it’s that Evan Wright guy from the Gazette, considering the article he did about you this week," Ray offers.

Brad blinks at Ray, "What?"

"Long story," Walt replies, "You stay here for now. I’ll go to the warehouse to scope it out and figure out the best plan of attack. Brad," Walt cuts in when Brad opens his mouth to protest, "Joker’s gonna have backup. He’d have to pack some serious muscle to take down Nate and you know it, plus you’re not thinking clearly right now."

Brad considers this for a few minutes, then looks Walt directly in the eye. "Walt," he says in tones of flat, eerie calm, "I’m coming with you. If you try to stop me, I’ll knock you out, lock you in the trunk of the Batmobile, and handle this myself. I assure you that, for once, this is not an idle threat." When Walt just stares at him, Brad swallows hard and adds, "Please, Walt, it’s Nate."

Walt glances at Ray, then back to Brad, and finally nods. "Okay, Brad, you and I will go scope out the warehouse -- reconnaissance only at this point. At least until we figure out what the Joker has waiting for us."

Ray claps a hand on Brad’s shoulder to turns Brad’s chair to face him. "Look," Ray says, in an uncharacteristically serious tone, "I know you want to go find that son of a bitch and repay everything he did to Nate a hundred fucking times over and I’m right there with you, but don’t do anything stupid. Use this sucker," he knocks on the side of Brad’s head with his other hand. After a long pause, Brad takes a deep breath and slowly nods his head once.

Walt jerks his head toward the cases that hold their suits, "We should get going. You remember what Joker said."

Brad remembers all too well. Hang on, Nate.

-------

Brad and Walt make the final approach by crawling across the roof of an abandoned apartment complex across the street from the warehouse. Having the recon objective to focus on is helping Brad keep a handle on his concern for Nate. When Brad and Walt stop near the ledge, their earpieces crackle softly before Ray’s voice comes in surprisingly clearly.

"Gentlemen! Can you hear me now? Both of you, I mean."

"Yes," Brad and Walt both reply uneasily.

"There’s a good reason for that. I’ve been tinkering with the suits in my spare time over the last couple of weeks, just making some minor improvements."

"Ray," Brad finally responds after a long beat, "I would have really appreciated hearing about this before we went out on a major mission."

"Well this shit went down before I could finish making all the necessary improvements, so just nut up and deal with it. Anyway, first of all, I set up a communal channel so that both of you can talk to me and I can talk to both of you, all at the same time. I also improved the earpieces so that you can both hear my beautiful voice that much better."

Walt snorts.

"Love you too, Hasser. In addition to improving your ears, I also improved your eyes. Brad, you’ll notice a new unlabeled dial in the wrist of your right glove."

Sure enough, Brad finds one. "Ray, if this shoots confetti, or spiderwebs, or some bullshit like that, I’m going to be very, very upset."

"Y’know, that spiderweb thing isn’t a bad idea. But no, that’s not what it does, try it out."

Brad hesitantly turns the dial a little which, much to his surprise, drops thin lenses over his eyes that promptly switch to night vision. Another turn of the dial switches them to infra-red, but another turn simply leaves the lenses over Brad’s eyes without otherwise altering his vision.

"Ray, what the fuck does this last setting do?"

"Which brings me to my next improvement. Take out one of the silver batarangs instead of the black and set it down a ways in front of you."

Brad checks his belt and finds five silvery-looking batarangs mixed in with his usual black ones. "Ray, seriously, what the fuck?"

"Just quit your bitching, put it down, and press down on the unlabeled dial."

When Brad does as Ray says, he sees a black and white image of himself and Walt, from the perspective of the batarang. Brad waves his hand over the silver object and watches a surprisingly clear double of his hand copy his movement.

"Ray, explain."

"Sonar, dude! I figured you might as well live up to your name. I assume you know how sonar works in general, so I’ll just tell you that you turn the batarang’s built-in transmitter on just by clearing it from your belt."

"Damn," says Walt appreciatively.

"What’s the range?"

"Uh," Brad and Walt hear the sound of papers rustling in the background, "10-15 yards, I’d say. After this little test run, I should be able to up the range quite a bit, but it’ll do for now. Oh, one last thing; the dial setting after sonar turns the lenses into a camera that lets me essentially see what you see."

"That’s pretty fucking ninja, Ray," Brad admits. "I’m actually impressed. I do have one thing to say, though."

"Besides telling me what a fucking boss I am and how essential I am to this team?"

"If you ever fuck with my suit again without telling me first, I will end you. Slowly."

Ray laughs. "Solid copy, homes. Now get some!" The comms crackle again and then fall silent.

Walt huffs out a small laugh and pulls two line launchers out of his bag. Brad and Walt spend a few minutes discussing the best target, and settle on the tallest of the air conditioning units protruding from the other roof. When they fire their launchers, lines shoot backwards, lodging in the concrete behind them, and whistle out across the narrow street.

Once both ends of Brad’s line are secure, he moves closer to the edge of the roof. He watches the few men on watch below and, when the coast is clear, releases the brake on the handle of his line launcher and ziplines between the two buildings. His cape sounds impossibly loud whipping out behind him, but the patrolling henchmen don’t seem to hear it. Walt lands on the warehouse roof a moment later.

Brad hands Walt one of the silver batarangs and whispers, "I trust you can find a good home for this."

Walt nods and then silently begins scaling down the brick wall, his fingers and toes gripping the tiny ridges with apparent ease.

"You are so hot when you’re being all badass and shit," comes Ray’s voice in Brad’s ear.

"Ray," Brad growls under his breath, "there’s a time and place for you and Hasser’s disturbing sexcapades, and right now on the communal channel isn’t one of them."

"Listen and learn, homes, you might pick up something good to try out on Na-- uh, yeah. Solid copy."

The reality of this clusterfuck hits home once again and Brad has to force himself to remain calm. "Walt," he grits out, "is the batarang in place yet?"

"Sure is, I found a stack of wooden crates that was just perfect. You’re not gonna like what you see, though," Walt adds grimly. Quelle fucking surprise. Brad turns the sonar on just in time to see the Joker swing a baseball bat into Nate’s stomach. The way Nate’s body tries to curl around the blow is sickening.

Brad’s jaw clenches hard enough that it starts to hurt. "I’ll fucking kill him."

Walt appears suddenly beside Brad, putting a hand on his shoulder. "That is not your mission. I will handle him and his friends down there. Your mission is solely to rescue Nate and the other guy." When Brad doesn’t answer right away, Walt squeezes his shoulder, "Brad, I mean it. The hostages need you. Nate needs you."

Brad focuses on the projection of Nate and tries to harness that rage into action. Save Nate now, reduce Joker to his component molecules later.

"You’re going to need a distraction," Brad tells Walt, "and I’m going to provide it."

Brad jogs over to the edge of the rooftop above a window he spotted earlier, and loops his cable around a solid looking pipe before clipping it into his belt. He tests the anchor once and then jumps backwards off the ledge. As he rappels toward the large window, Brad readies one of the black batarangs -- the Joker is not going to use that bat on Nate again if Brad has anything to say about it. If he happens to bleed for it, then so much the better. Brad goes feet first through the glass and, as soon as he spots the Joker, he hurls the batarang as hard as he can. Brad lands in a crouch, one hand down, his cape swirling around him as glass shards rain down onto the floor.

"So, Joker, I hear you have something of mine."

Nate slowly raises his head and smiles a little at Brad, "You’re late." Brad refuses to let himself consider why Nate sounds that hoarse.

The Joker starts giggling in spite of his bleeding hand. "Actually, Commissioner, he’s right on time." He turns to face Brad, "So, Bats, wanna hear the rules of my little game?"

"If they involve doing the hokey-pokey and turning myself around, you’re shit out of luck," Brad says as he stands up.

"Ha!" The Joker guffaws, "You’re way funnier than my boys said you’d be. I like that, I think I’ll kill you last."

"I’d like to see you try," Brad growls.

"All in good time, Bats. First, you have to hear the rules." Joker starts traipsing back and forth like a professor giving a lecture. "I have here two gentlemen who’ve caused some big changes in your life, and not necessarily for the better. They’ve also been stirring shit up around Gotham, which has some important people wanting their heads. But, because I like you, Bats, I’m going to help you out a little. You can choose one, only one, and I’ll let you and your choice leave without a fight."

"What happens to the one I don’t pick?"

"I get to test out some new fireworks on him." The Joker shoots Brad a distinctly unpleasant smirk, "You’re welcome to stick around for that, if you want."

Brad glances back and forth between Nate and the reporter. Nate looks like he’s in worse shape, but the reporter seems scared out of his mind.

"I can see how it would be a tough choice. On the one hand," the Joker gestures toward the reporter, "poor, curious reporter who stuck his nose where it didn’t belong. On the other," he gestures toward Nate, "our fearless goody two-shoes Commissioner -- or, he wants us to think he’s a goody two-shoes, anyway. But whatever, you seem to like that in a man." He pulls a disgusted face at this, then keeps going, "There’s a small problem that makes choosing him tricky though, Bats. Wanna know what it is?"

"I am the picture of anticipation, Trombley," Brad says dryly.

"My name is the JOKER!" he shouts, his arms suddenly flinging outwards. Brad rolls his eyes when he sees the reporter flinch at the edge of his peripheral vision. Give me a fucking break.

The Joker takes a deep, shuddering breath, then smiles brightly at Brad, "I’m sorry, my mom always said I had a bad temper. As I was saying, there’s a tricky thing about your dear, darling Commissioner." Joker looks positively gleeful. "He’s cheating on you with Brad Colbert." He seems to misinterpret Brad’s stunned silence, because he adds in a tone of false contrition, "Oh, I’m sorry, didn’t you know?"

Thinking quickly, Brad turns to Nate. "Is this true?" he asks, putting some of the anger he’s been holding back into his voice. He watches Nate’s face very carefully until he sees what he thinks might be a nod.

Nate deserves a fucking Academy Award for the anguished expression on his face. His mouth turns down and his brows knit together as he stumbles over his words, "I -- I didn’t mean for you to find out this way."

"Him?!" Brad throws his hands up in theatrical disgust and turns away from Nate. "Un-fucking-believable. I didn’t know you went for rich assholes."

"He’s not -- It just ...happened. He’s smart, funny, kind, and he actually gives a shit when I tell him what’s going on with me."

"Where the fuck did you get the idea that I don’t give a shit about you?" This would almost be fun if Nate weren’t pulverized and tied to a chair.

Nate huffs out an incredulous laugh, "Are you kidding me? Every time I’m with you it’s always work, work, work. At least with Brad I actually know his first name."

Joker’s muffled giggles turn into a full-blown cackle, and he claps his hands in amusement. Brad fights to hold back a smirk at how well this is working. Keep laughing, asshole, it’s about to get even funnier.

"I work to keep you safe. I don’t solve my problems by throwing money at them, unlike certain prissy billionaires you know."

"No, you just prefer to beat the shit out of them instead," Nate snaps. Brad makes a mental note to ask Nate about that later.

Brad turns to the Joker, "Explain to me why this is supposed to be a hard decision?"

The Joker grins at Brad, "So you choose the nosy reporter, then? Even though you’re only here because he spilled the beans on you and the Commish?" That honestly surprises Brad. How the fuck did the reporter find out? Brad mentally files this away as another thing to consider later.

"At least he didn’t lie to me." Brad shakes his head, then turns to walk toward the reporter.

"Hold on," Nate cuts in, "I’m not fucking finished with you yet, Batman. Look at me, damn it!"

Brad turns back to Nate and folds his arms across his chest. "Yes?"

Nate smiles a cold, bitter smile that Brad’s never seen before (and never wants to see again). "Do you really want to know why I chose Brad Colbert over you?"

"I’m on the edge of my seat."

"Because he makes me feel like a human being instead of just a badge and gun. That’s why I love him and not you."

Brad feels like he’s been sucker-punched. He opens his mouth, but words fail him. He closes it again, hoping the Joker misreads his flushed cheeks.

Evidently, he does. "Ooh," he winces dramatically, "that’s what’s wrong with love. It always hits you right where it hurts."

Brad tries not to look up when he notices movement almost directly overhead. Walt drops from where he was hanging upside down from the rafters, flipping gracefully in midair. His timing is perfect, so when he kicks out, his feet connect solidly with the Joker’s face and shoulder. The Joker lets out a cry of surprised pain as he goes flying backwards. Walt hits the ground rolling into a backward somersault and, maintaining his momentum, stands up in one fluid motion.

"Thanks for the awesome cue, I was getting a serious headache from hangin' up there so long." Walt takes a step towards the Joker and, with a cheeky grin, adds, "Although, I bet my head probably doesn’t hurt nearly as bad as yours does."

Brad can’t help but shoot Walt a grin.

The Joker crawls back awkwardly. From the way he’s holding his shoulder, Brad thinks he probably has a broken collarbone. "Hey assholes!" the Joker yells towards the door, clearly addressing neither Walt nor Brad. "HEY!"

Walt smirks and informs the Joker, "Yeah, they ain’t coming. Your boys are having a little nap outside just now."

"Fuck," yelps the Joker. His eyes look wild and he scrambles away slightly quicker. When Walt moves to put himself between the Joker and the door, the Joker reaches into his pocket and pulls out something the size of a cellphone. Brad just has time to think, Detonator, before what sounds like thousands of firecrackers go off all around the room and flames begin to leap up the walls.

"Get him!" Brad yells at Walt; unnecessarily because Walt is already closing the distance between him and the fleeing Joker.

Brad whirls around, pulling his knife out of his utility belt, and rushes to cut Nate out of his restraints. The air is already getting thick with smoke. When Brad’s cutting the last rope around Nate’s ankle, he looks up to his face and asks, "Do you think you can make it outside on your own?"

"Of course I can," Nate says stubbornly which, in hindsight, does not surprise Brad in the least. Brad realizes that he forgot about Nate’s tendency to push himself way too far as Nate tries to stand but sways before he’s even finished straightening up. He tries again, but collapses heavily against Brad in the attempt.

"Oh, no you don’t," Brad clasps a hand on both of Nate’s shoulders to keep Nate steady. Brad sees the telling flex of a muscle in Nate’s jaw and his pursed lips, and so interjects before Nate can object, "Sit. I’m getting the reporter to help you. Yell at me later."

Brad’s eyes are beginning to burn. To his relief, the reporter, who has been staring at Brad with what appears to be amazement, has a coughing fit, so Brad doesn’t feel like he’s under microscope while he cuts the ropes away.

As soon as the man is free, he extends his hand to Brad, "Hi, I’m Evan Wright."

Brad could smack him. Pointing, he says, "Get Nate out of here now. You can ask for my fucking autograph later." When Evan hesitates, Brad puts his face very close to Evan’s and threatens, "Unless you’d rather explain to me how you knew about Nate and me." It’s hard to tell in the thick smoke, but Brad’s pretty sure he sees Evan’s face turn pale. All the same, Evan hurries obediently over to Nate and slings one of Nate’s arms over his own shoulders before they start making their way toward the exit.

Brad glances around the warehouse, but can’t see either Walt or the Joker. He flicks his comm to Walt’s channel. "Are you out?"

"Affirmative. Just waitin’ on you, princess."

"I see Ray’s gender confusion is catching," Brad says as he jogs behind Evan and Nate, hunched over in a futile attempt to avoid the smoke. Brad grabs a fistful of his cape and holds it over his mouth, which seems to help some.

When they are free of the warehouse, Walt hollers from the base of the abandoned apartment building. Walt is just finishing zap-strapping the unconscious Joker to his four equally unresponsive men.

Nate winces as he lowers himself to sit against the side of the building. Motioning to Walt, he says, "He took my phone. I think it’s in his jacket." Walt fishes around for a minute and then surfaces with three phones. He offers them to Nate, who picks up the middle one and dials.

"Hi Mike," Nate croaks. "Yeah. ...No. ...Who do you think? ...By the Narrows. You’ll see the burning warehouse. ...Thanks." As soon as the call ends, Nate closes his eyes and leans his head against the wall.

"Hey," Brad crouches in front of Nate and claps his hands right next to Nate’s ear. "Wake up, you probably have a concussion."

Nate opens one eye, "Just shut up and let me die in peace."

He would pick now to be a drama queen, Brad thinks grumpily.

"Nate," Brad says, putting all the gravity into the word that he can. He would love to run his fingers over Nate’s face, to remind Nate why letting him die is the last thing Brad wants to do. If that damned reporter weren’t here, he would do it. Nate, being Nate, catches on anyway and, with a quirk of his lips, pulls his head away from the wall and sits up straighter.

"I assume Nate’s got a date with Doc right about now?" Walt prompts Brad.

Brad nods, "If you don’t mind babysitting until the cops get here, I’ll take him right away."

"Go. I’ll get word to Doc that y’all are coming."

"C’mon Nate, we’re Oscar Mike," Brad says gently, holding out a hand to help Nate up. Nate waves it aside and stands up on his own instead. He seems steadier on his feet now, but Brad thinks it best to err on the side of caution. When Brad lifts Nate’s arm to drape it over his shoulders, Nate hisses sharply and winces in pain. He clamps his other hand over his injured arm and releases a quiet, shuddering groan.

Brad turns to frown speculatively at the unconscious Joker. "You know, nobody would exactly miss him if I just offed him right here. It’d save the cops and the courts a lot of bullshit."

Walt and Nate both glare at Brad with identical expressions of reproach, complete with matching raised eyebrows.

"What? This is textbook justifiable homicide, no jury in the land would convict me."

Walt points in the general direction of the Batmobile. Nate whispers, "I don’t consider testifying as your character witness a date."

Chagrined, Brad moves to Nate’s other side and carefully guides him by the bicep to the vehicle, where Nate sinks into the front seat with a sigh of relief. After Brad settles in the driver's seat and starts the engine, he sees Nate smile to himself.

"For the record, I was sorely tempted to let you beat the everloving shit out of him."

Brad takes a moment to digest this. "So why didn't you?"

"I realized that the fellow inmates of whatever correctional institution in which the Joker will soon be residing will probably do much worse things to him than you ever could."

"So you have a secret bloodthirsty streak in addition to a talent for landing yourself in mortal danger. Impressive."

Nate chuckles weakly, then winces and clutches his side. "I probably picked up the talent for landing myself in danger from the Marines. It seems to have some things in common with my current career, so I suppose I'm just keeping up the trend of rushing bravely in where angels fear to tread."

Brad is just about to point out that that figure of speech begins with 'Fools rush in', but Nate keeps going. "As for the supposed bloodthirsty streak, what can I say? I took it somewhat personally when the Joker and his goons decided to use me as a piñata."

Brad grips the steering wheel tighter, trying to reign in his frustration and guilt. "Fuck, Nate, I'm so sorry. I should have known--"

"Brad," Nate interrupts softly.

"I could have had Rudy train you more in--"

"Brad!" Nate tries again, a bit louder this time. "Stop the car."

Brad, thinking something else is wrong with Nate, brakes the Batmobile to a screeching halt. "What is it?"

Nate turns a little and looks directly into Brad's eyes. "Let me explain a few things to you. First of all, while I appreciate and admire your concern for my safety, I can fight my own battles. I might not always win them, but I can nonetheless. Second, I'm the fucking Police Commissioner; things like this just come with the job. I accepted that long ago, and now I just take these things in stride and do my best to learn from them. You would do well to try a similar approach. Finally," he adds with a kinder tone and a slight smile, "I'm here and alive because of you, which in itself says a great deal." He covers one of Brad's hands with his own. "So stop the self-flagellation."

Brad takes a deep breath and focuses on Nate’s last point. Well, that and one other thought that keeps bouncing around in his head.

"So," Brad tries not to cringe at how awkward he sounds, "did you mean everything you said in there?"

"Well, I do think you solve a lot of your problems by beating the shit out of them if that’s what you mean." He sounds completely serious and Brad’s just about to explain that that’s not what he meant, but then Nate winks at him.

"That’s not the part I meant and you know it." Brad shifts in his seat. "I just -- It was kind of in the heat of the moment in there, and it’s not like I’m going to hold you to anything," Brad trails off when he notices Nate’s expression; his sideways smile is equal parts amusement and affection. "Nate, I’m being serious."

Nate rubs his thumb across the back of Brad’s hand. "You’re also being an idiot, but that’s okay. I still love you anyway."

Brad should have a response for this. He knows this. The words ball up in his throat, though (probably because there are so many things he wants to say all at once). That damn distracting smile of Nate’s really isn’t helping matters either. Brad tries again, but can’t get past clearing his throat. Finally, he admits, "I’m not very good at this."

Nate squeezes his hand and grins a little wider. "I’m aware, Brad. It’s fun to watch you squirm, though."

Brad is about to dish out a retort when Nate gently tugs Brad closer by the elbow. Nate’s lips feel cool against his own and Brad fleetingly worries that Nate might be going into shock, before getting lost in the kiss.

When their lips finally part, Nate pulls back just far enough to make eye contact and says in a serious tone, "I also don’t need to hear the words to know how much you care about me. You’ve already proven it a dozen times over." The small smile comes back, "I do appreciate the attempt, though."

Not even trying to speak anymore, Brad simply revels in how lucky he is. Nate looks almost bashful under Brad’s intense gaze as he pulls his bottom lip into his mouth and lowers his eyes.

Suddenly, the cowl’s earpiece crackles and Ray’s voice cuts through the moment, "Uh, Brad, I’m sure I’m probably interrupting something way too NC-17 even for my tastes, but Doc is starting to wonder where y’all are. Just sayin’." The earpiece crackles again and falls silent. Brad doubts Nate could hear Ray, but he notices something because Nate raises a questioning eyebrow at Brad.

"Don’t want to keep Doc waiting. He’s probably itching to chew me out again as it is."

Nate blinks. "He’s always perfectly courteous to me."

"Huh. He must like you. Oh well," Brad smirks as he starts the Batmobile back up, "there’s no accounting for taste."

Nate gives Brad a reproachful look, "Hey, be nice to to the patient. Otherwise I won’t stop him from chewing you out."

"What, I need you to protect me now?"

Nate chuckles a little, "Always."

Chapter Text

"Jesus, Joseph, and doggy-style Mary, Walt! For someone who claims to have been a ‘swinging bachelor’ for the last two years, you sure have a lot of useless crap." Ray steps out of the way as Walt hefts another full box into Ray’s room.

"Yeah, and it’s also really heavy crap," Walt grunts. "Seriously, would it kill your lazy ass to help me a little bit? It was your idea to do this."

"Dude, I am the project supervisor. I am supervising. So quit your bellyaching -- although," Ray stops, eyeing Walt speculatively, "you could always take your shirt off if you’re too hot."

Walt rolls his eyes, "Yeah, I’m sure that would get my shit moved much faster." Walt sets the box down on top of a skewed stack of his belongings and turns around to face Ray. "Remind me again why this was such a big deal to you. What was wrong with just walking a little ways to each other’s rooms?"

"Stop it, Hasser, you hopeless romantic you."

Walt caves, cracking a smile and shaking his head at Ray’s remark. "I just don’t get what its got to do with anything. I mean, it’s still the same house."

"Homes, are you shitting me? This house is so fucking huge I’m pretty sure it crosses a time zone, if not at least a zip code."

"But--," Walt starts to protest.

Ray steps forward and interrupts with an animated hand movement, "Can you just shut the fuck up and let me have this moment?"

The momentary pleading in Ray’s eyes melts any objections Walt has about the irrationality of moving his things down the hall. Walt moves into Ray’s personal space and threads his fingers loosely between Ray’s. After pausing to marvel at all the different hues of brown in Ray’s eyes, Walt says simply, "I can do that."

The kiss is intended to be rather innocent, but then Ray makes a small noise of approval, which ignites a wicked streak in Walt. He turns the soft press of lips into a filthy kiss that leaves them both slightly dizzy, and then unceremoniously disengages and ducks out of the room to go grab more stuff.

Walt grins when he hears Rays call down the hallway after him, "Fuck off, you cockteasing hick motherfucker!"

Walt tries to clamp down on his smile when he pauses to turn and address Ray, "If you wanna pick up where we left off any time soon, you’ll start helping me move."

Ray sprints past Walt and when Walt gets to his old bedroom, he finds that Ray has slung a duffel bag over his shoulders and is trying to pick up two boxes at once. Walt laughs and takes the larger of the boxes.

When Ray straightens up, his dimples are out in full force and he says, "Just because you’re hot when you’re all in charge and shit doesn’t mean this is going to work on me every time."

"I’m not in charge, Ray."

Ray’s mouth pulls to the side. "What household have you been living in, homes?"

"Ray, you’re doing that thing again where what you’re saying only makes sense in your head. Help me out here."

Rolling his eyes like Walt is an obtuse seven-year old, Ray hitches the box up higher on his hip and says, "Walt, when you first got here, you were all eager-to-please and obedient and shit. You’d second guess yourself all the damn time and it was driving me and Brad fucking crazy for a while but then...you sorta found your mojo, I guess." Ray shrugs, "I don’t know how or when it happened but you started getting more confident and independent, which allowed you to blossom into the studly, capable badass that you are today."

Walt, who’s normally used to Ray mocking the shit out of just about everyone, is a little taken aback by this sincere compliment. He feels his cheeks flush. Usually, Walt doesn’t take much stock in compliments and tends to brush them away, but there’s something about Ray being nice that Walt can’t help but believe (probably because of how seldom it happens).

Ray watches Walt’s reaction carefully. "Aw shit, don’t start getting all down on yourself again, we just fucking broke you of that habit. Studly, capable badass, remember?"

"I’m not feeling down," Walt bites his lip, "Just...disoriented. A lot’s changed just in the last six months alone, but it seems like it’s been years and it’s just a weird feeling." He laughs a little, "You probably think I’m crazy or somethin’."

"Of course I do! It’s one of the things I like best about you."

They start back down the hallway and, after a few minutes of comfortable silence, Walt muses, "D’you think Brad’s gonna ask Nate to move in any time soon? It’d make sense, considering Nate pretty much lives here anyway."

Ray snorts in derision, "Okay, homes, a couple of things. First, when has anything about Brad ever made sense? Second, it might be a while considering he’s all emotionally stunted and shit but, between you and me and that vase over there, he does have something like that in mind. He had me make an extra key for him a few days ago."

Walt grins, "So you’re probably already designing the wedding invitations as we speak, then."

"I might have looked at some websites in the last few-- okay, so not the point. Basically, yes I think the Commish is gonna move in here pretty soon. This is, of course, assuming that Brad nuts the fuck up and actually asks him before we’re all old and grey with shriveled up raisin balls."

Walt grimaces; Ray’s actually got a point. "Maybe the whole thing where Nate almost died will help speed things up?"

"Nah, I’m pretty sure all that’s gonna do is make them have weeks of obnoxiously loud, life-affirming sex once Brad’s sure he’s not gonna literally split Nate in half."

Walt ponders for a moment and then gives Ray a sly grin. "You know, I could go for some loud, life-affirming sex myself."

"Hey, what happened to you wanting to move all your stuff in first?" Ray asks, dropping the box and duffel bag in the middle of his room.

Walt shrugs and sets his box down neatly. "Well, if you don’t want to..."

"Fuck that, of course I want to." Ray snaps his fingers, eyes gleaming, "We should go use the master shower again."

Although that sounds appealing, Walt voices his concern, "I’m pretty sure Nate would kill us, especially if we’re going with the loud part of the game-plan."

"Ha! His gimp ass would have to catch us first. Unless," Ray adds, waggling his eyebrows, "he decides he wants to join in."

Walt quirks an eyebrow at Ray and snorts, "I think he was pretty clear about that the last time you offered. On the other hand, using the words ‘big gay orgy’ probably didn’t help your case."

Ray waves a hand dismissively, "There’s no accounting for taste. He’ll come around someday, I’m sure."

"Assuming Brad doesn’t appear out of empty space and end us both on general principle, of course."

"Of course," Ray agrees. "But enough about Nate, you said something about loud, life-affirming sex?"

Walt smirks, "I was wondering when your whiskey-tango trailer park brain would remember that. How ‘bout you start by getting on your knees."

"Done and done," Ray says. He flashes Walt a full-wattage smile as he drops obediently to his knees.

-------

"You know, medicine may have changed a little since I was last hurt enough to need a hospital, but I’m fairly certain ‘bed rest’ doesn’t mean ‘sit hunched over a laptop for hours on end with your phone glued to your ear’." Brad leans against the door frame, folds his arms, and raises an eyebrow at Nate.

Nate holds up a finger while he finishes his call. When Nate drops the phone onto the rumpled duvet, he turns to Brad and mirrors Brad’s expression, "I am in bed. I could be downtown interrogating the Joker in person, but instead I’m here, playing the part of the obedient patient and feeling thoroughly useless while doing so. Both you and Doc Bryan should be overjoyed with my ability to follow orders."

Brad saunters over to his bed and sits next to Nate. Despite himself, Brad asks, "They get anything good out of the Joker yet?"

"Mostly a whole lot of nonsensical childhood stories and bad puns, but we did get enough that I think I can persuade Judge Richardson to give us a search warrant."

"Where?"

Nate smiles grimly, "The District Attorney’s office." Brad raises his eyebrows, impressed. Nate nods in agreement, "I know. We’ve probably got a long way to go before we can make an arrest, but it’s a big step forward. If the search turns up enough probable cause, I might even be able to get the FBI involved."

Brad feels a swell of pride in Nate that gives him enough courage to pull the extra key out of his pocket and start turning it over in his hand. Nate’s eyes widen noticeably when he spots it but he remains silent, waiting for Brad to explain.

Brad goes to speak and his confidence evaporates; instead, all the worst-case scenarios he thought of when practicing in front of the mirror this morning start coming back to him. Brad closes his fist around the key and presses his knuckle to the bridge of his nose. "This was a bad idea," he mumbles to himself.

Nate places his hand lightly on Brad’s knee and asks, "Why is it a bad idea, Brad?"

Brad drops his hand, but doesn’t raise his eyes to meet Nate’s. "There are all kinds of reasons. It’s too soon, you can take care of yourself, I can’t cook to save my goddamn life while a whiskey-tango goatfucking little cretin like Ray practically deserves his own cooking show. Plus, you’ll just get sick of me because I get grouchy and some days I just don’t feel like talking to anyone."

"Brad, I’ve seen you grouchy before. Quite frankly, I had worse in OCS, I think I can take anything you might throw at me." Nate ducks his head to try to meet Brad’s downcast eyes. "Possibly literally."

"Oh great, so as long as I treat you a hair’s breadth better than a Drill Instructor, you’ll put up with me?" Brad scowls, "You deserve better than that, Nate."

"Maybe so, but have you given much thought to what I want as opposed to what I deserve?" When Brad doesn’t answer, Nate continues, "I want to be with someone who isn’t afraid to challenge my assumptions, or kick my ass when necessary. Someone who understands how important my work is to me and what exactly my work requires sometimes. You are all of those things, Brad. If I’ve just come home from dealing with some horrifically gruesome crime and I don’t want to talk to anyone, I’m sure you’ll understand. And, if I do want to talk about it, I don’t have to sugar-coat it or leave out the troubling parts."

Brad gives a, "hmph," because he still doesn’t quite know what to say.

Nate’s voice has a hint of amusement in it as he adds, "And Brad, in the interest of full disclosure, the fanciest cooking I can manage involves a phone and a takeout menu, so don’t hold that against yourself."

Brad’s mouth twitches into a half-smile at this, and he finally makes himself look up at Nate.

Nate smiles and gives his head a small shake. "Isn’t it you who’s supposed to be trying to convince me, here?"

"I would, but I don’t think I can do better than what you already said."

"Well damn, Colbert, you’re easier than I expected. I didn’t even have to bring up the mind-blowing sex," Nate teases.

"Hmmm," Brad muses, "We are rather good at that aren’t we?"

"Yes. Yes, we are," Nate agrees. He turns his hand over, palm facing up, and looks at Brad expectantly. "Give me the key, Brad."

Brad holds the key over Nate’s open hand but doesn’t let go yet. "You’re really sure you want to move in with me? With full knowledge that this will probably include catching Ray and Walt finding new and horrifying ways to defile the house."

"Very sure. Besides, who says Ray and Walt won’t catch us defiling the house?"

By this point, Brad's heart is pounding so hard that he thinks Nate can probably hear it; he honestly can't remember the last time he felt this happy. Grinning wider than he has in a while, Brad sets the key into Nate’s hand and leans in to kiss Nate. Nate makes a small noise into Brad’s mouth and strokes Brad’s cheek with his thumb.

"You’re so..." Brad trails off and resumes kissing Nate.

Brad feels Nate’s lips twitch against his own before Nate pulls back, smirking. "So amazing? Wonderful? Fantastically patient for putting up with your unwarranted insecurities?"

"Something like that."

Nate’s smirk turns slightly predatory as he runs his thumb along Brad’s lower lip. "You know," Nate says in a husky voice, "I can think of several good ways for you to thank me."

Brad groans as he reluctantly pulls Nate’s hand away. "As much as I would love to thank you in every conceivable way, there are two problems with that scenario. One, Doc said we still have to wait two more weeks before even thinking about having sex again," Brad says, imitating Doc’s grumpy demeanor, "and two, I have to make a Brad Colbert appearance in twenty minutes."

Nate’s expression at this brings to mind a comment Ray made yesterday about Nate giving him "the bambi eyes." Brad now understands exactly what Ray was talking about; only someone with no heart at all could say no to that expression without a very good reason -- which, unfortunately, Brad has.

"I gotta go," Brad says quietly.

Nate gets halfway through a disappointed sigh when he winces and clutches at his side. Brad tries to move Nate’s hand aside to check him but Nate waves him away and leans back onto the reading pillow. "I hate this," Nate mutters under his breath.

"You and me both," Brad says, leaning over Nate to run his fingers through Nate’s short hair and press a kiss onto his forehead.

Brad’s just getting up to leave when Nate grabs his wrist. "You do realize that the very second Doc Bryan says my ribs are healed I’m going to call in all my vacation days for the year and we’re going to spend every one of them not leaving this room?"

"Understood," Brad says with a curt nod, trying to keep his smile in check.

At the door, Brad pauses to look once more at Nate stretched out in his bed -- their bed. The sight makes Brad feel like he should say...something. "I’ll get Ray to take care of getting the rest of your things moved here," is what Brad says, but as soon as the words have left his lips, they feel wrong. The way Nate smiles in response, though, feels absolutely right.

-------

When Brad walks into District Attorney Ferrando’s office, he’s pleased to find the other man slightly wary behind his usual unctuous smile.

"Mr. Colbert," he greets Brad smoothly, beckoning, "come sit down. To what do I owe the pleasure of your...unexpected visit?"

Brad unbuttons his suit jacket and lowers himself into the padded chair. "I have important business to attend to at home so I’ll cut right to the chase. Today, I finally decided that you’ve gone too far, and that I’m tired of you."

Godfather chuckles uncomfortably, "Mr. Colbert, I understand that you are a very prosperous business man and Colbert Enterprises is a large company. Indeed, a very large company, but you must realize that the District Attorney’s Office is not under your corporate umbrella."

Brad feels his small smile grow into what must be a fairly unsettling grin, if the way Godfather scoots his chair back a little is any indication. "Mr. Ferrando, I think you’re underestimating just how far I can reach. But, then again, you’ve made quite a successful career for yourself by assuming that you are much more powerful than everyone else around you. I, on the other hand, have made a successful career for myself by crushing men like you."

Godfather’s TV smile falters for a second, his expression turning momentarily to one of disgust before he regains control and the public mask comes back. "Even giants have to fall sometime, Mr. Colbert. I advise you to remember that before you start something you can’t finish."

Rather than rise to that pathetic attempt at bait, Brad just looks at Godfather for a moment, unperturbed. How are people scared of this gutless worm? He just makes other people do his dirty work for him. Godfather starts to shift uneasily in his seat under the weight of Brad’s gaze -- Brad finds this immensely satisfying, so he remains silent for a little while longer before leaning forward to address Godfather in a voice just above a whisper.

"As I said before, you seem to have made quite a life for yourself by overestimating yourself and underestimating those around you, particularly those who disagree with you. Well, underestimating Nate Fick was your worst and last mistake." Understanding washes over Ferrando’s face. Brad gets slowly to his feet and rests both hands on Godfather’s desk so that he can lean further into Godfather’s space.

"You thought you could just sweep him under the rug and let your powerful friends protect you from any repercussions. But Nate has powerful friends too, Mr. Ferrando, arguably much more powerful friends than the organized criminals and two-bit thugs whose asses you kiss to keep yourself out of trouble. But that’s not my point, my point is this; if you or any of your pets ever touch Nate again, even so much as look at him wrong, I will make it my personal mission to destroy you so completely that you will be nothing more than a bad memory. In fact, Nate’s already making an excellent start where that’s concerned."

"You are making some extremely inflammatory accusations, for which you have no evidence. No evidence whatsoever!" Godfather’s ruined voices rises in volume. "And it is you, Mr. Colbert, who is overestimating himself and his influence."

The only change to Brad’s expression is the raising of his eyebrow. "Oh really?" Brad asks. "How do you think the citizens of Gotham would respond to a one hundred thousand dollar ad campaign? How about two hundred, or three? And that’s just what I would do publicly. Your problem, Mr. Ferrando, is that you rely on pure brute force as opposed to creativity. I can do both."

The only visible change Brad sees in Godfather is the now white-knuckled grip Godfather has on the arms of his chair. Just one more push.

"Anyway, before I go, I thought I should give you a bit of professional advice." He smirks, "If I were you, I would consider investing in more...well-adjusted employees. Ones that don’t give in to their own egos the second they find someone willing to listen to their ‘great plans’."

"OUT! Get the fuck out of my office!" Godfather rasps, color rising on his cheeks. He digs his phone out of his pocket and starts dialing, Brad notices, with more force than necessary.

Brad waves a hand dismissively as he starts toward the door, "Save your breath, I was already leaving." Just inside the door, Brad stops to tell Ferrando, "Remember, no one even looks at him wrong." He slips out of the office without giving Godfather a chance to reply and, just as Brad gets the door closed behind him, he hears the telltale crash! of something large, breakable, and probably expensive colliding with the door.

Once Brad has dodged any security guards potentially sent to throw him out, and is safely on the street, he calls Nate.

"Hey you," says Nate’s voice in his ear.

"Hi. My thing downtown took less time than I thought, so I’m heading home now. Do you want me to bring you anything?" Brad asks.

"Just you," Nate says simply.

"Okay, see you soon then."

When Brad notices a middle-aged woman smiling at him, he realizes he’s grinning from ear to ear. Brad can practically hear Ray’s voice in his head making some crack about how seeing Brad smile is like seeing Chuck Norris cry which, instead of pissing Brad off like it usually does, just makes him chuckle. Brad realizes that this means Nate is definitely turning him into a sap. However, Brad can’t quite bring himself to mind.